The last time I traveled alone was ten years ago in East Africa. I stayed in Zanzibar for just two days but did everything I wasn’t supposed to do. I let the bar/resort manager flirt with me and take me on a walk on the beach after a few drinks one night. I went to a sea turtle rescue center with a stranger. I walked around in shorts and a tank top in the traditional community. I went to bed with a Swiss army knife under my pillow, in case the manager used his key to break into my room. No one back home knew where I was. If I never returned, no one would have known what happened. I was also in my early twenties and didn’t know any better. It was by luck that I made it home safely.
Recently, I went on a three-week solo journey to Australia, and things were much different. I was smarter and wiser. It was still a bit risky, given that I spent half my time working in the bush, but I was better prepared this time and better off because of it. Despite all the anxiety I had before my trip, I had an unforgettable experience.
I decided to put together these tips for female travelers so that you all can benefit from my previous mistakes and lessons learned along the way.
1) Stay Connected: Going off the grid is overrated. You want to unplug from your hectic life back home, but staying connected to friends and family via emails, texts, social media, and FaceTime/Skype is a smart way to let them know your whereabouts while also combating any loneliness. If you need time away from the gadgets, exercise some self-control, turn them off and go on a hike. Also, whether it’s a friend of a friend or someone you met years ago, add their numbers to your contacts so that they can come to your rescue if needed.
2) Get a SIM Card: If you are one of the lucky ones who has an unlocked phone, put it to good use by purchasing a SIM card so you can call locally to book tours, accommodations, etc. If you don’t have an unlocked phone, get one for cheap on Amazon. You don’t need to purchase the card ahead of time but beware, the representative will try to sell you the package with the most talk time/data that you don’t need. You will most likely find Wi-Fi in cafes, stations, and hotels wherever you go.
3) Rethink Hostels: Hostels are cost-effective and are a great way to meet people (young folks I might add). But they can also hamper your peace of mind. Why share a tiny room with seven or more strangers when you can have privacy and your own bathroom for just twenty extra bucks via Airbnb.com? Airbnb connects people who have space to spare with those who are looking for accommodations. You will meet wonderful natives and learn about off the beaten track activities.
4) Choose the Right Airbnb Host: As a female traveler in the modern world, you might think my advice to choose a female host a bit archaic. There are certainly good men out there, but there is no guarantee that he won’t make an advance or make you feel uncomfortable in your home away from home. When I had a choice between a male host with plenty of good reviews and a female one, I chose the latter. I even opted to stay with an elderly couple once. Better play it safe than be sorry.
5) Read (and Write) Reviews: With the world at our fingertips, it’s easy to check on airlines and organized tours before booking them. Also, ask friends who have traveled before you for recommendations. If you’ve had a good or bad experience, do your own write up so others can benefit. It’s also ideal if you can wait until you get to your destination to book tours, so you have the benefit of assessing the company and asking the locals about it before putting money down.
6) Dress Appropriately: It’s best to dress conservatively and inconspicuously, especially in non-western societies. In order to avoid offending local customs, make sure to pack long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and dresses that come below your knee. The last thing you want is dirty looks or worse from the locals to spoil your mood on vacation.
7) Pack Light: I can’t stress this enough. Traveling light allows you better mobility and an easier time keeping track of all your belongings. I took a carry-on size backpack (Osprey Fairpoint 40) and a smaller pack on my three-week trip visiting three states Down Under. Pack the essentials; leave your expensive items back home. Make sure you have copies of all your important papers tucked away in separate bags.
8) Carry a Whistle: I wish I had thought of this before my trip, but it will now be on the top of my packing list for my next adventure. It sure is better at getting attention from others than wielding a Swiss army knife in situations of danger. Plus, you don’t need to explain it to the TSA.
9) Get off the Beaten Path: As a single traveler, it is daunting to try something new, but sometimes those adventures are what make the trip worthwhile, so long as you exercise caution, research your options, and use your best judgment. On my Oz trip, I did the touristy tours to places like Phillip Island and Great Ocean Road, but it was volunteering at a wildlife refuge in Queensland that gave me an authentic Aussie experience. Don’t be afraid to toss out your guidebook and go where your heart takes you.
10) Enjoy Your Time: I am almost positive you will have plenty of anxiety leading up to your solo trip. I definitely did. But the minute you land in the country you’ve been dreaming of for years, your fears will fly away. Enjoy the moment and have the best time you could possibly can, and if you followed all of the above advice, I could see why you wouldn’t.
Happy and safe travels!
If you have any tips to add, feel free to leave in a comment. Thanks!