Thinking of traveling alone? It’s safer (and easier) than you think.
Turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper, or go on social media and you’re bound to hear about the dangers of traveling. If you are a woman and considering traveling alone, those dangers can seem even greater. But for every one of the horror stories you might hear about in the news, there are countless other wonderfully transformative stories that go untold.
Search for #Viajosola on social media and you’ll find thousands of tales of women who pack their bags and go on that trip of a lifetime—they do it alone and without a glitch. The hashtag trended in February as a response to the news of two 20-something female backpackers murdered while traveling alone in Ecuador and social media’s unfortunate but common tactic of blaming the victims. Instead of How do we make it safer for female travelers to explore the world we live in?, the prevalent discourse was How dare those women travel without a man by their side! As it turns out, many women don’t just dare travel alone but do so often and with enthusiasm. And you should, too.
The truth is, look hard enough and you can find something to be scared of just about anywhere. But being a good traveler is about being a smart traveler. Once you get over the idea that traveling solo is scary, you’ll discover it offers complete freedom. You get to choose where to go, what to see, and when to see it. Want to visit every museum in town? Go for it! In the mood for a sunrise hike? No one’s stopping you. Feel like sleeping until noon and ordering room service? This is your trip, so go ahead and be selfish (or lazy).
So as you start planning your next getaway, keep these things in mind.
Do your research before booking a trip. Talk to other women who have been there and find out if you know anyone who lives in your chosen destination. The more you know about a place or an activity, the more comfortable you’ll feel about it.
Share Your Travel Details With Someone Back Home
You’ve seen that movie 127 Hours, right? In it, the main character (played by James Franco) neglects to tell anyone where he is going. His trip is just a day hike, but he ends up stuck between a rock and a hard place (literally) and loses an arm. Don’t be that guy. Share your travel plans—including hotels, your flight reservations, and any other pertinent details—with someone who cares.
Make Copies of Important Documents
Scan copies or take photos of important documents (passport, driver’s license, credit cards, airline or train tickets, et cetera), then email them to yourself and store them in your smartphone or tablet and bring the printed copies with you. In case you lose something or get robbed, you’ll have a much easier time getting a replacement if you have proof of identity.
Develop Good Instincts
Pack lightly and leave valuables at home. You don’t want to call attention to yourself, so try to blend in by dressing like a local (or at the very least not look like a tourist). No place is completely safe, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, traveling alone or in a group. It doesn’t matter whether your travels take you to a big city, a small village, or the great outdoors. Be alert—that means put away your iPhone and pay attention to your surroundings. If you’re walking around at night, stick to main streets that are well lit. If you’re leaving a bar or restaurant after dark, ask the staff to call you a taxi instead of hailing one in the street.
Check In Regularly
Make a point to check in with a friend or family member every day. A simple text will do. Are you on Instagram or Facebook? Of course you are. The beauty of social media is that it keeps you occupied even when doing stuff alone (#FoodPorn, anyone?) and helps connect you with friends back home. So go ahead, post that selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower or at sunset on the beach. Your friends will know you’re safe and having a great time, and you’ll have bragging rights. Tag your posts #Viajosola and help encourage other women to travel alone.
Make New Connections
In our ever-connected world, chances are you’ll know someone who knows someone. So reach out to friends and colleagues to see if they know anyone in the destination you are heading to. You might end up having coffee or being invited to dinner by your friend’s college roommate’s cousin who just happens to live in Tokyo and has some free time on her hands.
Choose a Boutique Hotel
Choosing the right hotel makes a huge difference. You want a small enough hotel where you are likely to see the same front-desk staff over and over, and they are more likely to remember your name and face. Don’t be shy about asking the concierge his or her name and stating you are on your own. Going for a jog or for dinner? Ask what route or eatery the staff recommends. Engaging in conversation with the people who work at the hotel will make you more memorable to them, and they will likely be on the lookout for you upon your return to inquire about your experience.
Party of One
Just because you’re traveling on your own doesn’t mean you can’t go out to eat. If sitting alone makes you feel uncomfortable, avoid upscale restaurants (no white tablecloths, no candlelight) where you’re more likely to be surrounded by couples on a date. Ask the hotel staff to recommend a lively place. Restaurants with an open-concept kitchen typically offer seats at the bar where you can watch the action, and the trend at hipster eateries is to sit next to strangers at a communal table. It’s perfectly acceptable—expected, even—to chat with your table or bar mates. If dinner ends late and you don’t feel safe getting back to your hotel by foot, ask the host or hostess to call you a cab.
Don’t Skip the Nightlife
Small, intimate neighborhood bars are great for meeting locals. And bartenders are usually as good at making cocktails as they are in the art of conversation. Sit at the bar and make small talk—asking what’s a great local beer or the most popular drink is a good starting point. Remember, you’re at the bar to check out the local scene and experience your destination’s nightlife, not to get drunk.
Go With a Tour Operator
In recent years, more and more companies have realized that there is a market to be tapped for unaccompanied travelers. There are tour operators who specialize in solo trips and others that waive the single supplement fee. For example, Contiki offers active trips around the globe for 18- to 35-year-olds. Other tour operators, such as Abercrombie & Kent, either waive or lower their solo traveler surcharge on many itineraries. Singita makes it possible to go on a solo safari without paying through the nose. Some cruise lines have also ditched their 100 percent surcharge for single travelers. Try Norwegian Cruise Line, which offers studio cabins designed (and priced) specifically for single travelers, or Lindblad Expeditions, which also offers single-occupancy cabins on some of its ships.