Solo travel is one of most liberating experiences on the planet – you’ve got no responsibilities to anybody but yourself, you can do what you want and leave when you like, and the buzz you get from the sense of freedom is immense.
There are, however, considerations to be taken into account – especially if you’re a female solo traveller. As long as you do some careful planning and pack your common sense, then there’s no reason why you can’t have just as much fun as the boys. And then some.
In a recent poll, we asked you ladies whether you’d consider backpacking on your own. A smug 21% of you had already done so, while 51% said you’d be up for it. That left 14% of you who said you would go solo but only in a familiar country, while another 14% said you wouldn’t fancy it.
It’s important to make up your own mind – solo travel doesn’t suit everyone. However, we think you’ll agree that these results are incontrovertible proof of the feistiness of female gappers!
Plan before you leave
There are so many aspects of your trip you need to plan before you fly off to the tropical island of your dreams, and that’s where we come in! Take a look at the following tips, and absorb everything you need.
Dealing with parents
Parents can be notoriously protective of their daughters. Get them involved in your planning from an early stage.
Consider buying a phone card that allows you to make calls from abroad at your parents’ expense.
Don’t promise to ring at the same time each week – this is often not possible when you’re on the road, and they’ll worry if they’re waiting by the phone.
Help your parents set up an email account if they don’t already have one.
Buy a female-friendly backpack with adjustable back systems and remember less is more: consider your shoulders and halve your load.
You won’t need masses of beauty products, strappy shoes or smart outfits. Your fellow travellers won’t be in full make-up! Take one small item that makes you feel a bit dressed up (lippy or jewellery, maybe) and save it for special occasions.
Dress appropriately – which often means covering up. This shows respect for local people. Read up before you go to find out what’s acceptable in the country you’re visiting.
A long skirt is essential: it’s modest, can be smart, keeps you cool and is handy for loo-breaks. Take a large, cotton scarf to cover any cheeky bits should the need arise.
Thinking of taking a hairdryer or other electrical equipment? Power supplies vary in different countries – read up before you go.
A hat or bandana is useful for covering up a bad hair day (we know you aren’t a vain lot, but we try to think of everyone!).
If you’re going to less developed countries, tampons and thin sanitary towels can be hard to find.
Take a supply from home. Remove from their boxes and keep in a watertight container.
Don’t rely on tampons alone. It isn’t always possible to wash your hands in non-western roadside loos.
Changes in climate, diet and lifestyle can mess with your menstrual cycle. Your periods might even stop altogether.
Talk to your GP about what contraception to take. The belt-and-braces method (pill plus condoms) might be your safest bet. Make sure you have enough of each.
Consider packing the morning-after pill for emergencies. It works up to 72 hours after sex. It offers no protection from STIs and shouldn’t be used instead of contraception. Available over the counter, but talk to your GP first.
Once You’re Out There
Consider doing a ‘self-defence for women’ course before you go. Ask at your local leisure centre or police station.
Carry a personal attack alarm.
Plan what you’re doing in advance, so you can look and feel confident. Don’t arrive in a new place after dark.
On public transport, sit where there are other women. Only take registered taxis. Carry the phone number of a taxi firm with you.
Be really careful with drugs and alcohol – you’ll be much more vulnerable if you’re off your face.
If someone offers to buy you a drink, either say no, or stand beside them as they order it. Don’t let your drink out of your sight. This reduces the risk of those with bad intentions adding drugs such as Rohypnol to your drink.
Should you experience a rape or serious attack, contact the British Consulate in the country where you are, at any time of the day or night. Carry the consulate’s contact details with you.
Look out for other female traveller friends, even if you only met them yesterday on the bus.
Some hostels have single sex dorms and many have private rooms that you can hire with mates.
If you want a complete break from men, try a women-only hostel. Contact the YWCA in your chosen country.
If you do sleep in mixed dorms, take a T-shirt and some light trousers or shorts to double as pyjamas. If it’s hot, a sleeping-bag liner (just a cotton sheet sewn into a sleeping-bag shaped tube) keeps you cool and may feel more secure than just a sheet.
