20 Mistakes To Avoid If You Are A Solo Female Traveler

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Stay Safe And Avoid These Solo Traveler Mistakes

We all make mistakes when we travel and often these are the stories we tell for years to come, however some mistakes would be best not made at all. Hopefully you can learn from mistakes I've made or learned about and become that amazing solo female traveler we all read about. Let me know if I've missed any or give me your own tips in the comments below.

NB: while this is aimed at the over 40 female solo traveler market, it should help almost all of you.

Jen Battleship
At Battleship Island in Japan

Mistake 1: Not Having Clear Emergency Contact Info On You

We all joke about “being hit by a bus” but what if that actually happened??

Having clear emergency contact info is VITAL if you are traveling on your own. I have a little laminated card I have in my wallet (or in my pocket if I've not got my wallet with me) that has my emergency info, my travel insurance company and contact number AND any allergies. Your phone may be NO HELP if you are injured. It's locked and won't help authorities to know who you are or who to contact, unless you take the step below.

Adding Text To Your Lock Screen With Android

As an update in 2023, you can now add text to your home screen with Android phones. 

  1. Go to Settings / Display / Lock Screen, & Choose “Add text on lock screen”

  2. Now enter your emergency contacts name and number being sure to include any international codes. For example mine says “Emergency Contact Brad +61111111111” – keeping in mind that's not actually Brad's phone number!

This enables anyone who tries to unlock your phone to see that text. 

HOT TIP!

You can make these with a piece of plastic and a marker pen. I always make sure they are plastic so they are waterproof (paper in your wallet won't last long). I have made them from the plastic file dividers you get from the office stores, the back of a notepad or anything that is tough lightweight plastic. I also tend to write out a few just in case I loose one.


Mistake 2: Not having your first night booked

While I do very much fly by the seat of my pants mostly, I ALWAYS have my first nights accommodation booked. There is nothing worse than arriving in a town or city only to now realise that its the local football final and everything is sold out! Sleeping rough should be kept for the hiking trail and not the city. Most booking companies now offer different levels of cancellation options so even if you book something that can be cancelled up to the day before, you can still change your plans and be safe. There are so many online booking options. I tend to use Booking.com but Agoda, Nustay or Hostelz can all be booked on the fly.


Mistake 3: Traveling with not enough medications

I am the first to admit, I travel light and anything I don't absolutely need, I don't take. Traveling solo however raises its own challenges with medical emergencies. What happens if you do get struck down with Bali Belly, Montezuma's Revenge or whatever you call it? The trots make it very hard to get to the chemist to buy something to stop it when you have no-one to go for you! There are a few things that are easily replaced but essential to have on hand.

I carry these items as a minimum. I am NOT a medical professional so please know this is what works for me. You might need an entire different set of emergency medications.

  1. Strapping tape – holding a twisted knee together or covering a blister are things I've used this stuff for. It's also great for fixing things and for holding skin together that needs stitches!
  2. Anti-biotics for travelers diarrhea – While I always have them with me, I only ever take these if its more than 24 hours in length. My doc gives me these really kick arse set of 3 tablets that will kill anything, which is the reason I only take them if its really serious. Choosing not to take these is a personal decision but it is primarily based around the fact that I have food intolerances so usually if I have an upset stomach its mostly from something that doesn't agree with me NOT a bacteria. After 24 hours if its still bad sure I will consider it and to be clear this is what works for me and isn't medical advice.
  3. Thrush tablets if I'm going somewhere hot and beachy. I almost never get it but if I'm in some remote neck of the woods in Thailand I don't want to have to describe what I need!
  4. Water purification tablets. I always have these. I have a life straw water bottle for everyday use but if I'm just traveling I carry a few water purification tabs just in case my water bottle breaks or I lose it.
  5. Wound Pads – these are super light and small so I usually carry 3 or 4. I find if you do hurt yourself you will go through at least 2 or 3 before you get to a clinic. I also have antibiotic cream on hand.
  6. While I do have Immodium or some other type of anti diarrhea tablets, I pretty much never take them. I always subscribe to the “better out than in” mentality and most people don't realise that they can take 24 hours to work by which time mostly the bug has run its course.

