In an informal poll, we asked women travelers to tell us about their concerns when they're on the road on their own, and the places around the globe they find the most appealing—despite the risks. We then consulted Travel + Leisure A-List agents about how best to navigate these destinations.
Given its enormous size, there are a multitude of diverse experiences you can have in India—anything from ayurvedic spa treatments in Kerala to walks through bustling urban Mumbai. The sensory overload can be overwhelming at times, and it's impossible to underestimate the importance of planning ahead. Julia Gregor, a New York City filmmaker, went to India alone on business earlier this year. At first, she was put off by "the haggling with rickshaw drivers and cabdrivers who follow you in hordes." But after she got her bearings, Gregor was compelled to stay on for five months to explore.
T+L Tip "I'm Indian, but when I go to southern India, I, too, need a translator," says travel agent Pallavi Shah. "It's so easy to feel threatened when you can't understand the language." While people's friendliness borders on aggressive, it's rarely malevolent, Shah notes. "You might be strolling along and someone will invite you to a wedding party or a meal in their house. As long as it's a woman or a family asking, it's generally safe to say yes."
After befriending a group of North African students in France, Tricia Dowhan was inspired to travel to Morocco in 1998 to design a specific itinerary geared toward women for Country Walkers. The tour is called Morocco: Women's Adventure and is led by a female tour guide. In general, traveling has also gotten easier for women, thanks to progressive King Mohamed VI, who has been strongly pushing to prohibit hassling in the marketplace (to bolster tourism). This doesn't necessarily mean hassling won't happen at all.
T+L Tip "While wandering the souks alone isn't dangerous, men can be suggestive," says agent Karen Harris. Dress modestly in more conservative areas, such as Fez and Ouarzazate in the desert—wear clothing that covers the legs, arms, and collarbone. Casablanca and Marrakesh are more cosmopolitan, though it's always wise to err on the side of conservatism.
President Alan Garcia's reelection in June, after a 16-year gap, has ushered in a period of tentative optimism. New laws require official guides to accompany hikers along the Inca Trail from Cuzco to Machu Picchu—a bonus for solo women. It's least expensive to sign up in Cuzco's main square, but it's worth looking for a reliable guide to tour other parts of the country, too.
T+L Tip "Labor-related strikes can hit without warning in Peru, and they happen fairly frequently," says travel agent Melissa Harrison Hiatt. "I recommend going with a backup plan and taking out a trip-insurance policy through a company like Travel Guard, whose policies cover some strikes."
A history clouded by racism and unemployment puts many first-time visitors on guard. "I didn't think I would be comfortable walking around Cape Town," says Kelly Parisi, vice president of communications at the American Foundation for the Blind, who recently returned from a trip to South Africa with her twin sister. "I was infinitely surprised."
Women should feel secure staying in the large hotels, such as Cape Grace, near Cape Town's Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, or in Johannesburg's wealthy suburbs. South Africa's bountiful wine region and extraordinary coastal routes invite solo or small-group travelers. Safari lodges, many of which also have excellent spas, are ideal for women on their own.
T+L Tip "I always rent a cell phone," says travel agent Judy Udwin. You can pick one up at the airport in Jo'burg, or it's also possible to order a phone in advance through CellularAbroad.com, and it'll be shipped to you before you depart.