12 Tips for Solo Female Travellers

Real-world travel tips from a hardened nomad.
January 29, 2024

There are countless good reasons why anyone should travel at least once in their lifetime. Flying solo might seem daunting at first, but if you are brave enough to take the plunge, you may find it to be the best way to travel. I find it easier to meet people, engage with local communities and I have learned so much more about myself and grown as a person along the way. I feel like there’s a strong “It’s not safe for you” narrative when it comes to women travelling alone, and while there are some destinations that are sketchier than others, it’s still not something that should be avoided out of fear. As someone who’s been travelling solo for almost ten consecutive years at the time of writing ('23), I strongly believe it is a must-do and have compiled a list of tips to try to keep you safe and happy on the road.  

Modern advances (may) make your road to sanitary hygiene less potholed

1. Go With the Flow.
Tampons and sanitary pads can be tricky to find in many places, not to mention even more costly than they are at home. Menstrual cups may not work for everyone, but try one and see if it’s a fit for you. It’s best to start using it a couple months before your trip so you can get used to it. I can’t tell you how much I LOVE mine! It makes long bus, train or plane journeys with questionable bathroom facilities en route a cinch. I’m also pretty crap at tracking my cycle and love that I never have to plan to stock up on menstrual supplies anymore. If you can’t find a cup that works for you, consider period panties or reusable pads. You can thank me later!

2. Get the Beta.
Research your destination and plan accordingly.
Depending on where you grew up or currently live, this is just a larger-scale version of visiting a new neighbourhood, but without your years of local experience to help. Will it be safe to go out alone after dark? Obviously the experience of a gal raised in Johannesburg will vary greatly to one who hails from Helsinki. Try to get a gauge of how things where you’re going compare to where you’re from and go from there. Consider your clothing; are you in a country where you should dress conservatively? What are the cultural expectations and beliefs where you’re going? Remember, you are choosing to visit this country so even if you don’t like or agree with the cultural norms, you are a guest and should behave accordingly. Being respectful is the bare minimum and usually has the added benefit of earning locals’ respect in return. This rapport can be invaluable as friendly strangers may care more for your well-being as a result.

If you want to travel the globe in a spotlight, then do so with a private jet… and a solid security detail. For most of you reading this, I imagine you’re more into lower budget, low-impact travel. As hard as you may try, even with the best beta in the world, you may still stick out like a sore thumb. It seems obvious to say, “avoid attracting undue attention”, but wearing your burkha in Ibiza will get you as noticed as wearing your booty shorts in Baghdad. Try to blend in with the locals wherever possible. 

Sometimes the best resources are "on-the-ground"

Sometimes during the research phase, you’ll encounter concerning intel. Government travel advice may tell you to “Avoid All Non-Essential Travel” and your travel medical insurance may even deny you coverage for some destinations. These types of places are not recommended for your first backpacking experience! Try to be sensible and ease yourself into the thing. You don’t need to jet off to Kabul on your first foray out into the world. (Unless you’re a jump into the deep-end-headfirst kind of swimmer.) If you’re a seasoned traveller and wanting to go somewhere inordinately risky, you’ll already have your systems sorted out, but for those new to the adventure, try to find contacts on the ground who can give you up-to-date info on the situation in-country. Being a climber is a massive advantage on this front, as it grants you acceptance with whatever local climbing community exists. Take advantage of your connections, however tenuous. Facebook, Instagram, other social media platforms, and other climbing or digital nomad groups will have members that can offer you some real, un-hyped advice and locals will usually be pretty psyched to get you out to check out “their” rock. As always, when it comes to trusting the word of strangers on the internet, be careful and try to vet them to the best of your ability. The global climbing community (especially the travelling one) isn’t that big, and you are bound to have contacts in common with just about anyone you come across out there on the world wide web.

If you are intent on visiting more volatile areas, consider volunteering (with wildlife, refugees, other humanitarian causes, etc.) for a short periods and make use of that organisation’s infrastructure to get you settled in-country.

Don’t be afraid to lower off! There’s no shame in bailing.
I ended up calling off a climbing trip to Mali last year because a contact there confirmed it was extremely volatile and there had been an increased number of kidnappings. I chose life! It felt good! 

