I never considered myself a “female solo traveler” until my trip to Puerto Rico at the start of 2022. Before this trip girls would ask me what it was like being a solo female traveler and I wouldn’t have an answer. I had only traveled through Europe and the U.S. by myself, and besides, I was living in places rather than traveling.
The majority of my solo “travels” have involved living in one place and working (remotely) there for a couple of months. I would take small trips in-between destinations but for the most part, I had a normal life. I didn’t do a whole lot of typical travel activities like going on tours, partying, eating out, etc. Considering all of this, I didn’t feel like a female solo traveler. However, Puerto Rico changed all of that.
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I felt completely overwhelmed on my first days in Puerto Rico, despite having an amazing support system at the hostel where I was working. I had never felt so unsafe walking alone, I couldn’t go five minutes without being catcalled or honked at. On one special occasion, a thoughtful gentleman reversed his car on a busy street to ask me where I was going and if I needed a ride. I had someone follow me halfway home until I ducked into a shop for several minutes. And while I worked at a cafe one day, a man stood outside the window and stared at me until I eventually left. Several times I had to cross the street because someone was walking towards me waving a stick or random object around manically. It was the first time I felt acutely aware that I was a young woman traveling by herself and therefore a target in many ways.
Being in Puerto Rico brought back a lot of memories of traveling in Latin America with my parents. Even when I was a preteen and walking with my dad, I would be catcalled and harassed on the street. I distinctly remember several men on bikes turning around to look at me, almost swerving into cars. As well as one guy on the bus who turned to stare at me and hit his head on the overhead compartment (which, granted, was hilarious). At the time, I felt mildly disgusted with all of these unwanted encounters. Looking back now, I’m even more horrified to think that grown men acted this way when I was as young as 10. I certainly didn’t look old for my age either.
I began this article while living in Puerto Rico and my stance at the time was that first-time solo female travelers should avoid Latin America. However, I realize now that this is a bit of an overstatement. Yes, I still think the destinations listed below are the safest and most comfortable options but that shouldn’t dissuade you from visiting Latin America on your own. I recently solo traveled to Costa Rica and am currently in Mexico, and have met many first-time solo women travelers who are loving their adventures. I also love Latin America and believe it should be on everyone’s bucket list.
However, I personally wouldn’t have chosen Latin America for my first solo trip. Besides the machismo and street harassment, it is generally less safe. Sure, there are many other places I wouldn’t go for my first solo trip alone either, including India, Morocco, South Africa, and Egypt. These places are just as dangerous (or even more so) for women but I also don’t hear many women say they want to travel there alone. More than anything, I find that girls want to travel alone to Latin America, which is why I’m focusing on its downsides.
All of that being said, if you are set on going to Latin America for your first solo trip, you should definitely do it! You will have an amazing time, eat incredible food, experience rich cultures, meet wonderful people, and fall in love with the natural beauty. Just be prepared and know what you are getting into.
So, finally, here are my personal recommendations for solo female travel!
What are the best destinations for female solo travelers?
Of the places I have visited, I would recommend Thailand, Spain, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, Hungary, Indonesia, France, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Vietnam, Hawaii, Croatia, and Germany.
Remember to take into account language barriers when choosing your destination. For your first solo trip, I would recommend a place where you know the language (at least somewhat).
Best destinations on a budget:
Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Austria, Hungary, Portugal
Best destinations for English speakers:
Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Hawaii,
Best destinations for trekking:
Spain, New Zealand, France, Switzerland, Hawaii, Croatia, Austria
Safest destinations (although all are very safe in my opinion):
New Zealand, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia
Best places to meet other backpackers:
Thailand, Indonesia, Austria, Hungary, Vietnam
My personal favorite:
Thailand. This is by far the safest country I have ever visited. I never experienced street harassment, pick-pocketing is nonexistent, and the locals are incredibly helpful and friendly. It is also very economical, full of other backpackers, and offers an endless list of things to explore.
Best destinations for solo female travel in Latin America?
These are all gorgeous touristic destinations that are safe for female solo travelers. Towns that are tourist destinations (but not party hotspots) tend to be the safest places to visit, which is unfortunate if you want a more traditional experience. However, you can always explore new places when you have had more experience traveling and feel more comfortable.
