Embarking on a solo trip is one of the most beneficial and empowering things you can do for yourself. Yes, it's daunting and challenging, but it's also endlessly rewarding. It instills courage, and independence and does wonders for your personal growth.
As a solo female traveler, there are additional hurdles, but they're nothing that should deter you from getting out there and seeing the world on your own. What is mostly preparedness, and mastering the art of faking it till you make, I've put together a list of my top tips to help you feel the fear and do it anyway:
Familiarize Yourself with the Culture Beforehand
Learn a few key words/phrases in the local language. Not only will this come in handy when you're looking for the bathroom or waiting for your check, but people really appreciate it when they see tourists making the effort.
Research cultural cues and proper etiquette. Be mindful that not every culture shares the same manners and customs. It's important to aware of cultural etiquette to avoid causing offense, or severly embarrassing yourself.
Be aware of how women are viewed and treated in your destination. Unfortunately, attitudes towards women vary, and some countries aren't as progressive as others.
Know in advance how you're going to get to where you're staying When you arrive at the airport, there will likely be a slew of taxi drivers (and possibly unregistered drivers - they typically charge more than they should). Arrange an airport pickup, have the phone numbers of reputable cab services on hand, or research public transportation options.
Make copies of your documentation Hopefully, you will never have to deal with the stress of losing your passport, but in case it happens, it's always good to have a copy printed and on hand. Also, in the event that your hotel/hostel asks to hold your identification for the duration of your stay, have an additional form of ID on hand for when you're out exploring.
Don't keep all your cash in one place In an effort to avoid being SOL if your wallet goes missing, keep a stash or two in different places.
When in Doubt, do as Other Tourists Do
Generally, tourist routes are pretty safe. Not only that, but the activities on them are usually entertaining. There are typically plenty of people following the same route, so the chances of getting lost are slim. Some good options are:
Hop on Hop off Busses Yes, you'll probably be paying more than you would if you took public transportation, but they're a convenient and worry-free way to see a city. They also create so many opportunities to meet and connect with other travelers.
Group Tours More than once I've ended up wandering around aimlessly looking for something to do and wound up joining a walking tour.
Cooking classes Eating traditional local foods is OBVIOUSLY the best way to experience a culture. Experience a cooking class and learn culinary techniques with local chefs, and dine with other travelers.
As a general rule of thumb, the less attention you draw to yourself, the better. Another instance where researching the customs will come in handy.
Dress on the modest side Take note of how the locals dress and mimic their styles.
If you plan to visit religious sites, be sure to dress conservatively and wear the appropriate attire.
Wear minimal makeup and jewelry.
Walk with confidence Even if you don't know exactly where you're going, look like you do.
Part of being a woman is prioritizing your safety, and unfortunately sexual assault and harassment happen regardless of where you are. Just like you would at home, use common sense and be aware of your surroundings.
Be selective with taxis. Make sure you choose reputable cab companies rather than just hailing a cab on the sidewalk.
Bring purses with cross body straps, and zippers. You can swing them around so they're positioned toward the front of your body.
Keep an eye (and preferably a hand) on your belongings when speaking with strangers or while you're in particularly busy areas (think public transportation, tourist attractions). Most thieves have clever distractions techniques.
Don't drink too much, or let your judgment become impaired - obviously.
Keep your belongings with you *in the backseat* when riding in taxis so that if you can easily grab them and get out if you start to feel uncomfortable.
Never share your hotel room number with a stranger, and if repeating it out loud, be mindful of how loud you're loud you're speaking.
Make New Friends
Traveling presents so many opportunities to meet people, and the bonds you make while traveling are super strong. I met some of my favorite people while traveling.
Hostels are great places to meet people - travelers and (sometimes) locals alike (some hostel bars are popular with the locals!) Whether you decide to book a room, or just visit the bar/restaurant, chances are you'll meet someone. Remember that you're likely not the only solo traveler, and that there are others around who would love to connect. Another advantage of hostels is the staff is generally very friendly and knowledgeable, and can help you with your plans and transportation. Lastly, if you do end up staying at a hostel, check to see if they offer any group tours or expeditions.
Airbnb Experiences I've never done this, but it's on my list. Airbnb features some super cool activities hosted by locals.
Couch surfing I would recommend couch surfing again and again to the budget conscious traveler, and to anyone looking to meet locals and get an insider perspective of the city they're visiting (so, every traveler ever?)
Facebook groups There are so many Facebook groups that you can join to connect with other travelers. You can find relevant tips to your trip, connect with expats, ask questions, and maybe even gain a travel buddy.
Have a Rough Itinerary
And share it with your family. It's also a good idea to check in with the local embassy and make them aware of your visit.
Arrive During the Day
This one is sometimes unavoidable. In which case, you'll have to do some research to see what the safest option is. Your hotel or hostel may offer airport pickups. If not, you may be able to arrange a pickup with a taxi service in advance. There's a good chance taxis will cost significantly more than public transportation, but if it's a question of your safety, don't be afraid to pay a little more.
Trust your Instincts(&Body!)
If you sense something might be off, it most likely is. That little voice inside your head knows a thing or two and can save you from some less than favorable situations. When traveling solo, (or just life in general) use your intuition as a compass. The more you do, the stronger it will become.
Traveling is exhausting. In every sense of the word. I know it's easy to feel pressure to cram everything in and do and see as much as possible in the little window you have, but it's important to not overdo it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a rest day.
It's an empowering and frankly a badass feeling to step out of your comfort zone and own it. Traveling solo provides a generous confidence boost, and positions you to take control of various aspects of your life that span well beyond your trip. Your solo trip will be wholly about you and what you want; the only person you are catering to is yourself. Do you want to stay an extra night in Rome? Do it! Do you want to eat three lunches in one day? Who's going to know? As long as you maintain a positive attitude, stay open to new possibilities you'll be in good shape.