For Women Traveling Alone: Always Listen to Your Instincts

On a recent trip to Morocco with family, I met a Swedish woman who was traveling the country alone. She was level-headed, organized and fiercely independent – all characteristics that I aim to embody as a female traveler. I was drawn to spark a conversation with her.

She lived in Zimbabwe for ten years and was now residing in Sweden again, working as a social worker. She oozed confidence and walking next to her in the busy Marrakech markets provided a sense of authority in a country where gender roles are a bit different than say, Canada or Sweden. While our vague and hurried tour guide pulled fast ones on our group, my new Swedish friend was the first to correct him or put her foot down when he was being flighty.

I admired her ability to command respect in such a foreign environment and started to wonder: would I be cut out for traveling alone as a woman?


The Journey Alone in Bangalore, India © Nishanth Jois

The Benefits of Traveling Solo

While on one hand, traveling solo as a female may sound risky and dangerous, there are amazing benefits as well. If you’ve done your research, are willing to face new challenges, and prepared to meet fellow female travelers, the advantages of traveling alone as a woman may surprise you.

Without a male travel companion or a clingy group of friends, you are more likely to be approached by friendly locals in your new destination. This allows you to become more involved with the residents and their community, giving you an inside cultural peak into the general day-to-day practices to which many tourists might otherwise be oblivious. Women traveling alone are often invited to local homes for dinner or events because, let’s be honest, the generally held opinion is that a woman traveling solo is ”” for the most part ”” easier to trust than a lone man.

Another added benefit is that you can take as little or as much time to do what you please. No whining children to hinder you from spending five hours in a museum; no looming parents to guilt you after an expensive night out on the town with new friends; and lastly, no impatient boyfriend to prevent you from shopping. Whether it be a high-end boutique or small outdoor market — you can take your time.

Able to spend as much — or as little — money as you wish on food and accommodations, women traveling alone are on their own budget.

The best reward of traveling solo is of course, the freedom. The freedom to choose how long you desire to stay in one place before moving; to choose where and when you eat; and of course, the freedom to plan your itinerary around the places and sights that suit your interests.

Finding Confidence as a Solo Female Traveler

The best part of traveling alone as a woman is the sheer exhilaration and boost in confidence. After my first year of university, I embarked on my first European backpacking tour. I spent most of the time with a good friend and met many other backpackers along the way.

However, near the end of my trip, before heading back to Canada, I had to spend a couple days in London by myself. At first I was anxious about this time alone and scared that I would hermit myself in the hotel, lacking the courage to venture around the gigantic city independently.

Although London is similar to Toronto, and I knew I would not be faced with a huge culture shock, the idea of leaving my friends behind to spend time in an unknown city seemed unappealing to me. In spite of all of this, I got off the plane in Heathrow and took the tube into the city. I felt a rush of independence and self-assurance I had never experienced before.

Suddenly the power was in my hands. I wanted to eat sushi for lunch? Done. I wanted to sit in the Dali exhibition all day? Fine. I didn’t want to waste money riding the London Eye? Alright. I got my first taste of true, genuine independence and loved every second of how empowering it all felt.


Finding My Way in Catalonia © Luis Hernandez

Keeping Your Wits About You

Having said all this, you must never become too trusting or relaxed in new surroundings. Women can easily be taken advantage of in situations to which they are unfamiliar. Always be cautious around pushy people, particularly men.

A general tip is to dress modestly to minimize unwanted attention from the opposite sex. Always assess the surrounding neighborhoods to make sure they are not dangerous areas for women. If someone is being too suggestive or lewd, ignore him or her and leave the area immediately.

Always be aware of your surroundings, especially at night and make sure you have the emergency phone numbers of your new destination programmed into your phone or written down somewhere, for your safety.

Most importantly, if something or someone does not feel right and you have a bad gut feeling, listen to your instincts. If you don’t feel comfortable boarding a train or walking down a particular alley, pay attention to what your intuition is telling you. Women are so often told to dismiss anxious instincts or gut-reactions in the 21st century, but they’re there for a reason!

Facing all the challenges of traveling alone as a woman will make you a better, stronger person and ultimately build character. When you return home and are forced to deal with unwanted issues, you can look back on the memories of traveling solo and remind yourself, “If I could instruct a Japanese cab driver who spoke no English to take me the best karaoke bar at 4 a.m. in Tokyo ”¦ then I can definitely do this.”

I hope that one day all women will have the opportunity to embark on a worldly adventure in their own company. I guarantee it’ll be an invaluable lesson in who they are and will help them realize their potential as strong, courageous individuals.

As for me, I hope to make it back to Morocco one day, by myself ”¦ and sip cocktails on the beach with the inspiration herself: that fearless Swedish warrior woman.

