For Women Who (Want to) Travel Alone

It was 108 degrees and I had been wandering all day.

I was alone, starving, and had no idea how to get back to my campsite. My passport, phone, cash, and credit cards were gone. I’d just been robbed at Kumbh Mela—ironically, an occasion for pilgrims to bathe away their sins in the holy river at the foothills of the Himalayas.

Kumbh Mela, which takes place every 12 years, has been dubbed “the largest human gathering on the planet.” Pilgrims come from all over to meet their guru, smoke ritual charras, chant holy mantras, and eat prasad (blessed food). The sheer number of people—millions—who participate is astounding, and the more time I spent there, the more claustrophobic I became.

The last photo I took before realizing I had been robbed at Kumbh Mela. (Photograph by Jill Schneider)
The last photo I took before realizing I had been robbed at Kumbh Mela. (Photograph by Jill Schneider)

The final bathing day is the most important day of the festival, and I was anxious to photograph as many areas as possible. There were thousands of people on the bridge, all pushing to get to the main bathing site along the banks of the Ganges. The noise was deafening, and the mood turned violent.

In the chaos, I held my camera over my head to protect it from being smashed. I looked down and saw that my purse was halfway unzipped. A rush of panic rose in my chest as I put my hand inside and found that my wallet and phone were gone.

I knew all the safety issues, yet I was still in shock that this had happened to me, a seasoned world traveler. There were no tourists anywhere, and the majority of people did not speak English. The police were absolutely useless. I was on my own. And I have never been more acutely aware of my sex.

Traveling solo as a female is challenging, but absolutely worth it. Why? Because when you’re the one making all the decisions, handling all the problems, and taking all the responsibility, you learn so much about yourself: your strengths and limitations, your morals and ethics, and your capacity to soldier on no matter what.

My journeys—especially ones I’ve undertaken alone—have helped me figure out who I am as a traveler, a photographer, and a woman. But there are plenty of lessons I’ve learned along the way. Here’s hoping you can benefit from my experience and learn from some of my mistakes:

Volunteer teaching English in Thailand. (Photograph by Jill Schneider)
Volunteer teaching English in Thailand. (Photograph by Jill Schneider)

Ease into it.

If you’re new to solo travel, volunteering is a great place to start. It helps you get your bearings in a new place, while providing a community of people you can trust and share your experiences with and can lend meaning, depth, and perspective to your travels, while allowing you to give back to people in need.

Group travel is another good jumping off point. It makes it easy to make new friends, and, because the tour company handles all of the details, it’s relatively hassle-free. You’ll also benefit from experts who can guide you through each experience and locale.

I’ve had so many positive group travel experiences that I decided to make a profession of it.

Embrace being alone, but find ways to combat loneliness.

Traveling solo for long stretches can be challenging. It’s not uncommon for folks to feel depressed or lose interest in continuing their travels altogether. It’s natural, and will pass.

Stay in smaller hostels and hotels to ensure you have more contact with other travelers. Keep up your routines.

If cooking centers you, try to stay somewhere with a kitchen. Write in your journal or listen to your iPod. Know when to treat yourself: Get a massage, attend a sporting event, or treat yourself to a nice dinner. Communicate with everyone you miss via Skype, Facebook, Twitter—pick your poison—or start your own travel blog.

But, most importantly, commit to learning to enjoy your own company.

Kashmiri nomads who let me into their circle of trust. (Photograph by Jill Schneider)
Kashmiri nomads who let me into their circle of trust. (Photograph by Jill Schneider)

Take calculated risks.

Safety should be your top priority while traveling alone—and women often have to take special care to protect themselves. That being said, travel can be an empowering, even transformative, experience, and you shouldn’t rob yourself of that sense of adventure.

Research your destination before you leave and make notes about cultural dos and don’ts. The goal is to blend into, not stand out from, the crowd.

Bring a whistle, buy a pocketknife, wear a wedding ring—whatever makes you feel more safe, wherever you are.

We’ve all heard about women who have gone missing or have been found dead while traveling alone. While these stories are unsettling and often tragic, I refuse to let them stop me from doing what I love.

Consider the camera factor.

