This guide covers everything you need to know to get started with your first solo female travel adventure.
If you’re an adventurous woman who is new to solo travel or international travel, this guide will give you some great advice, lessons and planning techniques to make your trip a positive one (and hopefully the first of many).
If you’re an experienced female traveller or solo traveller, there’s some more advanced tips that you may have overlooked, that you can take with you on your next trip.
If you want to travel the world solo as an independent woman – this guide is for you.
Table of contents
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1. Research is the secret!
This is the most important lesson for any solo female traveller, and the reason for this guide.
Good or bad research alone can make or break your entire travel experience, and offers some BIG lessons if not done correctly.
There’s a lot you need to think about when planning any type of travel, but when travelling as a solo female you should take some extra time to be prepared so you can enjoy every minute of it.
Go old school
Travel research online is super easy, but it has one major flaw; it’s time consuming and shallow.
Finding highly informative resources online is almost impossible in the noise of social media and travel websites.
To get a deeper understanding of your travel destination, it’s time to go old school with your research.
Look for guide books, travel writers, and novels set in the country you want to travel to.
- Travel Guides on eBay
- 20 Best Travel Books of All Time Written by Women
- Everywoman’s Travel Journal
- Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018
- The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts
- Kicking Ass on the Road The Ultimate Guide for the Solo Woman Traveler: Travel Cheap, Travel Safe & have the time of your life!
This doesn’t have to be offline entirely, there are some fantastic travel bloggers who provide great information from around the world too.
- Christine Kaaloa from grrrltraveler is based in the USA but has guides and travel tips for women from across the world
- Jessica O’Reilly from Comfort is For Wimps takes you from Australia to everywhere else with some real adventure travel
- Alice Nettleingham from Teacake Travels is from the UK but has been featured in many of the best travel publications in the world
Expand your network
Solo travel doesn’t have to be … solo. The best travel experiences are when you have a local connection.
Whilst planning our first big trip to Paris, a work colleague passed on the contact details of a friend “who lives in Paris”.
We emailed and then Skyped with Delphine who exclaimed, “you MUST book with my neighbour, Michel – his apartment in Bastille is a top seller!!”.
We did book with Michel and in the process, we avoided paying fees to third parties, and were warmly received by real Parisians.
Michel took us on a walking tour of Bastille – introduced us to the best vendors at the produce market, and most importantly showed us where to buy our baguettes. We enjoyed lunch together in a small, intimate, out of the way cafe and met the owner, “Miss Lunch”.
We met again for dinner – this time with Delphine. Another afternoon we explored back lanes for “vintage”. We loved his dog. He laughed at our attempts at speaking French and we now keep in touch!
Our travels were enriched by making those connections before we left, and Paris has become a favourite return destination for us.
How do you find these connections? Through everyday life!
- Share your plans with work colleagues, they will tell you if they know someone
- Your personal connections with friends and family will surprise you
- Join a travel forum or group on Facebook, we have one just for women
Get in the mood
Travel is about learning, new experiences and growing as an individual.
Embrace that opportunity and start preparing yourself.
Enrol in an adult education class and meet other travellers, learn a foreign language, or take a cultural cooking class.
Any piece of knowledge or culture you can incorporate into your travel plans will make the experience so much more rewarding.
- Be inspired by these incredible TED Talks on travel
- 10 best language learning books
- BBC Good Food recipes from around the world
- Jamie Oliver’s world food recipes
2. Picking your destination
On that first trip to Paris some 5 years ago, we flew straight through from Brisbane, with a 3 hour layover in Singapore, and arrived in Paris at 6am on a Saturday morning.
The thinking was that we’d sleep on the plane and the connecting flights were nice and close. When we arrived our host was not there to meet us and we had no sim card to make a call.
What happened next involved a Tabac and some tears. We finally checked in to our accommodation at 2pm – some 8 hours later.
Then we crashed and awoke at 11pm – wide awake! It took three days to get over jet lag and adjust to the local time.
Choose an entry point
Don’t just choose a country to travel to – carefully consider your entry point.
This entry point should be easily accessible from major flight or transport hubs, but also take into consideration any requirements for domestic travel, time zone differences and travel warnings.
Is it easier to fly into a smaller airport and get a connecting train? Domestic trains, planes and metros are all an option – plan out the entire journey.
