Table of Contents
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Hi, friends! Today I’ve decided to put together the MOTHER of solo female travel guides covering every aspect of the topic from WHY you should travel solo to practical tips for before, during and after. I’ll also cover how to meet people and hopefully prepare you for the challenges.
So, let’s dive right in!
But first, I just want to say it’s so exciting that you’re even considering this! Solo female travel has undoubtedly changed my life for the better. It seems scary and daunting at first, and not everyone in your life will always be on board. But it’s so worth it!
In case you’re wondering, who am I and why you should trust me for solo female travel advice, here’s my story:
- I have 8 years of solo travel experience under my belt
- I quit my job in 2015 to go travelling for a year. Friends joined for parts but during the sections alone, I fell in love with my own company and never looked back
- I have tackled difficult destinations like South Africa and India
- I’ve navigated hard situations like being sick alone (on a drip!) and always come out fine..ish 😉
- I started this blog to share tips garnered during my travels and inspire other women to live life on their own terms, too. I had no idea back then that this would become my full-time job!
- In 2022, I moved to Mexico alone where I now live, travel and constantly gorge myself on tacos.
Why should women travel solo?
Let’s start at the very beginning: why consider this lifestyle at all? In my eyes, there are many benefits of travel solo for example:
- Getting to know yourself and your capabilities better
- Improving your skills such as organisation and endurance
- Becoming more confident and independent!
- No chance of clashing with a bad travel companion
- Seeing this wonderful world without waiting for anyone!
Where to travel solo for women
The big question! Although it depends on your motivation for travelling. My first trip was based on wanting to visit Southeast Asia so the solo travel element was secondary (little did I know it would become a massive part of my life!). But perhaps you’re planning to travel solo for the experience itself and the missing piece of the puzzle is WHERE.
Narrow it down by continent. Due to its decent safety rating (and beautiful destinations, of course) solo travel in Europe is a popular option. Some of my favourite countries are Portugal and Croatia, and my top cities include Prague, Budapest, and Berlin. For budget travel, the Balkans are great if you don’t mind the infrastructure not being quite so advanced.
Australia, New Zealand and Canada are also safe and beautiful options but, similar to Europe, they’re expensive, plus (in my personal opinion) not so culturally interesting if you’re coming from a Western country. But, depending on your motivation for travel, this may not be a problem.
My suggestion for first-timers is solo travel in Southeast Asia, for example, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Bali, Malaysia and the Philippines (click the names for solo travel guides). This region is safe, beautiful and friendly with great backpacker infrastructure and opportunities to meet others. Plus, it’s culturally fascinating.
I’ve also had rewarding solo travels in India, South Africa, Mexico and Cuba but the first two locations aren’t suited to beginners and the second two may challenge non-Spanish speakers.
Taking the plunge
Taking the plunge and committing to a trip can be the hardest bit. I’ve heard people talk about solo female travel for years and never actually DO IT. I certainly talked about it for a while back in 2015, umming and ahhing and running it by people who couldn’t make the decision for me.
- Consider what’s stopping you – is it the reactions of others? Wondering if you’ll hate it? Safety concerns? Put your finger on it then consider what you would do in that situation. For example, if you get there and don’t enjoy it, you could book on a group tour, or just come home!
- Do a mini solo trip first to build yourself up. Start with lunch or coffee alone, then try an overnight trip to a new city in your home country
- Book something. Anything! But preferably something expensive (like a flight) that feels like an investment you can’t back out of. I find when your flights are booked and you’ve told people, it starts to feel ‘real’… and exciting!
Prep: before travelling solo
Planning your route: once your first flight is booked, start to research your destination. Decide what cities or regions you’d like to visit, then Google some itineraries (see if I have one on your destination) to get a rough idea how long you’ll stay in each place. Once you’ve got an itinerary, start booking accommodation and transport.
Start buying useful items and Google packing lists for your upcoming destinations.
Research the challenges of solo travel for women (or keep reading) to prep for the issues you might face and how to overcome them. Don’t bum yourself out, of course, it’s mainly positive!
Research your destination using blogs, social media, and YouTube so you aren’t hit with any major surprises. Knowledge is power! Also, it’s a great way to get excited.
Consider what type of trip this will be – would you prefer to backpack or travel more luxuriously? Is this trip for partying or cultural immersion? Perhaps you want to see lots of places and move every couple of days. If that sounds exhausting, why not slow travel or even spend longer in a destination volunteering or housesitting?
Think about your budget. Start by googling spending guides for your destination. Or maybe you want to divide your savings by the amount of time you’re away to determine a weekly/monthly limit.
Start your own travel blog or social media account so your friends and fam can follow along.
