Note: Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.
In recent years, more women have sought out solo adventures than ever before: In 2019, an estimated 32 million American women traveled alone, according to the Travel Industry Association, and Google searches for “solo female travel” increased by an astounding 131 percent over the year prior. While today a greater number of women are taking solo trips—thanks in large part to shifting societal expectations surrounding gender roles, as well as increased financial freedom—there’s no question that women face unique risks when traveling alone. Here are some of the best destinations for women traveling solo and tips for how to go safely.
The best destinations for solo female travelers
Every year, the Women, Peace, and Security Index reveals global trends of women’s equality based on three “basic dimensions”: inclusion (economic, social, political); justice (formal laws and discriminatory norms); and security (against violence at familial, community, and societal levels). The annual ranking, produced by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security in partnership with the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, uses reputable data sourced from national statistical offices, U.N. organizations, and international surveys such as Gallup. With this information, the report ranks countries around the world based on how their governments and populations treat women—both those who live in the country and those who travel to it.
The top countries for women’s equality
The 2019/20 Women, Peace, and Security Index was published in early February, ranking 167 countries around the world based on women’s equality. According to its findings, Norway was the top-ranking country, with particularly high ratings in financial inclusion and physical security for women. Switzerland followed closely in second, with similar findings for women’s safety and economic opportunity.
Singapore, however, recieved the highest rankings across all three indicators in the “security” dimension, which includes organized violence, women’s perception of safety, and current intimate partner violence. Still, while Singapore landed in the top spot for the safest country for women, it didn’t rank on the overall list of destinations that exhibit women’s equality—potentially due to its 26th place ranking for legal descrimination against women (such as laws or regulations that limit women’s ability to participate in society and the economy).
Here are the top 10 countries for women’s equality, according to the 2019/20 Women, Peace, and Security Index:
- United Kingdom
The best cities for solo female travelers
At the beginning of March, Tourlane, a trip-planning and -booking service, revealed its list of the top cities for female solo travelers to visit in 2020, inspired by some of the findings from the 2019/20 Women, Peace, and Security Index. The ranking, which includes 50 international cities, was curated by Tourlane’s female travel experts based on eight categories: female representation in local business, gender equality in society, legal equality, safety, as well as the price of female-friendly accommodation, a taxi ride, a data plan, and the local mobile internet speed.
On Tourlane’s list, Ljubljana, Slovenia, came in first place. The capital city scored 9.73 out of 10 points in the justice category, referring to the destination’s “low number of laws that limit or differentiate women from men.” It also received high women’s equality and safety rankings. Singapore landed in second place, but the city-state in Southeast Asia actually received the highest safety score of any destination on the list (a perfect 10 out of 10), making Singapore a clear choice for women who are interested in traveling solo but haven’t yet done so due to safety concerns.
Here are Tourlane’s 10 best cities for solo female travelers in 2020:
- Ljubljana, Slovenia
- Vilnius, Lithuania
- Tallinn, Estonia
- Sydney, Australia
- Vienna, Austria
- Hanoi, Vietnam
- Stockholm, Sweden
- Copenhagen, Denmark
- Barcelona, Spain
Tips for women traveling solo
Book with a female-only tour company
Solo women travelers make up one of the fastest growing demographics in the travel market, and as such, an increasing number of tour companies are catering to female travelers with all-women trips and tailored itineraries. Women-owned and -operated companies like AdventureWomen specialize in everything from mother-daughter treks in Costa Rica to all-female safaris in Botswana; others, such as Wild Women Expeditions, offer women-only outdoor expeditions—canoeing, cycling, hiking, and surfing trips—everywhere from the Galápagos to Mongolia.
Of course, non–gender-specific companies are also building new itineraries to appeal to female travelers. Intrepid Travel offers a series of Women’s Expeditions in Morocco, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, India, and Turkey. REI Adventures leads similar women-only adventures, among them multiday treks along the Pacific Crest Trail in California, as well as through medieval villages in Tuscany’s countryside.
Look to social media
If you’d rather travel on your own without the help of a tour operator, you can still turn to online resources such as the Solo Female Traveler Network for planning assistance. The Facebook group has more than 300,000 followers (and a number of “sister groups” that focus on topics like LGBTQ travel and adventure “over 40”) where women can share their top tips about travel experiences, both the good and the bad. To join the private Facebook group, you must fill out a questionnaire to verify you’ve read the rules—this ensures that the online community remains a safe space for female travelers to converse.
In addition to the Solo Female Traveler Network, many other private Facebook groups have cropped up on social media in recent years for female travelers seeking specific advice, among them: Vegan Women Who Travel, Over 60 Women Travel Buddy Search Group, Wandering Moms, Women+ Of Color Who Travel Group, and Latinas Who Travel.
Why solo female travel is significant
In a January 2019 Vox article that explores the modern surge in solo female travel, writer Aditi Shrikant points out that because women have historically been portrayed as “fixtures of the home,” most early solo female travel wasn’t recorded or advertised. However, women have traveled on their own throughout history—in fact, the world’s earliest travel writings were produced by a woman named Egeria in 381 C.E. (The letters she wrote on her pilgrimage to Mount Sinai are regarded as the first existing travel memoir.)
“Even in modern travel writings, there is that sense a woman needs a reason to travel,” Shrikant writes. “Wild author Cheryl Strayed hiked the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail only after a slew of debilitating life changes. Liz Gilbert’s famous quest in Eat, Pray, Love was prompted by her difficult divorce. These stories are inspiring but also uphold the status-quo that women need a good, big reason to leave.”
Solo travel teaches you to rely on your instincts and gives you the opportunity to wholly pursue your own interests. (You’d be surprised how much time you spend discussing what to do next when traveling with others.) Venturing out into the world on your own will push you beyond your comfort zone. That’s an experience every woman deserves—and is capable of—having, which, in our humble opinion, is a “big” enough reason to leave. Enough said!
>>Next: Women to Watch in 2020