I’m fairly comfortable traveling to new places by myself. Until this past year, I had no idea how many people shared my passion.
My epiphany came on the cobbled streets of Charleston, South Carolina.
I’d booked a tour of the city’s historic district with Free Tours by Foot, reasoning that listening to an energetic expert’s version of events would be more pleasant than walking around aimlessly and reading plaques or pamphlets I encountered along the way. (I was right, by the way. I highly recommend taking a tour with Free Tours by Foot wherever you find them.)
Roughly half of our group of 15 (give or take) was unattached. The most impressive of the bunch was a young woman from Germany, who revealed in passable English that she’d spent the past three weeks touring the American South, from New Orleans to Savannah, Georgia. I couldn’t even begin to put myself in her shoes.
Solo Travel Is on the Rise – Stats & Trends
Intrigued, I looked into the solo travel phenomenon. Turns out it’s way more common than I thought. According to a survey cited by Lonely Planet, 51% of travelers plan to take their next trip solo. Germans are especially fond of solo travel, with four in five saying they’re going it alone next time. Brits (69%) and Canadians (67%) are nearly as enthusiastic.
Meanwhile, Condé Nast reports on a sharp rise in the number of women traveling solo on outdoor adventure vacations. Condé Nast sources REI Adventures, VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations, and Country Walking all have majority-female clienteles, and the skew is becoming even more pronounced.
In a world that seems increasingly unsettled and uncertain, it’s awesome that so many people – and so many women in particular – feel empowered to travel by themselves.
As a regular solo traveler, I know that journeying alone isn’t without its pitfalls. Single travelers face a slew of logistical, financial, and safety-related hurdles that aren’t as pronounced (and in some cases don’t apply at all) for couples, families, and groups of friends. And while safety is a concern for all, solo women travelers need to be especially vigilant.
I can’t speak from direct experience about the safety issues women face on the road, but through primary source research and conversations with solo travel experts (most of them women), I was able to put together a pretty comprehensive set of travel tips, tricks, and hacks for solo travelers of all genders. I’ve thrown in some advice gleaned from my own experience too.
Without further ado: your definitive guide to staying safe, frugal, and efficient while traveling solo.
Money-Saving Tips for Solo Travelers
Follow these tips to cut your solo-travel costs:
1. Go During the Shoulder Season
Virtually every vacation destination has a high season, a low season, and two in-between seasons. Those in-between periods are known as “shoulder seasons,” and they generally offer the ideal mix of affordability and comfort.
In temperate destinations like Boston or London, the high season roughly coincides with summer and the shoulder seasons roughly coincide with spring and fall. In tropical destinations, the shoulder seasons are the transitional periods between the rainy and dry seasons.
2. Study Up on the Local Authorities
In developed countries, you can generally trust the local authorities to look out for your best interests – or, at least, not to shake you down when you come to them with a complaint.
That’s not so everywhere.
Before you visit an unfamiliar country, particularly in the developing world, do some research into the trustworthiness of local civil authorities: police, emergency services, customs personnel. Unfortunately, many are corrupt.
Look at it this way: By the time you’re asked to pay a bribe, it’s already too late. You have no realistic recourse in the moment, especially if you’re alone and can’t look to a traveling partner or group member for support. It’s incumbent upon you to prevent yourself from ever having to face such a situation.
Pro Tip: In some busy tourist destinations, there’s a separate “tourist police” force charged with addressing visitor concerns: crimes of opportunity like pickpocketing and confidence scams, and more serious crimes like assault and kidnapping. Before you arrive at your destination, check whether the country or city you’re visiting has tourist police and plan accordingly.
3. Purchase Travel Insurance
Before you leave, purchase travel insurance.
Travel insurance is great for groups large and small, but it’s especially helpful for solo travelers who by definition must bear the full weight of mishap-related costs and inconveniences. (Just think of how annoying it is to rebook a flight. Now imagine trying to navigate a foreign country’s hospital system.)
Check out my post about whether you should buy travel insurance for details on the types and costs of common coverages. As a rule, you should expect your travel insurance premiums to be no higher than 10% of your total covered travel costs. If your quote seems too high, shop around.
Pro Tip: If you’re planning to travel abroad, especially if your itinerary involves long-distance hiking in remote areas or other risky activities, make sure your policy has medical evacuation coverage.
Medical airlifts (air ambulances) are incredibly expensive. According to CostHelper, you’re looking at upwards of $25,000 for a medium-haul flight, and well over $100,000 for an international flight. Many health insurance plans cover the bulk of these costs in the U.S., but you shouldn’t expect any financial help abroad.