Costa Rica: La Fortuna, Manuel Antonio, Nosara, Monteverde
Mexico: Merida, Puerto Escondido, San Miguel de Allende, Oaxaca City, Holbox, Bacalar, Mazunte, San Cristobal de las Casas
Panama: Playa Coronado, Boquete, Bocas del Toro
Ecuador: Galápagos Islands, Cuenca, Baños
Peru: Arequipa, Aguas Calientes, Puno-Lake Titicaca
Uruguay: Montevideo, Ciudad de la Costa
Chile: Valaparaíso, Pucón, La Serena
I should also mention that you need to filter all of the water you drink in Latin America, except for Costa Rica. That means you have to be careful when brushing your teeth, ordering drinks and food, and showering. Luckily, most of the places I listed are very touristic and are accommodating about serving filtered water. It isn’t necessary but you can also travel with your own filtration device, like a water filter straw, LifeStraw filter bottle, purification tablets, or purifying solution.
General travel safety tips?
- Bring a lock, most hostels offer lockers but not locks.
- Bring a travel wallet or purse to keep your passport, cash, and other valuables.
- Never keep your phone in your back pocket and make sure to keep your bags close.
- Invest in a roaming cell plan or local SIM cards.
- I’ll never forget the one month I decided to forgo a foreign SIM card in Portugal, thinking I wouldn’t need it. I was completely fine until one night I found myself walking on a dark road in the middle of nowhere, waiting for my friends to pick me up. It was the only road leading to the retreat where I was working and they had said they would be there in five minutes, so I decided to leave the retreat and walk down the road to meet them. Thirty minutes later, I realized they weren’t coming and that something must have happened. We didn’t have that much time to reach the pizza forest rave we were going to (and yes, it was really cool when we eventually made it). So I turned on my data which costs $10 a day. It turned out they had taken a dirt road and the car was stuck because nobody was used to driving a car with a manual transmission. Long story short, I should have invested in a SIM card with Vodafone like I normally do, because it only costs 10 euros a month for 12 GB and unlimited calls. Moral of the story, you never know if you’re going to get lost in the woods looking for a pizza party, so you should always get a SIM card.
Solo female travel safety tips in less safe countries?
If you are traveling to Latin America or Africa, for example, this would be my advice for solo female travel.
- Wear conservative clothing.
- Be very careful when choosing your taxi. In some countries, people drive ‘fake’ taxis that pick up tourists to rob them.
- Always ask how much something costs before you buy it; the prices for tourists are often higher and you can negotiate lower prices.
- Always count your money when you get change back.
- Travel with your backpack in front of you to avoid being robbed, especially in public transportation.
- Don’t respond to men when they catcall you or try to engage in conversation. Don’t look when you hear them calling after you (although I’ll never forget the one time I heard a man calling after me and I ignored him until he finally caught up and handed me my AirPods case I had dropped). Of course, feel out the situation for yourself, but in my case, 9.5/10 times the men talking to me on the street aren’t doing it to be friendly.
- Know when it is appropriate to get angry. Every girl I know has a different approach to when they are catcalled on the street. I personally believe it is best to ignore them (perhaps the occasional glare or shaking of the head). It isn’t great to allow men to continue to treat women in this way and ignoring their advances doesn’t teach them anything (hence the glare or shaking the head). But I also haven’t found that yelling back, flipping them off, or any other variation is productive or safe. When my friends have done this they are usually laughed off or the men become aggressive. The only situation I would say is appropriate for anger is if they approach you and are relentless. In this case, you may need to show them that you are serious. But to each their own, and the bottom line is that you need to do what will keep you safest.
How to make travel plans?
Flights: I use Google Flights, it is the easiest way to find the cheapest flights. I’ve tried Skyscanner and know many people who use it but Google Flights feels simpler and more effective.
Accommodations: I recommend hostels over Airbnb’s or hotels all day, every day, for solo women. You will meet so many people in hostels and living in dorm with strangers is a great way to get out of your comfort zone. I also recommend choosing female-only dorms, which many hostels offer. I have had one too many weird experiences with guys in my room and the female-only dorms are always a safe bet.
Travel experiences: I tend to find landmarks and points of interest through Google Maps and then spend a lot of time walking around and seeing absolutely every part of the city. I also take whatever tours my hostel offers, which is also a great way to make friends.
Nightlife: If you like to go out stay at a “party hostel” (reading the reviews on Hostelworld will make it clear what type of hostel it is, very quickly). These places are usually less clean but you tend to meet a lot of younger people and make friends quickly. Also, try to find a party hostel that offers bar crawls, these are usually a great time.
