Cheap And Cheerful: 21 Tips For Safe, Fun And Affordable Solo Female Travel
So you want to travel solo?
Rock out Girl Scout! Travel on your own terms is one of the most life-changing and empowering things anybody can do. Get ready to rumble, because your world is going to open and you’ll grow by leaps and bounds…go you! But I’d be lying if I said that solo travel doesn’t come with certain challenges that you may not face travelling with pals. You many even have some worries about whether travelling on your own is even a good idea. Usually those doubts boil down to three main things: Will I be safe? Will it be too expensive without a buddy to split costs with? And is travelling all on my own even going to be fun?
Look, having doubts is natural anytime you try a new thing. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, what it does mean is that you need to get the hang of how YOU do solo travel. Everybody’s different, but with years of solo travel under my belt, I’ve discovered a lot of ways you can make sure solo female travel is safe, fun, affordable and empowering. So here we go, here are my top 21 tips for having a kick ass solo female travel experience!
Safe: Plan to arrive in daylight. More people will be around, shops will be open, and public transit will be running more regularly. Mentally rehearse how you’ll get where you’re going. Will you take a taxi or the train to your accommodation from the airport? If so, do you know where you’ll buy a ticket or get local currency? The website of the airport you’re flying in to will have info about what services are available there for travellers. Google maps is also a great tool for planning local transportation, just choose the bus/ train option instead of walking or driving. I plot my route ahead of time and then save it as a screen shot on my phone just in case I can’t get on wi-fi right away when I land.
It’s a fact: I’m a public transit geek. Check out the groovy tiling in Amsterdam’s Metro!
Cheap: Buy a local public transit card. Most cities offer reasonably priced local transit cards that are good for 24, 48, 36 hours or more. This way you never have to fumble around with money while you’re using an unfamiliar transit system, if you accidentally get on the tram going the wrong way you can hop off and hop on again without having to buy another ticket, and you always have a way back to your accommodation at the end of your day, so when you’re tired and frustrated you won’t be tempted to shell out for a taxi. Think of it as your all-inclusive pass! Just be sure you understand how late the transit links to your neighborhood run at night so you won’t be left high and dry.
Fun: Eat at the bar. It’s a scene every solo traveller has experienced at least one. You show up to that cute cozy restaurant from your guidebook that you’ve been dying to try. You can see that it’s half empty, but the person who is supposed to be seating you says, “Hrrrm, only one person? Sorry, we’re full.” Either that, or they seat you and you find eating out just isn’t the same when all of your dinner conversation is with your phone! Honestly, figuring out what to do with yourself over dinner can be one of the most uncomfortable parts of solo travel. This is why I love being seated at the bar. Most restaurants will happily seat single travellers at the bar and serve their full menu. The bar is almost always buzzing with activity. You chat up the bartender and watch them make drinks or strike up a conversation with the people around you. And if you don’t feel like doing either of those things, it’s less awkward to be on your own watching the world go by there.
Safe: Stay at an Air B&B with a female host. Air B&B offers lots of options for staying, but by far my favorite is to shack up with a local. In my experience renting a bedroom in somebody’s apartment is a much more comfortable and private experience than staying in a hostel, for a very similar price if you’re in Southern or Eastern Europe. I find it safer because there will always be somebody there who will notice if you don’t come home at night. Most Air B&B hosts are a wealth of information about how to enjoy their area like a local, and will shower you with ideas. If you opt to stay with a female, she will be very candid with you about what to watch out for safety wise and where to be careful after dark. I almost always stay either with single females or couples.
Cheap: Skip or cut down on alcohol. Booze can be a tempting way to socially lubricate yourself if you’re travelling on your own. I love a good drink and I’m not here to preach about the dangers of alcohol. We all know that over-indulging can make you less aware of your surroundings and lead to trouble. The other thing is, booze ain’t cheap! Manage how much you drink and save the cash for something else on your travel wish-list.