4. Get a Single Occupancy Room
Don’t assume double occupancy is your only choice. On certain types of conveyances, notably cruise ships and overnight trains, single occupancy rooms are quite common. Before you book a cruise, inquire about “studio staterooms” and other small-scale room configurations that provide travelers with modest amounts of their own personal space.
Single occupancy savings vary significantly, and sometimes disappear altogether. The price difference between a cruise ship’s studio stateroom and a standard two-berther can be as high as 40% to 50% in some cases. But, in some hotels, you can actually pay more for a single occupancy room.
When you book, make sure you’re making apples-to-apples comparisons, and check with the vendor directly if you’re unsure about how occupancy affects pricing.
5. Look for BOGO Opportunities
Solo travelers with flexible schedules can hold out hope for rare but hugely valuable buy-one-get-one opportunities for single occupancy accommodations.
Though these aren’t common anywhere, you’re most likely to find them in the days before a cruise’s departure, when the line becomes desperate to fill remaining vacant rooms.
Ship operators want every room full, of course, so they prefer that you bring a friend. But if you’re willing to pay full price for a single stateroom, why not half price for two? You’ll have more room for your things and more private space to spread out. Plus, you can conceal your true whereabouts by bringing new friends back to your extra room.
6. Get Serious About Protecting Your Money and Valuables
The first rule of preventing theft while traveling abroad: Never carry more money than you need at one time. If you’re spending two weeks abroad, don’t carry a two-week supply of cash every time you leave your room.
The second rule: Secure your money, cards, and valuables in something other than a back pocket or flimsy wallet.
For cash, get a money belt that straps securely to your waist and can’t easily be separated from your clothing. Quality models start at $15 apiece.
For your cards, get an RFID-blocking wallet that stymies EMV chip card scanners, which high-tech pickpockets use to lift credit card data from passersby in public places. My RFID-blocking wallet cost less than $20 and looks great – it’s not actual leather, but I certainly can’t tell the difference.
7. Be Discreet With Accessories
Flashing shiny, spendy accessories is a surefire way to attract the wrong kind of attention. Avoid displaying expensive-looking jewelry, handbags, sunglasses, and other accessories on the road.
In fact, unless you’re traveling for business and need to dress to impress, there’s little reason to even bring such accessories on your trip. If you do need to sport name brands at an evening function or two, that’s fine – just dress down for the rest of your trip and leave the expensive stuff tucked safely away in your room.
8. Use Your Room Safe or Reserve a Secure Locker
Speaking of room storage: If you have a room safe, use it to store anything you really don’t want stolen.
Yes, that means expensive jewelry and accessories – if you brought them, and if they’re small enough to fit in the safe. It also means your excess cash, credit and debit cards, and (when abroad) essential travel documents like your passport and visa.
For obvious reasons, you don’t want to carry extra cash around in an unfamiliar city, and losing your passport is a major inconvenience that usually necessitates an in-person visit to the nearest embassy or consulate.
9. Know the Exchange Rate
Keep on top of your budget in real time with a currency conversion app. XE Currency, a free tool with live exchange rates, is a helpful resource – my go-to for calculating foreign exchange rates in unfamiliar countries. You need Wi-Fi to add each conversion currency, but the app itself functions offline.
10. Skip the International Calling Plan
Unless you’re traveling for business and absolutely need to have on-demand calling capabilities, don’t bother with your wireless provider’s international calling plan. They typically carry steep per-minute call fees – $0.20 and up – or hefty per-day fees. My provider, Verizon, charges $5 per day, per line in Canada and Mexico, and $10 per day, per line elsewhere.
Use a free or super-cheap talk and text app instead: WhatsApp, Line, Viber, or any other app you prefer Most work wherever Wi-Fi is available, so you shouldn’t need to connect to any local wireless networks.
Check ahead with your hotel or hostel to make sure you can get reliable Wi-Fi there, ideally for free. This isn’t always a given in developing countries with spotty or unreliable broadband coverage.
Logistical Tips for Solo Travelers
Use these tricks for a smoother solo vacation:
11. Look to Destinations Known for Something Specific
What do you love to do?
Let your answers to this question guide you as you narrow down potential solo travel destinations.
As a general rule, “theme” destinations tend to be more popular with solo travelers than all-purpose destinations like European capitals. At the very least, solo travelers are easier to spot and connect with in theme destinations. Think destinations characterized by shared interest or identity, often organized around a sport or activity: scuba diving, rock climbing, backpacking, RVing, and so on. You’re more likely to find other like-minded solo travelers in such places.
