Want to know what are the best destinations for solo female travelers? In this two-part article I share my top 10 recommendations. You can find 1 to 5 in part 1 here.
If you’ve visited my blog before, you’ll know that I’m fanatical about Mexico and, like Italy, it’s a country that keeps drawing me back. It upsets me deeply that Mexico has such bad street-cred – not just in terms of solo female travel but as a tourist destination in general. Yes, there have been some ugly deaths involving way too many people, but that’s the drug business for you. The solution: pick one of the safer places to stay, and there are plenty of them.
Mexico’s safety level varies greatly depending where you go. If you’re not sure where is safe and where isn’t, check out my two part article where I give you the facts, based on this 5ft tall solo girl’s extensive travels through the country.
Now, why visit:
- Mexico is probably the next most diverse place I’ve come across after Hawaii. From the Caribbean coast on the east to the Atlantic on the west with highlands, lowlands, jungle, desert and Spanish colonial pueblos in between, you can take your pick of the kind of trip you want in Mexico.
- you can also pick your comfort level. Perhaps you’re dipping your toe in solo female travel, then try the Yucatan peninsula, which has many western facilities; more adventurous: Copper Canyon; feel like escaping? Isla Holbox; want adventure? go swimming with whale sharks.
- The food: if I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, it would probably be Mexican…or Italian…or Japanese…or Indiana. But Mexican is definitely up there. Not entirely sure what Mexican food is (because it’s probably not what you get at home), check out this article I wrote for BootsnAll.
- Great value for money: Mexico may not be as cheap as India, but its a hell of a lot cheaper than most places. Step away from the popular beach resorts and you can eat for a dollar or two and sleep for $10-$20. Paradise isn’t quite so pricey in these parts.
- You can’t beat a Mexican fiesta: all the horror stories you read about Mexico do a huge disservice to the vast majority of Mexicans who are warm, inviting and a hell of a lot of fun.
Best for: adventure, fun, a great value trip, a huge diversity of landscapes and experiences, fresh food.
Don’t go for: I can’t think of a single reason not to visit Mexico. Instead, I’d say don’t visit without checking your facts and where you’re going. That way you can have a safe trip with full peace of mind.
If there’s one cultures that’s nailed the secret to the way of life, it’s got to be Spain. Several meal times a day, a huge long nap in the middle and partying until dawn. And that’s all without a nod to the country’s history and culture.
- history isn’t always the first thing you think about when you think of Spain, but the country’s past is both fascination and complex, and has resulted in a country that has influences from the Romans to the Arabs. In a relatively short span of land, you experience real contrasts on your trip: just check out Andalucia region then Catalonia to understand.
- like Italy, Spain is super easy to get around. Trains are your best bet, but there are also good bus connections. Sure, the timetable might not be so strictly adhered to as you’d get in Japan, but everything comes together…eventually.
- Price: it’s not very often that a western european country is touted for its good prices, but Spain is probably the exception. Compared to Italy across the way, food and drink prices are about 50% cheaper and rooms get you an even bigger saving.
- Another culture where women are adored and somewhat idolised, if you’re looking to be charmed and romanced, the Spaniards know where it’s at.
- flying in the face of its deep historical roots and the stereotype that Spain can be somewhat slower paced, the country has still managed to produce some world class services from clubs and bars to restaurants and hotels, there’s a definite grown-up side to Spain if that’s what you want.
Best for: European luxury on a budget, culture with a bit of beach thrown in, variety, long afternoon naps: no judgment.
Don’t go for: light food (did you know Spain produces more olive oil than Italy – and it uses it, too), uncrowded beaches – Spain is one of Europe’s top holiday hotspots for other Europeans.
Vietnam was my first love – the country I first visited alone that was entirely responsible for stealing my heart and causing me to return to the UK, quit my job and head out into the world in search of adventure. But that’s not the only reason I think Vietnam is one of the best destinations for solo female travelers.
- Southeast Asia is a solo travel mecca and Vietnam is by far my favourite country out of them all. Thailand is popular if you want to lose a month or two face-down in a bucket of booze, but Vietnam offers a better blend – culture, parties if you want them and a vast strip of land that is mostly coastal and covers huge cities, old silk trade towns and green rice terraces.
- brilliant bang for your buck: Thailand ain’t so cheap and although Vietnam has been on the up and up since the 2006 Tsunami caused most Southeast Asia backpackers to re-route through Vietnam instead of Indonesia, it’s still a lot better value than its nearby (tourism) competitor.