Some larger flight hubs such as London add additional taxes for example, so it’s best to do some research to ease your travel concerns and potentially save some money.
Selecting the neighbourhood where you have booked your accommodation, will also be the place you reorient yourself after a long flight, so check it out first online.
Find a local community Facebook group for your chosen neighbourhood (buy, swap sell groups are great for this), a travel group or other female travel network (TripaSista) and ask;
- Is it safe to walk around at night on your own?
- Does it have an easy connection to the airport?
- Is food and local transport close by?
- What are some local places to see and avoid?
- See where our favourite female travel bloggers recommend you visit
Travel uproots you from everything you know – that’s why it’s exciting but it can also put you in a vulnerable position.
Familiarise yourself with the local customs before you travel – cultural attitudes towards women, tipping, bargaining, eye contact, modesty, touching (very insulting to touch the head of a Fijian) all vary greatly depending on your destination.
As a solo female traveller this is even more important as you are more likely to be affected by the religious and cultural beliefs of foreign countries.
- Culture guides from Rough Guides
- Culture and destination guides from Lonely Planet
- Female Travel Advice from SmartTraveller
Plan your timing
A couple of years later we returned to Europe and flew in to Frankfurt. This time we took a daytime flight to Singapore and stayed overnight in the airport hotel.
We then boarded a morning flight which arrived in to Frankfurt at 4pm local time and were met by the hotel shuttle bus.
We checked-in, showered, freshened up and joined others for a leisurely dinner in the lobby. We went to bed at 10pm and slept like babies.
The next morning – we caught the nearby metro into the city and went shopping and saw a fantastic exhibition at the Schirn gallery. A completely different entry experience to Europe!
Make sure you check the timezone differences for the countries you are departing and arriving in, and that you understand when accommodation, transport and food operators are open (Siesta!)
- Check ahead with the timezone calculator
- Arrive later in the day so you can check in to your accommodation straight away!
3. Time to fly (comfortably)
The experience of booking and purchasing a flight online can be nerve wracking. It’s a sizeable amount of money and the nagging feeling that “there’s a better deal out there” pervades.
Flying is also inherently uncomfortable so we need to do everything we can to make the experience as comfortable as possible!
Negotiate on price
One time I had done my research online and found the flight I wanted but still I didn’t feel confident to book and pay online.
So I contacted a well known travel agency to see if they would match this or find a better deal. Thus began my relationship with Travel Agent Eve – who not only matched my price but sweetened the deal with bonus travel insurance. I went ahead and booked through Eve who handled the payments and arrangements for that trip.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Not only will travel agents match your price they might offer added extras.
- Flight Centre will price match other fares
- Most airlines have offices in major cities and will be able to answer all the questions you might have about what the fare includes, cancellation and T&C’s.
- Allow yourself more than enough time. Security checks are serious and lengthy these days. Queues form and stress builds.
- In some of the larger airports – the walk to the gate can be a kilometre long! Don’t miss your flight – you’ll have to buy a new ticket at the airline counter.
- Don’t just look at a check-in line’s length – look for the scanners with frequent travellers like business people who have mastered the art of getting through quickly. Meanwhile, avoid lines with families and young children.
Long haul, long recovery
Flying across the world non-stop is tiring. Flying overnight even more so.
Jet-lag is real. It is a myth that you will sleep on a night flight. Best book a flight so you arrive in the afternoon – arrive at your hotel and go to sleep at the local time. The sooner you adjust to the local time the better.
Planning a lay-over for long flights and staying the night at the airport hotel may seem like a wasted day, but you’ll get so much more out of your final destination when you are well rested, have eased into the time difference, and have a pleasant flight and arrival experience.
- Consider a stopover for long haul flights.
- After a long flight, the extra comfort of a door to door airport shuttle is Gold!
Luggage is always a hassle when you’re travelling. But now you’re travelling solo, you also need to handle all your gear by yourself.
This is why arriving at your destination at a time you can go straight to your accommodation is so important.
Some flight and luggage tips to get you thinking ahead;
- Carry-on weight and size vary between airlines AND international and domestic. If you have connecting domestic flights, check those limits!
- Make sure you check ahead for large items like bicycles, surf boards or expensive items like camera gear before booking your ticket.
