Solo female spontaneous travel
April 25, 2014 6:51 PM   Subscribe

In a couple weeks I'll have the opportunity to travel before starting at a new job. Since it's so short notice I'm looking for suggestions on great places to go at this time of year where a solo female can travel safely. More beneath the fold.

After a long and arduous job search I finally got an amazing job offer! I'm waiting on the official offer letter to come before giving notice, but once I do, I'm planning on taking an impromptu trip before I get started at the new place- work has been so crazy I haven't been able to take a real trip in 3 years, and I expect I won't be able to travel for awhile after starting at the new place.

Since the trip is going to be so impromptu (I'm not even sure now when I can give notice- we're waiting for my background check to finish before the official offer letter comes, and the recruiter quoted me 7-10 days- but it could complete faster) I expect that I most likely will be going by myself. I'm looking for suggestions on where to go this time of year that will have good weather, not be super crazy expensive, and will be safe for a solo female traveler.

I like art and food, and am looking for something without arduous physical activity (like hiking, etc)- the last 8 months have been super taxing emotionally and physically and I'm looking to take a trip to relax and refresh before starting at my new job. I'm also looking for a place where I won't get super stressed out about getting around on my own (not sure about driving in foreign countries, etc), and somewhere I won't get super bored on my own.

In terms of location, I'm open to most places, particularly Europe. I've been wanting to go to Italy for awhile, but I'm not sure that's a good fit for a solo trip or for my requirement of going somewhere it's easy to get around in by myself.

Also- I am a small Chinese female and am looking for the type of place where I wouldn't potentially be targeted and kidnapped as a "rich Chinese tourist" (e.g. Phillipines, etc)

I'm in the San Francisco Bay Area and looking to go outside of the US.

To help narrow things down- places I have traveled or lived in before and am not interested in going to for this trip (I'd like to go somewhere I've never been before)
Hong Kong
Costa Rica

Thank you in advance!
posted by raw sugar to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
fly to italy and check out bari and then take a ferry to dubrovnik in croatia. buses abound in both cities. very safe. incredible food and art.
posted by zdravo at 7:05 PM on April 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was just in Vienna and it's super-safe, with a lifetime's worth of art museums and great food to enjoy. I wouldn't call it cheap, but I didn't find it prohibitively expensive (esp. because I stayed at an Airbnb place). It's got great public transportation and is extremely easy to get around, especially because there is so much to see within the center of the city and the immediately surrounding neighborhoods.
posted by scody at 7:07 PM on April 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Wow, I emphatically second zdravo's suggestion--I've done that exact itenerary and loved it!! And yes, as a young female alone I felt safe in both places. Memail me if you happen to decide on that and want some more Dubrovnik-specific info (I was there longer so I remember more). I would add that if you're flying into Italy anyway, spend some time in wonderful Florence and THEN take a train to Bari.
posted by lovableiago at 7:12 PM on April 25, 2014

You know more about the "rich Chinese tourist" thing than I do, but from the standpoint of someone who has traveled all over the world on my own, as a woman, I would say the answer to your question is "anywhere you've always wanted to go."

I would potentially avoid certain Muslim-world countries where women don't go out in public customarily, which immediately makes women traveling alone a target for street harassment. But for the most part that's going to be countries you'd need visas for, anyway, and can't travel last minute. With the possible exception of Egypt? Don't go to Egypt, probably. Aside from that, the sky is the limit.

Make a list of places you've always wanted to go. Pick one. You're all set.

It might also be worth looking at Kayak's explore feature to find cheap airfare. I would be much more concerned about that than what kind of chromosomes you have.
posted by Sara C. at 7:12 PM on April 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Admittedly I'm biased because I was there and loved it, but I would go to Madrid. I went there with my mother in December and walked around by myself a bit and I always felt physically safe although I know there is some danger of pickpockets. There are amazing museums and plenty of places you can just walk around or sit and hang out. If you want more information (like where we stayed and what we did and stuff) please feel free to MeFi mail me!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:26 PM on April 25, 2014

In terms of location, I'm open to most places, particularly Europe. I've been wanting to go to Italy for awhile, but I'm not sure that's a good fit for a solo trip or for my requirement of going somewhere it's easy to get around in by myself.

I'm female and have traveled throughout Italy solo, and frankly, I would recommend against it. Not every region or city would be a problem (for example, in my experience, Milan and Florence are 100% fine in that respect, and Sicily is pretty good) but overall, I don't think it's an especially relaxing or enjoyable trip as a woman alone.

