A recurring issue for women travelling alone is safety. Before my first solo travel venture I painstakingly combed the internet for advice on the safest countries for women to travel to by themselves. Three years later I continue to travel predominantly by myself, and so I thought it would be useful to pull together a list of my personal favourites for solo female travellers.
Of course some destinations are safer than others. Cities in Western Europe, Australasia and North America are generally safer and easier to travel in than their counterparts in other, less developed parts of the world, but I’m a firm believer that a woman should be able to travel to any country solo and without fear. Horror stories about solo travel often get bandied around, and there are many people out there who think women shouldn’t travel alone at all. But with a good attitude, a bit of sass and some research on local customs and etiquette the world isn’t as scary as it’s cracked up to be by the naysayers.
So which countries top my list of cool and safe must-visits for us solo gals?
Could it really be anywhere else? For any women deciding on their first destination to travel solo to, Iceland is unbeatable. This otherwordly Nordic country is incredibly safe, English is widely spoken, getting around is simpler than simple and politically and socially it is a world leader in kicking misogyny’s arse, making it one of the most pro-female destinations on Earth. Crime levels are extremely low; in fact It’s the sort of country where the Prime Minister’s phone number is listed in the telephone directory. Yes really.
Geysers, volcanos, lagoons and glaciers, not to mention unusual and cute wildlife (think puffins, whales and adorably shaggy Icelandic horses) make Iceland a nature-lovers wet dream, while city buffs are guaranteed to love the achingly hip city of Reykjavik. Adventurous types can scare themselves silly with horse-riding, scuba diving, volcano climbing and glacier hiking.
Plus, for the discerning ladies among you who enjoy admiring the male form, Icelanders are more than easy on the eyes, particularly if you dig the Viking look.
Thailand was the first destination I travelled to solo, and unsurprisingly it holds a special place in my travel memories.
So many people travel South-East Asia alone, and the majority of them start their journey in The Land of Smiles. There’s never a dull moment in Thailand; whether it’s soaking in the craziness of Bangkok, lounging on pristine beaches in the Gulf or scoffing delicious street food in the night markets of Chiang Mai.
Thailand is a Buddhist country, where women are seen as equal to men, meaning little to no harassment. The backpacking trail is well-trodden here, making it a fabulous choice for the first-time solo travellers. Throw in its fabled cheapness, widespread English and easy and fast transportation, and it’s a near perfect choice.
The Balkans are a fairly new travel hotspot, and while Croatia has been firmly on the radar for some time, countries like Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina are still relatively undiscovered – which is a shame, as they’re incredibly rewarding destinations.
I recommend basing yourself in the ancient walled city of Dubrovnik. While not especially cheap, it serves as a great launching pad for exploring the region, with trips to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, as well as Albania, Kosovo and Serbia, easily doable.
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro are laughably cheap. Delicious gelato in the tourist centre of Mostar cost around 30p! A glass of red wine in Kotor was less than £1. For solo females on a budget, I highly recommend the ex-Yugoslav nations as a great up and coming choice. The stunning cities of Mostar and Kotor are particular highlights – although I found Budva to be a bit of a shithole, it reminded me a of Russian-populated Benidorm!
While the region is clearly a former war zone – with noticeable bullet holes, shelled building remnants and some simmering hostilities in evidence, its clearly moving forward, leaving its troubled past behind, and I’d suggest heading there before word properly gets out and mass tourism sets in.
Mexico isn’t a country that would necessarily spring to mind when you ponder where to travel solo, but I would argue that it’s actually one of the best, if not the very best, places to travel alone as a woman. It is vibrant, colourful, diverse, friendly and has utterly mouthwatering cuisine. My most recommended area to visit is the Yucatan region, there’s enough here to keep anyone in perpetual awe, whether for an extended trip or a quick two week jaunt.
So many people told me Mexico would be dangerous, and I was foolish to visit alone, but I never once felt threatened or scared, even walking around at night. Learn some basic Spanish (Buenos dias, dos taco de res por favor is always useful!) to speak to the very helpful and friendly locals, and you’re golden. Even the machismo culture I’d read so much about wasn’t apparent anywhere except Merida, and as soon as I opted for long skirts and trousers over shorts and thigh-skimming dresses, the catcalls and whistles quickly subsided.
The excellent bus system is better than England’s, and there are plenty of affordable hostels in the region. Additionally, for someone who doesn’t enjoy eating alone in restaurants, the street food scene is a godsend; simply sit at a food truck, order something delicious and drenched in lime juice, and take it away or relax at one of the little plastic tables out front – this also offers a great way to meet locals – but beware, they will direct you to the hottest condiments on the taco trucks!
Free tapas, cheap red wine, phenomenal architecture, horse-drawn carriages, fierce heat and orange tree-lined streets, Andalucia is Spain at its very best. People rave about Barcelona and Madrid, but the south of Spain captured my heart far more than its midlands and East coast. Seville and Granada are the region’s two heavyweights, boasting the astoundingly beautiful Alhambra palace and gardens, the Alcazar, Seville Cathedral and surprisingly excellent street art scene.
I have nothing but fond memories of these two cities, and you can even throw in a trip the lovely little beach town of Tarifa, which is the southernmost point of Spain. As a solo traveller, I find smaller cities more approachable, and what these cities lack in size they make up for in sheer personality. Time passes more slowly here, meals are eaten at 9pm, and stretch out until the early hours of the morning. Nothing opens until mid-morning, and as someone used to the frenetic pace of London’s streets, everything felt like it had been slowed down. It’s impossible to feel worried, uptight or anxious here.
Lastly, the region is surprisingly affordable, particularly studenty Granada (the last bastion of the free tapas tradition) and transport between the two cities is cheap and fast. English isn’t widely spoken, but with a lick of Spanish and some patience it’s a very rewarding destination.