Solo female travel is by no means a new phenomenon—for years, women have been hitting the road and booking flights to explore all corners of the world. However, the past few years have seen a steady increase in the number of women taking solo adventures, and in many cases, to less-frequented destinations. A 2018 report by Hostelworld revealed that bookings by solo female travelers had grown 45 percent between 2015 and 2017, and the top three destinations for women traveling alone from the U.S. are Cuba, Macedonia, and Guatemala. Intrepid Travel, a small group adventure travel company, receives bookings from about 75,000 solo travelers per year, and 70 percent of those are from women.
The fact that solo travel is incredibly empowering; the increasingly visible celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women; inspiration from social media (see #solofemaletraveler, #womenwhotravel, #sheisnotlost, and #girlbosstraveler)—these are a few factors behind this growth, and there are no signs of it slowing down.
And if you want to travel alone, as in without friends or families, but not alone alone, that's also becoming easier to do with travel companies creating more trips designed with solo female travelers in mind. "As one of the fastest-growing markets in the travel industry, it’s time we start celebrating these solo travelers, not just accommodating them," Leigh Barnes, Intrepid Travel's regional director of North America, stated in a press release.
Solo Travel: What to Expect
Typical considerations when planning a solo trip are safety, budget, boredom, and loneliness. And of course, by traveling alone, you are the sole decision-maker about these factors. Before booking your getaway, ask yourself how you would handle and whether you would enjoy a few common travel scenarios (sightseeing and eating alone, getting around by yourself, planning your activities and routes, etc.) While solo travel can be a truly fun and enriching (and confidence-boosting!) experience, only you can decide whether traveling alone is something you would enjoy.
If you decide that it is, doing some research before you leave can help you get a better sense of what to expect. Start by connecting with like-minded peers through blogs and networks that allow you to chat with solo female travel veterans and experts—gain insight about a particular destination or culture; ask questions about budgeting, safety, packing, and itinerary planning; and even arrange meet-ups with fellow female travelers if you’re heading to the same place.
Female members of the Solo Travel Society have stated that traveling solo has many benefits, including the following:
- Freedom and independence (the opportunity to do what you want on your own schedule)
- Budget flexibility (You set the amount you want to spend.)
- Opportunities to challenge and surprise yourself (e.g. pushing your boundaries in ways you might not if you were traveling with friends and family, such as chatting up the stranger sitting beside you at a cafe).
Tour Companies for Traveling Alone
For a solo travel trial run, consider signing up with a group—you’re usually still on your own in terms of arranging your own flights, but at the destination, you’re meeting up with other solo female travelers. This is helpful in terms of saving some money with on-the-ground transportation and accommodations (sharing fees for cab rides and lower rates with a shared hotel room). You'll typically have an itinerary on these trips, but they're usually loosely structured, so you have plenty of free time to wander on your own. When purchasing your airline ticket, consider booking a flexible option, so you can extend your stay if you want to keep exploring.
Intrepid Travel: This company offers expeditions with the mission to “break barriers to traditional travel” and empower females. Their thoughtful approach means that group sizes are small, and they are led by women born and raised in place you're visiting. Travel styles range from casual and comfortable to active and adventurous, with itineraries spanning 8 to 13 days. Destinations include Iran, Morocco, Jordan, Nepal, Turkey, Kenya, and India.
Adventure Women: Catering to solo women travelers ages 28 to 75, trip itineraries (perhaps implied by the name) are fairly active and physically demanding, with many including hiking, trekking, rafting, biking, or horseback riding. However, there are a few cruising trip options as well for the less adventurous traveler. Trips are organized according to activity level from moderate to challenging, and feature destinations such as Iceland, Antarctica, the Canadian Rockies, Uganda, the Galapagos Islands, Morocco, Oman, Patagonia, Japan, and Tanzania.
Wild Women Expeditions: This Canada-based travel company offers trips for females from all over the world, ages 8 to 86, with specific itineraries based on fitness level, age, and travel goals (e.g. girls that are 8 to 14 years old are provided with more supervision and offered separate adventures from older women). The majority of trips emphasize connection with nature, so think camping or glamping and homestays. Some trips do offer luxury accommodations and yoga retreats as well. Out of more than 30 destinations and nearly 60 itineraries to choose from, popular destinations include Bhutan, Mongolia, Northwest Territories (Canada), the Galapagos Islands, and Tanzania.