Pack light, pack right

3. Sign the Mountain-Register.
Make sure someone knows where you are/what your plans are and check in with this person regularly. If you are planning to go off-grid for an extended period of time, tell someone where you plan to be and when you might check in again. As women in a world of online dating, we’re all probably fairly familiar with this one; “this is where I’m going and who I’m meeting, hopefully he doesn’t kill me, lol!”

It’s kind of fucked up, but better safe than dismembered and stuffed in a back-alley dumpster. 

4. When in Bear Country… (Watch out for bears!)
Always be aware of your surroundings/have an exit strategy. (Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.) Don’t keep headphones/music on when walking alone in otherwise quiet areas; it makes it easy for someone to sneak up on you and insinuates that you have a smartphone in your pocket. (Though let’s be real, who doesn’t these days?) I had a teacher in high school say to our class, “At night women are as aware of who’s behind them as who’s ahead.” and I think about that a lot. Always glance back over your shoulder, down side streets, and don’t be afraid to cross the road if someone dubious is coming toward you. Walk near enough to other pairs/groups of people to be mistaken for one of them or duck into shops or restaurants to lose someone if you feel like you’re being tailed. Enlist local help or get a taxi if carrying on, on foot, feels sketchy.

5. Kung-Fu Fighter (V3)
You may find yourself a ways away from the Death Star Boulder in Squamish, BC, (home ofKung-fu Fighter) and a little self-defence know-how could go a long way. If you can, take some classes! If you can’t, watch some YouTube videos. Knowing how to throw a punch and where to hit a person, how to break an attacker’s hold and how to weaponise random everyday objects could help you walk away from a violent confrontation. Most of these encounters will be opportunists looking for an easy score; some will be immediately deterred as soon as they realise you’re not a pushover. You could also consider carrying a whistle or personal alarm; if pepper spray is legal where you’re travelling, pick some up; if not, mosquito repellent or antiperspirant to the eyes is a pretty great deterrent too. Keep your keys handy. The extent to which this tip applies varies greatly by country/city. Obviously your level of preparation on this front would be different for Toronto Vs Tijuana.

Use your head. Don’t escalate a situation unnecessarily. This recommendation is not meant to encourage you to get into a physical altercation. In most cases, your would-be opponent will be vastly more experienced with far less to lose than you.

Local culture is part of the charm of travelling (and they know the area better than anyone)

6. Local is lekker.
Engage with the locals. Learn some of the language. Talk to people. Getting to know the people allows you to know a country so much more deeply. It will give you a more authentic experience, and you may even get fed real food and make special life-long friends along the way. Always remember that these people owe you nothing. They are living their lives and you are on holiday; there one day and gone the next. If people are kind and wish to engage with you, treat the experience like the gift it is, and if not, don’t take it to heart! 

7. The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
While the title of this classic Czech novel implies that light is unbearable, clearly Mr. Kundera was not a nomadic dirtbag on a budget. Pack the toiletries, leave the kitchen sink. Only travel with what you can carry yourself!

YOU DON'T NEED THAT MANY CLOTHES! Pack as lightly as possible in the clothing department and remember that you can pick up just about anything you might’ve forgotten almost anywhere in the world.(Probably at a better deal than at home!)

Bring comfortable, PRACTICAL shoes, damnit. No sense wasting any part of your trip in pain because of impractical footwear. Plus if you need to run, it’s best to be able to hightail it without breaking an ankle.

8. Fake It Till You Make It.
Be aware of your body language & how you appear to others; try to come across as confident, capable, like you know where you are. Looking lost/uncertain/weak makes you an obvious target for would-be scammers, muggers and the like—as does being out-of-control drunk or high! Know your limits. It’s generally not a great idea to get blackout drunk at the best of times, let alone when you’re on your own in a foreign country. Keep your shit together and don’t make yourself a burden to others or an easy target. Also (again) consider your choice of clothing. Is your destination a safe place to go out in designer clothes wearing all your jewellery? I find it best to dress simply, practically, and avoid attracting undue attention.

