Solo travel has been the topic of a myriad of films–including Wild starring Reese Witherspoon and Eat Pray Love starring Julia Roberts. In each of these movies, there is romanticism that surrounds the idea of solo travel–maybe you’ll find yourself; maybe you’ll conquer your fear of loneliness; maybe you’ll gain a new perspective on life. However romantic the ideal, the reality of solo traveling as a woman can be a tough pill to swallow– like one of those horse pills you’ve tried swallowing without water–a nightmare.
Gender-based violence continually surges through the world every year, affecting 1 in 3 women in their lifetime–according to The World Bank. Trans women “experience violent crime at the rate of 86.1 per 1,000 people”–as reported by Advocate. Additionally, the CDC reports women of color are “disproportionately affected” by gender-based violence.
Stop Street Harassment reported in 2014 that over 65% of women had experienced street harassment. This organization additionally reported that LGBTQ individuals also experience high rates of discrimination and harassment.
Gender-based violence is not a localized issue; this is an issue that can be seen throughout the entire world.
In Mexico, 10 women and girls are killed every day, a statistic you can find reported in The Guardian. Similarly, in Europe, The BBC reports ‘femicide’ runs amuck, with a record number of women and girls being murdered at the hands of men they know.
Women who are solo travelers have also become victim to these staggering numbers. In 2013, Sarah Serai was killed while solo traveling in Istanbul–as reported by USA Today.
You may be asking yourself: why are you telling me this? Isn’t this just going to scare women from wanting to solo travel?
The answer is no, not unless you let it–and really, you shouldn’t let it.
These statistics are shown to empower your mind with knowledge about the world around us. There is no use pretending we live in a cotton candy colored world where everything is always sunshine and rainbows– sometimes reality hurts. Instead of being scared of the world around you, equip yourself with methods in keeping yourself safe– so you can be like the 21st century Marie Antoinette and have your cake and eat it too. Or in this case, so you can be safe and travel too.
Above all else: do not let the world around you scare or deter you from traveling; traveling is one of the most rewarding and beneficial experiences a person can take on. You should travel–and if you’ve made it this far down the blog, you must travel.
My Experience + Safety Tips
In September of 2019, I took a long awaited solo trip to Seoul, South Korea. This was not an impulsive trip–rather, it was carefully planned and researched before hand. This brings me into the first tip to insuring your safety when solo traveling: Research. But not the boring kind of research you might do for a school paper– the fun kind!
1. Research, Research, Research.
This isn’t a Dorothy-clicking-her-ruby-shoes-three-times kind of situation where you can just wish it to come true; you have to put effort into motion and do the work. Google is your best friend when researching the destination you’d like to travel solo, but don’t stop there.
Go on forums and seek out other people like you who have traveled solo to the destination of your choice. “Other people like you” is an important distinction. Women are known to have different experiences when traveling alone but Black women especially have different experiences from white women when traveling abroad and thus, face different obstacles–as this Thrillest article points out.
These forums can range from Reddit to Trip Advisor— this particular Reddit forum talks about what to expect when solo traveling as a Trans woman. You should also seek out vlogs on YouTube–there are a plethora of people who have journeyed alone all over the world that produce insightful information. Familiarize yourself with common scams in the country you’re going to–so you know what to look out for and who to avoid; this is just another level of protection. The better prepared you are in terms of what to expect, the more aware you will be, and in turn, the safer you will be.
Research not only made me feel more prepared but made me feel more content and confident with the idea of being completely alone in a foreign country. There are countless blogs and articles that suggest researching your destination before you go–including this article by AARP, this blog by Adventurous Kate and this article by The New York Times.
2. Share Your Travel Itinerary With Family & Friends.
On top of sharing your itinerary with family and friends, Buzzfeed recommends sharing it with the US Embassy to insure your location is known in case of an emergency. This can be done by enrolling online in the US government’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Some of the benefits listed on the STEP website include:
- Receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
- Help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency.
- Help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
Unsure of what to include in your travel itinerary? Mala In Transit provides all the details you’ll need to include within your travel itinerary–ranging from flight and accommodation information to places you plan on going.