If you’re not an avid surfer, or scuba diver, or rock climber, no sweat. A theme destination is the perfect place to learn – and meet others to share the excitement (and offer pointers).
12. Reach Out to Other Solo Travelers Ahead of Time
Before you leave, reach out to other solo travelers heading your way. Why waste time finding your compatriots and breaking the ice when you can get that out of the way ahead of time?
The easiest way to find other singles in your destination is to join an online group (Facebook groups tend to be the most accessible and well-traveled) for solo travelers. Many groups, like Girls LOVE Travel, cater specifically to women travelers. Use these resources to poll more seasoned women travelers about their experiences abroad, paying special attention to geographic areas to be avoided or unfamiliar cultural norms to watch for. Don’t be afraid of sounding paranoid or overcautious.
13. Download or Print Maps and Other Key Materials Before You Arrive
If you’re not sure that you’ll have reliable data or Wi-Fi service where you’re going, be sure to download or print maps, reservation confirmations (crucial if you anticipate a language barrier at your hotel), and other important documents before you leave home. You can simply download Google Maps for offline use, or use a dedicated international mapping app, like Maps.me.
Whatever your strategy, having a navigation plan in place increases your independence and confidence level once you’re on the road – a key consideration for travelers planning to do lots of driving or urban exploring in their destination. By the same token, getting your reservations and important documents in order reduces the likelihood of snafus at check-in. If you don’t speak the local language, you want to do everything in your power to ensure smooth communication with front desk clerks, car rental staffers, taxi drivers, and others on whom you’ll rely to get around.
14. Don’t Dismiss Hostels Out of Hand
Don’t assume that your typical urban hostel is a dangerous cesspool where creeps gather to prey upon hapless solo travelers – nor that the only safe hostels are the ones that cost nearly as much as full-service hotels. Some budget hostels are delightful, social environments where you’re more likely to make fast friends than fend off creeps. Plus, in a shared room or crowded common area, you’re less likely to be alone with a bad apple.
That said, you should always read hostel reviews ahead of time and think twice about places with concerning complaint patterns – especially anything involving property crime or boundary-breaking. And it doesn’t hurt to limit your search to hostels in city centers, which tend to be safer than outlying districts.
If you’re not sure about sharing a room at a hostel, that’s fine. Some travel experts actually recommend paying extra for a private room, which affords quiet, undisturbed sleep and privacy.
Bunking up is fun too, and it’s easier to meet people in multi-person rooms anyway. Just bring a sleep mask and earplugs if you’re a light sleeper.
15. Pack Light
Don’t pack more than you can comfortably carry.
If you’re traveling for more than a few days, research affordable laundry options in your destination. In a town or city of any size, you should be able to find a laundromat within walking or short driving distance of your home base.
Also, unless your destination is cold year-round, cut down on your clothing allowance by traveling when the weather is warm. The warm season doesn’t always correspond with the (expensive) high season.
16. Register With Your Home Country’s Diplomatic Corps
When you travel abroad, register with your home country’s diplomatic corps. For U.S. citizens, that’s the State Department, the official arbiter of international travel safety for U.S. citizens.
This is especially important in countries known for crime or political instability. Dozens of countries are covered in part or whole by State Department travel warnings, including popular U.S. tourist destinations like Mexico.
You don’t need to show up at the embassy in person unless you need assistance. Just reach out to the appropriate contact before you leave the U.S. You can also register your trip with the State Department before you depart – my wife and I did this before a recent trip to Costa Rica, and we were shocked at how easy it was. If any issues arise on your trip, local embassy or consulate staff will know where you are and how to get in touch with you.
17. Share Your Itinerary With Friends and Family (Not on Social Media)
This could be a sibling, a parent, a close friend, or a domestic partner (if they’re not traveling with you). The most important criteria: You trust them to have your back if and when you need their help.
Also, tempting as it may be, don’t announce solo travels in advance on social media. You can’t be sure who’s checking your posts. Wait to post pictures and reminiscences once you’re safely back home.
18. Use Caution in Busy Public Places
Solo travelers always need to keep their wits about them. They don’t have the luxury of relying on someone else’s sixth sense or falling back on a trusted companion’s second opinion.
You really need to keep your wits about you in busy public places, such as train stations, bus depots, and city squares. Unlike airports, these unsecured locations are magnets for opportunistic criminals who can enter and exit the premises before anyone realizes.