Take a risk in a foreign country and go see a show! Shakespeare in Berlin was a fun way to test my German…
Fun: go to a concert or play in the evening. I think most people are pretty comfortable entertaining themselves at museums and other attractions during the day, but what do we do with ourselves at night when we’re travelling solo? A lot! I’m a live music junkie, so I research concert venues ahead of my trips and find out if there are any interesting bands play live. That’s how I ended up going to a psychedelic music festival on a hippie commune in Denmark! I love theater too, so I’ve gone to everything from an improvised play performed by Swiss folks with disabilities in a refurbished barn in Bern to open air Shakespeare in Berlin! At events like this it’s easy to blend in and avoid unwanted attention and equally as easy to strike up a conversation with another audience member because you instantly have something in common.
Safe: separate your valuables… and have backups in the cloud. I never keep all of my credit cards, cash and identification in the same place. That way if I get pick-pocketed, or I arrive back at my accommodation to find my room has been robbed I’m never back to square one. Usually I divide my assets in two; one pouch with my passport, a credit card and some local currency stored in a hotel safe or locked in my luggage, and one wallet for, “going out”, with another ID, another credit card, some cash and my insurance cards. If I am travelling in a place that is known for pickpockets, I utilize the safety features in my Packsafe Citysafe Purse and carry a backup stash of cash in these clever little anti-theft boy-shorts. If you wear anti-theft underpants or a money belt, it’s a good idea to slip a little piece of paper with some important phone numbers like your accommodation, the local police and your country’s embassy. That way if you’re robbed blind you have the info to make a police report. I have copies of all my ID cards scanned into a folder in my Google drive and I share access to that drive with somebody at home.
Discovering the magic of food stalls in beautiful Budapest. Check out my weekend guide to Budapest here!
Cheap: Try the local grocery stores, hit up a food market and squirrel your own stash. The cost of dining out can kill you travelling alone. Fortunately many hostels offer kitchen facilities, and it can be a lot of fun to hit up the local shops and see what kind of foods are on offer there. If cooking in isn’t your thing, grab a nosh at a local food market. Foods are usually affordable there and it is another fix for the “sitting awkwardly in a restaurant” dilemma. I also make like a squirrel and stock up on portable foods like nuts, dried fruit and my favorite granola bars and have a stash in my purse for when I get hangry. That way I don’t have to make pricy pit-stops in places like museum cafes when I just need a little pick me up between adventures.
Fun: Join a local meetup group. If you’re a social butterfly and you the idea of flying 100% solo in your travel destination doesn’t float your boat, see what’s on offer in your local destination on Meetup.com. There are groups for things you may be less likely to want to try solo, like hiking, or sometimes just meetups for casual drinks. Check it out!
Safe: Try paper maps for a change, and always carry a pen and a tiny notebook. I love being connected as much as the next gal, but a paper map never runs out of batteries and having one on stash means I can avoid whipping out my phone in public and running down my battery. I don’t like making pit stops to charge my device during the day and depending on where I am, I feel like having my phone out and charging can make me a target for thieves. I try to remember a tiny pen and notebook so I can write down the names and addresses of the places I want to go before I leave, thus making me even less dependent on my phone. A small journal also great to have on tap if I see something when I’m out that I want to remind myself to go back to. Doing a little Dear Diary is a nice activity for a rainy afternoon, just sitting in a cafe and musing about your adventure when it’s still fresh in your mind!
Cheap: Don’t forget your membership cards…they can get you discounts! I can’t tell you how many teacher discounts I’ve missed out on at museums because I left my teacher ID card at home. Your student ID will work wonders for you too. If you’re a member of Triple A, you’ll also get lots of travel related discounts. It’s worth taking a look at your membership cards before you leave home and taking along a few key ones that can save you a couple bucks.
Safe: Leave A Little Mystery. There’s nothing like the rush of meeting a new friend on the road and sharing your stories with each other. I have met so many people whilst travelling that I could open up and be honest with, and hearing other people’s stories has definitely helped inspire me to live my most authentic life. That being said, you don’t owe anyone any answers, ever. Trust your gut and if somebody’s questions seem more invasive than curious, don’t feel bad about telling a fib or two. Also, beware of your surroundings. I may be chatting up somebody nice in a bar, but the person sitting next to me who is listening in on our conversation might not be so nice. I very rarely admit that I’m travelling alone. There’s always a local “friend” I’m staying with that didn’t feel like going out tonight, a boyfriend back in the hotel room with a hangover… you know the deal. When talking about the details of my travel itinerary I keep things deliberately vague.
