More and more women are traveling solo in recent years, whether for business or for pleasure, and yet many women are still scared to tackle an adventurous trip by themselves. So how do you go about finally taking that solo trip to Europe or Asia? Here are some tips – courtesy of Rick Steves, the Travel Channel and my own personal experience – for women looking for travel alone.
Before you go:
Register your trip with the State Department. I would actually recommend that all travelers take advantage of this. Registering your trip – no matter where in the world you are going – alerts the government to your presence there and they’ll update you with travel alerts if necesary. They can also assist you in emergencies – here or abroad. The State Department is also in charge of evacuating U.S. citizens due to natural disasters or civil unrest. It takes five minutes (and you only register once, and then update your profile as you go) but can save you hours of headache later.
Select travel guides that are geared toward the solo traveler. Lonely Planet also has excellent forums for women to talk about solo travel.
Avoid romantic destinations. It’s like that scene in “The Holiday” where Cameron Diaz is trying to pick a place to go – alone – over Christmas, and she’s talking to herself… “kayak for one! … no.” You can still have that tropical vacation for yourself, but if you would pick a particular spot for a honeymoon, avoid it for solo travel. Instead, find a more adventurous tropical place where you can get in on group day trips to places like underwater canyons.
On the picking-a-destination note, if you aren’t comfortable with more exotic solo travel, aim to go places where single travelers abound. Destinations like Amsterdam, Dublin, Barcelona have a big city feel, great nightlife and plenty of opportunities to get involved with other travelers, but also offer you downtime and fantastic museums to spend some time alone.
Pack smart. Depending on where you go, you may not have the help of a cab driver or doorman to get your bags for you. Packing light – in a backpack or tote – will eliminate you lugging heavy bags around.
Give a copy of your itinerary to family and/or friends. It may seem like overkill, but having at least one person in the States who knows your travel plans and how to contact you (even if you are going away to avoid being contacted) can help out a ton in an emergency situation.
Play it safe: keep valuables on your person (or don’t take them at all), keep an eye on your drinks, stash cash and IDs in various places so if one bag gets stolen, you still have the rest. In the past, they recommended having copies of your passport/drivers license… now they recommend scanning them and emailing them to yourself. I’m going to go one step further: take a photo of each on your smartphone. This way, if you don’t have access to your email (which, if you have a smartphone, you might IF you are in range of Wifi) you can still get those important pieces of info to the US Embassy.
On the Wifi front… many places in the world are not like the States. WiFi is not all over, nor is it typically free. Hotels will have it, Starbucks will have it, airports will have it… but you will probably have to pay for it.
Trust your gut. If walking down a dimly lit street seems unsafe, it probably is. Hail a cab or walk to a brighter street, even if it’s a longer route. Alert a shopkeeper or hotel front desk staff if you feel uncomfortable or are being followed. The best thing you can do while traveling alone is to ease your emotional well-being. Make yourself feel comfortable, however you need to do that, and you will be much happier.
While you should always play it safe about your safety… at the same time, you should not be afraid to talk to other travelers! You might make a lifelong friend – or at least someone you can spend your time with in that one place (and no, it doesn’t need to be a romantic fling!). Women are naturals at talking to other people, so strike up a conversation with people at the bar, ask for advice from the women at markets, or ask at the hotel/hostel desk if there are any other solo women that might be interested in taking a city tour with you. You may even find someone that is willing to travel with you on another leg of your trip.
Once you get back:
Don’t fall back into your old routine! Post photos online, follow travelers on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, stay in touch with any people you met on your trip, and start planning your next trip!
Do you have any other tips you’d like to share with other women? Email me, or follow me on Twitter. As always, let me know if there is a particular question you have or something you would like me to address in my next article.