Whether flying to Denver on business or Puerto Vallarta for pleasure, women face unique challenges while traveling solo. Safety challenges remain at the top of the list, and major threats can be hidden under the guise of “safe” hotels and “secure” transit systems. Pervasive financial perils can also confront even the most seasoned woman traveler.
Despite these challenges, women make up the bulk of solo leisure travelers, according to a global travel study by Travelzoo in 2018. And a quick search of Google Trends revealed a 380-percent increase in search interest for “solo female travel” from Jan. 2017 to Jan. 2020.
If you’re a female adventurer or businessperson traveling alone, follow the steps in this guide to mitigate the challenges you may encounter. Our guide will cover several ways to protect your finances, stave off theft and deal with it if it happens to you.
Myths of solo female travel
Though it’s true that worst-case scenarios do exist, know that several myths abound:
Myth #1: It’s too risky. Solo women travelers can stay safe, provided you follow precautions and visit the safe countries listed in the U.S. Department of State’s travel advisories listing.
Myth #2: It’s more fun to take someone with you. More and more women are considering solo travel plans every year, and all ages are going. Chances are, you’ll encounter at least a handful of these adventurers. A 2020 study by Solo Female Travelers revealed that 56 percent of women who travel alone do so for freedom and flexibility, and 23 percent do so for “me-time.”
Myth #3: It’s super expensive to travel alone. Single supplements are extra charges for a solo traveler to compensate a hotel or cruise line for losses incurred because only one person is traveling. However, some companies offer low-cost supplements, and others, such as AdventureWomen, allow you to share costs with other solo travelers to reduce single supplement charges.
Safeguarding your money and identity
If you’re on the hunt for the best travel credit cards, you may want to apply for one of these prior to your trip. It is important to check to see what each credit card company will do for you if your cards are lost or stolen. Do they offer digital wallet, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or other virtual assistant options? Every credit card company is different, so it’s a good idea to compare before you travel.
Take financial travel precautions seriously – before you even finish packing your suitcase. Prior to your departure:
- Know the phone numbers to call in case your cards are lost or stolen
- Alert your credit card company that you’ll be traveling. Some issuers don’t require this anymore, but it’s always good to check
- Copy down your bank account information and store it in a safe location
- Make photocopies of your passport if you’re traveling internationally
- Leave one set of copies with a friend or family member, upload one set to a secure site and carry one set with you, separate from your credit cards and passport
- Limit the cash you take with you
- Check over your balance and transactions so you can detect fraudulent activity immediately
- Know your credit card benefits, including rental car insurance, free checked bags and emergency assistance, as well as travel insurance coverage
Stacey Wittig, travel journalist for unstoppablestacey.com points out, “I could take photos of my credit cards, but if my smartphone were stolen, that information could be breached.”
Once you arrive at your destination, it’s always smart to limit the amount of cash you carry. Never take more than what you need for the day and leave extra cash in a secure spot in your hotel or hostel. If you have more than one debit or credit card, secure them in several different places, including in the hotel safe and on your person. If you get pickpocketed, this ensures that you have other sources of money in reserve.
Avoid sticking a bull’s-eye directly on your back – don’t carry an open purse or bag filled to the brim with money or valuables. Even better, invest in a handbag with an anti-theft locking zipper. Consider attaching your cards and money to your body so they’re completely out of reach and get an RFID-blocking wallet, which scrambles EMV chip card scanners (high-tech pickpockets use this to lift credit card data from passersby in public places).
“I keep one credit card, my passport and a day’s worth of cash in a wallet in my zippered pocket or sling handbag. Another credit card and form of identification, copies of my passport and credit cards and most of my cash are in a cotton money belt that is secure around my waist and inaccessible under my clothing,” says Wittig. “In a third stash, which I keep hidden inside my suitcase or backpack, is another credit card, a small amount of emergency cash and additional copies of my passport and credit cards.”
If you must visit an ATM, choose one that’s well-lit and monitored by surveillance cameras or by security personnel. Check for an illegal skimmer, or better yet, find an ATM inside a bank. Try to do the transaction as quickly as possible, all the while protecting your PIN. After you pull your money out of the ATM, quickly store your cash in your secured purse or on your body.
“When checked into hotel rooms or cruise ship cabins, I leave the waist wallet locked in the safe. Then if someone grabs my handbag, the perp gets only one-third of my loot. If they make off with the stash that includes my passport, then I have copies to take to the Embassy,” Wittig says.
What to do if your information is compromised
If you reach for your credit card or debit card and notice your wallet is completely gone, relax. Remember, you’ve already written down your card issuer’s number. Take these steps to protect your accounts:
- Cancel your credit cards/debit cards. The Fair Credit Billing Act and Electronic Fund Transfer Act state that you won’t be responsible for any charges after you report a card missing, so contact your issuers as soon as possible.
- Address any cash-access issues. Hopefully, you’ve stashed another credit card or debit card back at the hotel or on your person. If not, there may be digital wallet, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or other virtual assistant options through your credit card company.
- Consider freezing your credit when you return home. This prevents someone from opening another account in your name. You can always unfreeze it later.
If your passport has been lost or stolen, here’s how to rectify your situation:
- First, report your passport lost or stolen to the U.S. Department of State to protect yourself from identity theft.
- You will have to replace your passport before reentering the United States. Contact the nearest embassy or consulate for assistance.
- You’ll need to obtain a photo for your replacement passport. You can be directed by the embassy or consulate and may have to have one prior to arrival at the consular section.
- If you’ve been the victim of a serious crime, tell a consular officer. They’ll be able to assist you.
