Q & A: Advice for Solo Women Travellers

Daniel Nanescu

Written by  May 14, 2015

Part two of a two-part online discussion panel.

Two weeks ago, we talked about why women should consider travelling alone—and about the fears associated with solo travel. In part two of this month's Q & A, our online panelists give their top tips for solo female travel.

Our travel experts this month includes:

Beth Santos, the founder and CEO of Wanderful, a global community for women who travel, with 16 chapters around the world.

Jessica Bell, a solo female traveller and digital communications coordinator for IVC, an international recognized travel protection and discount card available exclusively for volunteers, students, and non-profit travellers.

Mariellen Ward, a professional travel writer based in Toronto and sometimes Delhi. Breathedreamgo.com, her award-winning travel blog about "meaningful adventure travel," is inspired by her extensive solo travels in India. She writes for many print and online sites, co-founded the Toronto Travel Massive and founded the WeGoSolo online community for female solo travellers.

Are there any safety measures that women should consider when they’re hitting the road alone?

Beth: I think all people should take appropriate safety measures when they travel. Always make sure someone knows where you’re going—even if it’s just the hotel concierge. Leave an itinerary with a trusted friend or family member, and pass along a phone number when you can. Don’t walk alone at night in an area you don’t know. Watch your drink when you go out and don’t put yourself in a compromising situation.

"It's not up to me to change another culture, but if I can lead by example, that's good enough for me."

Jessica: Women should consider the same safety measures as anyone else. Some examples would be to over-communicate with your emergency contacts back home, observe your surroundings, ask questions and make a plan to deal with health and safety situations.

Mariellen: I am a big believer in "practising safe travel." I use my own tips and have travelled for a total of two years in India, much of it solo, with almost no negative incidents to report.

My top tip is to be confident. That means, travel solo within your own comfort level. I am comfortable travelling to many places in India, but not all, for example. Studies have shown that men who attack women look for victims, vulnerable women who look like they won't hit back. Don't be one of those women.

My second top tip is get to know the customs and culture of the you're travelling in. Things that are acceptable in Canada or the USA are often not normal or acceptable in more traditional cultures, especially with regards to gender relations.

How can women best maintain their own value systems while respecting the cultural or gender norms of another country?

Jessica: It's important to remember that when you're travelling abroad and visiting another country, it's not always about you. Try to travel with a learning mindset. It's very important to respect the norms of another country, as long as it doesn't put your health or safety in jeopardy.

Beth: As travellers, we are, by definition, just passing through a place. I’ve witnessed a lot of things I didn’t agree with, including in terms of treatment of women and in. I think it’s important to realize that, unless you plan to stay there in the long-term and start a movement, you’re not going to be able to change many things while you’re there.

That being said, I also don’t think you should compromise your own values and especially your own safety. I think it’s important to tread carefully and also stay true to your gut. If it’s part of the culture and you just don’t agree with it (take bullfighting, for example—it’s not a gender norm but you get the idea), the easiest thing to do is simply not participate.

Mariellen: Personally, I'm a big believer of the "when in Rome" school of travel. In India, I wear modest, Indian clothes. It suits the climate and the culture, and it inspires respect from locals. However, I am also a big advocate of women's rights, and as long as I'm not putting myself in a vulnerable or dangerous position, I will speak up for them. It's not up to me to judge or change another culture, but if I can lead by example and inspire others, that's good enough for me.

What piece of advice would you give to a woman who was considering travelling solo for the first time?

Beth: Do your research! Try to learn a little bit about the place you’re going to. Learn how to say “hello,” “please,” and “thank you,” if it’s an area where the language is different. Don’t be too afraid to be outgoing. Approach people and make new friends. And of course, bring your journal. The reflections that you’ll have travelling by yourself will be things you’ll want to remember for years to come.

Mariellen: Do it. Don't wait until you're "ready." You'll never be ready. You don't have to jump feet first in the deep end of the pool and go to India for six months, knowing no one, and having almost no solo travel experience (which is what I did). You can go for a weekend to a nearby town. You can start small, and walk before you run. Also, there are lots of solo travellers online and lots of great advice available in blogs and on Tweet chats/hashtags like #WeGoSolo.

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Jessica Lockhart

Contributing Editor

Although Jessica has travelled to more than 30 countries, her favorite place to throw down her bag is still her hometown of Cold Lake, Alberta. A freelance journalist, Jess has worked for international development organizations and tour operators. She’s conducted workshops in Vanuatu, perfected the use of a satellite phone in the jungles of Guyana and supervised teenage pool parties in the Dominican Republic. Although she's based in Toronto, Jess works remotely from all around the world.

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