19. Avoid Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks Without Adequate Protection
Scrutinize public Wi-Fi networks before you connect, especially in busy cafes, hotel lobbies, and other places with lots of unfamiliar people around.
If they’re at all possible to avoid, don’t connect to unsecured Wi-Fi networks. When you must, use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your communications and stymie snooping cyber criminals looking to steal your passwords and personal data. A quality VPN shouldn’t cost more than $100 per year – well worth the cost if it means preventing identity theft.
20. Book an Airport Transfer Through Your Hotel or Hostel
In unfamiliar foreign destinations, be cautious about accepting the first ride you see outside the airport or train station. Unless it’s a straight shot to your lodgings, don’t try to master the local transit network right away either.
Instead, arrange a direct transfer through your hotel or hostel, using a licensed transportation provider (usually a taxi or black car service) they’ve worked with in the past.
My wife and I did this on a recent, more or less affordable trip to Thailand. It cost $40 – a princely sum in Thailand – but we had our checked luggage with us, and a transit journey would have required at least two mode changes over two-plus hours. We stand by our decision.
21. Get a Selfie Stick
I’m not going to lie: Selfie sticks make me weirdly uncomfortable. I just…don’t get them.
But I also can’t in good conscience ignore a travel tip that so many legit experts agree on. Selfie sticks remove uncertainty – and potential danger – from the solo-snapping experience. Why ask a complete stranger to take your picture when you can do it yourself?
Before you travel, check with attractions you plan to visit to confirm that they allow selfie sticks. Some, such as the Colosseum in Rome, consider them a safety hazard.
22. Travel With a Group
Traveling with a small, like-minded group of fellow independent tourists is a great way to meet others, share responsibilities, and benefit from strength in numbers.
Though it’s more expensive than self-planned adventures, group travel also involves considerably less legwork on your end. That’s a big plus if you’re planning a multi-leg journey in an unfamiliar country or remote wilderness area.
Single-friendly tour companies typically cater to tourists with common interests or demographic characteristics. For instance, Under 30 Experiences is a millennial-oriented operator; Road Scholar, a much larger nonprofit agency, organizes educational experiences for all ages.
The big drawback to group travel is cost. Road Scholar’s five- to seven-day domestic tours start in the $1,500-per-person range, for instance. Its international programming is far more expensive – upwards of $5,000 per person for 10- to 14-day trips. If you’re on a tight budget, this option might not be for you.
23. Join a Temporary Group
You don’t have to stick with the same travel group for the entire trip – or even a whole day.
If you’re social, two to three hours is plenty of time to make new friends. Before you arrive in your destination, look for classes, excursions, and shared meals (or all three) that speak to you. These group settings afford more safety and structure than, say, the local bar.
Cooking and languages classes are inherently social activities. The cooking class my wife and I took in Thailand was one of the highlights of our trip – and we got some great recipes out of it.
If you belong to a professional guild or you’re traveling for business, get in touch with local professional associations and see what’s cooking (literally or figuratively) in your destination.
Safety Tips for Solo Travelers
Engage these hacks to repel safety threats on the road:
24. Listen to What Others Are Saying About Safety
Once you’ve found a legit solo travel group or forum catering to your chosen destination, ask members more experienced than you for location-specific safety tips.
Don’t discount this step. While plenty of generic tips apply wherever you go, considerations absolutely vary from place to place. For instance, when we were in Thailand, my wife and I almost fell victim to a specific type of confidence scam that entraps Western tourists near one of Bangkok’s major temples. It was my wife who spotted the ruse and extricated us from the jam; had I been alone, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have seen it coming in time.
25. Do As the Romans Do
Before you leave, research dress and behavior expectations in your destination. If the local culture is conservative or modest, you probably want to mirror it – however uncomfortable or inauthentic that might feel.
Bear in mind that such expectations can vary significantly over short distances. In many countries, traditional values reign throughout the countryside, while big cities are given over to Western norms. Pay attention to site-specific customs as well: In Thailand, for instance, temples and certain other holy sites require women and men alike to cover down to the ankles, but tourists can walk around in shorts and skirts elsewhere with little issue.
26. Act Confident
Feeling like a fish out of water? Don’t look the part. The key to staying safe is to display outward confidence, even if you’re feeling nervous or alienated inside.
Two points here. First, learn a few basic commands in the local language so that you can ask directions when lost and tell anyone bothering you to buzz off. Second, always know where you’re going – or, at least, look like it. If you ever get flustered, duck into a bathroom or sit down at a cafe, check your map, and game out your next moves so that you can walk with confidence and purpose when you return to the street.