If you're pretty sure about Europe, I would recommend Greece. Crete is especially relaxing (Chania is lovely, and you can take an overnight ferry there from Athens) and Santorini is especially beautiful. You'll have time to do more island hopping than that in a week or two of vacation, though. I'd also recommend staying in Athens for at least a couple days -- it's a a bit run-down, but it's a fascinating place, and the Parthenon is at least as amazing as you'd expect. The subway in Athens moves at a snail's pace, but it'll get you where you need to go. There are ferries that run between the islands, and it's not a big deal getting between them. Things are very walkable in general, but if you get exhausted while in town, there are taxis, and if someplace is hard to get to (up and down between the sea and an island town, for example), there are donkeys to ride. Yes, donkeys!

It's also quite cheap compared to most places in Europe, especially in terms of accommodations. The food is amazing, and if you go off the tourist track at all, people are usually very friendly and warm. I love it, and this is a wonderful time of year to go, because it's already fairly warm (and always stunning), but tourist season hasn't started up yet.
posted by rue72 at 7:28 PM on April 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

My girlfriend rode her bicycle, almost all alone, from Spain to Greece and said she had no problems other than the occasional cat call. I think pretty much anywhere in Europe would be fine. Dubrovnik (and the rest of Croatia) was beautiful, highly reccomend going there as well.
posted by bradbane at 7:48 PM on April 25, 2014

I would recommend Scandinavian countries - Denmark, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Sweden, Norway. Safe as houses. I have traveled to those countries, and Greenland too, as a solo female without incident and came back with beautiful photos. Great for the overtaxed body and mind.

Speaking of Norway, jump aboard a Hurtigruten ship and let them ferry you from Bergen to the Norwegian/Russian border far above the arctic circle, and then ferry back to Bergen. It's a beautiful trip, completely safe, you only unpack once (12 days on the ship in comfy accommodations) and you see a beautiful country's coastline and beautiful towns. You can do stuff on every stop, or just relax on the ship and view the beautiful mountain, island or coastal views unfold. That is what I would do if I suddenly had vacation time. I did this in 2011 and would do this again in a heartbeat. The food on the ship is good, and there is no casino/disco/auctions/other-creepy-cruise-stuff on those ships.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:51 PM on April 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm female and went to Venice alone and loved it. Venice is small enough that I walked everywhere. The city is gorgeous and has plenty of museums and churches with amazing art, but the best part was just wanting around and getting lost in the mystique of the city.

They're also big on bar snacks, which they call chiccetti. Similar to tapas but at a bar, which is nice when you're traveling alone.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 10:05 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

A non-city-specific rec: If wherever you go has a Sandeman's Free Tour, TAKE IT. I've done them in Paris and London and a non-free tour to Versailles, and they're easily some of my best memories of my trips.

A word of caution against Madrid: the subway system is hell to figure out, and I speak fluent Spanish. Just a word of caution if you do plan on going. The people are super-friendly, though.
posted by Tamanna at 12:24 AM on April 26, 2014

Most of Europe is quite safe. I'm also a solo traveller and I've been on my own from Lisbon to Ljubljana without incidents.

That said, have you tried Berlin? It's full of cheap hostels, has great museums (the Pergamonmuseum in particular is amazing), and great food.

Difficulty: German language, but most young Germans speak English.
posted by sukeban at 12:37 AM on April 26, 2014

As an aside, here's a relevant comic posted this past week: Don't let fear stop you from traveling!
posted by fairmettle at 5:51 AM on April 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

posted by h00py at 6:44 AM on April 26, 2014

If you like art and food, you can't go wrong with Italy! If I were you, I'd stick with the bigger/more famous cities: Florence, Rome, Venice since you'll be in good company with other tourists and I think those are the must-sees for a week long trip.

I traveled a lot around there while I was studying in Florence - sometimes with friends and sometimes by myself. I found it relatively safe and easy to get around by myself -- but I speak a bit of the language so that made it easier. Also, I'm a female of Italian descent so I didn't stick out TOO much (or get the attention that my blond counterparts did when I was there), so I can't really comment on that. I would consider Florence a "walking city" where you could probably get around without public transportation for the most part. In Rome and Milan, I used the subway/trolley which were pretty pretty easy to figure out. Just be careful as you would anywhere else - I've heard SO many stories of people being pick-pocketed in Rome. I've never been to Bari as some others have suggested, but it's on my list next time I get over there.

Have fun!
posted by Shadow Boxer at 7:14 AM on April 26, 2014

I vote for France.

