25 Best Tips for Solo Travel for Women

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25 Best Tips for Solo Travel for Women

She’s visited 99 countries, and now this adventure expert is sharing her best travel tips with us

By Janet A. Wilson

Our world is a treasure trove of adventure waiting to be discovered. Sometimes, the most awe-inspiring wonders of nature, the most fascinating locals, and the most tantalizing foods are just a stone’s throw away, with no need to cross borders or even travel too far.  

However, for many of us, nothing compares to the experiences of traveling to foreign countries. I was a naive, newly married 22-year-old when my husband, Tom, and I set off in 1974 on our first international trip, backpacking around Europe on $5 a day — and never had I felt more alive. 

And again, 30 years later, in my mid-50s, after my sons left home and retirement loomed on the horizon, I decided to return to the continent of my birth and drive across East Africa from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt. Working at the time as a registered nurse, I knew how fragile life could be. I asked myself, “If I had one year to live, what would I do?” And in 2005, my husband and I flew to Cape Town to prepare to drive to Cairo.

The desire to travel far and wide kept growing and so did our adventurous spirit. In 2010, we drove from Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost town in the world. We spent several months in the US before crossing into Mexico. We spent several months driving across North America before heading south through Central America and down the east coast of South America.

We’ve traveled by trains, planes, cruise ships. We’ve hiked, biked, climbed, skied, and scuba dived exploring the wonders of our planet. No matter how you travel, no matter where you travel, the world is rich in diversity of cultures, religions, traditions, art, food, and rituals.  

I have now travelled to 99 countries and have amassed a reliable collection of best travel tips; here are my 25 tips for solo travel for women to make any adventure safe and successful. (Of course, these tips can apply to group travelers too.)

6 Months Before Your Trip
Preparation is key. Begin planning for your trip 3-6 months in advance, and a full six months ahead of scheduled departure if you’re planning to leave the country for an extended period of time.

• Always check the spelling of your name on any documentation you receive. Your travel documents must match the legal name on your passport or birth certificate. If your documentation does not comply, you may be denied entry to a country or boarding onto a plane or cruise ship.

• Also, ensure that your passport is up to date. Many countries require that a passport be valid for six months after your planned departure date from that country.  

• Some countries require an entry visa. Most visas are only valid for three months, and passport photos are often required when applying. Knowing where you can obtain visas en route is essential if your travel extends beyond three months. Before you set off, check with the US Bureau of Consular Affairs for any updates and visa requirements on the countries you plan to visit. 

• Read the small print. It’s a competitive and complicated travel insurance marketplace out there. Consider buying comprehensive travel and medical insurances and hope it’s the biggest waste of money because you never have to claim on your insurances. Verify the terms, conditions, limitations, exclusions, and requirements of your insurance policy before you leave. Insurances will generally not cover you if there is a travel advisory to avoid all or non-essential travel to a country you are planning to go to or are in the country when there is an advisory issued. 

• No matter where you’re travelling or how, your travel and medical insurance policy should cover medical evacuation to your home country or to the nearest place with medical care. It should also cover the costs of a medical escort to travel with you to your destination. Repatriation in case of death (sorry, but it happens!). Your plan includes everything to help your loved ones if you die in a foreign country as the result of an accident or a sudden and unexpected illness.

• If you’re driving, you’ll need driver and vehicle coverage in case of an accident. You should consider getting an international driver’s license as not all countries will accept American drivers licenses. If you’re flying, consider insurance for trip interruption, lost luggage, document replacement, and trip cancellation. (If you are travelling with someone, be wary of buying insurance as a twosome. Some insurances are only valid if the couple remains together.) 

• Read books by local authors, as you’ll learn a lot about a country you won’t find in travel guides. But also take respected travel guidebooks.  

• Learn how to take excellent photos and videos before you leave, especially when taking a camera. There’s lots of information on YouTube. Smartphones can take fantastic pictures if you know how to use the proper functions. Backup your photos daily, and take a spare camera battery. (PS: The best time to take photos is early morning and the sunset hour.)

• Electrical outlets can differ, so take an adaptor plug if travelling internationally and make sure that your equipment is appropriate for the voltage/frequency of the countries’ power supply.

• Visit a travel clinic six months before departure, as some vaccines must be administered six months before leaving. The travel physicians will advise you on the required vaccinations, precautions, and medications for the countries you plan to travel to. (In the past, I have attended a first aid course and carried a first aid and medical kit when travelling.)

