Safety and solo female travel starts with trip planning. Before we take off on adventures, it's critical to plan for our safety. Part 1 of a 2-part series.

Safety and solo female travel

Let’s talk about safety. Fear for our safety often keeps us from traveling alone, and that’s a shame, because with some planning and basic common-sense practices, solo female travelers can ensure our safety while on adventures. I’ve traveled safely as a solo female traveler, and I thought that I would share what I’ve learned.

Safety and solo female travel starts with planning, which is what we will cover in this first part. The second part, which we’ll have in two weeks will cover safety while on our trips.

Before we start planning, some notes

A few things before we begin. Bad things happen; we’re going to look at the world as it is, and not how it should be; we need to be mindful and respectful of the cultures that we visit; and an acknowledgment of the needs for persons with disabilities.

Bad things happen

First, bad things happen, and nothing shared here is a guarantee that something bad will not happen to you. I certainly hope that nothing bad will befall you, but it might. Here’s the thing—bad things can happen to you anywhere. Life does not offer us safety guarantees. We take risks every single moment of our lives. The idea here is to take informed risks and to mitigate those risks with a few strategies. 

The world as it is, not as it should be

I hate that I have to write some of the things that I’m going to write here. The world is not how you or I would have it. Justice would dictate that rather than telling women to jump through a million hoops to avoid being attacked (and still finding a way to blame us if something bad happens), that men (sorry, my dudes, I’m sure that you, personally, are lovely, but we don’t know that when we are out in the world) actually get taught how to behave and that we would hold men accountable. Alas, I am not in charge of the world, and I want to enjoy my holiday and come home with joyful memories, not scars.

Be mindful of cultural differences

We also need to be mindful and respectful of cultural differences—travel opens up our worlds to the many ways in which we live. Different cultures interpret behaviors in different ways, and what might be the most blasé thing for you at home is downright scandalous in another part of the world (and a traveler from that part of the world can have the same experience if they visit your home country). When we visit other cultures as tourists, we owe basic respect as a matter of decency, but it also helps to ensure our safety.

Solo female travelers with disabilities

I think it’s important to note that I’m writing this as an able-bodied person. I can’t speak to the experience of those with physical disabilities. While some of the advice below is certainly applicable, if you are experiencing a physical disability, you will likely have different considerations and should research and make determinations for yourself accordingly.

Safety and solo female travel: 6 tips to help you plan your trip

A big part of staying safe as a solo female traveler is knowing yourself, your comfort levels, and then doing your homework before you go.

1. Know your own comfort level with risk

Solo travel comes with all sorts of risk. Transporting ourselves from one place to another, even if we’re driving our own car (well, you’re driving your own car, because I don’t have one), generally means encountering strangers and unfamiliar terrain. Taking up lodging as a solo traveler means that it’s just you, and there’s no one there to offer immediate assistance should something happen (I’m not actually talking axe murderer, I’m talking slipping in the shower or tub). Going out and about someplace unfamiliar incurs the risk of taking a wrong turn, or, at times, obviously looking like a tourist and perhaps drawing unwanted attention (more on that below).

So . . . how comfortable are you with risk?

Vacation Photos

2. Be realistic about your experience and your comfort level with solo travel

I am a seasoned solo female traveler. I’ve ventured, sight unseen, to faraway places, having limited grasp of the language and had a marvelous time.

There are still places I would not travel to on my own, due to safety concerns. You might review the risks for yourself and come to a different conclusion.

If you’ve never traveled solo before, take that experience into account when you plan your adventure. Maybe try someplace where you would have at least a basic grasp of the culture and what to expect. With experience, you’ll likely find that you are more comfortable that you’d expect right now with solo travel.

It’s not always violence solo female travelers need to be concerned about

While violence certainly is the first thing to come to mind, it isn’t the only safety concern for social female travel. Severe allergies are another. This one hits close to home, as I have a shellfish allergy.

As of now, it is very mild, but shellfish allergies can go from nothing to fatal with no warning, and so, as anyone who dines with me knows, I take pains to avoid it (including cross-contamination).

My risk calculus with my shellfish allergy

I’ve been planning an adventure to Vietnam for years. Not only do I really want to see the breathtaking landscape; Vietnamese food is one of my very favorite cuisines. The fresh, clean flavors thrill me. I could eat nothing but Vietnamese every day for the rest of my life and die a happy woman.

But that death could come a lot sooner than I would like, because shellfish can hide in a lot of places in that cuisine. While fish sauce tends to be made with anchovies (totally fine—my dining companions know how much I love me some little fishes), it can also be made with shrimp. Other sauces contain shellfish, and it’s nearly impossible to detect. 