- Travel insurance cover for large items is SUPER important, airlines may not cover damage to large items.
- Don’t bring large quantities of cosmetics in your carry-on luggage (there’s a limit of 100ml per bottle) or you’ll be forced to throw them away.
Book your seat early
As soon as you purchase your air ticket, get in early and book your seat!
Getting first pick can put you in the best position for an easy flight.
- Check out SeatGuru for airline seat configurations.
- Long haul flights seat configurations are usually 3-4-3, if you get in early there are some 2 seat configurations available.
- The back of the plane is a bumpier ride as the end of the plane experiences more turbulence, and sitting behind the engines is noisy.
- You’ll have more leg room in an aisle seat, but you’ll also need to make way for your fellow passengers.
- Sitting close to the toilets is convenient, but be aware it may get busy.
- Sitting near exit areas of the cabin is where other passengers will mingle and even exercise.
Order a special meal (and snacks)
You’ll look forward to eating in order to break up the monotony of the flight.
This will usually be from the in-flight meal options, but you may want to plan ahead and pack some snack foods from duty free, or even order your meal in advance.
There are some other sneaky tricks to know about airline food;
- When you book your seat also order a “special meal” – eg vegetarian. You’ll receive your meal before everyone else and it’s cooked fresh at your point of departure!
- Avoid smelly or noisy snack foods if possible, be aware of the comfort of fellow passengers.
Comfortable clothing and extras
You’re going to be restricted for a period of time on any flight, and that digging bra or tight belt can truly make it a nightmare.
You should be planning to wear loose, comfortable clothing that can be layered when you get too hold or too cold.
You may also want to invest in some ear plugs or an eye mask for peace and quiet.
- The best sleep masks for travelling
- 14 best travel pillows
- The newer Trtl travel pillow (light and portable)
- Pack a change of underwear and toiletries so you arrive fresh off the plane.
Exercise and hydration
While you’re usually settled in for the first hour or so during a long flight, you’ll want to ensure you look after your body before your arrival.
Ensure you stay hydrated with water and non-alcoholic fluids, and consider doing some exercises to avoid DVT (deep vein thrombosis).
Yoga or in-seat exercises can keep those aches and cramps away so you’re ready to go when you arrive.
- Some simple, in-seat travel exercises
- Remember the exit areas of the cabin is the yoga/exercise zone!
4. The arrival
I had travelled through Portugal to meet up with a friend in the river city of Porto.
I was excited about Porto and felt chuffed that I’d got a great deal on a double room in a boutique hotel, on the waterfront, which I booked online before I left. To my utter dismay – after a long and exhausting journey, at check in we were told “that room has been sold, but we can offer another”.
To this day, I’m a bit embarrassed about my over the top reaction at being bumped. When the hotelier showed us “the other room” which was in the basement with a small window, I became even more furious.
The hotelier made quick phone calls and a room became available at a hotel, “on the hill”. We paid for the taxi journey which irked me some more.
The hotel “on the hill”, was simply breathtaking – hundreds of years old, lovingly restored by it’s architect owners. I was in awe from the moment I walked in – it’s architectural features were celebrated yet all comfort considered. We became fast friends with the architects and follow their work to this day.
Your best laid plans will not always go to plan. You never know – cancellations might lead you to somewhere better, somewhere beyond your dreams. Stand your ground but there is no need to be rude! Have a back up plan.
Get your accommodation right
When it comes to accommodation, all the planning and research you’ve done for your destination now comes together for a super smooth experience.
- Know your check in time, and whether can check your bags or luggage in early if you want to have a meal or explore the area first.
- Does your accommodation have an elevator, or porter? If not the top floor may not be as inviting with all those stairs.
- Make sure you clearly understand the cancellation terms and conditions, and always utilise traveller reviews before booking.
- It’s best to arrive in daylight hours, so you can find your accommodation safely and start to get your bearings with nearby landmarks and features.
- Finally, ALWAYS have a backup plan in mind. Just in case it’s a flea pit!
Travel warnings and scammers
Most countries with a strong tourism industry will attract scammers who target travellers.
As a solo female traveller, you may be seen as an easier target, so learn to trust your instincts.
This story on a traveller’s scam in India has caught out female travellers, including us!
