In Art of Travel, Alain de Botton of The School of Life captures the reasons why I prefer solo travel.
“It seemed an advantage to be travelling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially moulded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others… Being closely observed by a companion can also inhibit our observation of others; then we may become caught up in adjusting ourselves to the companion’s questions and remarks, or feel the need to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity.”
As much as I enjoy travelling with others and sharing experiences in the company of family and friends, I love being an independent traveller – I want to see, experience, indulge and go all out as much as I can in the time that I have (I’ll rest when I return home, trips are for adventuring and exploring, in my books). And I understand that that’s not necessarily the way that others choose to travel because everyone has their own travel style but (dare I say it) when we’re missioning I don’t want to hear about blistered feet, hunger pains and that I take too many photos and ask way too many questions – we’re hardcore adventurers, remember? I want to rise early and return late, walk for kilometres, sit and speak to the locals, try the traditional food, take spontaneous cues from the locals and venture off into places that perhaps others overlook and keeping changing my travel plans without having a set itinerary.
Solo female travel is on the rise
There’s been a huge increase in solo female travel in recent years. Solo female travellers outnumbered male travellers by almost two to one in an analysis of over 62 000 solo holidays undertaken in 2017 that was conducted by online travel company, 101 Singles Holidays. More about the reasons why solo female travel is on the rise a little later.
The top 10 most appealing travel destinations for solo female travel in 2018/2019
These are the 10 destinations that have been top of the list for solo female travel in the last year, according to Hostelworld (the world’s largest online hostel-booking platform). Though there are probably a number of factors for this, I can only assume that it’s due to the fact that women feel safer and more comfortable travelling to these countries alone, that they are more affordable than other alternatives, currently experiencing an increase in tourism and that there are many organised tour options available too.
Cuba is the most appealing travel destination for solo female travel at the moment, according to Hostelworld. Cuba reigns as the fastest-growing solo female travel hotspot, with the rise in solo bookings to Cuba increasing by 371% from 2016 to 2017. The most notable reason for this is probably the lifting of the travel ban on US citizens, though Cuba has much to offer travellers from 253 protected areas and 257 national monuments to 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (you know I’m a sucker for those), 7 Natural Biosphere Reserves and 13 Fauna Refuges. Now’s the time to visit Cuba before it becomes even more commercialised.
2 Nicaragua (that was before the political unrest began, please travel with caution)
Tried and tested tips for solo female travel
- Gain confidence through research: research the area, destination and country you’ll be visiting before you go. You can still be spontaneous and don’t have to plan your itinerary down to the T, but empower yourself with the knowledge of when to avoid flash floods and monsoon season, or the hottest/coldest months, especially if you don’t do well travelling under unusual and harsh weather conditions that could also endanger your safety.
- Read travel books, blogs and guides as well as the official tourism website. This will help you understand more about the history, heritage and how to be respectful of the culture and religion. Plus it will give you insights into others experiences, as well as some tips and tricks from the locals and frequent travellers.
- Find your country’s embassies and consulates. The chances of your needing this information are very slim, I have never had to use it, but research the address of your country’s consulate or embassy in case of a natural disaster or some kind of unforeseen emergency that might require evacuation or being transport to another part of the country for safety purposes. It will help you save valuable time.
- Activate smartphone tracking to share your location. There are numerous applications that are compatible with all smartphone types, so that your family and friends back home can track your itinerary. Keep them up to date with your travel plans. There’s ‘Find my phone’ on iPhone, the Android Device Manager for androids. You can also use a little-known Google feature that lets you find your Android phone or tablet by using Google’s search engine on your computer. Your Android phone should have the Google App installed, Now cards enabled, Web & App activity enabled, Google Now notifications turned on and the location reporting should be set to “high accuracy” mode.
- Use your phone or ipod to (pretend) call for help, even if you don’t have a local sim card. I pretend to be on a call if I am getting into a taxi late at night or early in the morning, just so that they are aware that someone close knows your whereabouts and that you can call for help if needs be. You can also pretend to call for help if you are in a difficult situation.
- Keep a dummy wallet with fake cards. I use loyalty cards posing as credit cards and only keep a few notes and coins on me that I can take out and use in a busy marketplace where people may be observing. I keep my important (and certified) travel documents (and photocopies) and remaining money in a safe place, like in my room’s safe (safety box). I also upload my important travel documents to the cloud or email them to myself.
- Scams: research common scams and dangers at your chosen destination, so you are aware of them before you arrive and that when they happen you don’t fall for them. This was most helpful when I was travelling through Peru and Bolivia, because when I saw a scam playing out, I was aware and just kept walking.
- Pretend to be part of a group. Approach or join a group of travellers or other local women if you feel endangered in the moment, and pretend to be a part of their group. Also inform them of any direct threat you may be faced with. I was being followed from the main train station in Kuala Lumpur and joined an older travelling couple. I told them I was being followed and they played along that we were travelling companions. We walked a few blocks exchanging travel stories until the men who were following me left and I safely returned to my hostel.
- Interact with other travellers but don’t overshare your travel plans. The more travellers who are familiar with you and recognise you in travel circles while on the road, the better. When travelling alone refrain from using social media to check into a specific hotel, restaurant or tourist attraction, rather Facebook ‘check in’ into the country, if you really have to, and keep it open ended.