I don’t know the language, and, while I memorize “I am allergic to shellfish” and the words for common types in the local language before I travel, I’m really nervous about sauces. While of course I would bring EpiPens, I’m not sure about my comfort level with being halfway around the world, possibly in a rural environment, in that situation, alone. While I have no other concerns whatsoever about traveling to Vietnam as a solo female traveler, I’m planning on going to Vietnam with a friend.

3. Research your destination

When I get it in my mind that I need to get myself someplace, one of the very first things I do is search “PLACE solo female travel” (my dudes, you can just search “PLACE” solo travel) and then read widely. We solo female travelers are legion, and someone has gone where I want to go on their own before and has something to say about safety.

Read blog posts

Read a bunch of different posts (I tend to at least have a section in my travel posts about considerations for the solo female traveler) and get a sense of what to expect. Don’t get all freaked out if one travel blogger warns you off, but if there’s a whole bunch of posts about, “It’s fine, but XYZ,” evaluate XYZ against your own comfort level and experience. Personally, I’m not all that worried about petty theft (we’ll cover that in part 2), and I’m always prepared for its possibility, but still, always good to know.

Ask your friends

If I know that a friend has traveled to that destination, I ask them about. “Hey, you went to X, right? I’m thinking of heading there solo. Anything I should know?”

Generally, I get an enthusiastic, “OMG, I loved it. You’re going to have such a good time, here’s a bunch of restaurants.” I relied on a friend’s endorsement when I decided to stay in Valparíso and check it out after the shadiness of the bus station. One of my friends who traveled to Vietnam told me just how much I would love it, but expressed some concern, because of my allergy and the prevalence of shellfish.

Next, I float the idea on Facebook (I know, Facebook, eh, but that’s where my friends are), and see if anyone’s been there and what they think. Same idea. However you do it, check with your friends.

Confirm with the State Department Travel Advisories or other official resource

Finally, I take a quick look at the State Department Travel Advisories (note: Covid has certainly made these more intense than usual). Read the summaries and evaluate accordingly. If you’re outside the US, review your government’s resources.

4. Research where to stay, etc., with safety in mind

Nearly every destination has its questionable spots. Once you’ve decided that you feel comfortable traveling someplace solo (yay!), the next step is to research where you’re going to stay. This is the fun part, when a dream begins to feel real.

While you’re researching where to stay, make sure to do a search about the area’s general safety so that you can make an informed decision. If you plan on staying at an Airbnb, VRBO, etc., check the reviews carefully. While I’ve stayed in a place I fell in love with from the photos with minimal reviews and all was fine, it probably wasn’t my smartest decision. I now make sure that plenty of people have positive reviews, not just of the place, but of the host.

3. Buy travel insurance

Always, always, always buy travel insurance if you travel abroad (it’s not a bad idea for domestic travel, either). You want to make sure that you have coverage if something happens to you. Hopefully you never, ever, need it and you feel a bit resentful about the money you spent on it, but better safe than sorry. Note that your travel rewards card might provide some travel insurance. Check with your card and buy any additional insurance if required.

Vacation Photos

4. Stock up on medications, and, if necessary, go to a travel doctor

If you have medications, make sure that you have them on hand. If they are critical, you might want to have backups.

Depending on where you’re going, you might need to get vaccinations or just-in-case prescriptions. While my visit to the travel doctor wasn’t cheap before I went to South America, he gave me excellent advice, along with my immunizations. He also gave me a prescription that would have come in handy, had I eaten or drank something a little off.

5. Make copies of important documents

Have copies of your important documents (passport, credit cards, itinerary, etc.). Keep one set where you can access them (and separate from where you keep the originals). And, preferably give a copy to someone you trust to hold it securely. If something happens to you, these will be important resources.

6. Tell someone where you’re going (and give them all the information)

You know that old advice about letting someone know where you are and when you’ll be back? Goes double, gazuple, for traveling solo. If you’re like me, everyone from your loved ones to the barista knows that you’re going on a trip, but someone in your life needs to know the nitty gritty.

Personally, I share everything with my parents. My mom would panic if she didn’t have the details, so it’s a win-win. They get my flight and lodging information and document copies. We’ll have more about checking in with people in the next post.

Stay tuned and share your tips

Safety starts with planning your trip. In two weeks, we’ll have a post on staying safe as a solo female traveler while you’re on your trip.

What do you do while planning your trip to help you stay safe as a solo female traveler? Let us know in the comments.

This is part of the Happily Single series on Wonder & Sundry.