Safe globetrotting for an independent but wimpy female
April 20, 2008 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Where's an exotic, yet secure, place to travel for a single gal?

Wanderlust has bitten me badly, and I'm itching to go somewhere that will challenge and enthrall me. I've already done fairly extensive travel through Italy and South East Asia. My usual style is "flashpacking", ie. backpacking but not afraid to splurge. This will be the first time I'll be 100% on my own traveling. I'm also open to volunteering or working to extend my trip.

Me: 31 years old, Canadian, petite female, traveling alone.
Time: 3 - 6 months, probably starting this summer.
Budget: $3000 -$6000.

I'd love to hear your personal experiences and suggestions! So far I've been considering Argentina, New Zealand, or central/Northern Australia, but I worry that I'm playing it too "safe" with the last two choices. Thanks in advance!
posted by exquisite_deluxe to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
I did Thailand by myself. The food was great, the scenery fantastic, and the shopping was top notch. I felt safe despite being a single woman, though I had to be extra firm with the touts. I got lots of good advice in this thread.
posted by Alison at 7:11 PM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll answer in the negative, and suggest you might find Morocco, Egypt & India hard going, but if you managed to survive the Italian men, you might cope ok.

Burma's probably the safest-feeling country I've visited, other than Iran & Syria, but I'm a guy, and I visited the latter two before the Iraq debacle, so things might have changed. At the time, solo women I met in those countries told me they hadn't had any problems.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:31 PM on April 20, 2008

Japan. Very safe, very challenging (if you don't speak the language), very beautiful (if you can block out the everpresent power lines). Go in autumn. I think you could WWOOF it there as well.
posted by ikahime at 7:34 PM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Japan is extremely safe, quite exotic and not as expensive as it used to be. Just contributing my two cents.
posted by doctorpiorno at 7:35 PM on April 20, 2008

Greece? I'm not a single woman, but it seemed very safe and low-key. And even in touristy towns (note: on the mainland during the winter) most of the tourists were Greek, and the restaurants, bars and other such hangouts were still largely dominated by locals.

You can definitely have an adventure there, and find yourself somewhere gorgeous, unbelievably historic, and almost completely alone. My favourite example was walking 4km down the highway from the 25,000-person "city" of Nafplio, past a prison and a genuine shanty-town (a few kids threw rocks at us, not so much to hit us as to pass the time), to Tiryns, a bronze-age town that was supposedly the birthplace of Herakles. We found it not only nearly deserted, but surrounded by an ongoing orange harvest. As we were heading back, we walked past a few guys in a truck full of oranges, who tossed us each a few to eat for the road back.

And even with the Euro, it was pretty cheap (beers for 2 Euros, very decent accomodations for 18/night, and bus travel on the mainland both comfortable and reasonably-priced).
posted by goingonit at 7:55 PM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Japan again

these I've no idea but I'm pretty sure the first is safe:


What about Dubai? I've heard they are accepting of Western culture (not so sure on the being female part of that though - but it would be a cool place to see as it's being built up)

Brazil? Crime is always an issue there depending where you go - Rio and Sao Paulo are amazing places, though it would be winter there... the Northeast I've not been to but would be warmer, as would the interior/Amazon - plus Argentina is a flight away too.

You don't mention if you speak any languages that may help choices?
posted by clanger at 8:30 PM on April 20, 2008

A single gal friend of mine, who is also a bit shy and quite petite, has traveled all over the east including Japan (taught English there so it was a base) and most of the surrounding countries, except China, South America, but very carefully (born in Peru, but of US citizens), just about all over Europe, etc. All of this she accomplished on a shoestring budget. On the other hand, another good friend, well she is hardly petite, quite the athlete, field hockey, I am thinking she might be able to take me, and I am a big guy. Well, she got raped in a hostel somewhere in northern Europe, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, I am not sure, but one of the supposedly safer places. My point, if you stick to the more traditional tourist, as opposed to student, spots, and you keep your wits about you, you should be fine pretty much anywhere in the developed world. Stay with the crowd. If you go off the beaten track, including hostels and small streets, etc. do it with a group. It has as much to do with where you go in your location as the location, but of course some locations allow you much more safe freedom off of the tourist path than others.
posted by caddis at 9:50 PM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I sent you a more detailed mail but as a 30 year old female who always travels alone there's few places I won't go. That includes Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa. I agree that Egypt is frustrating as a woman, no matter how covered your body is, but worth the head trip for the amazing sites. Besides English I only speak high school Spanish and really basic Mandarin. Most people in the tourist industry will speak a little English and pantomime goes far.