Cheap: Many hostels organize free tours. Make sure you check them out upon arrival, some are amazing, and some are worth what you paid for them! Some also offer pub crawls and other activities that come with a built-in group of friends!
Yep, this swanky-cool space is a hostel, baby. Generator Amsterdam, to be exact! (Photo courtesy of Visi.)
Fun: Hang out at the hostel cafe or bar. Hostels have come a long way since I was a Baby-Backpacker. Back then, most hostels were weird, grimy dungeons that I wanted to spend as little time in as possible. Thank the travel goddess that times have changed! Many hostels have cool, funky bar spaces, live music, pool tables, you name it, and are worth paying a visit even if you aren’t staying there. Hostel peeps are usually keen on making friends, so if you want a group to glom on to for the evening, this is the place to be.
Safe: Let people know what you’re up to via social media… but not too much! I have an agreement with my mom, when I’m off solo travelling I post one photo a day to social media so she knows I’m alive. If you’re doing this, monitor your privacy settings and be sure you are not sharing too much information about your location publicly. I’ll tweet the name of the cool hostel I’m staying at after I check out, and wait to share snaps of that amazing concert I saw until it’s over. I’m also careful not to be too specific when I choose geolocation tags for the places I visit. If I’m going to be out late, I send a What’sApp message to a pal back home to let them know I got in safely. It’s not being paranoid, its common sense. I never think somebody would want to stalk little old me, but the internet can be a crazy place and it’s best to not to be a complete open book.
You never know what you’re going to get! Checking out street performers by Lake Zürich. Read my guide on how to have fun on the cheap in Zürich.
Cheap: Check out street performers. From living statues to The Saw Man, most major cities are rife with street performers, and kicking back to soak in the culture can be a wonderful way to while away some time. Keep in mind that it’s always nice to tip if you feel able!
Fun: Get out of your comfort zone with some kind of lesson. Yoga, surfing, paddle-boarding, cooking, many travel locations offer a wealth of them and they can be a great alternative to a constant barrage of sightseeing. Lessons can offer you a chance to learn something new you might not try at home, connect with locals or meet new travel buds.
Safe: Carry a cheat sheet with important numbers on a card in you wallet or bag. I usually at least put the address and number of my accommodation and the name of the public transit stop I need to get off at to get there. You may also want to add some emergency contacts, the local police, and your country’s embassy as well. That way, if my phone goes kaput, or if heaven forbid, something happens to me, I can still manage to get home.
Cheap: Buy a local SIM card. Nobody likes roaming charges and using a local SIM can save you bundles. These days you can often buy them in the airport when you arrive, or in a high street shop.
Enjoying the Jazz scene in Prague. Read more about the weird, wild fun to be had in this city!
Fun: Hang out at a local Jazz club. Nearly every city has a jazz club or two, so if I’m not sure what to do with my evening I look one up and head there. The cover is usually low or non-existent, the atmosphere is casual so you don’t stick out on your own, and you can sit there for hours listening a variety of incredibly talented local musicians.
The golden rule… be confident and follow your gut unapologetically. You are travelling on your own terms now. This means YOU call the shots. YOU decide how much time you want to spend in a place, YOU decide if you want to change your itinerary, YOU decide what feels right and wrong. The best part is, you don’t have to justify it to ANYONE.
If you’re not sure where you are, hold your head high and walk with purpose. If you need to consult a map, instead of wandering aimlessly with your phone, stop in a store or cafe and look casually. If a situation feels a bit dicey, make a move to get out of there. I always plan ahead how I’ll get home at the end of the night so I’m prepared if I need to make a hasty exit before scheduled. It’s not about being paranoid, it’s about being prepared. I find if I have a vague idea of what to do if shit goes sideways, it’s much easier to relax and enjoy myself.
Most of all, remember that solo travel is a gift you give yourself! It is up to you to decide how to use it. Now go rock the world, girl!
What about YOU? What are your favorite ways to discover a new destination on independently? Give us the skinny in the comments!
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