Sights and Souls: This is a travel company for solo female travelers that offers trips to popular destinations (Paris or Vienna), as well as less tourist-driven destinations such as Lebanon, and Botswana. The style is more comfortable, less active (light walking), and offers stays in four- and five-star luxury properties.
Tips and Considerations as a Solo Female Traveler
Beyond the booking and planning process, there are a few other things to keep in mind when traveling alone. Use these tips for your next solo trip—while many of these are helpful for any trip you're planning (whether solo or with others), many are especially essential when you're on your own.
Packing: It never hurts to be (over)protective; and in fact, TSA allows a checked-in pepper spray. (However, this allowance varies from airline to airline so double check with your carrier prior to packing.) You can also consider bringing a whistle or high-pitched security alarm and a mini flashlight (in case your phone dies).
In Your Destination: If going out for the day on your own, leave a note in your room indicating your whereabouts—in case anything happens, staff and police will know how to locate you. Passports should always be left with the hotel concierge or room safe. Money and credit cards should be kept in a pouch close to the body and stored in these handy money belts.
Avoid going out in the evenings on your own, and if you do, consult a local guide who can show you the nightlife and safe places to visit.
If you’re traveling alone, there’s no need to be on high-anxiety level alert, but always be mindful of your surroundings and listen to your gut; if you're ever uncomfortable, immediately remove yourself from the situation.
For health conditions of a country, check the World Health Organization website before your visit, especially for women who are considering pregnancy or who are currently pregnant.
Periods can be a drag, but don’t let them hinder your travels. In addition to bringing over-the-counter pain relief for menstrual cramps, consider downloading an app that will monitor your cycle so you’re not caught off-guard. Also, if you’re not keen on bringing bulky products with you, consider a menstrual cup.
Bring with you plenty of napkin packets, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. Oftentimes, water, soap, and toilet paper are luxuries in bathrooms.
Cultures and Customs
As you're visiting other countries, remember that beliefs and cultural norms vary. What is considered harmless here (e.g. public displays of affection) could be deemed offensive in other parts of the world. Therefore, make a conscious effort to find out everything you can about the local culture, customs, and roles of men and women in your destination country prior to your visit.
Treatment of women varies from culture to culture and country to country. Take a cue from local women and observe their behavior, manner, and way of dressing.
Behave confidently and act as though you know where you’re going and what you’re doing at all times, even if you’re lost.
An ideal way to make friends is to locate your nearest international hostel. You’ll likely get great recommendations while you're there!
Transportation and Navigation
Planning: Download offline maps from Google in case you have no cell signal.
In Your Destination: Don’t pull out a map while out in the street. If you are lost, head to the nearest public transportation system, grocery store, bank or restaurant to ask for directions/assistance. Only opt for public transportation and reputable taxi service. Never hitchhike or accept ride offers from strangers.
Leave designer duds and jewelry at home. A good plan of action is to bring and wear old (but still-in-good-condition) clothes with you that you can consider donating at the end of your trip. Furthermore, dress to blend in rather than stand-out. And err on the side of modesty. The dress code can be particularly strict if visiting a “male dominated society”, so opt for long pants, shirts and avoid mini shirts, bare shoulders, short pants and reveal attire.
Always pack a shawl—it is incredibly handy if needing to cover legs, head, or shoulders especially if you’re visiting religious grounds.
Bring a daypack with you when exploring a place and a large backpack for all of your gear (Look for bags that offer lots of side pockets and zippers for ease of access.) And invest in these TSA approved locks so you can secure your content inside rooms that may not offer a safe.
Traveling solo as a female is a life-changing adventure—if done with a little prep work in advance, it’s an opportunity to meet people (especially other women) from all walks of life. If given the opportunity, it’s a privilege to be welcomed into another woman’s home somewhere else in the world and have conversations that broaden education, understanding, and inclusivity.