I had a ball there on my own, I met tons of people (youth hostels) and ate great food, saw gorgeous stuff. I was constantly entertained and it was great. I stayed in the Left Bank and there were people walking around the streets all the time. I felt completely safe.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:27 AM on April 26, 2014

I did Florence and Rome on my own for a week, alone, as a woman, and it was fine. I didn't even know any Italian, but the whole time I was there I only met two people who didn't speak any English at all - a cabbie and a shopkeeper. I dealt with the cabbie by stopping a passersby and asking if he could translate my question ("I don't have any cash, can we stop at an ATM on the way to my hotel"), and the shopkeeper used charades to talk to me, which was awesome.

Confirming Florence is very walkable (especially if you're in the hostels inside the city center - it took me only 10 minutes to walk from one end of the city center to the other), and that Rome's subway is pretty easy to figure out; but I also found Rome pretty walkable as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:03 AM on April 26, 2014

I've been wanting to go to iceland for a while, crazy awesome outdoor scenery that they use for movies, could be a stopover on the way to europe, etc. So i'll throw that out there. Have fun on your trip!
posted by TheAdamist at 8:06 AM on April 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

> I would recommend Greece.

I'm glad you had an easy time as a woman alone in Greece, but that is emphatically not something that can be depended on. I love Greece and the Greeks, but the attitude toward women can be primitive and predatory; google "kamaki" for more information.
posted by languagehat at 8:41 AM on April 26, 2014

Portugal is lovely this time of year, and it's significantly cheaper than other EU countries. Lisbon has lots of beautiful architecture and art (Museu Nacional do Azulejos, the monastery in Belem, Fado if you're into music) and it's got interesting food as well (pasteis de Belem, lots prawns and cod, etc.). Sintra is just a quick day trip away, and the Algarve coast (Lagos/Faro) is a cheap bus trip down the coast from Lisboa and it is beautiful if you have a little longer to explore.

That area of Portugal is high 60s/low 70sF (18/21C) at this time of year, Portugal is a great place to absorb culture or relax as you choose, and it's very easy to get around as a female solo traveler (you may catch some raised eyebrows due to skin color, but you're not African in appearance so the flak is way less).
posted by librarylis at 9:19 PM on April 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Netherlands has great weather this time of year, and it's small enough that you can visit several cities over the course of 7-10 days. It's easy to use public transportation if you only speak English; the relevant websites have English versions, and the machines where you buy tickets can be set to use English. It's very safe to travel here as a single woman; I've done so, as have a couple of my friends and relatives. AskMetafilter has lots of recommendations for things to do and see in Amsterdam, and I highly recommend visiting cities like Utrecht, Haarlem, Gouda, and Delft. They all have great places to eat and excellent art museums.
posted by neushoorn at 7:49 AM on April 27, 2014

A bit late to the party, but I wanted to chime in on Italy - I went there as a man traveling solo, and never felt unsafe at all. I was worried about pickpocketing in Rome, so I got a money belt largely for peace of mind, but I don't think you really need it. I did notice that there are these guys who go up to female travelers and try to give them roses; but it seems like if you're willing to be a jerk they'll leave you alone (I did this with people who tried to sell me trinkets in restaurants, which isn't uncommon).

Probably more pertinent for you, my SO did a study abroad in Italy and traveled all around and never really had a problem. She did get some unwanted attention from men, but says it was more annoying than threatening - people trying to chat you up on public transit, stuff like that.

I was only in Rome and Florence, and Rome is probably my favorite place that I have ever visited (Florence was cool, but it a bit museum-y for my tastes). I personally found strolling around Rome relaxing - it's beautiful, there's so much to see, and it's surprisingly easy to get away from the tourist crowds. The metro is pretty limited - only two lines - but it's reliable and easy to figure out and will take you most places you want to go if you're willing to combine it with a good bit of walking. I found the buses sort of confusing, but only took them once or twice. Overall, I think Rome is pretty easy to navigate on your own.

Florence is smaller, and you can walk everywhere easily, but consequently the tourist crowds felt more oppressive. It's definitely worth seeing, though, especially if you like art and food. I actually chose it mostly because it's very easy to get there from Rome (a 90-minute train ride) and I only had about ten days and didn't feel like spending lots of time traveling from place to place. I'd highly recommend the Rome-Florence itinerary if you want to experience something new but don't want to stress out too much.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:33 AM on April 28, 2014

Thank you all for your wonderful suggestions. I found an amazing deal on flights to Berlin and am planning a Berlin - Prague - Vienna trip.. can't wait!!!
posted by raw sugar at 10:41 PM on May 3, 2014

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