The Week Before the Trip
Don’t skip these last-minute preparation details as you pack your bags.  

• Photocopy your passport identification page. Leave one with a trusted, non-travelling friend or relative, and keep the other in a separate, secure place, just in case you lose your passport.  

• There is nothing more frustrating than opening your luggage to find your medication bottles open. I recommend you put all your meds in childproof bottles so the container can’t open in your luggage. Take enough prescription medications for the entire length of your trip, and make sure the bottles are clearly labelled.

• Know the weather patterns of your intended destinations before you go so you know what to pack. And pack lightly! You are not leaving the planet, and you can buy stuff en route. Use compression packing cubes to make it easier to find what you’re looking for when you open your baggage.

• Purchase a few maps of the area. Google Maps don’t always update in real time, especially in developing countries, regarding detours, road closures, bridge or road washouts, or conflicts. (In the past, we have always checked with the locals if going off the main routes.)  

• Label all luggage and any other bags you are taking, including your camera bag. Take a combination lock and a steel cable to secure your luggage if necessary.  

• Buy really good walking shoes and take a small backpack for your camera equipment, snacks, water bottles, maps, and guide books. 

• Pack laundry soap such as a bar of Sunlight for washing undies, socks, etc. (I have had success washing my underwear every night by hand and usually it is fully dry by morning.) Take clothes that dry quickly and pants with zippered pockets. 

• Take extra — and different — credit and debit cards and keep them separately. Not all countries take all credit cards; for example they may accept Visa but not Mastercard or visa versa. It also helps to know the currency rate before exchanging money. 

Solo Travel For Women: The Journey
Set off on a journey where every moment counts, turning a long-awaited and well-planned travel dream into unforgettable memories.

• Break free of the crowds and get to know the locals. Do not let your fears of strangers hold you back. People are naturally curious, friendly, and helpful so return the favor. In many of our travels, we found that people were as curious about us as we were of them. Most disarmed us with their smiles and welcoming us to their village or community and we opened up. We’ve been invited to a funeral, wedding, and religious events. In truly remote locations, locals had never seen themselves in a mirror. They were surprised and fascinated when we showed them their picture in the back of our cameras. Slow down, smile, and enjoy meeting the locals. 

• Stay in touch with your country’s nearest embassies, especially during trouble. In 1974, we were caught up in the Carnation Revolution in Portugal. It’s challenging to keep up with what is happening in a country when you’re just having fun exploring and don’t speak the local language or watch the news. 

• Keep a journal with lots of notes. You will want to remember things that happen, what you see and the people you meet. Take a photo and write down the addresses of your accommodations. Try to seek out local guides and travel agents whenever possible; they often get better deals and also know of any special events or festivals that may be happening while you’re there. They know the best times to visit main tourist attractions to avoid crowds. (Hint: Go early to avoid the crowds, and it’s also the best time for taking photos.)

• Take a light water bottle. Generally, you can buy bottled water everywhere. Purchase large bottles of water then fill your own smaller water bottle to take with you during the day. (I carry a water filter and water purifying tablets, just in case, but I have never had a need for them.)

• You don’t have to buy everything. Most souvenirs end up in storage, so save your money for travel and experiences. 

• Sign language is powerful. Use it to communicate if necessary. We’ve had some funny experiences trying to communicate when we didn’t speak the language well. For example, In Costa Rica near the Panama border, Tom fell down a well and fractured several ribs. We decided to drive to Panama City to get proper care. Tom was in pain and my Spanish was pathetic. I tried to communicate that I needed a clinic. I waved my arms around indicating my chest telling in my poor Spanish I needed a doctor. Finally, we were directed to a clinic, except it was a breast enhancement clinic. My sign language was powerful but useless. Fortunately, they spoke some English at the clinic. Tom was the only male patient but received excellent treatment and the staff had a good laugh. 

• Attitude is everything. Respect everyone you meet. Keep an open mind, and enjoy the diversity of religions, traditions, cultures, rituals, foods, clothing, and music worldwide.

Ultimately, you’ll gain more confidence as you travel, you’ll learn to relax and enjoy the thrill of learning new things, engaging with the locals, and visiting places of interest. And you’ll return home with adventure stories to share. I think many of us, myself included, underestimate what we’re capable of. It was not until I ventured outside my comfort zone that I got to know the real me. 

Janet A. Wilson is a world traveler and published author on adventure travel. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or on her YouTube channel.

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