Announcing to your friends and family that you plan to backpack solo, especially if you happen to be female, is likely to be met with concerned expressions and pleas to reconsider. The act of traveling alone as a woman is surrounded by worries of danger, risk and difficulty but this doesn’t need to be the case. Those who have done it say that backpacking alone can be an incredibly rewarding and liberating experience, as safe, if not safer than walking alone through the city. Here are our top 20 essential tips for backpacking as a solo female traveler.
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There is a rise in the number of women-only trips that illustrates how women today are keen to wander beyond girlfriend and mother and daughter spa packages and wellness retreats. Adventure trips, in particular, are surging among women. Mollie Fitzgerald, owner of Frontiers International Travel says: “Men have been taking sporting trips and fishing trips and hunting getaways for ages and it’s finally time for women to have the equal amount of hall passes so to speak.”
As with any adventure travel, you should always be prepared, so here are some of our top tips for backpacking as a solo female traveler, to ensure a smooth and safe journey.
Before You Go
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- Always, always check the news for updates on what is happening in the places you are planning to visit. Disease and war can break out quickly and you’ll want to know about it before you head there.
- There’s an app for that. Download some essential apps before you go to help you on your way. Google Translate, Hostelworld, Maps.me, Skype and Prey are just a few we recommend to start with.
- Network online. Interacting with other travelers all the globe is an invaluable resource for shared experience, tips and even making great friends.
- It can be challenging to pick out a backpack to suit your frame. Don’t choose a size that fits somebody else well. We, women, tend to be shorter and curvier than men with narrower shoulders, and since you’ll be spending a lot of time carrying that pack, it’s worth it to choose carefully. You will need to measure your torso length and hip belt size and don’t forget to try it on before buying. Outdoorgearlab has a really thorough guide to choosing your best pack.
Best Destinations for Backpacking as a Solo Female Traveler
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- New Zealand is beautiful, relatively cheap and quite safe. Find a camping guide here.
- Portugal is a friendly and safe and you can make friends easily with other backpackers here.
- Australia is the backpacking capital of the world and, given its vast size, is surprisingly easy to get around while backpacking as a solo female traveler
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- Keep local emergency numbers in your phone – police, ambulance etc. so that you can reach them quickly if needs be. While an international phone plan is not necessary, it can be useful to have a cheap unlocked phone with a pay-as-you-go SIM card at your disposal.
- Be aware of your surroundings. While it can be really nice to put in headphones or bury your head in a good ebook when on a bus journey or sitting in a waiting room, you should also have your wits about you and don’t get too distracted from your surroundings.
- If you’re camping alone in the woods, try to camp at least a mile from the road to stay away from people who can come in cars.
- Backpacking as a solo female traveler in some parts of the world can draw a lot of unwanted attention and even marriage proposals. If you feel pressured and out of your comfort level by someone who is trying to follow you, be polite but increasingly firm. You may need to even show anger and tell them outright to stop. Don’t let anyone follow you out of guilt.
- A satellite messenger with GPS to call for help can be a lifesaver when traveling in the most extreme places and conditions and many models weigh less than half a pound.
- It’s always smart to bring a cross-body bag with you. Thieves who are known to drive past you on motorbikes can be encountered all over the world while in some places street vendors can distract you while an accomplice sneaks up on you. Keep one hand on it at all times to be extra safe.
Etiquette and customs
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- Shoes off, please. In Southeast Asian countries and some African countries, you will need to remove your shoes before entering some buildings. A rule of thumb is to look for shoes lined up outside. Don’t show the soles of your feet unless you mean to offend someone.
- Be careful with hand gestures like ‘ok’ and ‘thumbs up’ as these can be offensive or provocative in some cultures.
- You will need a sarong to be able to quickly cover your shoulders and possibly also your hair when entering temples or places of worship. While we’re on the topic, you might want to bring a one-piece swimsuit for beach destinations as wearing a bikini is frowned upon in some places.
- Lower your profile and try to blend in with the crowd. You will have an easier time if you conform to the local customs and don’t draw attention to yourself.
- Be cautious about interactions with men in some countries. While making eye contact and flashing a friendly smile at home might be totally normal for you, in some regions such as the Middle East it can interpreted as a sexual advance. To help ward off unwanted attention you can wear a fake wedding ring which will often signal to your would-be-suitors to politely move along to someone else.
- Join hop-on tours and group activities. Be open to positive experiences in meeting new people as most people are not out to get you and you will find are actually quite friendly. This is a great method to avoid loneliness on your solo tour and could even make you some lifelong friends.
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- And finally, trust your gut. If your instincts tell you something is off, it probably is. And vice versa, if it feels like all is fine, it probably is too.