Protecting yourself as a solo traveler
No matter what type of accommodation or type of transit you choose, do your research ahead of time and be aware of your surroundings. Safety can still be a concern, whether you’re in the U.S. or abroad. Collectively, most seasoned solo female travelers offer up one specific piece of advice: Trust your gut.
There are many important factors to consider when looking into accommodations. Read customer reviews and choose accommodations with many positive reviews from other female solo travelers before you even leave. And for added safety, book an airport transfer from your hotel or hostel so you know you’ll be transported directly to where you’re staying.
Gemma Thompson, travel blogger for girlsthattravel.com, says that she also looks up a particular hotel or hostel address on Google Street View before she books it. “This shows me instantly if the location is safe, on a well-lit street, and it also allows me to familiarize myself with the area so I can recognize it when I arrive, which is helpful if I’m tired or jet-lagged,” she says.
Other tips from solo traveler pros include:
- Invest in a portable alarm door stop which slows someone opening your door and sounds an alarm when someone tries to open it.
- When staying at a hostel, keep your valuables (cash, passport, documents) in your pillowcase while you sleep. Thieves are a lot less likely to steal from you if these items are under your head.
- If you are staying in a hotel/hostel with a safe, store your valuables in there while you’re out and about.
- To deter hotel staff/thieves from entering your room while you’re out, keep the TV on and your “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door to make it seem like someone is there.
- Don’t tell strangers where you are staying.
- Consider women-only rooms or floors at hostels.
Kristen Slizgi, who manages a travel concierge business, The Luxury Travelist, said that nowadays, hostels offer smaller, more intimate ways to stay at their properties while providing two essential things: a bit of privacy and a platform to meet other like-minded individuals.
“I have many women traveling for the first time tell me that they are a bit hesitant staying in a hostel, especially women who have surpassed their college years and want a bit more privacy,” she says. “As much as I love Airbnb, I still advocate for a hostel stay because of the social atmosphere you get. If I ever find myself traveling alone, I tend to book private rooms in a hostel. It’s still inexpensive and I have a gateway into meeting others and exploring a new place with a new friend.”
It’s important to be wary when using public transit systems, especially as a solo woman traveler at night. If you do have to travel at night, walk on crowded or brightly lit streets.
Be on the lookout for unlicensed taxis and minibuses, which aren’t bound by local transportation regulations and are notorious for price-gouging, confidence schemes and muggings. Instead, services such as Uber and Lyft keep track of your route and driver and are likely to result in less instances where your safety is at risk.
Rebecca Hall, travel writer for lifebeyondbordersblog.com, said it’s important to not “look” like a tourist when using public transportation. “Keep your camera hidden, don’t wear ‘touristy’ clothes that make you stand out, such as trainers with socks or a big hat,” she says. “Don’t look at a map in a busy environment – go to a coffee shop and plan out your route.”
Alisha Ruud, owner of ruudattitude.com, said to avoid phone distractions whenever possible. “Check your routes and connections prior to using transit. If possible, keep the information on paper or take a screenshot on your phone. Pull this up when you feel it’s necessary, but don’t keep it out at all times,” she recommends. “Enjoy the transit! It’s great for immersing yourself in the culture and learning more about the area you are in.
Ruud and Hall both offer a comprehensive transit safety checklist:
- Observe what’s around you.
- Try to blend in.
- Always pay attention to your surroundings.
- Talk to everyone during and after your stop (hotel, bellhop, hostel, bus) so they’re more likely to look after you.
- Don’t overshare on social media.
- Don’t flaunt your valuables on public transit (don’t take valuables with you, period).
Whether you choose to travel alone or with a buddy, there are extra steps you’ll need to take to keep yourself and others safe during the coronavirus pandemic:
- Research your destination: Before you takeoff, make sure you know what entry requirements your destination has. Many states and countries require negative tests before you arrive or a quarantine period once you get there. You may also need to provide a negative test result to reenter your home country.
- Pack necessities: Pack sanitation supplies, including hand sanitizer and wipes, and don’t forget to bring enough masks to last your trip. Many airports and public places require them for all visitors. If you’re flying, also consider bringing some extra snacks, since airlines have cut back on their in-flight services.
- Have a backup plan: Know what you’ll do if you catch COVID-19 (or any illness) while you’re away from home. Since most locations will require you to quarantine – and you’ll be unable to take public transit home – you’ll need to have enough emergency funds (or travel points) to cover 2 weeks of hotel nights or a last-minute rental car to drive yourself home.
Funding your travel adventure
If you want to save money on solo travel, look for the right credit card that best fits your travel situation. A luxury high-annual fee card might not make sense if you like to go on SCUBA vacations, and a co-branded airline card might not fit if you only take road trips. Do your homework, particularly on foreign transaction fees and purchase protection.
Travel credit cards typically fall into three categories:
- General purpose travel reward cards: You can earn flexible rewards for many types of travel, including airfare, rental cars or hotels.
- Co-branded travel reward cards: If you stay at specific hotels or fly a particular airline often, you’ll receive enhanced rewards through those hotels or airlines.
- Premium travel reward cards: High-end perks and benefits are the reason frequent travelers go for premium cards. You could get airport lounge access, travel credits and increased rewards earning potential.
See related: How to choose the right travel credit card
The bottom line
As long as your iPhone isn’t sticking out of your back pocket in Rome or your expensive SLR camera isn’t dangling around your neck on London’s Tube, thousands of other women endorse solo travel. The stats speak for themselves: Solo travel is a great way for women to gain independence and enjoy new experiences.