Mistake 4: Not having travel insurance

OMG don't get me started on this one. Is there ever a time that you will do something that you might not do in your everyday life? Yes and that time is when you are traveling. Getting on a scooter in Australia with no helmet is unthinkable (and should be for anywhere) but so many people jump on scooters all over Asia without a second thought. Most of these also have no travel insurance.

GEEZ! Travel insurance isn't just for getting you home if you are in a major event, its also STUPID INSURANCE! Having a few too many drinks and walking home – not the best idea but at least you are covered if you do fall in a hole or step out in front of a taxi!

DO NOT LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT! Get a quote from World Nomads or Visitors Coverage for alternate quotes.

Jen hiking in the very slippery mud in Sanoa
Hiking in Samoa is a dirty business. Thankfully no one was hurt!

Mistake 5: Not storing travel document copies

It's all good to have a copy of your passport, credit cards and anything else important stashed in your bag, however what if your bag gets stolen? Always email the most current copies to your own (and your next of kin's) email address so you can simply find wifi or an internet cafe and retrieve them.

HOT TIP!

Make sure that at least your emergency contact (preferably multiple people) have a copy of your passport and cards. If you were to get hurt and can't communicate, your emergency card will give authorities the contact details for your next of kin and they will already have copies of your passport if required.


Mistake 6: Taking the extra rental car insurance!

I know this isn't really a safety tip, however taking the extra insurance at the car rental counter is just lighting your money on fire! By using Rental Cover for years I've saved I would say thousands of dollars on excess reduction insurance. That's reducing your deductible if you are American.

Even in Australia, a hire car for 10 days can be an extra $300 to reduce the excess to zero, while Rental Cover enables me to get it for around $90. Luckily I've never had a drama but Brad got hit in Turkey a few years ago and would have been up for a $3000 USD excess if he didn't have the cover. It's so worth it!


Mistake 7: Not having a GOOD contingency fund

Traveling like I do is all about making your money go further. Not just for rooms or transportation but for experiences. I might suck it up and stay in hostels for a month so I can take the microlight flight over Angkor Wat, so a budget is essential for me. What I also factor into my budget is access to a decent emergency fund.

Typically I have a credit card that has a $25,000 limit available to me at all times. I never use it for anything I don't immediately pay back, however if I was to get into a car accident, even though I have my extra insurance, I still have to pay the excess myself first before its refunded.

The same goes for travel insurance. Unless its a major event and I'm carted off in an ambulance, if I break my arm I still have to pay the costs of getting it fixed and then my travel insurance refunds me. Access to a significant amount of money is essential in my personal opinion.

Don't leave home with your travel money and no way to access emergency funds if needed. It will wreck your trip.


Mistake 8: Not knowing how to get into the city from the airport.

This isn't so essential if you are arriving at 1pm and have time, however in today's age the access we have to information enables us to be informed well in advance and airport transfer options are one thing you should always know.

Is there a train? Does it run all night? If there are only taxi's is it a set rate? If not what should you expect to pay? Are there group buses you can catch?

These are things you should know to not only stay safe but also to not get robbed (in the non physical sense) in your first interaction in a new country. Airport taxi drivers are the rip off merchants of travel. Avoid spending 2 or 3 times what you should by being informed on how to get from the airport to your accommodation before you land.

On a bus in Nicaragua

On a bus in Nicaragua looking like I'm the only one who's enjoying themselves.


Mistake 9: Not getting some local cash out at the airport.

There is nothing more insulting in my book than expecting a local driver to accept foreign currency. That is just rude in my personal opinion. There are always ATM's at the airports now so before you exit the airport stop and get some cash to pay for anything you need until you get into the city and can plan your stay.


Mistake 10: Ignoring local dress customs.

There is nothing that makes me madder than seeing tourists dressed completely inappropriately and then getting upset when they are singled out. If you are going to a conservative country – DRESS APPROPRIATELY. This isn't a feminist thing! It's a respect thing.

Don't go to the UAE and then think you are going to walk from the beach to your hotel in your bikini. Don't go to the Caribbean sailing and think its OK to walk the streets on the little islands in your togs.

Learn the local dress and comply. I remember coming out of Angkor Wat at around 9am and seeing so many backpackers in bum freezer shorts and bikini tops. This is a sacred site people – have some respect! End of rant!

