Many people find solo travel uniquely rewarding, whether they’re looking for freedom, adventure, the chance to connect with others, or the chance to set their own itineraries unencumbered by the wishes of traveling companions who spend way too much time poring over the array of refrigerator magnets at souvenir stands.
With the benefits of independence, however, comes a decrease in the safety that numbers provide—a tradeoff of particular concern to solo travelers who identify as women. As UN Women’s former executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka told the New York Times in 2019, “We have evidence that shows that women face risks that men don’t face in public spaces, at home, wherever they may be.”
Fortunately, there are many online resources—mobile apps, social media groups, tips, tours, and other tools—designed to mitigate the risks so that female solo travelers can roam far and wide with confidence.
For those seeking objective safety information on a given destination, the U.S. State Department's travel website features advisories for every nation on earth. The threat assessment may not always address gender, but it will when State Department officials have determined that women face particular risks.
The travel advisory for Egypt, for example, notes that "harassment of women, including foreigners, remains a serious problem. Incidents of harassment range from lewd comments and gestures to indecent exposure and inappropriate physical contact."
In addition to travel advisories, the State Department includes contact information for embassies and consulates in case of emergencies.
Another reliable source is the World Bank's Gender Data Portal, where you can search by country or region to see statistics on women's health, education, and agency that may give you an idea of how women are treated and viewed in those destinations.
A move that American travelers can take to protect themselves while overseas is to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). With this free service from the U.S. government, you'll receive safety alerts from the embassy in your destination country, and, in the event of an emergency, government officials and your own loved ones will be able to contact you. To register, all you have to do is enroll online and enter your vacation plans and the best way to reach you.
Online Communities and Tour Companies
Social media groups can be a trove of crowdsourced tips and tools, not to mention a wellspring for inspiration and a sense of community.
On Facebook, two of the largest and liveliest groups for women vacationing alone are The Solo Female Traveler Network and Solo Female Travelers, where discussions among the groups' thousands of members often turn to matters of safety, with users weighing in on female-friendly places to stay, resources to use, and advice to follow.
Those are far from the only social media options, though. Search Facebook and Meetup by interest, demographics, or location and you'll come across communities geared toward travelers who are women of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, women over 60, and a host of other identities. Join the discussion to get answers to your questions about safety and solo travel from like-minded users.
Both The Solo Female Traveler Network and Solo Female Travelers have branched out into meetups and women-only tours that solo travelers can purchase to join small groups on journeys everywhere from Tuscany to Tanzania.
Many travel agencies offer women-only tours as well for solo vacationers interested in meeting new people and staying safe. Perusing the offerings from AdventureWomen (which has been in business since 1982), Black Girls Travel Too, and Wild Women Expeditions—all of which are woman-owned—are good places to start.
(When booking tours as a solo traveler, always keep an eye out for trips that don't charge a single supplement or you'll have to pay a higher rate per person than customers who book in pairs.)
The Buddy System
If you don't want to spring for a group tour but still like the idea of having another friendly face around for portions of your trip, you can download the free, women-only Tourlina smartphone app.
Enter your destination and travel dates and you'll be matched with other verified users who will be in the same place at the same time. Once you find a profile that matches your interests, you can strike up a chat and plan to meet during your trip—perhaps in areas where you're apprehensive about being alone. Who knows? You could make a friendship that lasts after the vacation is over.
For more immediate concerns, the free SafeUp app was designed to help women as well as nonbinary people feel less uneasy while walking alone in unfamiliar surroundings. Currently available in 39 countries, according to Afar, the app can connect a user who's feeling uncomfortable to nearby volunteers known as "guardians" via voice or video call.
Each volunteer is a trained adult (only women and nonbinary people may participate at this time) who will stay on the line as long as necessary, notify the police, or even show up in person to walk with the app user if requested. The entire service is free.
Apps for Emergencies
If the worst happens during your solo trip, you'll be glad you downloaded these free apps, too:
TripWhistle (Apple only) lets you search for the local emergency number wherever you are (911 in the U.S., 112 in Europe, 000 in Australia, and so on) and uses GPS data to show your exact position in latitude and longitude so that authorities can find you.
Select up to 10 friends or family members to notify if you end up in a bad situation, and the Mayday Safety app will alert them immediately and send your exact location. All you have to do is tap the app's big red button three times (make sure you haven't turned off your phone's location-tracking capabilities).
Noonlight's panic button is similar—hold and release for the app to notify local law enforcement authorities of your location and that you're in trouble. If you start holding the button because you feel unsafe but then the danger passes, you can release and enter a four-digit PIN to avoid contacting police.
With the free basic version of the app, you can also sync your Tinder account to note that you're on a date or flag a creepy incident so that there's a record of your whereabouts.
Noonlight's paid upgrades come with an option to sync your Uber and Lyft accounts, too, so that you can use Noonlight to "automatically share your driver's information with police if you trigger an alarm" while using one of those rideshare apps.