9. Stack Your Pads Right.
Never keep all your eggs in one basket! This one will evolve in the moment. It’s easier to keep all of your precious items together in transit, but as soon as the situation allows (like once you’re camping or in your hotel,) it’s smart to split up the goods. Even in transit it may be smart to keep valuables divvied up on your person—this one is very situation-dependant. Keep cash squirrelled away in different places, divvy up any/all credit/debit cards. Never let yourself end up in a financially compromised position if you get mugged or pick-pocketed. Always keep your passport somewhere safe; I never take mine out with me unless I absolutely must and always take photos/make copies of the ID page and any active visas inside. Some people like to keep a “dummy wallet” on them in case of a mugging; that way you can hand over a small wallet with just a little bit of cash in it and keep your real one safe (in theory.) Come up with creative ways to hide your cash and valuables (and try not to forget where you’ve put them!) I’ve heard of women twisting money up and stuffing it in a (clean) tampon applicator because who is robbing a gal for tampons?? Plus if you use a menstrual cup, you’ll always know what’s what. ;)

Sleep Tight (and learn to do so whenever, wherever, the opportunity arises)

10. Sleep Tight.
Book safe accommodation. Always always always read reviews and avoid booking anything that doesn’t have any! Many hostels have female-only dorms and there are often plenty of great hosts to choose from on CouchSurfing or AirBnb. If couch surfing, make sure you have a backup plan in case things get weird with your host and you need to make a swift exit. If you’re booking something in person, have a look at the room before you commit to it. It’s always okay to walk away! Anyone who knows me knows I hate to plan too far into the future, but there are times when planning is a necessary evil. Arriving at night in anew-to-you city where you have no contacts? Probably best to book accommodation for the first night or two and look into the best/safest ways to travel therefrom the airport. If you’re on a budget and leaving the airport at an unusual hour is too spendy (been there!) sleep on the floor until morning. (Check outsleepinginairports.net for solid intel there.) Alternatively, try to make new friends en route to split the cost of the airport transfer with. I was once saved from sleeping on the airport floor in Dakar by a sweet German girl who took pity on me and invited me to crash in her hotel room for the night. (In situations like these, you’ll have to go with your gut, ha.)

11. Exercise good judgment (and prepare to be judged.)
It is said that “good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment”. Until you’ve gone through the learning curve, you’ll have to go with your gut instinct or use cool logical reasoning (or both!) Is it really likely that this man has a primo rug to sell you just down that deserted alley back there? Should you get in the taxi with that driver who looks completely inebriated? There’s a world of decisions out there! And be aware that as a woman, if anything goes wrong, we will be blamed and shamed for it (but only by douchebags.) I like to think things are getting better, but there will still always be those assholes saying, “Well, what were you doing there?”

“What were you wearing?”

“Why were you alone?”

“Why did you ever leave the comfort and safety of home in the first place?”

Fuck ‘em. You do you. Don’t let fear keep you from doing the things you want to do most in the world. Try to make good choices and keep yourself safe and let the nay-sayers stay home in front of their TVs.

12. Take Care of Yourself!
Travel (like anything) has its ups and downs. I personally find it to be one of the most rewarding and educational things on the planet, but it’s not for everyone. It’s important to look after your mental (and physical) health and keep things in perspective. Bad things can happen anywhere, any time, and how you deal with them is up to you. It’s okay to get angry, upset, scared, worried, or anything else, but learning how to manage those feelings effectively will vastly improve your quality of life on the road.

Be Resourceful. Patient. Empathetic. Stay Positive. (Or at least try to return to positive after the shit storm has passed.)
When you encounter a problem, examine it from every angle before deciding it’s hopeless. When you are burnt out and don’t feel like talking to anyone, find a way to have a couple “you” days alone. When you are faced with difficult people, remember: “This too shall pass.” Chances are, your time with them will be fairly fleeting… and that person will literally pass (on)one day. Hopefully before you. Hopefully far away from you. Hopefully not because you couldn’t handle their shit anymore and finally snapped. Sorry, I digress…

That’s it, that’s all (for now!)

If you want to do it, you should do it. Don’t wait on anyone else. Go. Do the thing. I hope some of these tips help in some way and I would love your feedback! Is there anything else you would have included? Let us know