27. Book Ladies-Only Hostel Rooms or Floors
I’ll say it again: Hostels aren’t inherently unsafe.
But some are. And it’s entirely reasonable to be wary of sharing a room with six or eight random strangers, including potentially predatory guys. That’s why solo female travelers should consider a sensible compromise: Bypassing the full-service hotel and the private hostel suite and opting for a women-only hostel room or floor.
The women-only floor phenomenon has moved upmarket in recent years. Some full-service hotels are in on the game these days, which is great news for solo travelers not keen on sacrificing creature comforts.
28. Don’t Hitchhike
Hitchhiking is daring, romantic, and very affordable. It’s a great way to meet people.
It’s also incredibly dangerous for anyone: male, female, young, old. No matter where you are, there’s always a better way to get around. There’s literally no circumstance under which hitchhiking is safer or more reliable than any other means of transportation. Yes, it might be cheaper, but it’s simply not worth the risk.
29. Vet Transportation Options for Safety and Reliability
Instead of hitchhiking, take a bus or taxi. Just know ahead of time which buses, taxis, and other public transportation options are legitimate and safe. Consult hotel or hostel staff ahead of time to determine whether you should avoid any particular form of transit.
Be particularly wary of unlicensed taxis and minibuses, which aren’t bound by local transportation regulations and are notorious for price-gouging – or, worse, confidence schemes and muggings.
If you’re on a shoestring budget and feel strongly about using the cheapest local transport you can find, record as much information as you can and let someone know where you’re going. Write down the name of the provider, the license plate number, and vehicle make and model. If you have your phone or camera handy, snap a quick photo of the vehicle too and send it to a trusted contact.
30. Never Share Your Home Base Location or Contact Information
As a general rule, you should never reveal where you’re staying without good reason. You definitely shouldn’t share this information with people you meet in unstructured environments. Don’t give out your contact number or social media information either.
It’s not always easy to keep your home base location anonymous, especially when you don’t speak the language. One trick that works well in urban locations: Procure a card from another hotel or restaurant near where you’re staying and hand it to your driver. They’ll drop you off near, but not right at, your actual home base, none the wiser that you’re actually staying down the street.
My wife and I used this trick in Thailand, where our language skills weren’t sufficient to direct taxi drivers to our neighborhood. When I take Uber or Lyft alone in unfamiliar cities, I usually enter an address a block or two away from where I’m actually staying and walk the rest of the way.
31. Bring a GPS Beacon
If you’re driving, hiking, or cycling in a remote area without reliable cell service, take a GPS beacon. This is a clutch inclusion for solo road trips in desolate regions, where the nearest cell tower could be miles away.
Experts recommend the Spot GPS beacon line, which has a variety of GPS beacon makes. These products aren’t cheap – this base model goes for about $150. But that’s a small price to pay for peace of mind in far-flung parts of the world.
32. Get a Doorstop and Devise an Escape Plan
Private rooms aren’t 100% secure, particularly in cheaper hotels and hostels with lots of comings and goings. Cheaply built lodgings don’t always have deadbolts, either – a flimsy slide lock might be all you have to work with.
Two tricks can help.
First, pack a sturdy doorstop that provides enough protection to stall intruders while you make your escape. And second, get in the habit of checking right away for secondary exits in each new hostel or hotel. On a lower floor, that might mean a window or walk-out door. In proper hotels, it might mean an adjoining room door (which will likely be locked, meaning you’ll have to trust your strength) or a fire escape. You might not find one, but it doesn’t hurt to look.
33. Trust Your Gut
Last, a catchall: Always trust your gut. Your personal safety is more important than saving face. Have a go-to excuse ready to fend off persistent come-ons from creeps who simply won’t get the hint. Simply saying you’re married, or that your partner is about to pick you up, is often enough to end the conversation.
Remember, you’re never going to see these people again. Don’t feel rotten about lying to get out of a sketchy situation.
I have one final piece of advice for would-be solo travelers out there. Before you head out on your one-person adventure, check your credit score. Believe it or not, you don’t have to have stellar credit to qualify for a quality credit card that pays you back for every purchase you make.
The travel rewards segment is especially well-known for attractive sign-up bonuses and generous ongoing rewards. A single vacation could be sufficient to trigger your new card’s sign-up bonus, sending a point bonanza worth hundreds your way with plenty of time to spare before your next trip.
Check out our roundup of the best travel rewards credit cards to find the perfect match for your needs. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, it takes just a few minutes to apply. It could be one of the best financial decisions you make all year.
Do you ever travel alone? What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to first-time solo travelers?