Is it safe for solo female travellers to…..
- Context to this article
- Is it safe as a solo female traveller?
- The reality of solo female travel
- How to mitigate the risk posed to you as a solo female traveller?
At Lotus Eaters Travel, the majority of travel we do is together as a pair. But there are times when our schedules don’t allow this and one of us has to go it alone. As a woman, there are times when I am, to be frank, nervous about travelling solo. There are benefits to solo travel, but there are also some serious considerations to make, especially as a female. I’ve recently taken a few trips alone and wanted to reflect on what I’d learnt as a solo female traveller.
Solo female traveller safety: Context to this article
It might seem unfashionable to say this, but as a woman, we do need to take the risk posed to us seriously when we are travelling. Therefore, I want to use this article to reflect on some of the realities of female solo travel and enter an open discussion on how women can try to make themselves less at risk on the road. Because, in between the lovely Instagram photos, the reality can be different.
Travelling alone can be incredibly empowering, and according to recent data 80% of solo travellers are female. It can be fantastic to travel alone. When it’s good, it’s really wonderful. But if something bad happens, personally, I find that my confidence to travel solo takes quite a hit.
This article will provide some information about solo female travel based on my own experience. I will also be writing about the wider risks posed to women and how we can consider taking vital steps to mitigate these risks. I increasingly believe that we need more to be a bit more honest with one another about our experiences.
Is it safe as a solo female traveller?
I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve googled “is it safe as a female traveller in XYZ country.” I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked this by others before I embark on a new trip. What I have increasingly noticed, is that Google swiftly replies with a “Yes” and provides a snippet to justify this result. But when you dig a bit deeper, it can be different.
What I’ve also noticed, is that many solo females who write travel blogs are very quick to reassure others about how safe it is to travel alone. As noted in the introduction, it would be quite unfashionable to say anything different. It could also, I expect, be perceived as anti-feminist. To consider that women travellers are more vulnerable than their male equivalents, that seems that it could be somehow demeaning. As if admitting that we are the weaker sex.
Yet, if you sit down for a chat with any female friends who have travelled alone, the reality seems very different. The first thing we do is exchange stories about things that have happened. We laugh these off of course. But, if we were completely honest, we would say “No, I did not feel safe in that moment.” This makes me think of the “Me Too” movement. For a long time, we all considered anything we had experienced at the hands of men to be “normal”, par for the course if you will. But once somebody broke the silence, this changed.
This is why I believe that we should stop asking the question “is it safe as a solo female traveller?” And instead, we should start talking about how we take steps to mitigate risks in certain countries or cities. The better question is “How can I keep myself as safe as possible?”
The reality of solo female travel
In reality, we can never guarantee that any travel is 100% safe, whether we are in Turin or Timbuktu. You only have to look at the news in any city across the world to notice that the threats that women face are not “few and far between.” Yes, they vary from place to place in terms of the likelihood of anything bad happening, but it does happen.
To kick things off, here are a few of the things that I have experienced, and the types of things that happen regularly to female travellers. But, I want to make it clear that life as a solo female traveller as not like this 90% of the time – nevertheless, these incidents do happen and they can be challenging to deal with.
Well this happens everywhere. In Italy, I grew so sick of it that I started dressing differently and not wearing makeup. In Jordan, well I expected it more there, but it still made me feel like a caged animal unable to pop out to buy a coffee alone, let alone dress how I might want to.
This has happened more than a few times. Most recently, on my first night in Bali when someone followed me from my hotel to a restaurant and back again, leaving me unable to sleep for an entire night.
Being deliberately intimidated
Taxi drivers, scammers, groups of men, public officials. You name it. It’s hard to admit, but as a solo female traveller, there are some people that will see us easy prey. It might be because they just want a laugh or they’re looking for money or worse. The truth is, in our own cities, we would know how to deal with it. But in another country, it can be much harder.
The positives of solo female travel
On the flip side, I have also experienced some wonderful things. I really don’t want to put off female solo travellers. Travelling independently as a woman is hugely empowering, liberating and fun. There are a huge number of positives, not least the adventures that you could have! 90% of the time, it is amazing.
As a woman, most people, do look out for you. I’ve noticed this in particularly comes from other women. On a ferry to Albania, a local woman did everything she could to make sure I had clear directions without me asking. If a woman sees another woman crying, we will ALWAYS stop to check whether we can help. This is reciprocal and happens everywhere in the world (that and there is always a woman willing to give us a spare tampon.)