General Travel Safety
Let’s be fair – when it comes right down to basics, travel safety is mainly common sense. Looking like an easy target makes you – well, an easy target. We like you, and we don’t want anything bad to happen, so we’ve got some suggestions on how not to get in to trouble.
Never carry more money than you need. Instead, wear a slim money belt that fits under your clothes, or a leather-look money belt that contains hidden compartments. Either way – if you look like you’re carrying a lot of cash, you’re asking for trouble.
Bags with cross-body straps are a great idea, since they can’t be nicked in a grab’n’run.
When you’re out and about, take an ID card rather than your passport – but only do this if you know your passport is somewhere safe.
When you buy your backpack, check to see if you can lock it. Buy combination locks, so you don’t run the risk of losing your key.
If you can’t see your bag, it needs to be locked. This applies to trains, buses, and all other methods of transport. When you’re traveling with your bag stowed, carry all valuables – like your passport and money – on you. Don’t leave it in your backpack.
Carry a single bag and wear it on your back. This way, you can keep your hands free (handy if you stumble!).
Make sure you know where you’re staying before you arrive somewhere. This will prevent wandering the streets at night trying to find a bed somewhere.
If you are lost, and you don’t feel safe, walk into a café or restaurant and confidently ask for directions. If you look confident, people will assume you can take care of yourself (even if you’re terrified on the inside!).
Zip everything shut. It’s very simple, but don’t forget it. Open bags, open money belts and baggy open pockets are just targets for pickpockets and thieves.
Travellers’ cheques are a good way to carry your money about, but always carry a bank card (and backup bank card) in case of an emergency.
Be sensible and dress modestly – cleavage, thighs and shoulders will attract a lot of attention. If you think you look hot, it’s quite likely men will be thinking the same!
Travelling has changed. No longer is it purely associated with unwashed, dreadlocked, peace-loving, soul-searching types, living out of a backpack the size of a shoe (although you may well identify with that at some point on your journey!). Whoever you are and whatever your background, you will meet like-minded people on the road.
One of the most frequently asked questions to lone travellers is “Don’t you get lonely?” – the answer is a resounding “No!”
As a general rule, local people are friendly, generous and happy to meet foreigners. Before you realise it you’ve been invited to someone’s house for dinner or their sister’s, daughter’s or neighbour’s wedding. They will inevitably show off their knowledge of David Beckham and the Queen and provide you with stacks of people they know who live in England!
Just like Trekkies at a Star Trek convention, you’ll find you’re connected in some way to every traveller you meet, if only by the fact you’re sharing the same road. In no time, you’ll be sharing anything from a beer to a month-long road trip with your new best mates.
If you’re still worried about travelling on your own, get a good travel guide like the trusty old Lonely Planet series. If you’re ever lonely, find a hostel with a good write-up and use it to meet new travellers. There are always new opportunities, and if you’re travelling alone, you’ve got nobody to answer to but yourself!
Don’t believe us? Fine! We’ll be over there waiting for an apology. In the meantime, have a look at what other solo female travelers have said. Maybe you’ll believe them.
Here’s an email we received from Kirsty, a gapyear.com member who’s travelled solo:
“Just wanted to let you know that I’ve recently got back from a six-month round-the-world trip. Your website really helped me make up my mind to go. I wanted to travel alone after uni but lots of people – my parents, some friends – thought it was too dangerous going solo. In the end I did go on my own and I had the time of my life. I was never really lonely because I met so many people – probably more people than I would have met if I was travelling with friends. So I just wanted to tell others not to be afraid of travelling solo – it’s easier than you think!”
Here’s what Josie D’Arby (TV Presenter) says about travelling solo:
“I only ever travel on my own, never with a companion. The only time I tried to travel with a companion it didn’t work out, because I think it defeats the purpose of getting away. I just think I get so much more out of the whole experience if I travel on my own. In that respect I’m completely independent, I often go away and not know where I’m going to stay, but I always seem to land on my feet. People just do.”
Now, about that apology…