More and more women are hitting the road—and they’re traveling alone and loving setting their own itinerary and the freedom of being on their own. Indeed, consider the following statistics.
Travel companies dedicated to woman-only customers increased by 230% over the past few years.
32 million single American women traveled by themselves at least once over the past year and 1 in 3 travelled 5 times or more.
The search volume for the term ‘female solo travel’ across all search engines has increased by 62% over the past three years.
But inflation and costs are also a concern. According to Seven Corners, a global travel insurer, released data in spring 2022 showing that one of the greatest concerns of Americans traveling this summer was the rising cost of travel. For women traveling alone, the cost of travel is different than when traveling as a family. Rather than worrying about the expense of 4+ tickets to a theme park, the concern could be based on up charges for accommodations for a single occupant. It can also be more difficult to find cost-effective transportation.
T/F talked to Becky Hart, communications specialist with Seven Corners for insights and tips on women traveling solo.
T/F: I understand more and more women are traveling by themselves. Can you tell us about the trends and share any statistics you have?
BH: Women travelers have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. Up until 1925, women in the U.S. could only receive a passport in their married name. As a result, it’s safe to say that if you weren’t married, you weren’t going to be taking many international trips prior to 1925.
Today, it’s estimated that women account for 56 percent of leisure travelers. They also make about 85 percent of all travel decisions, such as where to go and what to do. Women are making these decisions, not only for their families, but also for themselves. Pinterest saw a 350 percent increase in women “pinning” solo trips from 2014 to 2021.
Although women still experience travel guilt more than men, the number of women who report feeling shame for bucking traditional gender roles and responsibilities in favor of traveling is declining. If we can continue on with that trend, and as women gain greater financial independence, it’s likely that we will see even more women traveling by themselves in the future.
T/F: For women wanting to travel for fun, what are some of the best/safest destinations and why?
For those traveling solo in the U.S., I recommend Portland, Oregon. As the largest city in Oregon, there’s just about anything you could want or need, yet it doesn’t feel overwhelmingly large. You shouldn’t have trouble finding the right accommodations for your budget in a neighborhood where you feel safe. You’ll also find excellent food and reliable public transportation, two things that can quickly eat up your budget. You can save even more money by bicycling. It’s an extremely bike-friendly city. There are plenty of bike lanes, and drivers know how to share the road.
Boredom can be a concern for many solo travelers, especially if you’re away for a long time. Portland has plenty to do, from quirky art exhibits and nature parks to late-night doughnut runs at the famous Voodoo Doughnuts and wine tasting in the nearby Willamette Valley.
If you’re looking for a destination outside the U.S., I recommend Chile. Having traveled in South America more than once, Chile is one of the countries I felt the safest. Its geography provides endless activities, whether you love beaches, mountains, or desert, and it doesn’t take much to get off the beaten path. Isla Chiloe in the far south is a fishing village full of fascinating — and sometimes humorous — folklore you won’t want to miss. This part of Patagonia is a relatively inexpensive region as well, so you may be able to make your travel budget stretch farther here.
T/F: I understand you’ve traveled by yourself. What are some insights you’ve gained?
Especially the first few times you travel solo, it’s hard. Harder than when you travel with someone else. That makes it the perfect opportunity to lean into challenges, whether it’s the logistics of rebooking canceled flights, navigating a new city, or feeling comfortable in your own skin. All the small victories that come during a solo trip build confidence, not only for your next solo adventure but also in your everyday life.
Because solo travel can be more difficult, build in a little more time to recover during your trip than you might normally. For example, after a big day of touring an unfamiliar city where you’re using a lot of mental energy to learn your way around, staying aware of your surroundings, making sure you get the right train, maybe even communicating in a different language, spend the next day doing something more low-key. Schedule a single museum visit or a walk around a botanical garden so you don’t burn out.
I also recommend joining groups when it makes sense. While I enjoy the freedom of traveling solo, only doing what I want to on my schedule, teaming up with other travelers can work to your advantage. When I visited the Scottish Highlands, it didn’t make sense to rely on public transportation, which I’d been doing all over the UK for financial reasons. Buses didn’t always go to the rural Scottish castles I wanted to visit, and even if they did, it would have taken much longer than if I had my own transportation, limiting what I’d be able to see. I joined a tour group for the afternoon, complete with a van, driver and kilted tour guide. My bucket list was complete, and I didn’t break the budget by hiring a private car. There are plenty of ways to meet other travelers — on social media, through tour companies, in a hostel common room — if you need to find a group.
Finally, people aren’t paying you as much attention as you think. I only mention this because worrying about sticking out in a crowd is enough to make some people cancel their plans before they even get started. So many solo travelers have a fear of dining alone. If you’re really concerned about eating at a restaurant by yourself, carry a book or journal with you. It gives you something else to focus on besides your anxieties.
T/F: Why do you think the stigma of women traveling alone has changed so much?