The Points Guy recommends not only having a digital copy but having a hard copy of your itinerary as well just in case you don’t have internet access. Imagine needing the address to your hotel to pass Immigration and not being able to access that information on your phone–what a headache.
Always think ahead! Map out anything and everything that could go wrong and plan accordingly.
3. Purchase a Universal Sim Card or Invest in an International Phone Plan
It’s extremely important that you have a working phone when traveling solo abroad–this allows you access to emergency numbers, as well as friends and family and maps to know how to get around.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these options. To purchase a universal SIM card, you’ll first need to have arrived in that country–as reported by Buzzfeed.
However, if you’re choosing this option, it’s important you (once again) research before hand to see where you’ll be able to purchase one. The blog Trazy points out that travelers can purchase universal SIM cards in Seoul at the Incheon airport, mobile service outlets or major convenience stores.
Now though, there are downloadable International eSIM cards available that eliminate the inconvenience of physically purchasing a SIM and replacing it. Ready Jet Roam lists some of the best eSIM card options for travel.
An international phone plan offers convenience but at a cost. Value Penguin gives details on some of the best international plans to take advantage of when traveling abroad. The AT&T International plan, for instance, is 10$ a day–eligible in over 100 countries. A lot of these plans offer unlimited text, calls and browsing. It offers a stress free option where you can hit the ground running once you land.
Your decision will be dependent on the duration of your solo travel and your budget. You can check out various Reddit forums to see which option most people prefer. Whatever you choose, just make sure you have access to a working phone when traveling solo.
Having access to my phone's service and internet came in handy the minute I landed at Incheon Airport in South Korea. I was able to not only let my family know I landed safely and arrived safely at my accommodation, but I was also able to use the maps app--this was crucial for taking public transportation from the airport and finding my accommodation on foot.
4. Meet New People, But Don’t Engage With People On The Street
‘Don’t talk to strangers’ seems like an age old fable, but when traveling solo as an adult this phrase still holds some truth. For this reason, you should never meet up with people you’ve met on the street. In fact, some people have done this in the past and have gotten themselves caught up in a cult–you can listen to the YouTuber DearSeoul‘s experience through this video. There are many people in the comment section that also share their similar stories.
Another reason to avoid engaging with people on the street, is to avoid pickpockets and scammers. This well known TikToker, Kacie Rose details several common aggressive scams attempted by people in various places around Europe. Her biggest tip: don’t engage with them, ignore them.
The best way to meet people is through sites like MeetUp or through Airbnb’s Experiences; both of these options offer legitimate and great ways to meet new people who are interested in the same things as you.
It’s also helpful to use your existing connections to find friends–which is what I did. Through a mutual friend I had known while living in New York, I was able to connect with several people in Seoul. Above, is just one meal I had with other people while solo traveling in South Korea; this particular meal is called Baekban Jeongsik, which is filled with all sorts of delicious side dishes, rice, soup and fish.
If you’re into the idea of nightlife while solo traveling, you should obviously be very aware of your surroundings and adhere to the same precautions you would take any other time you’ve gone to a bar or club. Hey Ciara has several helpful tips on how to enjoy nightlife as a solo traveler.
5. Keep Your Valuable Items Locked Up Somewhere Safe and Always Have a Back up Plan
One of the most important steps when solo traveling is keeping your passport somewhere safe. CNN Travel recommends keeping your passport in a locked safe if you’re staying in a hotel. If you’re staying in a hostel or Airbnb, however, you should get a bag that has a secured lock.
Solo travel vlogger Allison Anderson made the biggest mistake while solo traveling abroad–she lost her wallet. Her suggestion is to keep any extra cash and credit cards in a locked safe just in case something does happen to your wallet. You can watch her YouTube video here.
The important thing to remember: always have a back up plan!
I made a similar mistake while solo traveling in Seoul. I had left my only credit card at the counter of the coffee shop I was at. Luckily for me, the barista found me in the coffee shop and gave me the credit card before I even realized it was missing. It's unsettling to think of the deep trouble I could have been in if I had lost that card.
Now, with these helpful tips, I think you’re ready to take on the world–one solo trip at a time. Be safe, but above all else, have fun. Alexa, play Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper. Happy packing!