“There is safety in numbers” they say…so how can single girls stay safe while exploring the world alone?!
I did solo travel SO much in my 20s that I could probably teach a college course on the topic without prepping a syllabus. My bad *ss girlfriends who still travel around the world on their own every month for business or pleasure will teach the 200, 300, and 400 levels of the same class 😍.
I went alone to surf camp in the Caribbean overestimating my skill set by A LOT; took solo snowboarding trips up north in New Hampshire in the midst of the worst winter storms; lived 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle in Finland (just getting there took 2 days, 1 bus, 2 planes, 1 train, 1 car, and a whole lot of dragging 2 heavy suitcases behind me); moved to Miami, NYC, Boston, LA on my own in my 20s… I haven’t done EVERYTHING, but I’ve done A LOT.
So here are a few basic lessons I’d like to teach in my future Solo Female Travel 101 class:
1st and foremost, use your common sense when assessing the situation and your surroundings. If your gut tells you it may be fishy, leave! IMMEDIATELY! before the “may be fishy” turns into “IS fishy” and you have to run for your life. (A lot can be said about unsafe situations, so please get in touch if you have questions, I’m happy to elaborate what that could mean and how to recognize them.)
2) Planning – Depending on whether or not I know the place I’m traveling to, I tend to take 2 different approaches.
If I’m somewhat familiar with my surroundings I choose to go with the flow. I still make a list of all the activities I’d like to partake in and any places I must visit. Then I leave the rest of my schedule open and let things just happen. For example, I must do an outdoor activity daily for at least half the day, then I usually need yoga or massage session, and I never miss apres-ski or happy hour…but I still have my nights open and my late afternoons flexible.
If I’m traveling to a new destination or if I’ll be on the road for a while by myself, I run a very tight ship regarding planning. I research the drive/airports/bus stations/public transport, I try to learn as much as possible about my destination, I look for interesting places off the beaten path and read local newspapers for reviews of restaurants, coffee shops, and new things to visit. I check every place on my list on TripAdvisor and see what other fellow travelers have to say about it. I plan for 2-3 places or activities a day max and number them by order of importance. That way I can still be flexible if I meet awesome new people on the way and want to spend some time with them but I still get to see attraction number 1 and 2 at least.
And if there is a swell at the surf break or a powder day on the mountain, all else gets cancelled and I go ride my board till exhaustion. Then next day, I repeat 🏄🏂.
3) Lodging – Choose a good and safe neighborhood even if you opt in for simple lodging such as a hostel or a sofa on AirBnB (I don’t ever camp alone!). Check into your accommodations before dark even if you go out again afterwards. When I have time to plan, I check AirBnB first for available options and then Booking.com. When on the road or in a pinch, usually both Hotwire.com and Booking.com have good last minute deals. I use the realtors’ rule of 👍 and care more about location, location, location and less about luxury 🛌.
4) What to bring – read my Ultimate Packing List blog post but in general – don’t bring anything valuable or if you do, be prepared for it to get lost or stollen. Valuable items, visible electronics and jewelry may also make you a lucrative target. Don’t put yourself in danger. I always say – if you can’t afford to lose it, don’t use it 😋.
5) Driving – have more than half a tank of gas at all times, fill it up at the first gas station after it falls below half, you don’t want to be left gas-less even if you have enhanced roadside assistance. Don’t drive more than 8 hrs a day (5 hrs is my preference), drive in day light whenever possible. Be at your destination before dusk.
6) Hike only populated trails, don’t be stupid, don’t go in the backcountry alone, even if nature is stupid pretty 🏞. Same applies to mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, surfing. When alone, stay where the rest of the people are. I’m guilty here, I often take off in the side country / back country on a snowboard. I shouldn’t and I’ve gotten sh*t scared a few times. So do as I say and not as I do 😉.
7) Carry a paper road map with you even if you ONLY have 10% doubt your gps may lose reception. Have a paper map for ALL hikes you take. My phone never works in the mountain and the last thing I want is no reception and no direction in case of emergency.
8) Have a spare phone battery with you and keep it fully charged at all times.
9) Inform your friends 👭👬 of your traveling plans and keep them updated of your itinerary and next destination. I share my plans with my best friends/emergency contacts or people I’m visiting and I ask them to call me daily and check in on me.
Last but not least, a boring but needed topic and one that I don’t think people know enough about.
Insurance – that truly depends on what you are doing and where you are going so I’ll give you examples from my personal experience here. If I’m employed and I’m fortunate to have good benefits that usually means my job covers my health insurance (including international health insurance) and same international insurance covers lost or stollen luggage or any trip mishaps. Renters or homeowners insurance usually also covers lost/stolen items from your car. Your own car insurance covers rental vehicle usually but IF abroad most definitely buy their insurance. You just don’t know what laws you are dealing with. Some airline credit cards also feature free car rental insurance if car is paid for with credit card and free travel insurance in case of loss/theft. Most people don’t know their health/car insurance or credit card benefits. Don’t be like most people 🙂 The lesson here is know what you have covered already so you don’t pay for it twice.
In case I go abroad and I plan on extreme sports or any activities where I may get hurt (surfing in Central America, snowboarding in the Alps) I buy enhanced travel/health insurance for that specific trip that covers extreme sports, any medical bills, theft or loss up to a certain amount (it is quite high as it always covers my equipment). I’ve found World Nomads to be the best and easiest company to use. I just want to be safe, especially when alone 👱.
If you are an American traveler, you can see a review of the best travel insurance options for you here.
P.S. A friend also enlightened me on Road ID bracelets, which I now use for road trips, solo trips, and extreme sports. The rubber bracelet “holds” your emergency contact info, medical history and allergies if any, as well as your insurance. All the information is secured online and can be accessed by medical personnel in case of emergency.