Create an empowered echo chamber – join Facebook groups like Girls Love Travel, read solo female travel blogs (mine, please!) and follow other solo women travellers on social media.
To plan or not to plan, that is the question. It’s tempting to over-plan to feel secure especially if it’s your first time travelling alone as a woman. This is a mistake I made before!
If your plans are set in stone, you can’t be flexible if you love or hate a place and want to stay longer or leave sooner. You can’t adapt to travel with people you meet along the way.
I would highly recommend booking your first few hostels, flights or buses, then keeping things flexible. (The exception would be if travelling in Western Europe in peak summer and need to reserve things ahead).
Solo female travel packing list
Of course, this is very destination specific. I’ll leave you to decide what clothes to bring based on the climate and how conservative your destination is. However, this is a good start:
- Clothes to last around 1 week – then I usually do laundry
- A warm layer even for hot countries – you ever know when the aircon will be turned up high in a dorm room, plane or bus
- A sarong – so useful for the beach, to cover your legs at temples, as a cover on night buses etc
- A combination padlock for hostel lockers (I prefer these to padlocks with keys that I can easily lose). Some places include these but not always
- Ear plugs and an eye mask. These will be your best friends for night buses and hostels!
- Microfibre quick-drying towel – these are so lightweight compared to regular towels
- Sustainability item – stainless steel reusable water bottle (most hostels offer fill-ups from big filtered units) or a filtering water bottle that makes any water safe to drink
- Sustainability item – shampoo and conditioner bars, along with body soap to avoid plastic usage
- A portable power bank to keep your phone alive when you’re on the go
- Kindle – this is so useful when travelling somewhere without English language bookshops!
- Camera? I put a question mark because many people just use their phones these days. But I like having a camera for the zoom, especially if I’m travelling somewhere with wildlife. Also, a GoPro is great for action and underwater photography.
Bags for solo female travel – I recommend a large backpack for example the Osprey 70L, my bag of choice. I also recommend a small backpack (my Osprey came with one attached) for transit days and hiking. I use a tote bag for my non-valuables during casual days of sightseeing.
For valuables, I recommend a small cross-body bag that couldn’t be easily stolen from your person. Use this during days and evenings out for your phone, money etc. I’d recommend leaving your passport and backup bank cards at your accommodation. You may also want to invest in an extra secure bum bag that goes around your waist or chest for overnight journeys or times you’re in transit with everything.
Tips for solo female travel (during your trip)
Here are a few miscellaneous ways to maximise your solo female trip.
Read next: 101 tips for solo female travel
- Get immersed culturally by meeting locals. For this, I recommend Couchsurfing (or the Host A Sister Facebook group if you’d prefer to stay with a woman), staying in a room within a local’s home on Airbnb, volunteering, or simply taking the chance to chat with locals when the opportunity arrises
- Download apps for navigation like Maps.me (works offline), local transport apps like Citymapper and Mooivit, and taxi apps (Grab is handy in Asia)
- Stay in hostels to save money and meet other travellers
- Try housesitting to save money and stay in places longer, giving yourself some downtime in a cosy home. I wrote this guide to how TrustedHousesitters works and whether it’s worth using.
- Keep a diary so you remember this trip later. It can be easy to forget details with no one reminding you years later.
How to get around? Since hiring a car alone can be expensive and internal flights are unsustainable (although sometimes necessary), I usually opt for train or bus. In Europe, I use Flixbus – apart from in Eastern Europe where it doesn’t run but you can take local buses, instead.
In Asia, I compare journey prices and durations on the 12go website which is an absolute godsend! If you visit Mexico, ADO buses are great.
What are the challenges of solo female travel?
There are many pros and cons of travelling solo. A quick summary is:
- CON: can’t split costs
- PRO: manage your own budget
- CON: getting lonely
- PRO: meeting more people
- CON: doing all the planning and admin
- PRO: complete control over your plans
- CON: not sharing the moment
- PRO: not waiting for people
- CON: no help during the bad times.
I find the hardest thing is being alone during bad times for example being sick or homesick. I also find, even though you’re always meeting great new people, it can be exhausting to be constantly introducing yourself and doing small talk. Sometimes, I crave chatting with someone who knows me well and doesn’t need any explanations or backstories.
Those are just my personal takeaways; you might find your likes and dislikes about solo female travel are entirely different!
To deal with the specific challenges mentioned above, read my guide to overcoming the disadvantages of solo female travel
Safety during solo female travel
‘Safety’ is so inherent to the topic of solo travel for women that it’s hard to find an article, status, post or tweet that doesn’t mention it. And sadly, yes, there are people and publications who place the responsibility on us, suggesting the tiny fraction of women who have bad experiences were inviting that risk by travelling alone.
