Tips for solo female travellers

Lorna Cowan / 30 August 2016

Going on holiday alone can be a wonderful experience, but there are certain challenges you might face as a woman alone in a foreign country.



Going on holiday alone can be a wonderful, confidence-building, exhilarating experience. 

Solo travellers have the freedom to explore destinations at their own pace, choose the itinerary for the day ahead without having to compromise, and enjoy quiet time to contemplate rather than chat - no wonder so many of us go abroad on our own. 

However, when travelling as a solo female, your safety must be at the forefront of your mind. Use your common sense at all times, and take note of our advice.

Plan your holiday carefully

Every holiday needs careful planning, more so if you are a female travelling abroad alone. Choosing the right destination is crucial if you want to avoid unnecessary attention or hassle. 

For example, if you simply want to sit on a beach in a bikini, think twice before booking a flight to India. Similarly, if you love to while away the hours in a café, it may be wise to avoid Morocco.

To find out more about safety and security in destinations worldwide, for all travellers, go online to GOV.UK. Female travellers should not be put off going anywhere on their own, but it’s good to know what to expect.

Related: Solo travel: top tips for travelling alone.

Travel light

When packing your suitcase, make sure your luggage is light enough so you can carry it easily without having to ask anyone for help. Will you be able to lift your bag up a flight of stairs? Put it on a high luggage shelf of a train? You’ll appear more vulnerable if you have to rely on someone to assist you.

It’s also worth using covered luggage tags so not everyone can see your contact details. Only write your surname, and consider using the address of your work place (if you have one) so you don’t reveal where you live.

Book a bed in advance

You’ll enjoy your holiday all the more if you don’t need to worry about where you are sleeping when you turn up in a new destination. Book accommodation in advance, for the first night at least, even if your flight or train arrives in the morning – you never know when you may be delayed. 

Know in advance too, how you will get to your hotel or guest house, and make sure someone will be at reception if you are arriving late.

Although everyone wants a good night’s sleep, you may feel safer staying in accommodation on a busy street where lots of people congregate rather than near city offices which resemble a ghost town at weekends.

Get your bearings

Before exploring a new destination, show your breakfast waitress or B&B owner a map and ask them to point to areas you should avoid or take care in. Locals in Barcelona all know La Rambla is rife with pickpockets, something a new visitor to the city may not realise.

Make sure you carry the address and phone number of your accommodation. If in Hong Kong or St Petersburg, where traditional Chinese characters or Cyrillic script is used, ask someone to write down your address so you can show it to a local taxi driver or to officials in the case of an emergency.

Be a savvy sightseer

Before heading out for the day, read your guidebook and know where you are heading. If you get lost, avoid getting a map out on the street corner. 

If you need to check where you are, pop into a large shop or stop and have a drink. If you must ask for directions, try to approach a family or women with children.

When visiting a religious building, such as a mosque or temple, be aware that women may be asked to cover their head and shoulders, and wear a long skirt or trousers. In Muslim countries, visitors must remove their shoes. The same applies before entering Hindu temples.

Related: Solo travel: street scams to watch out for while abroad. 

Dress appropriately

You may have your own thoughts on the subject, but in some societies, how you dress can make you a target for unwanted attention, crime, sexual harassment and even a fine – in Majorca, tourists can be fined up to £500 for wearing swimwear on the streets in Palma. 

Donning trainers, shorts and a baseball cap shouts out ‘holidaymaker’ to locals in Cuba or Costa Rica, and could imply you are laden with cash, cameras and other valuables.

Wearing a sleeveless top, mini skirt or anything figure-hugging or see-through will be seen as disrespectful in India and other deeply religious countries, so dress modestly and cover up. In some Muslim countries, that includes covering up your hair.

Respect other cultures

Female travellers should also respect different country’s cultures and understand that some things that are accepted in the UK will be frowned upon elsewhere. Allowances are often made for foreign tourists, but it’s best to err on the side of caution. 

In Buddhist countries, Thailand for example, females should not sit beside monks. Women do not shake hands with men when meeting or greeting in Malaysia.

To make sure you don’t offend, swot up on a destination’s etiquette before setting off on your trip. Information about local laws and customs can be found at GOV.UK.

Related: What to expect when travelling alone on an escorted tour holiday.  

Dine with confidence

Eating alone in cafés and restaurants is something many of us do daily without a second thought. However, others can feel awkward and uncomfortable. 

If you fall into the latter category, go out for a coffee or snack somewhere close to home before your holiday, so you get used to the experience and feel more relaxed. 

When choosing a table, a booth will give you more privacy, whereas a window seat will allow you to watch the world go by. Sit at the counter and you may even be able to chat to staff.

Bring along reading material, perhaps a book, magazine or your phone (though it’s not always acceptable in an upmarket establishment), or use this time to write a few postcards and update your travel journal. Keep your alcohol consumption to a sensible level.

Related: Solo travel: eating in restaurants alone. 

Watch belongings and cash

Although you may be the proud owner of many a designer handbag, it’s probably wiser to travel with a bag that’s seen better days. No one will then suspect there is anything of value inside. 

If putting any bag on the floor in a public space, slip the leg of your chair, and your foot, through the strap. Don’t be tempted to sling it on the back of a chair, even if you’re ‘hiding’ it under a jacket.

When travelling anywhere new, familiarise yourself with the local currency before you have to use it. Keep small change and notes in a zipped pocket, so you have easy access to it to pay for drinks, bus rides or to use as tips. Avoid flashing your purse in public.

Related: How to keep yourself and your belongings safe while on holiday. 

Don’t hail a cab on the street

If you choose to use taxis, don’t just climb into any car that offers you a lift, even if the driver assures you he’s ‘official’. 

Ask the hotel or restaurant to book a taxi for you, find out how long the journey should take, and agree on the fare in advance so you don’t risk an argument when you want dropped off. Don’t get out until you are at your final destination. 

Pay the driver then check your change before leaving the taxi. And no matter how friendly the taxi driver appears to be, he is a stranger so don’t reveal too much. If he asks who you are meeting, mention a friend, boyfriend or husband.

Drive safely

If hiring a car abroad, take care when driving around areas you are not familiar with, especially at night. Always make sure the doors are locked, and keep your suitcase and bag in the boot – but only if you can be sure it can’t be opened from the outside. 

Don’t have maps and guidebooks on display either. In a hot destination, it’s worth hiring a car with air conditioning so you can keep windows closed.

If someone tries to get your attention or if your car is bumped, don’t stop until you reach a busy well-lit area. Put your hand on the horn until someone comes to your aid. If you’re suspicious about a ‘police officer’ ask to see ID before leaving your car.

Trust your intuition

In some destinations, your skin and hair colour may highlight you’re not a local, but try to blend in as much as you can. Walk around confidently, smile, but remember men may misinterpret friendliness. 

If you feel threatened at any time, trust your intuition. Cross the road if you think you are being followed, and pop into a museum or the reception area of a large hotel.

Ignore men who approach you and if they persist, firmly tell them to go away – it’s worth learning a few choice phrases in the local language. Flashing a wedding ring or photo of a ‘burly husband’ can work wonders too.

Related: Solo travel: how to deal with streets harassment while abroad. 

Keep in touch

You don’t need to continually update a Facebook page with your latest travel exploits, but keep a family member or friend back home informed about your whereabouts. 

Let them know when you are travelling to a new town or city, and if you think you’ll not have access to wi-fi or mobile signals. It’s also worth giving someone back home photocopies of your passport and travel documents so that you can access them if they are lost or stolen.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.