People around the world are inherently good and will help you when you need it. Just be prepared for the questions about your age, your husband, why you're not married and why you don't have kids.

With 6 months you could start in Brazil and head Northwest through Argentina, Bolivia, Peru to see how far you get. There's tons of tourists in South America and you will surely find others to pal around with.

If you've already gone to SE Asia you should be able to push outside your comfort zone. Imagine how much longer you could travel in South America than Australia on your budget. Greece would be fine, but I found it full of people on honeymoons or couples reliving their honeymoons. That wasn't too fun for someone alone. There might of been some club-going types, but it's not my scene. If you're interested in Greece I suggest heading through Turkey and looping through the Middle East until you hit Egypt. You'll have time after that and could hop on a plane to another continent or head into East Africa.

If you want to extend your trip through work you have to work in Western countries to earn enoguh to pay for daily life and save. In other places you might be able to exchange work for a room in a hostel or something, but you won't be saving for travel.

Since I don't know anything about your interests I will stop suggesting places. My basic message is that there are very few places that are not "secure" for a woman to travel alone to. It's up to you how far you're willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
posted by Bunglegirl at 10:15 PM on April 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

if you stick to the more traditional tourist, as opposed to student, spots, and you keep your wits about you, you should be fine pretty much anywhere in the developed world.

2c from somebody who travels to developing countries almost every year: I feel them to be about a thousand times safer than most of the developed world, at least in terms of violent street crime.

The main reason I say this is that there are always people around, everywhere, day and night. It's difficult for anybody to do anything to you when there are 100 potential witnesses. If you've been to South-East Asia, you probably know exactly what I mean, and It doesn't surprise me at all that the only time I've ever been mugged was a couple of blocks from my home in Sydney, because even in a busy part of town the streets are almost deserted at night.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:47 PM on April 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a very diminutive woman and have traveled all over the world safely. I think you can really go anywhere with a healthy sense of situational awareness and taking appropriate care.

I think you should go somewhere wild and new- I love New Zealand and Australia, but think your first big solo adventure calls for the taste of the unknown. Turkey is wonderful, as is South Africa and Portugal. If you're interested in somewhere where your loonie (looney?) will do alright, consider travelling through central america.

One of my favorite places to travel right now is Nicaragua. Guatemala is also a favorite place to be- many adventures to be had.

Consider taking a self-defense course for a few months and then stretching the boundaries, go somewhere outside of your comfort zone and prepare to have your world changed!
posted by arnicae at 10:58 PM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lots of unattached female westerners travel alone in Japan.
posted by thomas144 at 2:34 AM on April 21, 2008

i recently read an article about Mauritius. apparently it is a fairly complex cultural crossroad between india and africa, with the clear benefit of beach life. wife and i are eager to go there but it is a bit of a haul

posted by monkeybutt at 7:15 AM on April 21, 2008

I'm a 29-year-old American woman who travels to the upper Amazon of Peru quite often. Well, I go for research, but I go alone and I manage to do quite well. I do tower over most Peruvians, which may or may not help my safety factor, but honestly, I have never felt unsafe. Just being aware of yourself and your surroundings, as I'm sure you know, makes a big difference in attackability. I think a neat trip for the single gal who likes to and can "flashpack" as you say, would be a trip down the Amazon. You can fly into Lima, take a bus to Pucallpa (a good entry point on the Amazon) and cruise up River to Tarapoto or Yurimaguas and from there head to Iquitos (a 3 day journey). From Iquitos, you can take a slow boat to Las Tres Fronteras where Colombia, Brazil, and Peru intersect and then keep rolling on down towards Manaus and finally to Belem. If you stop at every stop, explore the cities, backpack a bit in the jungle, take a canoe ride or two (or ten), you can easily spend 3 months safely and creatively and cheaply on and around the longest and coolest river in the world. (Ok, I'm biased!) There are plenty of other people who do this same thing if you need or want company, but it's not so touristy that you can't just be alone, too. There are beautiful, upscale lodges to visit in the jungle, and there are also beautiful, lower-end lodges to stay in, so you have the best of whichever world you want. And the cities are great. I often live in Iquitos, but I love it and while most tourists think it's a hellhole, it has all kinds of charms that might take a bit of digging to find. Email me if you want specific recommendations of places to stay or things to see!