So, how dangerous is solo travel, really? I would say there are 3 main factors: how you act, where you go, and luck. You simply can’t ensure nothing bad will ever happen, but the vast majority of women travellers have trouble-free trips. Also, as I always say, most of the crimes against women happen in their homes at the hands of someone they know, not while travelling solo!
So, with all that said, what can you do to travel safely as a woman? Here are my top tips:
- Arrive during the day. If not possible, make a plan like having data to call an Uber, or asking your accommodation to send a taxi
- Share your plans (for example your itinerary or accommodation booking) with family or friends
- Check your accommodation is in a safe neighbourhood before booking
- Enjoy nightlife responsibly by knowing your limits and how to get home safely
- Have the country’s emergency numbers saved, just in case
- Pack a quality safety lock to stash your valuables in hostel lockers
- Wear a secure bag for your valuables, especially when in transit between destinations
- Get a local SIM card and have a portable power bank so in an emergency you can use your phone
- Have travel insurance and keep a copy on you. I suggest True Traveller for European residents (inc UK), Hey Mundo for other nationalities and Safety Wing for long-term/digital nomad travel.
Reassuring family and friends
One of the common reasons I hear cited when people tell me ‘I could never do what you do!’ is that their families would never let them travel alone as a woman. Luckily, my family have always been pretty chilled although, of course, they had their concerns at first. Now, they’re used to me always being in some far-flung place!
Many families will be worried about their children (whatever age) taking a solo trip. If yours are in this camp, here are some tips to reassure your family about your trip:
- Show them blogs or social media accounts of solo female travellers LIKE YOU who are doing it and having a great time
- Sit down with them and let them ask questions. For example, if they’re worried about you financing the trip, show them your savings/budget plan, or make one. Maybe their questions will even help you plan!
- Promise you’ll be in regular contact and share your plans with them for safety reasons
- Explain to them why it’s important to you. Maybe they think you’re only going to drink and party when really this trip is an important step on your path of self-development.
How to meet people during solo female travel
This may seem daunting before taking off on your first adventure but, I can assure you, it becomes second nature, especially in backpack-friendly destinations like Southeast Asia. I have a whole blog post on how to meet people travelling solo so I’ll just run through a couple of top ones here…
- Stay in hostels but be sure to pick the right ones. Don’t pick a small, family-run one if you want to party and, likewise, don’t pick a party hostel if you like to sleep. I find the Hostelworld photos and reviews make it pretty clear which is which
- Take free walking tours! I do them in every new city I visit
- Try activities that align with your hobbies (surf lessons, cooking classes etc) to meet people who are like-minded rather than just in the same place at the same time
- Signup for meetups on the Couchsurfing or Meetup websites
- Actually do couchsurfing or, for a safer option for solo female travellers, try the Facebook group, Host a Sister
- Join Facebook groups like Girls Love Travel or ones about the region you’re going to
- Volunteer using Worldpackers or Workaway. You’re bound to meet locals and other travellers by staying longer and helping with a cause you’re passionate about (if you decide to sign up, I can offer you a discount on both Workaway and Worldpackers memberships).
Getting in your own photos
I actually wrote a whole blog post on how to get photos of yourself when travelling. I had to learn all the ways to do it because I got so frustrated with never being in my own photos! The methods I use include:
- Travel with some kit – a tripod if you’re really serious; a Gorillapod if you have a proper camera; and a phone tripod/selfie stick for mobile photography
- Take photos early in the morning – not only is the light right but places are less crowded
- Take group tours and activities. Guides take great photos because they have lots of practice, or you can ask someone else in the group
- Book a photoshoot on Airbnb Experiences
- Ask the right stranger, by which I mean a teenage/20-something girl! They know.
Money and budgeting for solo female travel
There are instances when travelling solo is more expensive than travelling with a companion, for example staying in private rooms (rather than hostels where you pay per bed) and getting taxis. So you don’t spend more money than you need to, here are a few of my tips:
- Get a travel-friendly bank account that won’t incur extra fees when withdrawing money. UK travellers can opt for Monzo and Starling while other nationalities can get a Revolut or Wise card
- Don’t exchange money in airports – it’s usually more expensive
- If you have a small amount leftover leaving a country, don’t waste money on exchange fees. Use your change to buy items you’ll use later like shampoo and toothpaste
- Save money on accommodation by housesitting with Trusted Housesitters or volunteering for food and board
- Use Skyscanner‘s search-by-month feature (and the ‘everywhere’ feature) to find the cheapest flights
- Utilise hostel/Airbnb kitchens and supermarkets where possible. I say where possible because hostels in Asia don’t usually have kitchens plus it’s often more expensive to shop for supermarket groceries than eat street food (you can try local markets for better prices on vegetables etc)
- Travel off-season if possible and visit second cities; they’re usually cheaper than capitals (for example Porto rather than Lisbon)
- Embrace public transport and walk a lot. For cross-country journies, look into ride-sharing services like BlaBlaCar. I’ve done it solo in several locations
- Use Skype when you need to make phone calls (rather than WhatsApp/Facetime calls). The credit is dirt cheap compared to international phone calls.