There are also many many wonderful men who will be conscious of the anxiety women may feel and go above and beyond to ensure that we feel as safe as possible. Shout out to the Indonesian taxi driver who noticed I’d dropped some money on the floor and handed it back to me and a male barista who spent 10 minutes helping me to find a bus stop in Kuta.
Without a doubt, the highlight of female solo travel is meeting likeminded travellers. There’s a unique bond that we all have, and it makes for brilliant companionship. I’m fortunate enough to have met many women whilst travelling, some of whom have become best friends to me at certain points in my life.
How to mitigate the risk posed to you as a solo female traveller?
I don’t claim to know how to always mitigate the risks. But this is how I try to go about travelling on my own. There’s a lot of guidance out there and, my main recommendation is to just take some time before you get on an airplane to think about it for yourself and decide on your own personal safety plan.
For what it’s worth, here are my solo female travel principles.
First Principle: If you don’t have a Plan B, don’t do it
This is a really important principle and is echoed in a number of the points below too. It’s something I like to think about all the time when I’m travelling. For example, if I know I have to get a specific bus or make a train connection, what would I do if I missed it? Have I got enough money to get a cab or is there somewhere I could stay if I don’t make it?
Another example, if I have to walk down an alleyway in the dark, is that the only option? Is there another way? And if there’s not, what am I going to do if things go wrong? Clearly this isn’t a situation any of us would want to be in. But what if there is no other option. In this scenario, I’d be thinking about my personal belongings and whether I’ve seen anywhere safe I can run to in an emergency. If there isn’t a Plan B, or a safe option, then I won’t do it.
Again, this is my own personal plan and not professional advice, but I’d always be thinking about exits, backups and the impact of losing things when I travel.
Second Principle: Don’t put all of your eggs into one basket or (bag)
I was once told during a self-defence class never to carry anything in your handbag that you would not be willing to give up. If somebody tries to mug you, the worst thing you can do is resist. Therefore, do not ever carry one bag with all of your worldy belongings in it. If you do, you may be tempted in the moment to resist someone trying to steal it.
A trick I’ve come to be quite fond of is to carry my mobile phone in my bra. It might seem ridiculous, but it gives me assurance that if my bag were to be stolen, I would still have my phone.
I also always try to make sure I leave my passport somewhere safe, or at least one form of ID. My passport and driving licence would rarely be found in the same place. If you can leave things safely in the hotel then do that, but don’t leave everything. In particular, your personal identification documents should never all be in once place.
It can be helpful to separate bank cards too. If you have one or more, keep one at your hotel and one on you. Or, if you need to carry both, keep one in a purse and one buried elsewhere on your person or in your belongings.
The same goes for expensive or sentimental items. If you wear expensive jewellery, or something that is very sentimental, consider not travelling with it. I know this is rubbish, but it may not be worth the risk.
Third Principle: Make sure somebody knows where you are at all times
This goes hand in hand with making sure you have a functioning mobile phone. If you arrive in a country and your network doesn’t let you use your phone overseas, buy a local SIM. Even if it’s more expensive to buy one at the airport, I’d really recommend that female solo travellers pay the extra money. Having a working phone as soon as you land is a must.
Once you have a working phone, make sure somebody knows where you are at all times. I know this sounds arduous, but it doesn’t have to be. There are apps that can do this automatically. Or, if you’re conscious of using data and battery, find a way to drop someone at home a regular message. I’m not saying they need to know where you are going for dinner, but a general “I’m in this town and staying in this hotel”, or “I’m getting this bus to this town at this time,” can be reassuring.
You might not want to bother your parents with this, but if you have a partner or a good friend that you can trust with this information, then do it. Good practise may also be to agree a rule for what your contact person should do if they don’t hear from you at certain times.
Fourth Principle: Always make sure you have spare money
This goes hand in hand with principle two, but it’s worth making a separate point. Firstly, don’t keep your bank cards in one place. Secondly, don’t keep all of your cash in one place. Thirdly, know what to do if you don’t have access to either. For example, make sure you can withdraw money with your mobile phone or that you can pay with an app. Or even have a third bank card hidden on your person. I would also suggest never going travelling if you don’t have a spare bit of cash for emergencies in your bank. See note on travel insurance below, but you don’t know when you may need to pull on urgent funds as an interim.
Fifth Principle: Be aware of your surroundings
Don’t every be so distracted that you don’t know what’s going on around you. This might mean i) Not getting too drunk ii) Not fiddling around in your handbag in public iii) Being so focused on your mobile phone that you don’t notice what’s around you.
A good tip I was once taught, never position your body in public so that you’re facing a wall and your back is exposed. If you need to check your phone or get something out of your bag, position your back to the wall so you a can still see what is in front of you.
