How to Navigate Difficult Places for Women to Travel Alone
On the third night of a trip to the Galapagos Islands, I ran away from the cabin tour and crouched over the wastebasket, wondering what the heck I was doing here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean—alone. We were rocking back and forth on a 16-person catamaran in the rough Pacific Ocean waters near the equator, and all the Dramamine, pressure point wrist bands, and Transderm Scop patches couldn’t save me from giving into the seasickness.
I laid down, trying to find some solace in the cool sea air and stared out into the big black nothingness, realizing just how far away I was from the world I knew. Not a single trusted friend or family member was on the same continent, or even in the same hemisphere. And in addition to that deep nauseating feeling, my suitcase, stuffed to the max with my material comforts, was lost somewhere between New York and Ecuador.
But then I looked up and saw stars—something I rarely see back home in the Northeast—and remembered why I was here. Ever since I read about the islands in a middle school textbook, I had promised myself I would see it with my own two eyes.
And boy, did I. Even with my animal phobias, I had spent the last few days snorkeling with penguins, hiking alongside hundreds of iguanas, and waddling with fur seals and crabs. On top of it, I did by myself, for myself.
Related: 19 Hacks for Mastering Solo Travel
Fortunately, I had thought ahead to this scenario and booked the itinerary with the shorter amount of time at sea. Within 12 hours, I was back on solid land without a hint of the queasy feeling.
What makes a particular trip challenging for one person may be different for another, but whenever you’re traveling (and especially alone), it’s important to known your limits and proper precautions to ensure safety of both mind and body. We recommend Registering for the State Department’s STEP program and staying tuned to local media for the latest news. And splurge on security when necessary—feeling safe is what will allow you to fully enjoy your solo travels. For more on solo travel, click here for our list of the best places for women to travel alone.
With threats of terrorism and political uproar, as well as the common harassment of women, it’s easy to shudder at the deterrents in a country going through revolution. But exercise caution and you can find yourself in the shadow of the Great Pyramids of Giza, sailing the Nile in a felucca, and exploring the Valley of the Kings by donkey. Join a reputable small tour group company, like G Adventures, Intrepid Travel, or Memphis Tours, where you’ll hit all the highlights with the security of a group of like-minded travelers and a local guide who can steer you clear of any dangers.
Papua New Guinea
Evidence of human inhabitants here dates back more than 50,000 years, making this lively South Pacific culture one of the most vibrant destinations to soak in. But its remote location, more than 836 languages, and dicey safety record create built-in challenges. Whether it’s hiking the Kokoda Track, climbing Mt. Wilhelm, scuba diving in Tufi, kite surfing in Milne Bay, or bird watching in Vanimo, join a tour with a local guide who can lead you through the rough patches and ensure your security. And for some worry-free relaxation, book a stay at the private Loloata Island Resort, just 15 minutes from the Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby.
Planning a trip to Iran is no easy feat. You’ll have to apply for a visa through the Iranian Interests Section of the Pakistani embassy (neither Iran nor the United States have embassies in each other’s countries). Then there’s the matter of gender inequality issues, not to mention the tense relations between our nations. But it’s absolutely doable as a trip. You must travel with an operator (either a tour group or a private guide), who will officially be in charge of you during your time there as you soak in Persian marvels like the ancient ruins of Persepolis or Pasargadae. Remember that women are expected to wear a headscarf at all times—no exceptions—and stay covered in conservative loose clothing.
The key to maneuvering this Mediterranean country is sorting through the limited—and sometimes biased—news reports here and understanding the reality of the local situation. While it’s wise to avoid the southeastern region, you should also schedule visits to Turkey’s popular sites during off peak hours, when crowds are sparser. Be aware of playing tourist and photographing any political events, which could elicit anger. And splurge on accommodations where top-notch service is at the forefront, so that the staff can best help direct you in case any situations do arise.
Glacier National Park, Montana
There’s nothing more empowering than facing the power of nature head on. But this Montana national park in the Rocky Mountains has a dense population of both black bears and grizzly bears, making a solo trek into the woods a bit more hairy. For safety in numbers, join one of many ranger-led hikes offered. And instead of steering around the curvy mountainside-hugging 48.7-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road on your own, opt for the two-way shuttle service, which runs in July and August.
There are many good things about traveling to Haiti: it’s close, they accept the U.S. dollar, and many locals speak English. But also be prepared for a more simplistic sanitation system and less of an emergency response infrastructure. Upon arrival, have the tour company meet you inside the Port-au-Prince airport since the surrounding areas have a history of crime targeting tourists. Also, keep on top of the news, especially in light of recent elections and political rallies, and avoid precarious situations in the wee hours since U.S. embassy workers have a curfew between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. But with the proper precautions, you’ll be rewarded with untouched beaches and rare sights, in a place that’s on the cusp of a travel revolution.
It can be hard to find sanctioned transportation here, so know where to look (and who to ask for help). When I arrived at the Quito airport, a pamphlet was thrust at me with a checklist for identifying official taxis. Yet, while trying to hail a cab in Quito’s Old Town, I couldn't find a single one that had all the indicators. Instead, I walked back to a main street and found a cop who led me to a sanctioned taxi. I quickly learned to only get in cabs from the trusty concierge I befriended at my hotel. I also joined a day-long tour, which happened to be with three other solo travelers, to surrounding sites, including Otavalo Market and the equator marker. And for a day trip to the Termas de Papallacta hot springs, I asked a company I used for another tour to negotiate a decent price for a private driver.
