My time-tested solo travel hacks for women.
It’s not sexist to say it. In my opinion, women traveling solo face different challenges than men. There are a few overlapping similarities and there are major differences. As a solo travel enthusiast and someone who does not ever fly, I’ve accrued a lot of miles and a bit of knowledge over the last decade. As a solo woman traveler, I’ve traveled across America, throughout the Caribbean and visited nearly every country in Europe. All without flying.
When you travel solo, you quickly learn that no one has your back except you. Since we don’t have eyes like owls or reflexes like a big cat, staying alert and aware is a necessity.
While these travel hacks are geared towards women traveling solo, some tips can apply to almost anyone in a general sense.
Know where to return
Whether you’re staying in a hotel or aboard a ship, when you go off on your own, make sure to get a card with the hotel’s name, address and phone or a contact number for your ship.
If you’re out exploring a port, be sure to write down the name of the port in the language of the country you are visiting as well as an emergency phone number to reach your ship. Sometimes it could be the phone number for the port agent or if the ship is small enough, you might get the phone number for the reception desk. I was in Lisbon and the cab drive professed to not know English. I had to draw a picture of a cruise ship in order for him to get me back to the port. You’d be surprised at how many passengers, maybe after a few drinks, don’t remember the name of their ship. Write down your ship’s name, too.
You must be able to manage all of your bags on your own. I’m not talking about the overhead bin on an airplane. I’m referring to steps, curbs, cobblestones and even train platforms. Expect elevators and escalators to be broken and be prepared to haul your luggage up and down staircases. I’ve done this in shifts at small train stations in Europe. You hope that no one runs away with your suitcase that you’ve left at the bottom of the stairway while you take the second one halfway up the flight of stairs and hurry back down to retrieve the other one. If you can, buy the lightest weight, four-wheeled spinner bag that you can afford.
This can be a major issue for many women (and men, too). I always bring something to do. On ships when I simply don’t feel like being social, I’ll bring my iPhone and headset and watch a movie that I downloaded before I left home. I used to do this with my iPad but it seemed a bit intrusive to others dining nearby. Of course, a book or a crossword puzzle is always an option. There are times when I’m content to just sit at a café and people-watch. But if this makes you uncomfortable, take along something to do while you dine. Works the same at a bar or pub, too.
Whether Uber, Lyft or an old-fashioned metered taxi, a solo woman traveler needs to be alert. If arriving at night into an unfamiliar city there are a few safety steps to remember. Make sure you have a way to open your door in case of emergency. Without a manual pull-up door lock, you’re stuck if the driver uses the override child lock. Know your route. Program your destination into your phone and make sure your driver is going in the correct direction. You can call a friend or pretend to call a friend (cheaper to do when in Europe) and state that you’re in the taxi and should be there in a few minutes.
Every time you return to your room, whether hotel or ship or vacation rental, check under the bed, behind the curtains, and make sure the windows or balcony doors are locked.
I recommend a small wedge-shaped door alarm for both hotel rooms and staterooms. Placed a tiny bit away from the bottom of the door, if someone tried to enter your room, this little device gives off a sonic blast. Don’t forget to move it before you leave your room!
Pepper spray is a necessity. While it doesn’t guarantee it will stop an incident, it surely gives you a better chance to make a run for it.
You’re in a new city and maybe you want to attend a concert or a local event. As the saying goes, there’s safety in numbers. Walking at night on an unfamiliar street, it’s a good idea to tag along with a group of women. I was in Rome and it was daylight when I walked the few short blocks to see La Traviata. When the opera ended and I exited the theatre, it was darker than I expected. I saw a few women walking together in the direction I needed to go. I asked if they would mind if I tagged along. Not only did they not mind, I was escorted safely back to my hotel’s front door. Also, when you are staying in a small hotel or pensione, it’s a good idea to let the front desk person know where you are going. You’re supposed to hand you room key over at reception when you leave so it’s easy to remember to say something.
Notify the American Embassy
If you plan to be in only one or in many cities outside the US, it’s a good idea to let the Embassy know that you’re there. It’s easy and can be done online. (insert link to Embassy).
Listen to your inner voice…that nagging feeling that puts doubt in your head. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Turn around, get out, move away. Don’t feel awkward if you feel the need to abruptly leave an area. You’ll never see those people again, anyway.
Well, not really. Buy a cheap gold ring that could pass as a wedding band. Believe or not, it does give some guys a bit of pause, especially if you’re taking local transportation or sitting at a café and don’t want to be bothered.
Buy travel insurance
Make sure it includes Cancel for Any Reason. Yes, you’ll pay a little bit more for it but it’s better than losing your entire investment should you need to cancel any portion of your trip for a non-medical reason.
Once you are comfortable as a solo traveler, you might just find it difficult to share space with a travel companion. Ah…the joy of doing what you want, when you want and going where you want…is addictive.
Disclosure: This article contains a few affiliate links to products that I’ve actually bought, recommend and now travel with every time. I will earn a few cents if you purchase any of these products through the links. Thank you.