Whether dipping your toes in the Sulu Sea or riding horseback through the Tuscan hills, there is so much of the world to explore – and doing it alone means exactly at your own pace. Solo travel is becoming increasingly more attractive for many reasons: You get to meet new people while doing things your way, spend intimate time with yourself, and rest without feeling guilty.
If you’ve ever thought about embarking on your own version of Wild or Eat, Pray, Love, you’re (ironically) not alone. A whopping 84 percent of solo travellers are women, according to studies led by Booking.com and Condor Ferries. In fact, two thirds of all travellers are women, and 80 percent of all travel decisions are made by women, the George Washington University School of Business reports. Plus, solo travel was rated the second-most popular category of travel by respondents planning future trips in a 2020 survey conducted by travel company Cox & Kings.
Of course, a solitary sojourn poses its own challenges, but “traveling solo is one of the most empowering and fulfilling adventures women can embark on,” says Mar Pages and Megan Jerrad of Solo Female Travelers. “It not only opens the senses to new smells, sights, and sounds, but the soul to different perspectives and ways to live life, thus contributing to making the world a more open, tolerant, and empathetic place.”
But, before you book that plane or train ticket, here are the 10 best tips and 10 top destinations for solo female travellers – from women who’ve been there.
1. Just do it.
“It will never be the perfect time, so make now the time to live your travel dreams,” says Amanda Black of The Solo Female Traveler Network. While it would be nice to receive a divine signal to get on that plane, if you keep waiting around for that moment when you finally have enough money, your trip is expertly planned, and all the stars align, you’ll never get anywhere. Take the leap, and trust that the memories you make along the way will be worth it.
2. That said, it doesn’t hurt to start small.
Many prospective travellers make a New Year’s resolution to stop waiting on others and take their first solo trip, but then become overwhelmed with where to start. Pages and Jerrad recommend starting small, perhaps with an overnight trip to a nearby city or a weekend trip somewhere in the same country.
Reduce the number of changing variables by going somewhere where the culture is the same as back home, and then increasingly change these variables by next going somewhere where the language or culture is similar. This will help you figure out if solo travel is right for you and build your confidence to travel further. Eventually, you’ll feel like a pro, ready to set off to an international destination with a completely different culture.
3. Stash cash in multiple places.
Money is a must when traveling (sad, but true!), so ensuring yours stay secure amid every adventure should be top of mind. “Keep some in your wallet, of course, but that could potentially get lost or stolen,” says Black. She also recommends stashing some in your shoes, a hidden pocket in your clothes, and an obscure corner of your backpack. If your day bag gets stolen, you will still have backup bucks in your hotel room.
4. Download and sign up for a safety app.
Having “spent a lot of time last year testing and assessing a variety of safety apps and devices designed for women to call for help in case of an emergency,” Pages emphasises the importance of these tools for solo female travellers. Her top recommendation: UrSafe. (As a result of their app testing, Solo Female Travelers entered into a partnership with UrSafe where members can try the app for free for 30 days.)
The app has a voice-activated safety word that will contact emergency services and/or the police or private security services, depending on what country you’re in. Unlike other apps or devices, you don’t have to do anything beyond saying the word you have preset, and the camera of your phone will immediately start streaming a video of the situation to your safe contacts. For R29.99 a month (for premium features), you can stay safe when traveling or wherever you live as UrSafe can be used even when walking home from work. Oh, and these apps also allow someone to track your location, so you can allow loved ones to know where you are and that you’re safe. Peace of mind = priceless.
5. Travel on the shoulder season.
ICYDK, shoulder seasons are the sweet spot between the busy tourist season and the low season (which probably has bad weather). It’s “the best time to travel to get thinner crowds, good weather, and cheaper prices,” says Black.
6. Get travel insurance.
The prospect of getting sick – alone – in a foreign place is daunting enough. Add the challenges, both financial and emotional, of paying for hospital bills or worrying if you can even afford them, and it’s enough to give you a headache…on top of your original ailment.
Take it from women who’ve been there, Mar Pages of Solo Female Travelers isn’t from South Africa but she travelled here and had quite the experience: “I broke my arm in South Africa and needed surgery, which cost upwards of [R300 000] and had me off work for a month,” says Pages. “My insurance paid for everything including my mother flying over.” On the flip side, Jerrad had an asthma attack without insurance in Eastern Europe and was double stressed making sure nobody called a pricey ambulance to take her to a hospital.
More recently, the duo have seen an increasing number of their community members stranded abroad because of COVID-19, facing large hospital and quarantine bills – even if perfectly well. But word to the wise shopper: It’s not enough to buy insurance, says Pages and Jerrad. You need to read the fine print and see if the policy will cover you in case you test positive but are asymptomatic, and in case you are quarantined because of someone you came into contact with on your travels.
7. Research safety in your destination.
Some cities or countries have specific safety concerns that are important to know before you go. For example, sometimes hailing a random tuk tuk or taxi won’t be safe. Black recommends “asking your hostel or hotel to arrange a ride, and always keep your map open to be sure you are going in the right direction.”
In other places, mugging tourists may be common, so she advises against carrying a bag. But, if you need one for your travel essentials, “look at a slash-proof option with RFID pockets, especially [if you’re traveling] in Europe or cities where petty theft and pick-pocketing is common,” says Black.