- It is best to arrive in the daylight as you’ll need to get to your accommodation safely.
- Check – are there any travel warnings current?
- Ask other travellers about common scams.
- Trust your instincts! If you feel uncomfortable, uneasy or are concerned about an activity or environment you’re in, it may not be the right place for you.
5. Safety for female travellers
Usually safety is the first question raised by family when we decide to travel solo.
Safety should be taken very seriously by any traveller, and being a woman is no different.
Social media is your friend – research networks for solo women – meet ups and ambassadors.
- Download WhatsApp before you leave – this is invaluable when travelling to stay in touch with family and to be able to make free calls to your accommodation provider.
- Install other travel apps so you can manage your banking, translate languages, and find your way around.
- Often cafes and transport hubs provide free WiFi access so you can keep friends and family updated on your movements and plans
- Leave copies of important items like you passport, birth certificate, visa, and travel insurance with family including bank account numbers, phone numbers and a detailed travel itinerary.
- Familiarise yourself with some simple phrases before you travel – hello and thank you in the local language will go a long way in showing the locals you at least are making an effort.
- Adopt the local dress code which helps not draw attention to yourself as a “tourist”.
- Try to blend in to your surroundings and experience the area as a local which will help prevent unwanted attention. Identify the “tourist” areas and try to avoid them when possible.
- Don’t wear any “flashy” jewellery. Just keep it simple. If you want to wear gold, just thin necklaces and/or small earrings. The same with watches, nothing fancy, or expensive. In many countries this kind of jewellery is only worn on special occasions – you could draw attention to yourself. Blend in!
Tap into the power of women
- Stay at one of the many women run hotels and tours like we feature here at TripaSista
- Before you travel find online networks like Tourlina for solo women – make connections, get travel tips and even arrange to meet up with fellow travellers.
Travel insurance (a good idea!)
Travel insurance may save your life, so give it some thought and stay safe.
When you’re travelling solo this is incredibly important, as you may not be in a position (or state), to make decisions.
- Check with your bank or health provider, they may offer good deals on travel insurance.
- The most important thing to cover is your health – two weeks in hospital in the US can run into the tens of thousands. At the very least, you should have emergency medical and evacuation coverage.
- Make sure your cover extends to all of the countries you are travelling to. If you are part of a Commonwealth country for example, you may be able to access the public health system in the UK.
- Travel insurance generally covers you from departure date to return date.
- If you don’t want to read the Product Disclosure Statement for your policy, ask to have it explained to you before making your decision.
- Use a website like canstar to help you do some research.
6. Managing your money
I arrived in Paris after a long haul flight from Australia (20+ hours in the air) and withdrew a couple of hundred euros at the ATM near our hotel.
Enough cash to last a couple of days, not too much as to feel vulnerable. Easy!
Two days later, I returned to the same machine and my cash withdrawal prompted the daunting message “Contact Your Bank”.
As my stomach turned I realised two things. I forgot to tell my bank that I was travelling overseas. I did not have their international phone number.
What came next I will call, “The Hell That Is Dealing With Your Bank’s Customer Service Whilst Overseas”.
Talk to your bank
Sort all of this out before you land on foreign soil.
- Contact your bank – inform them of every country you will be travelling through.
- Always travel with more than one card.
- Make sure that you can transfer funds between them.
- We live in an age where banks insist on sending 4-6 digit passcodes to your phone – a number that is registered, verified by the bank – you know the deal. Install their app.
- Install WhatsApp and add you banks contact number so you aren’t charged international call rates.
Money and card usage tips
- Have a small amount of local currency on hand upon arrival.
- Go direct to the airport ATM to withdraw a larger amount of cash.
- Avoid foreign currency exchange booths – they are expensive!
- Always travel with more than one card or travel money option. For example – a debit or credit card from a different bank in case one card gets maxed out, lost, damaged or eaten by an ATM.
- Make sure your credit, debit or prepaid card is accepted in the country you plan to visit.
- Never let your card out of your sight.
- Take cash with you before heading to a small-town or rural destination.
- Avoid dynamic currency conversion (DCC). If a retailer offers you the of payment between the local currency or your currency – choose the local currency, your card will give the better exchange rate, than the retailer or ATM
- When possible, withdraw cash from bank-run ATMs located just outside that bank.