I think the stigma around women traveling alone has diminished in many of the same ways women doing anything independently has diminished. As we continue to make inroads professionally and become more self-sufficient financially, we have the freedom to travel more. One of the reasons women enjoy traveling solo is because it puts them in charge of their own adventure. We don’t need to compromise on where we go, what we eat, or what sites we visit when we can call our own shots.
I also think continuing to break the stigma of women traveling solo can transfer to empowering women in their everyday lives. We build such important intangible skills when we travel — creative problem solving, empathy and cultural awareness, confidence to advocate for ourselves, greater understanding of our own self — it only makes sense that we would bring our knowledge back home.
T/F: What cost-saving advice do you have for women travelers?
One cost-saving tip is to look for tour companies and accommodations that don’t upcharge you for being on your own. Some hotels, for example, charge you for double-occupancy accommodations, even if you’re the only one staying there. Ways I’ve gotten around this is by staying in hostels that charge by the person rather than by the room (and sometimes sucking it up and bunking with strangers), or by booking a single room at a B&B. A bed and breakfast can be pricier than other options, but I’ve found that you typically also get more for your money. And as a solo female traveler, I also find a sense of security in the personal service. A B&B operator may be more likely to notice if you don’t come back in the evening or if you’re too sick to come down for breakfast. You’re less likely to find that amongst a rotating shift of employees at a large hotel.
Airbnbs are another good option for saving money on accommodations. Look for properties that are renting out a room or apartment that better fits your needs and budget rather than an entire house.
One of the things I love most about travel is eating. I want to sample all the new foods I can’t find at home. With travel companions, you can order multiple entrees and share. However, as a solo traveler, that can be unrealistic. Instead, look for food markets where you can sample smaller portions. Haven’t seen that fruit before? Buy one piece instead of a whole bunch at a store. That one pastry that looks too good to pass up? Get it. Vendors might be more willing than a grocery store employee to give you a taste of something, too. Make a meal out of sample-sized treats. This is one of the things I like about tapas in Spain. I’m not committed to too much of any one dish.
Finally, try to be flexible about when you travel. If you can book during the offseason or shoulder season, you’ll often find better deals on flights, hotels, excursions, maybe even restaurants than at other times of year.
T/F: What safety procedures do you recommend for women traveling alone?
Some safety tips apply to everyone, regardless of who they’re traveling with and where. Number one is to do your research. It’s easy to make sweeping statements about this city or that country being safe. But anywhere you go will have exceptions. Once you’ve decided on a destination, take it a step farther and research which neighborhoods are safest.
If you’re arriving at your destination by plane, try to schedule your arrival for daylight hours. You’ll find it easier to orient yourself in a new city, and it’s safer than at night. Only arrange rideshares or taxis through verified and trusted companies. If you aren’t sure, ask your lodging or host to arrange a ride for you so you can be sure your transportation is legitimate.
Stay alert to your surroundings. The obvious reason is so you can spot if you’re walking into a potentially dangerous situation before it’s too late. But being aware can also help you avoid a cultural faux pas that inadvertently escalates and puts you in harm’s way. Observe what the locals are doing and imitate them if it’s appropriate. This includes everything from how to queue in line at the café to more complex religious practices.
I also think it’s always a good idea to think about your travel style and what you’re comfortable with, then make adjustments to your plans based on that. Some women love to head out for the day without much of a plan and just see where the winds take them. Personally, I get nervous without a plan and knowing where I’m going. I tend to get lost easily, and that makes me feel less safe. So, I rarely set out without having researched bus lines or having a general set of directions if I’m walking, all jotted down in a tiny notebook, which also has important phone numbers and addresses, that I carry with me at all times.
T/F: Why do you recommend travel insurance for women travelers?
I recommend travel insurance because it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. Especially if you’re a woman traveling solo on a budget, you want to know that the investment you’ve made in your trip is protected if something goes wrong. If your luggage is lost or damaged, travel insurance can help. If you get sick, travel insurance can also help cover the costs of medical treatment. Travel assistance services, which come with all Seven Corners’ plans, are also a great benefit for solo travelers. Navigating a foreign health care system is tricky enough. When you’re the one who’s sick or hurt and you don’t have a travel companion on site to manage things or advocate for you, having a team like Seven Corners Assist to help you find medical treatment, arrange translation services, and even arrange to have you evacuated or brought back home in extreme cases can be extremely beneficial. Those aren’t things you want to have to figure out for the first time when you don’t feel well.
T/F: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
There will always be an excuse to not take a trip. Chances are that those obstacles aren’t as unbeatable as you think. Your family can manage at least a couple of days without you. So can your employer. Your budget might be able to stretch farther than you realize if you plan well and play it smart. All those doubts about whether you have what it takes to do it on your own are in your head. Start small if you have to — a long-weekend microcation or a vacation to a place you’re already somewhat familiar with — but just start. Take the trip.