- Do a home stay with a local family. They will give you a sense of community and that feeling of having a home away from home that a hotel just doesn’t measure up to. It’s one of the best ways to make friends and learn about your travel destination from locals. They will also guide and advise you of where to go and what not to do.
- Ask questions on travel forums. Choose your favourite one and fire away. I like Lonely Planet’s Thorntree Forum.
- Join a directory or group of travellers: Women Welcome Women is a directory service of women who love to help and meet other women. It does require a subscription, but there are many others that are free. The Girls Love Travel Facebook group is a friendly online community of over 600 000 members from around the world, who willingly share their travel tips and advice with fellow travellers based on their adventures.
- Dress respectfully and pack a scarf. In many religious or more conservative countries it is still expected that woman should cover up plunging necklines, hair, shoulders or legs, especially when visiting religious sites. It doesn’t mean that it is right or wrong (and we don’t travel to prove a point or that our way is the right way) it’s just the way it is and it should be a common courtesy to show respect. Scarves are multifunctional and can be used to cover your shoulders, neckline, hair or legs, plus you can even tie them into a makeshift bag. You will also be less likely to draw unwanted attention and cat calls (yes, still a very sad reality of female solo travel).
- Wear a fake wedding ring (but not too blingy). This will also most likely decrease unwanted attention from potential male suitors. And if you are in an uncomfortable situation you can always say that you are waiting for your husband or on your way to meet him, so that it doesn’t seem that you are travelling alone.
- Sometimes stuff being polite: follow your instincts, be vigilant and aware. Be polite when you can but don’t be afraid to be determined and say no because you are worried that you might offend the culture: whether some is offering you food or drink, making an inappropriate advance or making you feel uncomfortable
The best way to travel if you don’t want to be alone
If you are travelling solo for the first time and are feeling a little nervous about your safety, organising travel plans, or being alone and getting lonely, there are many ways to go about planning your adventure. You don’t have to travel alone – join a small group of like-minded travellers, such as through G Adventures, Flashpack, TopDeck, Intrepid, Contiki, Nomad Africa Adventure Tours or Busabout (and there are countless others). Each tour company has a number of tours based on your budget, leave days, the level of exercise and activities you want to undertake, your interests, mode of transportation and the time of year you’ll be travelling. They range from a few days to a few weeks and take the hassle out of having to plan and book, though they are, as a result, probably more expensive than if you were to truly undertake a solo female travel adventure.
I generally travel alone, with friends and family or as part of an organised press trip. I hadn’t done any organised tours until last year when I did a three-week G Adventures railway tour across India. From my experience, all but two travellers in our small group (of no more than 16) were female. I would recommend G Adventures for a first-time solo female travel expedition, as well as for more mature and discerning traveller, who doesn’t need to party and get drunk EVERY night for 10 days straight. Though don’t get me wrong, we certainly had our fair share of drinking, late-night DMCs (deep meaningful conversations) and dancing until the early hours of the morning. Our ages ranged from 18 to 68 years and we had a wonderful adventurous group that got along well and ways always up to do the additional tours and activities. We weren’t rushing from place to place – there was also enough down time to relax and do some solo exploring. The airport pick up was a collaboration with a non-profit of female taxi drivers (as G Adventures tries to uphold responsible and sustainable travel practices), which made me feel much safer about landing in a new country.
8 reasons why is solo female travel is becoming more popular
- Solo travel doesn’t mean you will travel alone all the time. You can still meet locals and other travellers along the way or join a travel group.
- I find that travelling alone is by far the best way to meet like-minded people from all cultures and walks of life, as you’re more likely to engage and approach others when you don’t have the comfort of a travel companion. And it’s a wonderful way to make new friends – Krys from Australia, who I met on a my G Adventures tour across India, is coming to visit me later this month.
- The increasing number of solo travellers might be due to a combination of better technology, as apps make travel research and bookings so much easier and gives people the peace of mind and more confidence to travel alone, especially as it’s easier to stay in touch too.
- More flexible work arrangements and the rise of the gig economy is making it easier to combine work with travel. Some freelancers and contract workers have embraced the digital nomad lifestyle of working remotely from anywhere in the world that has electricity and a good internet connection.
- Similarly work-ations (working vacations) or co-working retreats around the world are becoming much more popular. It’s becoming trendy to travel to another country to work for two to six weeks at a time in a co-working space and exploring your new office in your down time and on weekends.
- The rise of bleisure travel (a portmanteau of business and leisure), whereby professionals extend a business trip by a few days or over a weekend seems to be a growing trend that businesses and the hospitality industry are catching onto. Global bleisure trips have increased by 6% since 2012, according to Travel Weekly’s 2016 Consumer Trends Report with women and millennials being the most likely to balance their work obligations with some much-needed R&R.
- More women are staying single for longer (at least I seem to be getting that right). They aren’t waiting around for a suitable travelling companion, whether a friend , partner or family member, to come along. They’re determined to travel and embrace the ‘Just do it’ attitude!
- Female baby boomers are travelling more than they have in previous years and decades. And may more are seemingly undertaking travel since their retirement.
Well, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and start planning your next adventure as a solo female traveller.
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