Travelling alone was the most rewarding, exhilarating and incredible thing I’ve ever done. But, let’s face it – the fact of the matter is that women have unique things we need to be careful about. I never felt threatened hopping around Europe – in fact, all that travelling solo did was reassure me of the good in people. I never in my life experienced so much kindness and selflessness, which is definitely because I was lucky, but it was also in large part because I was safe and took some precautions. I’m a big believer that everyone should do a bit of solo travelling at some point in their life, and with these 11 tips geared for us women, you can do it independently, safely and (most importantly) confidently! Click through to read all 11 tips!
First of all, let me start off by saying I didn’t jump on the plane to London with months of unknown travel ahead of me with no fear – quite the opposite, actually. I imagined every possible scenario that could go wrong (PS – don’t watch Taken within the month before leaving for solo travel), I began instantly regretting everything, etc, etc. Of course, it wouldn’t be the most incredible adventure if there wasn’t a touch of fear involved. The whole point is to just be sensible, overcome the fear and start living in the moment, because these types of experiences are truly once-in-a-lifetime. So without further ado, 11 tips to travel fearlessly as a woman:
1. Stay in hostels with all-girl dorms.
Even if you can afford to stay in a nice hotel, I personally not only had way more fun staying in hostels (check out my hostel post if you haven’t already!), but I felt way safer. When you’re in a foreign place, the more people you can connect with and who are keeping an eye on you, the better. I made friends at every hostel I stayed (girls and guys, for that matter) and while mixed dorms are totally fine, the all-girl dorms just add that much more of a safety element. That, and you’ll save some money, make new friends and often hostels have great tours on the go too, usually for free or for a reduced rate! Not to mention, there are so many hostels that are more “boutique hotel” than anything, offering really lovely accommodation but with the social vibe of a hostel.
2. Be strategic when asking for photos.
Let’s be real. You’re not going to spend your whole trip with just landscape shots – or at the very least, I definitely couldn’t. I’m a fashion blogger, damn it! Clearly, I am a freak that likes having my picture taken! So, I developed a pretty surefire strategy. I either asked my hostel friends (who I would always tour around with during the day – again, great idea to stay at hostels!) or I would pick someone who I knew I could catch if needs be. So in other words, a nice, old tourist, preferably an old lady with another old lady. The fact of the matter is it’s a bit of a risk to give someone your camera while travelling, but having a shot like this or this one makes it worth it.
3. Stay somewhere with good food nearby.
This factored majorly into which hotel/hostel I stayed at. While I usually made friends with people in hostels so eating out at night wasn’t an issue safety-wise, the first night before meeting anyone, I wanted to ensure that I could eat dinner and get home easily and safely. While you’re likely fine to eat out, if you’re going to eat dinner alone, it’s nice to know you can get to and from where you’re staying to the restaurant/cafe quickly.
4. Do your culinary exploration at lunchtime.
Further to Point 3, if there’s a restaurant that’s a bit further away that you’re dying to try, go at lunch! Not only will it be way cheaper, but you can make your trip there during the day, which usually leads to some fun sightseeing and exploration as well.
5. Learn some basic words and phrases.
You don’t need to go crazy here – think of what you’ll need to say in a typical day (cabs, directions, coffee orders, etc) and learn how to say it adequately. You’ll not only get some handy language skills under your belt (it’s a personal passion of mine actually, major nerd!) but it’s also a sign of respect and politeness to locals, plus it shows that you’re an adept traveller (i.e. not a major target).
6. Research cab and transit protocol before arriving.
What are some licensed cab companies in the city? Know a few of them and only use them, as any other “cabs” that don’t have the clear licenses and design may be scammers. Also, make Google your friend again and get a basic understanding of how the transit systems in the city you’re visiting work. Is there a particular train you should avoid for pickpocketing? How should you expect to load transit cards and are there any etiquette tips you need to know about? Travel sites saved my ass a million times, helping me get prepared before I landed.
7. Give your loved ones your itinerary. Every. City. Every. Time.
Yes, you’re being spontaneous and going on an adventure, but not letting someone at home know where you’re going to be (including accommodation plus numbers), what you’re expecting to see and how to reach you is plain dumb. I pretty much didn’t plan more than a few days into the future at any given point during my trip, but I let my family and Matt know each time where I’d be and if I was going on an overnight or full day trip (I didn’t have a cell phone plan so I was truly incommunicado), I filled them in on that too.
8. Ask the locals.
So you’ve struck up a conversation with someone at your favourite cafe or you’ve gotten friendly with your cab driver – ask them questions! Believe me, people not only are happy to help, but they love giving their favourite tips of their city. Good questions to ask: where to eat, what areas to avoid, how transit is, what their favourite sights are in the city, etc. I even had some people call their friends who owned different restaurants/bars to take care of me, like the lovely Alan in Galway.
9. Save a Google Map offline and always carry a physical map too.
I never had a cell phone plan while I was travelling so I spent huge parts of the day unconnected. To make sure I had some sense of where I was going, I would map out a few of the places I wanted to go to and save the maps for access offline on my phone (here’s some simple steps on how to do it with Google Maps!). Just as a backup, I also always had an actual map (remember those?) as well, which I could always pick up at my hotel or hostel. I always got the concierge to mark some great places to see or eat at as well, so when I was stuck with no connection or wifi, I always had a way of finding my way to somewhere great.
10. Be confident!
This sounds silly, but if you look nervous and hesitant, you’re not going to exactly fly under the radar. Especially in places like Paris or London where pickpockets are experts, you’ll draw attention in the wrong way if you look like you’re having a panic attack. Whenever I legitimately was nervous (which did happen at various points of the trip), I would always default to finding an espresso somewhere so that I could quickly collect my thoughts and create a new strategy. Also, most cafes (even teeny ones) usually have wifi, which usually helped me in finding a solution if I was stuck in a pickle.
11. Don’t make yourself a target.
Yes, have a map. Yes, bring along your camera. But a money belt, big backpack and all the other usual tourist offenders? Leave them! Even in most hostels, you have access to a secure locker as well to keep things like your passport, wallet, etc, so I only ever packed a small amount of cash and transit card, and if I was bringing along my camera (which was most days, actually), I stowed it in a cashmere scarf so that I didn’t have to shuffle around town with a glaringly obvious camera bag.
Whether you want to save this to your phone or pin it to remember in the future, here are all the tips laid out in a handy little visual above!
I’m headed with girlfriends this summer for most of my travels but am hoping to carve out some alone time for a week or so. Oddly enough, I am the most social person – I don’t crave solo time ordinarily/at all. But that’s part of the reason why I think it’s so important for me to get some time to get in touch with this ol’ weirdo every now and then, plus being the way I’m programmed, I tend to find people wherever I go anyway.
Do you have any tips for hitting the road alone? Let me know in the comments!