Amanda Pressner: If you're a female traveling solo, be a little more conservative about your dress than you might be at home. Don't go out alone after dark, even if you think you know where you're going and how to get around. Take a taxi, even if you have to spend more than you want, to get you from point A to point B safely. Ask someone in the know (ie. a front desk clerk or a waitress) if you're heading out during the day to an area that you're unfamiliar with, and ask them if it's safe to walk. Make new friends and travel with them whenever possible. I believe that Jen, Holly, and I did not get into much trouble during the year we traveled because there were three of us in a group at almost all times.
What about safety?
Christine Maxfield: I always carry a pickpocket-proof bag and combination locks from the safety company PacSafe, an LED flashlight called the SureFire Defender that temporarily night-blinds an aggressor, a safety whistle, and a rubber doorstop to slip underneath my hotel door just in case it tends to be a little less safe than I would've liked. One of my favorite tricks is to slit the seam on the side of my bra, stash some $100 bills in the lining, then close the makeshift pocket with a little Velcro. It's much stealthier than a money belt!
Julia Dimon: As a young blonde women who has always been drawn to more taboo locations (I've traveled through Rwanda, the DRC, Mozambique, Jordan, Turkey, Palestine/West Bank, and to Chernobyl), I often get strange looks from people. I feel like they are surprised that I've returned in one piece. But truly, in my experience traveling through 80 countries and to all seven continents, it's not a big, bad, scary world out there. People are far more likely to help you rather than harm you. In terms of safety, it doesn't matter if you're in New York City or Nairobi, you can stay safe by trusting your instincts. If the little voice inside of you feels like something is a bad idea, really listen to it. Don't be afraid to say no or extricate yourself from an uncomfortable situation. Trust your gut.
Beth Whitman: The most daring solo trip I've ever taken was a solo motorcycle trip from Seattle to Panama (yes, in Central America). I rode a BMW 650 for nine weeks and over 7,000 miles. Before I left on that trip, people told me I'd be raped, murdered, thrown in jail, or the bike would be stolen. I knew in my heart of hearts that if I treated people well, I would be treated well back and have a safe trip. And I did!
Amanda Pressner: If you're by yourself for the long haul, try starting your adventure at a hostel or guesthouse in a large city, where you're sure to meet like-minded travelers. Look for places that boast large common areas, cafe or activities rooms so you can cross paths with other people in a safe setting.
Why should someone consider traveling by themselves compared to with a group?
Amanda Pressner: It's often a good idea for women to stick together when traveling in unfamiliar or "higher-risk" places, but when it's safe to do so, don't be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone and fly solo for a few days. Jen, Holly, and I all traveled alone during specific points of our journey and we ended up meeting far more interesting locals and fellow travelers than when we'd been roaming in a pack. After traveling with two other women for almost 11 months, I felt a sense of autonomy and freedom when I traveled on my own. I got to make all the decisions, see what I wanted to see, and make choices to experience the destination in exactly the way that I wanted. Once I got past the insecurity and loneliness part (and yes, that happens) I was more willing—and in fact motivated—to open myself up to new people and experiences that I otherwise wouldn't have when sheltered by my group.
Beth Whitman: While group or organized travel definitely has its place, traveling solo provides you with an opportunity to gain confidence and to test your limits. When you're on your own, you're responsible for everything and that can be a really empowering experience, especially for women.
Julia Dimon: When deciding to travel alone or in a group, consider the following: a.) difficulty of the destination b.) your travel goals c.) time, and d.) budget. In my experience, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, North America, and the Caribbean are super easy to navigate on your own. It gets more challenging in destinations that have a history of political conflict or a less developed tourism infrastructure. In these cases, having a guide organize all the details and speak the language is incredibly helpful. If your travel goals are to see as much as possible in a short amount of time, a guided tour is a great call. All the administrative details are already taken care of, leaving you to just relax and take in the sights. If your goal is to really immerse yourself in local culture, challenge your problem-solving skills, and get off the typical tourist trail, you may be happier traveling solo. Typically group tours are much more expensive than going solo, so that's another consideration. What I've done in the past is start with a group tour (I did a two month camping overland excursion through South Africa, Namibia, and Zambia), then once I got my bearings and felt comfortable with my surroundings, I left the group and traveled solo through other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Doing the group-and-solo combo is a great way to get a feel for the country, the culture, and the vibe, then branch out on your own.
With most travel deals based on double occupancy, the total price is often higher than what is advertised for single patrons. Here's how to avoid the extra charge.
Check out options from tour companies like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel that allow you to pair up with a same-sex roommate during your trip as a way to get around the pesky single supplement. Grand Circle Travel offers the same service for travelers ages 50 and up while Contiki offers a similar plan for 18-35 year olds.
While you'd normally have to worry about paying double (since cruise cabins are almost always based on double occupancy), Norwegian Cruise Lineshas another, more affordable option. On the Pride of America ship (based in Hawaii), Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway, and the soon-to-be-christened Norwegian Gateway (coming in February 2014), you'll get your own room and the chance to mingle with fellow solo cruisers in the Studio Lounge, all for less than the cost of your usual solo cruise ticket. From $1,099 per cabin; check NCL.com for pricing details based on your actual cruise dates.