Brad at Angkor Wat dressed appropriately

Brad dressed appropriately at Angkor Wat


Mistake 11: Being obviously lost

I'm always lost. Even at home here on the Gold Coast I'm frequently a little lost. What you need to do if you are lost is look for a hotel or cafe or somewhere where staring into your phone or a map isn't a weird thing.

Never act lost on the street in an unfamiliar country.

You are making yourself the target of scammers and muggers who will swoop in and tell you they will take you where you need to go. If there isn't anywhere close to go into, study your map, recite in your head where you need to go, type the instructions into your phone if need be and then sit and wait for about 15 minutes.

If anyone does approach you tell them you are waiting for a friend. If they ask if you need help or ask you about you looking at a map on your phone, just smile and say you were looking for where you and your friend might go tomorrow. Just smile and act confident and very nicely tell them you don't need help.

HOT TIP!

I've actually used this system more than once. On one occassion two men had asked me if I was OK and did I need help. I used the “waiting on a friend” ruse and then sat and waited, checking my watch periodically. I could see them watching me so after about 15 mins and watching some taxi's drive by. I faked a phone call on my phone (to my imaginary friend), chatted, laughed and said OK sure I will grab a cab and meet you there.

I hailed a cab, got in and went about 3 or 4 blocks before getting out. Sure it was a few dollars but I was safe and away from a possible drama.


Mistake 12: Not having a sim card or a connection

Like all people my age I came from the travel era where you didn't have phones or even the internet really so I do often like to practice being off the grid. While I might practice it, I always make sure I have a charged phone with a sim card wherever I am.

While you don't have to use it, believe me it is a real comfort when you get out of the theatre at 1am and there are no taxis driving past. Even if I don't have the taxi number, I can call my hostel or hotel and ask how I can get back or ask if they can send a taxi and I will be happy to pay both trips.

Whatever the reason being connected can keep you safe these days. Don't get so intrenched in being a “real traveler” that you risk your safety. If it doesn't seem worth having a sim card, I always have my GlocalMe mobile wifi with me and a package for that country I've purchased. You can also just flick the settings to “pay-as-you-go” which charges your account at a higher rate but also means you don't need to have a package to get online.

UPDATE: 2022

If your phone has the capability eSims are amazing! I have been using Airalo to get eSims from and its quick, instanteous and easy to install. They have a list of pohones that can use eSims.


Mistake 13: Drinking too much

As you get older this is less of an issue, however if you are a younger traveler and you like to party, please be very aware of how much you drink and who you are drinking with. Just because you met someone at the hostel doesn't mean they are a good person.

Be aware of your surroundings, don't drink too much, don't accept drinks from others or drinks that have been opened before it gets to you, and know where you are. I've heard so many horror stories about people stumbling out of bars in not a great state and then having something horrible happen to them.

As women in particular, you have to have a higher level of awareness and you should be very careful who you are drinking with and how much you consume.


Mistake 14: Getting Political

Getting into a political discussion with someone you don't know, somewhere you don't live is not smart.

Respect the local political climate wherever you go. It might have been stable for years or maybe has become increasingly volatile in recent year, but regardless YOU DON'T LIVE THERE! Locals often want to have real conversations with you and that almost always leads to politics. I never avoid the conversations, but I never voice my own opinion if I don' t know the person.

People will always ask you what you think but that doesn't mean they are prepared to hear what you have to say. I always use the ” I don't think I know enough about it to have a real opinion. I love “something” about your country and I can understand how tough life must be here, however, blah blah blah blah blah. NOTHING TOO OPINIONATED.

I don't know how many times I've seen people sucked into this type of conversation not realising that the local just wants a reason to tell you what you don't know. Most genuine people won't want to start a conversation about politics and if it does end up there they won't be super passionate about it. The ones who want to talk about it right off the bat, are doing so for a reason. Sympathise but don't engage. it won't end well.


Mistake 15: Telling a vendor you are a “poor student” or the equivilant

You are not poor. You are there aren't you??

Telling a local store owner in Zimbabwe that you are a poor student and can't afford his wares is plain insulting. This man probably is never going to leave his own country so you telling him that you are poor just won't cut it. If you don't want what he's selling, very politely say “no thank you I don't want it” and keep walking. You might have sacrificed a lot to get where you are but you have had the opportunity to do that, he never will, so please, you aren't a poor anything.


