Best Tips From Expert Women Travelers for Safe Solo Trips
December 21, 2021
Categories: COVID-19, Safety, Security and Intelligence, Travel Tips,
Ninety percent of the time, Dianette Wells travels alone. It’s something the 55-year-old adventure-chasing endurance athlete and world traveler has been doing since she was 18 when a college friend suddenly bailed on their Austria skiing vacation.
“I had gotten my first passport and already invested the money,” said the longtime Global Rescue member. “So I went anyway — alone, and I’m so glad I did. I learned early it’s not worth it to give up on these amazing travel experiences just because you think you need someone to go with you.”
More and more women feel the same way, too. While all forms of travel obviously came to a standstill in 2020, prior to the pandemic, the stats had been showing solo female travel was on the rise. Now, as travel returns, solo travel is one of the first segments bouncing back with tour operators reporting an uptick in solo female travel bookings. The 2021 Fall Global Rescue Traveler Sentiment and Safety Survey, which surveyed 1,500 of the most experienced travelers in the world, reported seven-out-of-ten women have traveled solo for leisure in their lifetime.
[Related Reading: What Traveling Women Want]
“Solo travel is absolutely returning,” said Beth Santos, founder and CEO of Wanderful, a global community and lifestyle brand that specializes in helping women travel the world. “I think the pent-up desire to travel is overriding the need to go with a travel partner. People aren’t waiting for their travel partners; they’re just going.”
While the benefits of traveling solo as a woman include everything from building confidence to connectivity, there’s still concern this type of travel is too risky.
“I think that’s a false blanket statement,” said Global Rescue member Amanda Burrill, a former Navy lieutenant turned global adventurer, travel writer and food connoisseur. “Any type of travel can be risky. But, if you do your research, follow customs, and take the proper travel safety measures, you can bring down the risk level.”
Here are some of the essential ways these expert female travelers do just that.
Tap Into Other Women Travelers
Researching the destination before travel is one of the first things any traveler should do to assess the level of safety and familiarize yourself with customs and traditions. While that can include any number of resources, from simple Internet searches and travel blog reading to consulting Global Rescue destination reports (non-members have access to one free report). It’s also a good idea to tap into other female travelers who have been to the destinations you’re considering (the more recent, the better).
So how do you do that? Facebook offers a plethora of public and private groups, like The Solo Female Traveler Network (470K members), She Goes Places (3K members), Condé Nast’s Women Who Travel Solo (150K members), Solo Women Travelers (32K members) and dozens more. You can raise pointed questions to fellow travelers and share insights from your recent wanderings.
You can also consider joining a membership-based travel organization like Wanderful, a membership site that connects thousands of travel-loving women virtually and in-person. Other membership-based options include The Solo Female Traveler Network, which is free to join, and Girls LOVE Travel, offering resources for nearly every subset of women: moms, women over 60, vegan women, etc.
Start Small If You’re New to Solo Travel
If you have zero travel experience then journeying across international borders shouldn’t be your first solo trip. “Start with a place in your home country you’ve always wanted to see — maybe it’s a city, a national park, a landmark — and ease yourself in,” suggested Wells.
Burrill also suggests enlisting the use of a travel agent or meeting with a group of other solo travelers during part of your trip. “That can take off some of the first-timer anxiety because you’re not alone.”
Always Have Your Accommodations Booked
While Wells, Santos and Burrill suggest packing your itinerary loosely so it leaves room for spontaneity (that’s where the best part of your trips can happen), one thing they don’t like to leave to chance: where you’re sleeping at night. “I always have my hotels booked each night, especially if I’m traveling in high season,” said Wells.
Santos agrees: “It’s important that someone always knows, at some point during the day, where you physically are. Before you go, always provide a loved one with a listing of your accommodations and the nights you’ll be at each.”
Use Day One to Get Your Bearings
“Every traveler should practice their situational awareness skills by getting familiar with their surroundings, establishing a baseline of activity for your area, paying attention to people’s attire, body language and behavior and more,” said Harding Bush, associate manager of operations at Global Rescue.
Santos calls this “day zero,” where, if staying in a city for a few days, she likes to purposely have nothing planned for the first full day — with the exception of signing up for a walking tour if she’s able.
“This is where I geographically get familiar with the place by walking everywhere, taking note of landmarks, as well as observing the locals. For example, how they get on a bus or hail a cab,” she said.
Obey Cultural Rules and Traditions
Paying attention to local customs is sign of respect. It also ensures you don’t stand out or advertise you’re a tourist.
“I do my research and make sure I dress appropriately,” said Wells. “Don’t wear the big handbag, don’t wear elaborate jewelry, leave it all at home — it’s not necessary. When traveling alone, that can make you more of a target when what you want to do is blend in.”
When you look like you know what you’re doing, people are less likely to think they can mess with you.
Lighten Your Load
Packing light means better maneuverability through crowded spots, less time tracking gear and the ability to make last-minute plans without worrying about what to do with your stuff.
“In the early days, I made the mistake of traveling with a heavy piece of luggage and the handle broke,” said Burrill. “Since then, one of the things I’ve perfected is packing light and having high-quality travel items, like clothing with extra pockets or a suitcase that glides effortlessly.” Again, if you’re struggling with luggage, it can make you look like an easy target.
Or ditch the baggage altogether when you can. If Burrill has time to do some sightseeing around a city before a flight, she happily asks her hotel to hold onto her bag (they’re usually accommodating even after you’ve checked out) or she stows it at the airport (some do still maintain lockers, but usually the lost luggage counter can accommodate for a fee). Santos suggests checking out services like LuggageHero, which is like Airbnb for bags, offering storage in vetted public venues (think retail outlets, hotels, cafes, and more) in 40 major cities across the US and Europe. Luggage Forward, a Global Rescue Safe Travel Partner, also allows you to ship luggage ahead instead of checking bags allows you to streamline your travel for a faster, safer trip.
Be Open to Others But Retain Privacy
You shouldn’t be afraid to talk to locals because that’s how you get the best insider travel tips and to-dos. “More often than not, these locals are so proud of their countries and want to show it off,” said Wells. “These are the folks with the best tips and the best restaurants and the best sights to see. They never steer me wrong.”
But she stresses to use your common sense: Don’t reveal you’re traveling alone. “You can throw in the term ‘we’ as you are chatting — ‘we’re thinking about going here,’ ‘we tried this,’” said Wells.
“It might be my military mindset, but when I talk to people, I make very direct eye contact and I sound confident,” said Burrill. “I also never divulge too much, like where I’m going next or where I’m staying.”
Get Travel Protection with Global Rescue
“A lot of solo travelers deal with ‘what ifs.’ ‘What if I get a stomach bug in Paris?’ ‘What if I lose my passport?’” said Wells. “Having a Global Rescue membership takes so much of the stress associated with the ‘what ifs’ away because you know you’ll have 24/7 access to help.”
It also takes the stress off of your loved ones. Santos once surveyed her 3,000 Wanderful members and found 40% had, at one time, canceled a solo trip they had already booked because a family member said they didn’t want them to go alone.
“It doesn’t just give yourself peace of mind,” said Santos. “But your families and friends feel assured, too.”
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