Staying physically healthy
This isn’t specifically to do with solo female travel because I’m sure anyone will suffer from being unhealthy during travel.
I’m not exactly a healthy goddess (I live for finding amazing food when travelling) but I get frustrated, bloated and lethargic sometimes I can’t find healthy food or easily exercise, for example in countries where it’s too hot outdoors.
Tip for staying healthy:
- Cook your own heathly meals if you have access to cooking facilities
- Find a gym that offers a day pass or, better yet, a free trial you can easily cancel!
- Stay in a hostel with a gym for a few days
- Google healthy restaurants (or vegan/veggie restaurants) in your location
- Do YouTube workouts if you have your own room. If you’re in a dorm, do some situps etc on your bunk. Desperate times!
- Embrace it, enjoy the delish food and pledge to have a health kick when you get home!
Getting sick when travelling – most travellers have been hit by a bout of food poisoning, especially myself. I recommend having electrolyte sachets and diarrhoea tablets to hand. Eat bland, beige foods like white bread and bananas ’til you’re feeling better, and stay hydrated!
Don’t be shy: ask the staff at your accommodation if you need advice or a ride to the doctors. If you have dormmates, they’ll hopefully bring you anything you need from the shops.
How to avoid getting sick in the first place:
- The golden rule – eat where it’s busy and there’s a fast turnover of food. I can’t stress this enough!
- Santitise your hands before you eat with them
- Don’t drink tap water
- Know it can be totally random – you can do everything right and get sick or take all the risks and be fine. Often a meal will hit two people differently. So don’t blame a vendor or dish. Just focus on resting and getting well!
Emotional well-being and mental health
You only have to Google solo travel to be hit with a bazillion safety tips. Of course, staying safe when travelling alone as a woman is important but, in reality, it’s going to be a small part of your day-to-day. These days we know that staying happy and emotionally healthy is a lifelong journey so why not apply this to solo travel?
Some tips for emotional well-being during solo female travel include:
- Stay in touch with friends and family. Sure, those new hostel pals are great but when you’re having a down day, it’s probably an old friend you’ll want to call. Keeping your relationships strong is extra important when you’re travelling long-term and don’t want to lose touch with people back home
- When you’re feeling lonely (which may never happen by the way), change it up: book a group tour rather than travelling solo for a bit, take a fun activity, phone a friend, check into a social hostel with group dinners or organised trips
- Treat yourself when you’re feeling exhausted or homesick. Don’t worry about judgment or productivity: skip the sightseeing in favour of a Netflix binge in bed, a day in a coffee shop, or eating pizza, McDonalds or cake (or all 3?). Travel can restart when you’re feeling better
- Add a bit of self-care to your itinerary whether it’s a massage, spa day or yoga sesh. This could even be cultural if it’s a Thai massage in Thailand or yoga in India, for example!
- Travel slowly to avoid exhaustion
- Try and work some healthy eating and exercise into your routine, even if it’s just lots of walking during a city day or taking a swim in the hotel pool.
Final thoughts on solo female travel
There are going to be hard times, I can tell you that now. But there are also going to be AMAZING times, I can tell you that, too. SO, are you going to sit at home looking at your phone for the rest of your life? I know you know what to do, gal. BOOK THAT DAMN TRIP.
See ya there 😉
Blogs that might be useful for destination planning:
- Southeast Asia travel itinerary
- 101 backpacking tips for Asia travel
- The ultimate Asia bucket list
- Asia itineraries for Malaysia / Vietnam / South Korea / Taiwan / Bali
- Asia city itineraries for Hoi An / Saigon / Hanoi / Ubud / Chiang Mai / Seoul / Busan / Kuala Lumpur / Taipei / Bangkok / Singapore
- 2-8 week Balkans travel itinerary
- Europe itineraries for Croatia / Montenegro / Slovenia / Northern Italy / Romania / Albania
- Europe city itineraries for Budapest / Copenhagen / Milan / Venice / Porto / Lisbon / Barcelona / Hamburg / Vienna / Sofia