Jenny Marsden - Charge The Globe
About the author

Meet Jenny, a passionate Australian travel blogger who has explored 103 countries to date. With over 30 years of travel experience, Jenny has a wealth of knowledge to share with her readers about the cultures, landscapes, and people she has encountered on her journeys. She's always battling unfashionably frizzy hair and you will never catch Jenny in anything but comfortable shoes. Learn more about Jenny and her travels.


Mistake 16: Packing too much

While this is mostly just a pain, it can make you unsafe as well. Carrying a large backpack or case and a carry on, and your hand bag or day bag means you usually don't have a free hand. It makes you less aware of pickpockets, and try running with all that on.

I have one bag/pack and one piece of hand luggage. That's it I'm completely mobile if I need to be. Also consider trying to visit the loo in an Indian train station with 3 pieces of luggage. Yeah – that's going to get messy!

My niece Madison and I on a boat in Thailand
My niece Madison and I on a boat in Thailand with one bag each!

Mistake 17: Wearing travel clothes

My clothes are just my clothes. I never wear cargo pants with a million pockets because I would never wear them at home. Cargo pants and ugly Jesus sandals just scream “tourist!!!”. Straight away you have exposed yourself as not super experienced and someone that can be charged extra or double for whatever service you are trying to get.

You stand out, you can't possibly know what a taxi to the city centre can cost so you will be paying more for everything (unless you are in a set price country) and you are obviously not a local so you are setting yourself up to be scammed.

Now I do wear Luna Sandals I must admit, but they are just my shoes. I haven't purchased them specially and they are running sandals. I probably could run a few km's in them. Or maybe not…

Travel in your everyday clothes. You will be more comfortable and won't look like a tourist.
Dress like yourself and don't be an obvious tourist

Mistake 18: Wearing your expensive jewellery

This seems like a really basic suggestion, however I've seen so many solo female travelers (or as part of a couple) wearing these big flashy engagement rings or other jewellery in really economically challenged areas. I met a woman at a chicken shop in Harare who was wearing at least a carat diamond on her finger.

People in Zimbabwe don't have enough money for food and she was flashing this massive ring around. If they got $200 for it that would be a lot of money to them so don't be rude to start with and consider how much of a target you are making yourself. I have a plastic wedding ring I wear overseas and that is it.


Mistake 19: Telling strangers where you are staying

I always try not to let on where I'm staying. If I'm asked I make a joke out of “why do you want to know??” and laugh but I never tell anyone I've just met where I'm staying. I also never tell strangers I'm traveling alone. I'm always with my husband who is back at the hotel finishing up some work and this also applies if I've met other travelers.

Even if I trust them I don't know who is listening in. It seems silly I'm sure but it just doesn't seem like a good idea to me.


Mistake 20: Letting the fear consume you

So I've just spend the last 15 minutes telling you things to not do while you are traveling, however you have to find that balance between being smart and avoiding experiences that you might never have again.

  • Go to that KPop concert but just don't drink.
  • Get that little local van out to the Serengeti but find someone else to go with you first
  • Go to that amazing music hole in the wall in Bamako but take a taxi to and fro

At some point we all find ourselves a little nervous about where we are, or on occasion flat out scared, but don't let the fear rule your travels.

As you travel more, you become more aware, more experienced and by default less of a target. For example I am at 103 countries as I'm writing this, and I can tell you I very rarely go out at night, no matter where I am.

I'm not a dinner eater, lunch is my main meal so that is a big reason, but being alone I've had a few occasions where I really haven't been comfortable and I've learned that unless I'm going somewhere (like a music venue or a sports event) I just don't need to be wandering the streets at night.

I'd rather be at my hostel or hotel and working through my notes from the day, typing up my blog posts, editing my video's or just kicking back with my book. I do go out at night for sure, but I don't tend to wander aimlessly or visit bars.

They haven't been my scene for years and I'm not often a person who feels the need to be constantly connected to others, which helps in this regard.

Find out what works for you and on those odd occasions you do find yourself in fear, work out what it is exactly you are afraid of. Often it's just what might happen, not the actual situation you are in.

So go forth my beauty's, be brave but be smart.

Jen from Charge The Globe at Cap Blanc in Mauritania
Me at Cap Blanc out from Nouadhibou, Mauritania

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