10 Responses

  1. Melissa

    This was wonderful article to read as I am preparing for my first international adventure. I’m often told of the horror stories of women traveling w/o a male companion but I am desperate to seek an adventure on my own. My best girlfriend and I will be spending a solid month in Brazil during carnival. Brazil has it complexity but there is a reason people continue to visit and I intend to find out. Thank you for the confidence. And I will keep my wits about me,I’m just that kinda girl anyway at least I hope so.

    Reply
  2. Mango Sarah

    I traveled alone for part of my trip to Germany this past spring and I have to agree on the feeling of freedom and confidence. I also was able to have conversations with locals that didn’t happen as much when I was traveling with my family. When you’re with your family, you give them your attention (rightly so). When you’re alone, you look to others for conversation and camaraderie. Thank you for your post! I enjoyed your tips and perspective.

    Reply
  3. Denise Ferguson

    I say, go for it. I am an avid traveller who, in recent years has more time and means to travel. Friends often express interest in coming along until the time comes for firm commitments and money. In my career I’ve learned to travel solo for business and it’s really not so different traveling solo for pleasure. More often than not, I meet the most interesting and diverse bunch of folks, both among new traveling companions and friends that I meet in the venues that I travel to. Flying solo encourages me to extend myself in ways that wouldn’t be as forthcoming if I were with friends and family. There is also the relative safety of traveling in tour groups if you want to have built in companionship. I’ve just returned from an amazing trip to Egypt flying solo, and I’ve returned with memories of a lifetime and new friendships to boot. Safety should always be the first consideration, but in my expanding network of global relationships, including my significant other, I highly recommend it.

    Reply
  4. Marissa Simoes

    I traveled through the Middle East this past summer alone. And last I checked, I’m a lady…

    First, traveling alone is traveling alone. Regardless of gender. And the great thing about it is– you’re never alone for long. I made friends that I’ll be friends with for the rest of my life. When you travel with someone else, you tend to depend on them. You don’t have to go out of your way to not be alone. But when you’re out by yourself, it does get lonely. You have noone to snap a picture for you, noone to bounce stories or funny jokes off of… so somehow, you just seem to gravitate toward others. And travelers, male or female, tend to have similar personalities so it’s easy to find people that you instantly click with.

    And in regards to being a woman and a solo traveler… Sure, there are some extra percautions you need to take to keep yourself safe (especially in the Middle East). But I’ve found that because we are extra aware of the fact that we are women, we get into less trouble. As long as you’re not a complete moron, you know what to do and what not to do. But also, don’t travel in fear. There are so many instances where I was in a situation where… let’s say… something could have gone wrong. I should have been scared and I should have run away and hid in my hostel. But I didn’t and trust me, those experiences are the ones I treasure most.

    I guess my point is that traveling alone is such a rewarding experience. And if you’re a travel junkie, like I am, it’ll change your life.

    Reply
  5. Michelle

    During a 5 week trip through parts of Southeast Asia, I traveled partly with a group in Thailand and a bit in Laos but spilt off and went on my own the through Cambodia and parts of Thailand. I never really traveled 100% solo before but I must say it might be the new way to go! I agree with this article. I believe women must keep your wits but the general fears that plagued me about solo travel were replaced with tons empowerment I’ve never felt before regardless how independent I am back home. It was truly a very rewarding experience plus I got to meet a lot of nice people I wouldn’t have had I been with my group. I travel a lot, 2011-12 were particularly phenomenal years. 2013 will be just as great and I have a feeling it will be because I will be solo!

    Reply
  6. Sofia

    I think all women at some point in their lives learn not to trust their surroundings too much, and that the only thing you can really trust is your own gut.

    I can imagine you would learn this quicker when traveling solo. :)

    Reply
  7. Mandy

    Thank you for posting this article. I will be backpacking in Austria by myself (most of the time, if not all the time), and I and already anxious and nervous and thinking twice and all that. I’ve experinced solo travelling and it is the best thing I’ve ever felt, I felt independent, strong and confident. I was so so so proud of myself. even taking the flight alone. But all this anxiety is kicking in again, and I’m 4 months away from my soul searching trip. Thanks for the reassurance. Great tips! And i absolutely agree about what u said bout instincts.

    Wish me luck!

    Cheers!

    Reply
  8. BakoymaTravels

    “Suddenly the power was in my hands. I wanted to eat sushi for lunch? Done. I wanted to sit in the Dali exhibition all day? Fine. I didn’t want to waste money riding the London Eye? Alright. I got my first taste of true, genuine independence and loved every second of how empowering it all felt.”

    This… this i exactly how I felt the first time I travelled alone, and one of the core reasons I kept up my solo travels :-) Excellent post, thanks for sharing your experiences!

    Reply

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