The concern of safety as a solo female traveler and whether I would truly be alone were the two fears holding me back the most from pursing my dream of adventuring abroad. I'm sure those same fears resonate with some of you, which is why I'm sharing some of my solo female travel safety tips to alleviate that anxiety. I will say my solo travels have only been in European countries, so I can't speak for other parts of the world.
My Solo Female Travel Experiences
My first taste of solo travel was two summers ago when I walked a portion of a pilgrimage in Northern Spain called El Camino de Santiago. If you haven't heard of El Camino, it's a 500 mile hike starting from the Pyrenees in France and ending in the city of Santiago de Compostela in Northwestern Spain. I completed ¼ of the pilgrimage (118 miles) by myself.
Leading up to that trip, my sense of safety was shattered. My off-campus apartment had multiple attempted break-ins, my college campus had a violent attack and I was in the middle of planning of my first solo trip abroad......I was ready to back out of my dreams of solo travel.
Instead, I prayed, meditated, and journaled all my worries out in hopes I would find the courage to take the leap! And I did take that jump, but those fears were still there: How was I supposed to trust people that I just met? Could I go out at night and have fun without worrying? What if I have to catch a bus at 4am, will it be safe?
I realized that trying to get rid of those fears of solo travel wouldn't necessarily happen. Who is ever "ready or 100% prepared" to do something that is intimidating? No one! And if someone says they are, they are probably lying!
Before I left that summer, I met a woman who is originally from Sweden and has traveled all over Europe. She told me she always feels safer in Europe than the States. I completely doubted her! I couldn’t wrap my mind around feeling that way. I can now tell you she was absolutely right! One night, I arrived to my hostel in Dubrovnik, Croatia later than anticipated and the receptionist was unable to stay. They left an envelope with a key to the hostel and a letter for me outside the main door, so I wasn’t locked out. I couldn’t believe they were that trusting of people to leave a key right by the door in an envelope!
I learned it's normal to stroll through cities around midnight, sometimes just to take your dog on a walk. My friend and I had to take a bus in Athens, Greece around 4 am and found local, older folks sitting around drinking coffee, easing into their morning. We were confused trying to find the right bus stop and they directed us. It felt like a whole other world - I loved it!
My best tip is to build up your confidence and dare to have a little trust in the universe. Don't expect your fears or anxieties to disappear. That expectation will hold you back, and you'll beat yourself up. It's a normal human response to have apprehensions about something so outside our comfort zone. Have compassion for yourself for doing something that isn't easy and unnerving.
So, here it is! 9 solo female travel safety tips to ease your fears of solo female travel before your trip abroad!
9 Solo Female Travel Safety Tips
1. Take a self-defense class
I have taken a few and each one leaves me feeling empowered with tools I can use anywhere. I have taken one called R.A.D., which is offered in the States and a few other countries. Other times, I have taken classes where police officers share their insight and self-defense tactics. These classes build your confidence to defend yourself as a woman, which is priceless. Some people recommend carrying pepper spray or a pocket knife while traveling. I chose not to carry either one, because I usually fly multiple times during trips and security will confiscate it. However, if you only travel by bus or trains, then you could carry either one.
2. Talk to your Airbnb host or hostel receptionist on areas to avoid
During my first trip, many Airbnb hosts would point out areas to see as well as places to avoid. Since they are locals, their advice was golden! Whenever I stayed at hostels, I would talk with the receptionist if I had safety concerns and they were always helpful.
3. Any hotel can call you a taxi whether you are staying at that hotel or not
I rarely take taxis since they are more expensive than public transportation. However, whenever I get lost to the point I am so frustrated and just want to get home, I go to a hotel and have them call me one. You can also use Uber in many counties now. I go to hotels, because you know whatever taxi the hotel is calling is legit and registered. When I was in Ecuador, we had to look to make sure they had a red button in the taxi before taking it. Otherwise, they weren’t technically registered. Most of the taxis without red buttons were fine. They just didn’t want to pay for registering their car as a taxi. Some people felt fine not paying attention to whether the taxi was registered or not, but I personally wouldn’t take one by myself for my own comfort. Depending on the country, taxis may have different regulations. So, if you stumble into a country with no clue what their regulations are just ask a hotel to call you a taxi! Plus, it saves you 10 minutes of trying to flag one down!