Las Vegas, Nevada+
Between pulling the slot machines, lounging poolside, dining at the bar, and shopping at the outlets, the solo options are endless in the Nevada city. But for some, navigating through the crowds of partygoers looking for their “what stays in Las Vegas” adventure may feel overwhelming, while others may be overcome by loneliness because they’re not being part of the action. Make Vegas navigable by finding the middle ground—enjoy a free drink or two while playing alongside others at a table, and then balance it out with a last-minute musical revue or Cirque du Soleil show, where searching for a single ticket just might score you a better seat. Plan to arrive during daylight hours to avoid navigating large parking structures on your own.
Walking through a fabric store in Fez, I could feel a pair of eyes watching me. Suddenly, a gentleman pointed to a wedding ring and said, “$5,000? And a camel too!” I glanced to see if he was serious, but later learned that acknowledging comments like that could imply interest. Even though this guy seemed to be joking, I picked up my pace, nonetheless. It’s easy to get lost in the overwhelming winding streets of Morocco’s medinas, especially with the constantly callings to women in the male-dominated culture. So even if you’re just shopping for a day, hire a local guide who can lead you through the alleys. And when in large cities like Casablanca or Marrakech, choose to stay in a riad with built-in activities after dark, so you don’t have to leave the premises. I stayed on my own at the 11-room Dar Les Cigognes, which offered cooking classes and hammam services, in addition to its private rooftop and notable restaurant. Most importantly, the traditional hotel had a road right in front where a private cab could drop me off at the door, unlike many of the ones in the medina.
Driving through run-down and rough neighborhoods on the Caribbean island between Princess Juliana International Airport and Marigot, I thought to myself, this is not the island paradise I had in mind. As much as going off the beaten path is tempting, stick to the major cities, which are much more developed for tourism. On the French side, dining in one of Grand Case’s renowned restaurants during the daylight hours is fine, but the small town tends to get deserted at night, so opt to stay in Marigot. And while on the Dutch side, limit your time in Philipsburg to cruise stop hours, when shops and restaurants are in full swing, and spend off peak hours in a Maho Beach resort.
The Inca Trail, Peru
Peru’s Machu Picchu tops so many people’s bucket lists—and it isn’t just about the awe-inspiring view, but the journey to get there. On my trek, the high elevation, cramps, and misty rain were already clouding my every step—and then, just shy of the Sun Gate that was supposed to offer me a life-changing view, my stomach starting gurgling. While traveling with a familiar support system may take some of mental exertion off of the hike, that camaraderie can also form with a new group along the journey. Remember to book ahead since there are a limited number of hikers permitted along the trail each day.
On multiple business trips to Florida, I've added extra time in town to enjoy either Universal Studios Florida or Walt Disney World (for more on how to save money at Disney, click here). No matter how much I psyched myself up for certain rides or attractions (hello, Wizarding World of Harry Potter!), it can wreak havoc on the mind to be alone in the Happiest Place on Earth, when you’re surrounded by families and groups of friends. But focus on the benefits, like claiming that coveted solo poolside spot at the resort or proudly taking your spot in the single riders lines, which makes even the FastPass line feel like an eternity.
When I dreamed of a zen Bali vacation, I could never have imagined the reality that I saw when I arrived: packed dirty sand with rusty street carts lining the beach. But once you travel beyond the big cities and into charms of areas like Ubud, the rich calmness of the Indonesian lifestyle penetrates with every turn. The journey into the cultural heart isn’t close, so book a transfer directly through your hotel to ensure its reliability. Or perhaps draw on the inspiration of the area by joining a yoga retreat, where a built-in itinerary will eliminate the day-to-day worries of figuring out plans in a foreign tongue.
Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
The idea of teahouse trekking along one of Nepal’s most iconic routes through both Hindu and Buddhist villages and towns sounds like an idyllic transformative trip. Yet the route, which usually takes two to three weeks, and passes through various elevations—in a country with recent history of both natural disasters and political unrest—is enough to trip up even the most powerful superwoman. Instead, search on solo travel sites for a travel buddy ahead of time to double up, or book with a guide in Kathmandu or Pokhara, if anything, just to have someone else there in case of any medical emergencies on the loop.
Bring cash (Euros) and split your stash in various spots, including a money belt, so that long ATM lines don’t slow down your travels. Try joining a free walking tour in Athens to meet other travelers on the go, spending a day at the beach, or booking a Greek islands cruise where there are as many activities on board as on land. Signing up for excursions can also match you up with buddies who gravitate toward the same kind of adventures.
Vermont Ski Resorts
Handling the slopes solo is a breeze: As long as you stay on the marked trails, the resorts’ safety systems are in place. But it’s the apres-ski (and pre-ski) scene that get the female solo traveler black diamond. Driving through the mountains during snow season can lead to potential hazards, especially when on steep roads such as the ones around Killington. And the cozy cabin culture can get costly for one. Instead, join a local ski group or search for Meetups with others in your area, so you can carpool together and split the costs of housing. You’ll still get plenty of alone time, if you choose to, while skiing. Or even if you are an expert, tune up your skills in a class to meet other skiers at your level. For more on what to pack for a Vermont trip, click here.