- the reunification express: much of Southeast Asia’s transport network is made up of privately run tourist buses. Not only do you pay tourist prices for the privilege, you spend your time with other tourists (is that what you travelled thousands of miles for?). Vietnam’s north-south railway may not be the fastest way around but it’s used by the locals and is a fantastic way to travel (safety tip: please don’t take the buses in Vietnam – they’re really (car-crash) dangerous).
- ok, go on, I may as well stick with the trend – the food. Did you know that Vietnamese people commonly shop twice a day to ensure their food and herbs are fresh? And, of course, there’s the coffee and the vast range of beer to get through.
- shopping: I’m not going to feed the stereotype by assuming that all women love to shop (I’m not a huge fan), but tailored silk and beautiful lanterns are probably going to be in your bag on your way home, regardless of your usual propensity for material purchases.
Best for: an epic train journey, silk shopping, fresh food stalls, making backpacker friends along the way, getting more out of Asia than a hangover.
Don’t go for: dinner invites from the locals (they’re pretty reserved), getting off the backpacker trail – it’s riddled, north to south.
If someone would just hand me a Green Card, I’d make the USA my second home. Anyone who tells you the country has no culture and no history (and I’ve even heard that from some locals) is looking in all the wrong places.
- I’m a firm believer that everyone should leave their home country at least once (if they can) but I’m regularly swung by the argument from US citizens “Why leave, we have everything here” because they kind of do: national parks, two humongous coastlines and an interior I’m going to call quirky in parts. Imagine any kind of experience you want and you can probably have it in the USA.
- if you’re an English speaker, there is zero language barrier.
- although things get wobbly when you leave the cities, if you’re content to stay on the Amtrak and Greyhound network, it’s very easy and pretty affordable to get around. Plus, there are more car hire options than you can shake a stick at.
- I grew up watching US TV shows and movies – if you’re at all invested in stepping, even briefly, into the lifestyle that has glowed at you from the screen for years, there’s no better place to do it.
- culture shock is non-existent – if you’re looking for an easy trip where you can focus on finding yourself as much as your feet, the USA is a good choice. Western services mean you don’t have to deal with squat loos or Delhi belly.
(And you might have noticed that I intentionally didn’t mention the food…though I could eat all day long in New Orleans).
Best for: an easy trip with a vast range of choices, more history and culture than you probably imagine.
Don’t go for: value for money (bill+tax+tip everywhere), great travel infrastructure (transport and accommodation thin considerably as you leave the cities), a culture that understands your wandering instead of working.
10. Latin America
I know I’ve just listed an entire continent rather than a country so I’m kind of cheating but I’d highly recommend a trip to Latin America for any solo female traveler. It seems to be the one destination that many female travelers want to explore but many are too afraid to go. I get it – I was crapping my pants before I boarded the plan to Quito. But, as I’ve said to all of the women who’ve asked me – the time you’re probably going to be most worried about a trip to Latin America is before you go. Once you get there, you’ll realise things are a lot safer and easier than your CSI-fuelled imagination has predicted.
- Because you really, really want to and the only thing holding you back is fear.
- I don’t want to over-use the diversity argument but if you were to hold Colombia and Costa Rica next to each other, you’d get the picture. Likewise Brazil and Guatemala. From cultural differences to landscape variants, you can literally travel from high altitude to flat wetlands on a Latin American adventure and meet a world of different people in-between.
- To learn the art of tranquilo: if I learned one thing in Latin America it’s that it will happen when it happens, if it happens at all. It’s the perfect place to shake loose some of your inner control freak and carve away a bit of your frantic Type-A planner instinct and chill the f&ck out. You’ll feel better for it.
- Don’t think of Latin American as a slap in the face but more of a refreshing douse of water when it comes to cultural change. Things don’t always work so well but the people are resourceful. And there will be more than one story to take home about how strange this culture is (men beeping when they see a woman, not when they see danger).
- To learn some Spanish – I’m no natural linguist and had two words (hola & cerveza) when I landed in Latin America and even I managed to bumble along without starving or going homeless. Now I can have a basic, drunk conversation in Spanish with a lot of (rum-based) confidence.
- The travelers in Latin America are generally a good bunch – educated, interesting, friendly and it makes for a great traveler trail. Meet someone in one country and you’ll no doubt bump into them days, weeks or even months later.
Best for: a more grown-up crowd than you’d get in Thailand, meeting people, pleasant culture shock, boosting your confidence (being brave enough to visit and doing it all on your own).
Don’t go for: wild parties in the bosom of faux western culture a-la Koh Phangan, luxury travel or that feeling of being in a home away from home.
Well, that’s my list of the best solo female travel destinations. Do you have any to add? Any you didn’t expect to see featured? Let me know in the comments below.