- Remember your daily limit when withdrawing cash is in your currency.
- Use a bank that charges low rates for international ATM transactions, and save fees by withdrawing large amounts at each transaction. Plan your cash withdrawals wisely.
- Spend your coins before leaving a currency zone – you can often donate to charity boxes at the airport.
- An extra credit card can come in handy when you rent a car and use your card to cover a collision damage waiver.
- Report any unauthorised transactions immediately
- In case of emergency – you can always ask someone to wire you money. Western Union and MoneyGram have agents all over the world.
- You might need to produce your passport when using your credit card. Otherwise it is best to leave your passport in your hotel/room safe along with your tablet, copies of travel documents and any valuables.
The following countries might not accept credit cards – Cuba, Crimea Region of Ukraine, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria.
Most countries have limits on the amount of foreign currency you can import and export i.e. $10,000 – you won’t be carrying that amount of cash on you while you travel.
7. Build a travel base (and why?)
We had planned to spend a month in a Chateau in France. What an ideal way to explore the area we thought!
However, the Chateau was a crumbling ruin with no heating and a resident ghost (a raving mad woman with a Welsh accent) – we were out of there!
By chance – a local recommended we spend time in Collioure – a seaside town on the French border with Spain. We booked in to the hotel for two nights – loved the feel of the town, booked a week long stay at a self catering cottage and then two more weeks.
We shopped at the local markets, went for long hikes along the coastline, tried sailing, hired a car and explored the neighbouring towns, took day trips to Spain.
The value of spending an extended amount of time in one place should not be underestimated. We became known by the locals who looked out for us and took us to places only locals go. We immersed ourselves in the region and came to understand and love Catalonia.
8. Hygiene pack list for female travellers
There is nothing like a pilgrimage through India to break down a Westerner’s expectation that toilet paper and toilets “go hand in hand”.
Indians consider the use of toilet paper to be unhygienic and famously douche instead.
I had packed my own supply, however, when the bus driver pulled over for a toilet stop some 5 hours in to our trip – I was to discover that I was NOT prepared at all.
So violent was the explosive case of diarrhoea that overcame me – women gathered around me to create a modesty curtain of sarongs.
You see, the toilet stop was roadside. Technically the toilet was “the bushes”.
If you are eating street food – join the queue of women and their children rather than eat at alone at a “Western” restaurant.
Never expect that the country you are travelling in to have the same “hygiene standards” that you would find at home.
- Always travel with tampons, toilet paper and a sarong or shawl – these are indispensable. Many women have been surprised by irregular timing of their menstrual period. Remember – tampons and pads are not readily available in all countries and sanitary disposal bins not always available
- The world is drowning in plastic water bottles – buy a travel water filter instead, and avoid Bali belly!
- Pack Imodium (diarrhoea medication).
- Pack rubber flip flops (thongs) for public showers.
- Antiseptic wipes – great for wiping down seats, tables, menus, hands as you go. Travel connects you with people and their germs.
- Pack a towel – we highly recommend a lightweight travel towel or sarong.
- Even small nicks and cuts must be promptly cared for to prevent infection! Pack band-aids, antiseptic solution, antibiotic cream, anti-inflammatories and/or aspirin.
9. Last minute travel checklist
Everyone has their own luxury items and packing lists sorted, but as a solo female traveller remember to include the basics listed below.
- Travel money, travel insurance, copies of travel documents (left with family) and up to date passport!
- Check that your prescriptions are up to date and that you have medication for the duration of your trip. Have a letter from your doctor about your medication – you don’t want to have to explain “drugs” to Border Security.
- Chargers and adapter.
- Ear plugs and eye mask.
- Washing line and mesh laundry bag.
- Pack a bathing suit and rain jacket.
- Roll your clothes instead of folding when packing – it’s a space saver.
- Take clothes that you can “layer” and basics that can be dressed up with a shawl or accesories.
- Keep in mind whatever you buy you’ll have to carry with you – however, it is possible to send bags ahead using a service like sendmybag
- It’s true what they say – take twice the money, half the clothes!
Now it’s your turn!
What did we miss? Share your secret female travel tips below in the comments.
And make sure you send this through to your adventurous female friends.
Can’t wait to see you at check-in!