Also, the highest risk of muggings, particularly mobile phone theft is when people come off trains, buses or out of the metro. Everyone looks at their phone when they come out of an underground station. Try to avoid making yourself a prime target for thieves.
Sixth Principle: Obey country specific advice
It may seem “Old Hat”, but I will always make time to read the FCO (Foreign Office in the UK) guidance for travel for each country. The USA and Canada always has similar guidance. I don’t know if other countries have it, but if not, look at the FCO guidance, or USA equivalent for reference.
This is the best way to gather up to date guidance and advice. Do not just read one or two travel blogs and assume that you’ll be fine. Travel blogs are based on personal experience. Government travel advice is based on much more evidence than that.
For example, the FCO provides comprehensive guidance on what women should wear in the Middle East, which includes some specific advice for women travelling to Jordan not to ride in the front of a taxi. This is not something I’d read elsewhere!
It can be tempting to think that we can take “western ideals” with us to other countries, but this is not the reality. So, pay attention to country specific advice, and if you want to stay safe, don’t try to make any personal statements.
Seventh Principle: Be very cautious of taxis
There is nothing more disconcerting, especially for a solo female traveller, than getting in a taxi in a foreign country. In Bali specifically, there is very good advice on the FCO advice about how to use taxis. Use registered companies, check licences, even take photos of the cars if you want to. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be assertive about a price before you get in. Do not ever take taxis that seem “dodgy” or are not licenced. You are literally putting your life in someone’s hands. At best, you might be fine, or you may get ripped off. But worse things do happen in taxis. You can also get taxi apps now that will automatically share your location with a friend, it will never hurt to do this.
Eighth Principle: Don’t be polite or people please unnecessarily – don’t be afraid to offend
It can be really tempting to be polite to people who are either making you feel uncomfortable, or even fully harassing you. I’m not recommending that you escalate the situation, but if you are uncomfortable, then get yourself out of the situation quickly and don’t prioritise not offending people in the process.
Ninth Principle: Always have travel insurance
Having travel insurance doesn’t necessarily mitigate the immediate risk posed to you as a solo female traveller. But it does negate some of the medium-term financial risk, if for example, you have your bag stolen or you end up in hospital and otherwise couldn’t pay the bills. Good insurance is an absolute necessary for any trip to make sure you don’t end up paying for anything that happens on your travels for years to come.
If you’re backpacking or a digital nomad, you must ensure that you have the right travel insurance. For backpackers, we recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance. For Digital Nomads, SafetyWing Nomad Insurance appears to be a good option (especially if you want flexible cover.) You can read more about travel insurance here.
Tenth Principle: Always have emergency contact numbers and a functioning phone
Firstly, make sure you know what the emergency numbers are in the country you are in. It’s not always 999 or 911.
Secondly, in the event of losing a mobile phone, make sure you have contact numbers written down for friends and family back home, and perhaps a reliable taxi company and your hotel too. Or make sure you know your logins for your email and socials in case you have to login to these from another device.
Eleventh Principle: Choose Accommodation Carefully
This is quite a personal choice, but there may be some accommodation styles or locations that won’t suit you as a solo female traveller. Personally, I would never choose a mixed sex dormitory in a hostel if it has less than 8 beds. It’s likely in a room that size that there will be at least one other woman, but in a smaller one this may not be the case. If I can, I would also sometimes choose a female only dorm.
The other thing I try to consider is how remote my accommodation is. Personally, when I am alone, I prefer a central and vibrant location if I can get one. It just feels safer to me.
Finally, look at reviews of any accommodation you book. Particularly, check out reviews from other female solo travellers. This can either be reassuring or a warning not to book.
Twelfth Principle: Post on social media with caution – do not post your exact location
This may sound OTT, but I’m a firm believer that you cannot be too careful when disclosing your location on open social media accounts. I’m not talking about sharing photos with friends, but on an open Instagram account, it can be advisable to act with caution. If you want to tag your exact location, do it once you’ve left that spot. Be especially careful as a female solo traveller not to advertise the exact location of your accommodation. In some cities, this may be fine, but in others it can be inadvisable. It’s quite terrifying how much information people can gather about you from social media, and you don’t want any potential bad actors to know your exact whereabouts.
Thirteenth Principle: Do not ignore your intuition
Intuition, or “gut feeling”, is difficult to pin down. But it’s just something we feel in certain situations. Studies show, that in some scenarios, intuition can help us make better decisions. If you have a subconscious feeling that something is not right, do not ignore it.
The same goes for if your gut tells you that you need help in a situation. Don’t hesitate. What’s the worst that can happen if you seek help?