With more women traveling than ever before and the growing availability of low-cost flights, female solo travel is a relatively new fixture of today’s travel landscape. Women are no longer waiting to take their dream vacation until they find someone else to come along—they’re doing it by themselves.
However, that doesn’t mean the part of the world they’ve set out for is ready for them. Even in the United States, street harassment and other dangers are ubiquitous for women. There are many places in the world, including at home, where women are still struggling to be heard and respected and even tourist attractions where women aren’t allowed to enter.
Spoken or unspoken, at home or abroad, there are always rules for women to follow.
Nevertheless, there’s not one rule that says women can’t travel and travel alone. There may be rules for female travelers that don’t exist for men, but the good news is that the number of things women can do far outnumbers the things they can’t.
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Follow the Rules of Cultures That Aren’t Yours
As outsiders traveling to foreign countries, all travelers need to respect the customs and the cultures of the people who live there, even if they don’t align with our own beliefs—and often they’re different for women. There are many religious sites in the world where women are not allowed to visit, such as Thailand’s Silver Temple or Greece’s Mount Athos. In Thailand, female visitors are allowed to enter the grounds of the temple, but only men are allowed to enter inside. On Mount Athos, women are not allowed within 500 meters (1640 feet) of the coast.
These travel rules for women might be tough to stomach, but part of opening yourself up to new cultures is observing the world as it is. Kiona, the founder of How Not to Travel Like a Basic Bitch, a website which publishes diverse perspectives on travel, believes “Whether or not we agree, changing and challenging those rules are not roles for the outsider. A traveler’s position is merely to learn and attempt to understand the places we travel to, not to judge or change. Respect is the first and foremost responsibility for visitors, even if that means our travel privilege is removed.”
Travel with Your Guard Up
Any person traveling in an unfamiliar place should take precautions to stay safe, but female travelers are often especially at risk, even close to home. Apps like bSafe allow you to share your live location with someone you trust at home, and there are plenty of other tools women can use to feel safer as they travel. Self-defense devices are also good for getting out of a dangerous situation, but the best tool in any female traveler’s arsenal is her intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t take a chance. If you’re uncomfortable, remove yourself from the situation—even if that puts you at risk of seeming cold or impolite.
In her final installment of her year-long project to travel the world for the New York Times, journalist Jada Yuan wrote about the experience: “It’s good to know what people who live in a place have to say about safety, but also realize that the rules that apply to them, who know where they are going, and can blend in, don’t apply to me.”
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Know That Sometimes Women Can Do What Men Can’t
With tour operators answering the demand for women-only travel, new opportunities and experiences have been revealed with the explosion of female-only travel. In some countries, a women-only group is an asset that offers travelers access to experiences they wouldn’t ever have if they were in a group with men. For example, on Intrepid Travel’s Women’s Expedition to Iran you can visit female-only spaces like parks, hair salons, and even take a female-only yoga class with locals. Going beyond the striking places to see like the ruins of Persepolis and the colorful Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, this tour offers insight into Iran’s culture that would never be experienced on a co-ed tour.
Solo Women Can Travel Together
If you don’t have someone to travel with and you don’t think you’d be comfortable traveling solo, female-only tours might be the way to go. Many large tour operators like REI and Intrepid Travel offer women-only trips, but there are also small female-only tour operators that might be able to cater to your particular niche. For example, WOAH Travel is a female-owned company that organizes women-only adventure tours which incorporate fun themes like summiting Mount Kilimanjaro during the summer solstice or paragliding in Bavaria during Oktoberfest.
Women Can Travel Alone
It doesn’t matter if you’re booking a tropical bungalow for one or setting out for a transformative trek through the Himalayas, you can travel solo wherever and whenever you want. Although there are some destinations where women need to practice more caution, there are also plenty of countries that have excellent reputations for safety when it comes to solo female travel such as New Zealand, Iceland, Japan, and Rwanda, just to name a few.
Solo travel can be more expensive, but smart travel companies are starting to adapt their prices to accommodate the influx of solo travelers. More and more tour companies are getting rid of single supplement fees, and some even offer roommate matching services, so you can be matched with someone of the same gender and avoid paying the single room supplement. Many cruise lines like Norwegian, Celebrity, and others are also adapting by building more affordable studio cabins on their ships, which are perfect for solo travelers who don’t want to pay for that empty extra bed.
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Women Can Travel Anywhere
Every destination is worth visiting, even if it doesn’t make the list of most female-friendly destinations. There are certain destinations that could get you some funny looks when you announce your travel plans. Friends, family, and even total strangers often have no inhibition to express their concern, and might even ask you something along the lines of, “But aren’t you scared to go there?”
Of all the challenges for female travelers to overcome, doubt is one of the biggest—and most of the time it’s entirely unfounded. Just ask any solo female traveler who has ever visited a far-off place alone; you never really know until you go.
More from SmarterTravel:
- How Men and Women Travel Differently
- Inspiring travel Tips from Women’s Travel Fest
- The Anatomy of the Perfect Plane Outfit for Women
Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer always looking for her next vacation. Follow her on Instagram @jamieditaranto.