Updated June 17, 2020.
Back in 2016, I had the opportunity to do a segment on a local talk show called Let’s Talk Live! to discuss traveling solo! I was so excited, and it prompted me to write this post for women in particular who want to travel solo, but are maybe a little unsure about just going for it. If you’re interested, here’s the link!
And four years later, I’ve traveled to more solo destinations, had more solo experiences, and continued to make solo travel my business! So here’s a freshly updated guide, complete with links for more information and better photos so you can clearly see how much fun solo travel can really be! This is not a comprehensive guide, just some tips and tricks I’ve learned as a Southern lady traveling solo, safely and happily seeing the world. Come join me!
1. Do be Self-aware
The world is a wonderful place, but be smart and keep your guard up. Use your common sense and keep your visible valuables to a minimum when you travel. Use a purse that zips completely closed. Leave your nice jewelry at home. Don’t leave your purse on the back of your chair, keep it in your lap or even at your feet. Remember the way you came so you can get back to your accommodation. Basically act like a lady but think like a thief!
Keep reading: How to Travel Safely
2. Do Dress Conservatively
Do a little research on what’s acceptable for women to wear in the country you’re visiting. This is not an opportunity to exercise your women’s rights unless that country is exceptionally accepting of women. You can never go wrong with conservative clothes and a scarf for extra coverage when necessary—like entering a religious site such as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Saint Peter’s Basillica at the Vatican, or the Taj Mahal in India. I made a friend on a trip to Qatar who offered to dress me up in the full abaya and headscarf so I could blog about it and show everyone what each piece is!
Need help deciding what to wear? Check out my Packing Page!
3. Do Remember that You’re a Visitor
It is someone else’s beautiful country that you’ll be visiting for a few days or weeks. Learn some of their customs before you leave, and that will go a long way toward endearing yourself to the locals. People in most countries are delighted to hear someone attempting to speak their language. “Thank you” is the word I use most, no matter what language I’m trying to speak, and that’s the one word I learn before any trip! Be respectful of the people in the country you’re visiting and of their historic landmarks.
Get more: Confessions of a Solo Female Traveler
4. Do Remember Many People Around the World Speak Fluent English
This is especially true in large cities or touristy areas. So never EVER say something bad about a country or its people assuming the person next to you can’t understand you. They probably can. My friend Bianca is Swiss, but she fluently speaks at least six languages, and she understand even more! The fact that so many people think of English as the “global language” is particularly helpful when you get lost or just need to ask a questions (like “Where’s the bathroom?”).
Need to ease into foreign travel slowly?
Check out Where Do They Speak English?
5. Learn to read a map!
It’s so important to know how to read an actual, paper map! I know, you’ve got it on your phone, but what if your phone dies? What if it’s stolen? What if there’s no signal? You gotta know how to do it the old fashioned way. Just knowing how to orient yourself with the map without using a compass will get you so far, and you’ll be at such an advantage in a new place if you just know how to read a map!
Be in the know! How to Read a Map
1. Don’t Drink (or Do Drugs )
This is a hard and fast rule with me, and I recommend it to all travelers. Even if you like to have a drink with dinner back home, and even if you know your limit, it’s much better to err on the side of caution with this one. You do not want to be traveling alone, think you can have one more, and then get lost going back to where you’re staying. Hangovers are not fun anywhere, but especially not on travel. It’s also expensive! You can still be social, make new friends, and go to bars and restaurants; just choose water or juice over wine or a cocktail. You won’t be missing out, and you’ll have no regrets.
Essential info: How to Enjoy Dining Out Solo
2. Don’t Ignore Your Gut
Women of the world, we have intuition if we are willing to listen to it! If something just doesn’t seem right, it’s probably not. You are always better safe than sorry, literally every time. If you have a sneaking suspicion that someone’s following you, duck into a shop or restaurant until you feel safe again. If you have this gut feeling that you should or shouldn’t do something, listen to that! I have often looked back on a blunder and thought, “I knew I shouldn’t have done that!” or “I knew I should have done that instead!” It works both ways. All you have to do is listen.
Read on: Mistakes Travelers Make
3. Don’t Look Like a Target
Sometimes you can’t help it–when I travel to Asia or the Middle East, my skin color and eyes just give me away as a touist every time! But if you try to blend yourself into the culture in other ways, you could be mistaken for a transplanted local. Act like you know where you’re going, even if you don’t! Dress like the locals. Learn a few words in the local language.
And please, keep your map and guidebook in your bag while you’re walking! Before you leave your accommodation, study your guide book, figure out how to get to your first couple of sites, and then you can look at your guidebook when you go to the bathroom or while you’re safely inside a restaurant having lunch or coffee. Looking at your guidebook on the sidewalk (and blocking the sidewalk with no self-awareness) will make you a target to any pickpockets within sight.
But remember: Why It’s Okay to Be a Tourist
4. Don’t be Scared!
For one thing, thieves, like animals, can sense fear. Don’t give them anything to work with. For another, fear will stop you from doing fun things! When I lived in Japan and taught English, I took a train up to Nagoya (Japan’s fourth largest city) on a day off. But I was so scared of getting lost and not finding my way back to the train station, I just stayed inside all day! There was a mall down there with miles and miles of stores and restaurants, but I don’t like shopping, so that was kind of a bust for me. I went home feeling like I totally wasted a day.
The next time I had a day off, I worked up the guts to go back to Nagoya. I decided I was going to explore, no matter what. And it was awesome! I ate at some great places, walked to the Nagoya-jo (Nagoya Castle), and learned a lot about imperial Japan at a museum there. I could do it—and you can, too!
5. Don’t Forget to Keep in Touch
Your family, spouse, or friends back home will probably be a little (or a lot) worried about you traveling alone in a foreign country. So just make sure you stay in contact, at least once a day. E-mail, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media are available absolutely everywhere, so make sure you take a few minutes to send off an “I’m having a great time!” sort of message for those who love you back home.
And don’t forget: 5 Reasons to Travel with Others
What are some of your concerns about traveling alone as a woman? Or concerns you may have for your wife, mother, sister, niece, or daughter? Comment to let me know, and maybe I can ease your mind about those fears!
Want more? Check out all my solo safety tips and travel hacks on my Solo Travel Page!
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