When I was nineteen, I went to Morocco, by myself. It never occurred to me to go any other way, actually — I wanted to go, nobody else I knew either wanted to travel or had the means, and I couldn’t think of anyone I even *wanted* to go with me. Far from being an uncomfortable experience, it was one of the best trips I’ve taken (short of going to Guatemala with my friend Colleen, which was remarkably similar to traveling by myself, which leads her to deserve kudos).
There is a lot of fear-mongering about women going places, especially by themselves; if I had an eighth of a nickel for every time someone’s clutched my arm and said, “Aren’t you SCARED?” every time I go somewhere alone, my children’s college education would be paid for. I saw an article once about “dangerous” travel that said travel is only as dangerous as you choose to make it; obviously if you go striding through downtown Tehran in a spaghetti tank top and hot shorts, demanding liquor, you might have some problems. Be conscious of your surroundings and the social mores, just as you would in any public situation.
Consider checking the State Department travel warnings for the latest in beleaguered nations, but take the information as a guideline, not a rule. Most places suffering from problems are only suffering from problems in certain areas…in Yemen, for example, only the Governorates of Sa’dah, Ma’rib, al Jawf, Shabwah and Hardramaut are considered truly dangerous for Western travelers. The rest of the country is gagging for your tourism! Do more research on exactly what is going on in every place you want to go, and consider avoiding the cities or townships that are high-risk.
Use common sense. Lock your hotel room at night, try to avoid shady alleyways, and if a hotel-owner solicitously offers you the use of his own bed and his weather eye to “watch over” you as you sleep, say no. As women, we have not only basic safety to watch out for (knowing fire exits, avoiding electrical shocks, staying out of mobs) but also gender-based safety. Be confident in your own abilities.
Try to get the window seat in trains and buses; you can use it to lean against for napping, and it also tucks your bags between you and the wall, rather than between you and an open aisle. If you are traveling by train in Europe, hook the ladder for the upper sleeping bunks over the doorway at night (most trains have a rail for this purpose). This is a good tip for anyone, not just solo women.
Be aware that you may get propositioned. A lot. Sitting by yourself in a cafe, no matter how much you enjoy it, is usually seen as a sadly lonely state of affairs (yep, in North America just as much as anywhere else), and you may be besieged with unwanted attention. If you don’t want to be alone, great! Enjoy your new friends! If you do, even a book is often no deterrent, but it can help. Consider bringing a large unattractive pet and sitting it next to your chair.
One interesting thing about traveling alone is that you never have to remain that way for long unless you want to; everyone on the road will often welcome a lady on her way somewhere, and you can often take that road as far as you like. Backpackers in hostels, friendly locals on weekend car trips to the country…I was invited — nay, ordered — to stay with a doctor’s family in Rabat because they couldn’t believe a woman was traveling around on her own. They gave me Nutella and tea and Arabic lessons for a week.
Finally, remember that this is your chance to do what you want, when you want to do it, and wherever you want to go. Embrace your alone-ness. Sing in the shower or in bed, change your plans at the last minute, spend all day shopping for knick-knacks or exploring the library without worrying that someone is waiting for you. Bring a book to dinner. Write in your journal on the seawall. Sleep diagonally. Enjoy.