Travel insurance: I had never purchased travel insurance until I went to Asia this winter. Before it seemed like a waste of money since my health insurance covered me internationally. However, I realized that I wouldn’t be covered in certain situations in Asia, like if I was hospitalized for dengue fever. This was my biggest fear in Chiang Mai, since I had heard of countless foreigners going to the hospital with dengue. Just in case, I bought SafetyWing which offers cheap travel insurance specifically for nomads.
Eating: I’m on a budget so I don’t eat out much—I usually cook at the hostel or get cheap street food—but here is my advice for choosing a traditional restaurant:
Avoid restaurants that have:
- English menus (unless you are in an English-speaking country)
- Big menus displayed on the street with lots of pictures
- People outside trying to convince you to come in
- A location near the main square/street/etc
These are all big red flags that you have found an expensive, touristic restaurant. Sure, they can have good food and a fun atmosphere, but they certainly aren’t the best options if you want a cheap and traditional meal.
Apps and social media tips for solo female travels
My favorite travel apps are Worldpackers, MeetUp, Maps.me, HostelWorld, and Omio.
Worldpackers: This app is full of volunteering opportunities all across the world. Depending on the program, you can expect to work between 15-30 hours a week in exchange for accommodation and sometimes meals. On this site you will find work exchanges at hostels, farms, holistic centers, and schools. It is a great way to meet people and save money.
However, I would advise calculating the hours they ask you to work and the value of the accommodation. A few months ago I started work at a hostel in Lisbon, it was 30 hours per week in exchange for a bed and daily breakfast. However, the room was pretty depressing and much worse than the guest rooms. The beds were $12 a night for guests (including breakfast), so I was basically working for $2.80 an hour. Later, I worked about 15 hours a week at an amazing hostel in San Juan, where beds cost about $25, so I was essentially “earning” $11.66 an hour. Of course, you aren‘t earning any money, but it is important to value your time and choose carefully when picking your work exchange. They are all very different!
Besides Worldpackers, there is also Workaway which offers many homestay opportunities and AuPair jobs as well. Worldpackers costs $49 a year and Workaway is $44 a year, and with both, you can apply to as many opportunities as you want. Another option is WOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, another work exchange platform but all of the exchanges are on farms. I personally don’t enjoy farming but I’ve heard great things about WOOFing from my farm-lover friends.
MeetUp: I love this app and I’m hoping it will grow even more in the future. This is a platform where people offer classes or events in your area. They are either free, donation-based or cost a certain amount. You can usually find yoga classes, language exchanges, art sessions, and other fun events. If you plan on staying in one place for a while, you can pay a fee and offer your own classes as well.
Maps.me: A boring one but definitely very useful. This is a lifesaver if you don’t have data. With Maps.me, you can download maps and routes while you still have service and then use those offline maps later on. I downloaded the entire map of Costa Rica in less than a minute and when I was offline it showed me every hostel, restaurant, and grocery store I needed.
Omio: Use this when you are traveling through the U.S., Canada, or Europe. This is how I find the best deals on transportation, although I recommend searching here and then going to the transportation company’s page instead of buying through Omio because they charge extra. Omio shows routes via buses, trains, planes, ferries, etc. Another similar service is Rome2Rio.
Hostelworld: This is the best platform for finding hostels all around the world, but I recommend finding the hostel here and then paying on the hostel’s homepage if they have one.
My favorite social media tips for women travelers: Girls Gone International, Facebook Groups, and TikTok. All of these tips are mainly applicable if you are staying in one place for a longer period of time.
Girls Gone International: This is a Facebook group and company for women travelers and it is one of my favorites. They offer group trips and much more, but I only know them through Facebook. If you look up Girls Gone International and then the city you are in, you should be able to find their Facebook Group. In these groups, you will find international girls living in your city (not just travelers) and they will post events, helpful tips, apartment rentals, and meetups. While I was living in Barcelona I met many amazing girls through this group, so I definitely recommend it if you are staying in one place for a while.
Facebook Groups: It is also worth a shot to search for Expats in *your city* or Travelers in *your city*. Random Facebook Groups can be surprisingly helpful and it is really the only reason I still use Facebook. There are also more general travel groups like Digital Nomads – The Solo Female Traveler Network or Women’s Vanlife Collective Europe.
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