Japan is cool, too, though. :)
posted by cachondeo45 at 11:46 AM on April 21, 2008

First, if you travel to developing countries, I highly recommend that you check in with the U.S. Embassy upon arrival. They will give you travel tips and help you find appropriate accomodations. They will also contact you if an emergency or any sort of strife ocurres, i.e. Kenya recently. **On preview I realized you are Canadian, so check in with the Canadian embassy :-)**


Uganda is one of the most beautiful countries I've ever experienced. I'm not sure how inexpensive you can do it though as I'm more of a splurge traveler. I've stayed at the Serena in Kampala (5 star) and the Imperial Beach in Entebbe. I'm sure you can find less expensive accomodations.

There is so much to see and do in Uganda. How about a day on Lake Victoria? You can spend some time in Jinja where you can white water raft, go horseback riding and bungee jump on the headwaters of the Nile.

Kampala is a vibrant and beautiful city built on hills like Rome. There are many markets where you can purchase African goods. There is a Goodwill shop in Kampala that gets shipments of clothing every week. It takes you back to see an old man walking a dusty road near the mountains wearing a new turquoise blue tailored suit jacket and very old holey slacks. The shop is open to everyone and becomes a free-for-all on delivery days. I've met several expats who shop there.

In Kampala you can shop for orginal artwork at Nommo Gallery, which is state owned and staffed by artists. Then grab some coffee at Cafe Pap's or 1000 Cups Coffee House where you can also go on a coffee safari. Though I will say that Ethiopian coffee is far better than what you will find in either Kenya or Uganda. When you head out of Kampala you will see coffee merchants spread the beans on the ground to "roast" them with sunlight.

A once in a lifetime option is doing a gorilla trek in the Bwindi mountains. The permits are $500/person and normally should be purchased in advance, but I've seen people get them one or two days before travel. Normally you hire a driver to take you from Kampala or Entebbe out west to the mountains. It's aprox. 8-9 hour drive. The drive alone is worth the trip to Uganda. I cannot describe to you how it feels to see Kampala city give way to the Ugandan rich red earth; To see western garb fall away to traditional dress (mixed w/some western pieces, see Goodwill above); To watch a zebras eat alongside the road; To see banana growers head to market with 4' long bunches piled high atop bicycles; To see forest elephants walk among the tall forest trees. And, at last to see some of the few remaining mountain gorillas in all of their splendor. I went on a gorilla trek last July and was the first person in 10 years who didn't get to see gorillas as the group we were trekking was attacked by hornets and ran off to the Rwanda side of the mountains.

After Uganda you can head to Ethiopia where you can purchase what I consider the best coffee in the world. Then head to Nairobi, Kenya where you can visit the monkey park, elephant orphanage and even hang out with some giraffs. There is very good dining of all types. I've hung out in Nairobi at night, been to a couple of bars and clubs, but always with other people. I would not recommend going out alone unless you have a driver and are going to a place well known. If Nairobi is too hectic you can check out Mombassa on the coast.

After the mainland you can head over to the Seychelles,, Mauritius and Madacascar Islands. If you still have wanderlust, there's always South Africa.
posted by Juicylicious at 2:42 PM on April 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ethiopia is indeed wonderful, and a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony is even better.

Juicylicious omitted to mention the island of Zanzibar, a short ferry ride from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, just down the coast from Kenya.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:23 PM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you considered Guatemala, and Central America in general? Sure, you may hear ugly things, but as a quick MeFi search will reveal in actuality here it's pretty safe as long as you avoid traveling on foot in the Big Bad City.

Many tourists come here, and a lot of them are traveling on their own. And, *gasp*, many of them are female travelers. I mean, what's not to like? Active volcanoes, some of the best coffee in the world, and the ability to bathe in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the same day.

If you'd like more information, mefi mail me.
posted by papafrita at 6:43 PM on April 21, 2008

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