8. Always get a SIM card with data as soon as you land.
If you have a SIM card and an internet connection, you can address a lot of the worries and fears that solo female travellers commonly share with Pages and Jerrad: loneliness (listen to music or an audiobook or text with friends), fear or embarrassment of eating alone (schedule a video or phone call with a pal), personal safety (an app like UrSafe comes in clutch), fear of getting lost (Google Maps and car-hailing apps, FTW!).
And while it’s always a good idea to familiarise yourself with key phrases in the local language, Google Translate can help bridge any language barrier that may come up along your travels. The pair praise the translation service’s ability to have a full conversation in another language: “I’ve done it more than once,” says Pages.
9. Save money on accommodations.
There are many creative ways to make your travel budget stretch further, and trying to save on what is usually the biggest expense – lodging – is the first place to start. “Try house sitting for a free place to stay in exchange for watering plants or watching pets,” says Black. Road tripping and opting for camping or hostels over hotels for even just part of the trip will save you big, too.
10. Plan, but leave room for serendipity.
“It’s a good idea to have a general sense of what you will see or do, but it’s also important to leave space to breathe and for the unexpected to find you,” says Pages. Some of the duo’s best stories from their respective solo travels come from unexpected moments where they met someone new, discovered a cool place that wasn’t marked on any maps, or stumbled upon a street musician who sang amazing opera in a back alley. If you are on a check-list trip, you will miss those opportunities – and they’re usually the ones you remember most.
What are the best destinations for solo female travellers?
Black, Pages, and Jerrad agree that Iceland is a top spot for solo female travellers because it’s super safe with many roads that are easy to navigate. Not to mention, the gorgeous country will take your breath away. (I mean, the Northern Lights? C’mon!) Iceland may be an expensive travel destination, but it’s one of the world’s most equal countries for women.
2. Barcelona and surrounding areas
There is something for everyone within the city and surrounding areas, from culture and food to history and adventure to even the mountains and the beach, says Pages and Jerrad. In fact, Barcelona is a great first solo trip destination, based on the respondents to Solo Female Travelers’ survey in 2020 and 2021. It’s not only very safe for women, but also very affordable. Plus with 40 million visitors a year, it’s easy to meet other travellers and locals. If you want to get out of the city and explore more of Catalonia, the public transportation options and various day trips means you can enjoy medieval villages, beach towns, holy mountains, and so much more.
3. Greeces Cycladic islands
Greece became an incredibly popular destination in 2020, ranking among the top three bucket list destinations among members of the Solo Female Travelers community, says Pages and Jerrad. Even better: The country has retained this title in 2021. With white washed fishing villas and those gorgeous blue domes, this well-loved sun and sea combo is known for its affordability. Women can indulge in great food, long hours of sunshine (it only rains 20 days a year in Santorini), quaint spots for photo ops and Instagrammable flying dress photo shoots, shopping, and more.
4. New Zealand
Another destination recommended by all three experts, this island is easy to navigate, and is so beautiful that it feels like something out of a picture book (or, ya know, a Lord of the Rings film). The jaw-dropping nature and breathtaking landscapes offer some of the best outdoor experiences life has to offer – glow worm caves, anyone?—plus, the friendliest people.
Eat, Pray, Love truly left a mark on the rolling hills of Tuscany, turning it into both a top choice for many a female traveller’s first solo trip, as well as an overall bucket list destination, says Pages and Jerrad. Whether you have specific experiences in mind or just want to leave it all up to chance, you can likely plan to enjoy the slow life among wine country, olive groves, undulating green hills, and quaint medieval villages.
Nature lover ready to spread your wings? The islands are full of incredible wildlife and pretty safe for women traveling solo. Choose a boat tour to be guided around the islands for hikes, go snorkeling, or join nature walks, recommends Black. You can also island hop using ferries whenever you want a change of scenery and to see even more amazing animals.
This hardly-visited country is the spiritual centre of Buddhism and the place where GDP has been replaced with Gross Domestic Happiness, says Pages and Jerrad. The peace and calm that one can experience in Bhutan is the perfect background for anyone going through the process of self-reflection and self-healing. For example, Pages visited Bhutan solo after being diagnosed with a serious condition and returned hopeful and at peace with the healing journey she was about to begin.
8. Costa Rica
In recent years, Costa Rica has climbed to the top of the bucket list for many travellers, and has become a very popular destination throughout 2021 among Solo Female Travelers members, says Pages and Jerrad. The country features stunning nature and wildlife and has become a favourite destination for wellness retreats.
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The language barrier may feel intimidating, but Japan is so organised and easy to navigate, from ordering food to using the public transportation system, says Black. It is safe, clean, beautiful, and runs more or less on schedule. A Type-A solo traveller’s dream!
Everyone thinks of the Maldives as the ultimate couple’s destination, but that’s no longer the case, says Pages and Jerrad. With more than a thousand hotels and resorts in the Maldives, there is something for everyone, including those who want to party. Plenty of travellers vacation here solo, whether to take a trip purposefully focused on self-care or simply to disconnect from it all and enjoy a beautiful place. Plus, more and more resorts are offering solo packages complete with butlers who will take your picture when requested and in-villa BBQs for one. So, if you’re going to treat yourself (and you should), there’s no better place.
*This article was originally published on Women’s Health US