4. Do group tours and bar crawls with your hostel
The people you meet when traveling are diamonds in the rough, and the bonds you create within a few short hours is pretty remarkable! I can tell you I honestly trusted the majority of people I met in hostels. Do your best to get to know your roomies or go to the common area and find people to go out with day and night. Whenever I was walking around a city at night with friends, I never felt unsafe. Of course, use your intuition and judgement as you would in any other situation when meeting people and street smarts in cities. I never walked around a city by myself late at night for my own comfort and avoid the more deserted areas for obvious reasons.
5. Keep your belongings close to you
I always travel using a side body purse with zippers. If I use a backpack for a day of site seeing, I make sure my wallet or anything valuable is at the bottom with a jacket covering it at top - not accessible to pick pocketers (I unfortunately learned this the hard way lol). You can also use money wallets that go underneath your clothing. I used one while walking the camino. Many people bring their own lock to use on the hostel lockers to store their cash or valuables. A girl in my hostel in Amsterdam lost 600 euros in her locked locker at our hostel. This goes to show you can do everything “right” and still experience what you were hoping to avoid. Most likely, the cleaning staff picked her lock. I personally have never used a lock on my locker. I keep all my credit cards, debit cards, or cash on me. Some people advise not to do this, but I personally feel this is the best option. I take out small increments of cash (~ 200 USD in the country's currency), so if something were to happen it wouldn’t be a huge loss.
6. Locals are typically very kind and helpful, so always ask them if you have questions!
Usually locals are excited to share their city with you and are more than willing to help you along the way. Sometimes when I have stopped to ask someone a question, it turns into a discussion about all the places to go see, well-kept secret gems of the city, or places to avoid.
7. Avoid traveling to your next destination late at night or early in the morning
I never take night buses or super early morning buses when I travel solo. I will if I am traveling with a friend or a group, but for my own comfort I choose to avoid these time frames when solo. While I do feel safe in the cities around these time periods, transportation hubs are a different story. Most locals advise to avoid subway or train stations late at night or early in the morning if you’re solo, which I would recommend as well.
8. Know that bad things can happen anywhere
Many people ask about the risk of terrorist attacks occurring when traveling abroad. Remembering horrible things can happen anywhere is important in keeping a realistic perspective. My own college campus had a violent attack, so things can happen in your own backyard. For people living in the States, you can look at the U.S. Department of State’s STEP program that allows you to see political activity going on in the country you are considering visiting. You can also register with the U.S. embassy, so when you travel you get any important updates regarding your safety and they can contact you in the case of an emergency.
9. If you don’t feel ready for a solo trip aboard, consider a domestic one
What’s best for everyone is different. Diving into a solo trip abroad may not be what’s best for you and that’s okay! Consider taking a step outside of your comfort zone; one that you see as doable. Trying a solo trip in your own country with your native language may be a good starting point!
Wrap Up on Safety Abroad for the Solo Female Traveler
And there you have it! 9 solo female travel safety tips to help empower you. I hope this post eases any fears you may have with safety abroad. Don’t let previous experiences hold you back from taking that trip you’ve always wanted! If you have any other questions, feel free to comment below or email me! To end this post, here is a quote by Leann Murphy on solo female traveling I find so true and inspiring. “Traveling solo as a woman is challenging. You will laugh. You may cry. You may even get lost from time to time. But through it all you will find yourself - your strengths and your weaknesses. That in itself is incredibly empowering - and will motivate you to carry on to your next journey."
Happy adventuring! - Monica