Being a female travel photographer means I take on additional risk when I’m alone. Wearing a big, heavy, expensive camera around your neck and a mess of gear on your back can bring unwanted attention. But for me, more often than not, the advantages far outweigh the risks.

I am continually amazed at the kind reaction I get from strangers when they see I have a camera, it’s almost as if it provides a passport to forging friendships around the globe. I’ve been given opportunities to photograph amazing places and unique situations; I’ve also been invited into people’s homes. Even with a language barrier, a simple smile can often get me in the door. If people feel comfortable around you, they are more likely to let you in photographically. Figure out how you fit in, wait for the magic moment, and shoot!

Sometimes a single decision can change your whole life, and for me, it was solo travel. Traveling on my own has transformed me into a person I didn’t realize I wanted to become.

Be bold, be smart, and be safe. But go.

Jill Schneider teaches travel photography to high school students—a gig that has taken her to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Ecuador, and beyond—as a National Geographic Student Expeditions trip leader.


  1. DBotha
    July 12, 2014, 1:05 am

    We are a club that organizes getaways for woman (between ages of 24-60) to exotic locations. We are currently organizing a wonderful getaway to Kho Lanta, Thailand. You will be with a group of 18 women, enjoying 4 days and 3 nights in a beautiful spa resort ( The trip includes a wide selection of activities and fresh seafood on the beach at night. For full details please contact us

  2. Javiera Martínez (@javieraviajera)
    June 26, 2014, 11:53 am

    I’m chilean and i have been travelling alone for over 17 years….i started at my 15’s… parent’s already trusted on me and my skills about how to deal with myself and with others being alone. Last trip i was living in Africa alone and then i went to South East Asia……now 3 years later in two months i’m about to start again…. and yes by myself….. which have been the best experiences in my life…… in this 15’s years all over the world….i was never robbed or something….i guess i have been lucky…… if you are afraid about going alone…. don’t let that fear stopped you……

    i let you here something i wrote for a website here in Chile….this is the english version….


    Loneliness, that most people try to avoid at all costs, even tolerating unbearable company. Life has been unfair to loneliness. A state that is not always bad. Depending on how you look at it, live it and enjoy it.

    Chekhov said, “If you are afraid of loneliness, do not marry” This sentence I read it in a book by Paul Theroux, in which he said the same but , “If you are afraid of loneliness, do not travel.” I can not agree more … with both.

    The experience of traveling alone is not for everyone. If it is for anyone who decides to dare and not recoil in the attempt.

    Traveling alone is not simply be independent and do what you want when you want.

    That’s only a small part and in my opinion is not the most important, is somewhat selfish and also contrasts with the fact that when we travel alone, is true we want our space, likewise we want to share with others and the culture that we around, to travel alone have that advantage of being a simple observer or partake of what we’re seeing, and is true that we are travelling without company, but we’ll never found ourselves alone, and that somehow or another we will have to interact. The feeling of loneliness is finally something that produces man himself in his interior, be where you are.

    Traveling alone allows you to understand and enjoy being with the most complex of all living things. Yourself. When you achieve that. You know what you accomplish? Freedom. Although it sounds cliché travel alone makes you strong. It gives you character. You achieve a perception and vision of things much more global. Do not lose the details. You go into a state of maximum lucidity in your senses multiply. If you hear a voice not worry, you’re not crazy. You are yourself.

    The sublime moment of conception, gestation and execution of a trip is very personal and unique. Just a head and a heart only knows what’s going on in there. So there are trips that are to be shared and others not, but eventually when you’re on the road itself or back home, the need to share what you lived will appear, only for those ears open and receptive to listening.

    Lone travelers, those we see at the airports or bus stations with their briefcases, executives or workers of the same enterprise….and lead the procession inside, they are a world apart.

    There are also those who choose to do so, making large journeys to unusual places and under poor or uncomfortable conditions; where you need to go alone, just because we know we will be in situations where we let ourselves take up the most unimaginable limits. We will be testing ourselves. There is no need to make that another live that or make this one become a thorn in achieving our mission.

    Because yes, I must say. Traveling alone is not for the weak. But yes, I must say. Never too late to dare.

    By Javiera Martínez A.

    Contact me if you want!


  3. Mary Lou
    Pennsylvania, USA
    June 23, 2014, 8:46 am

    Thanks for this article. I’m in my late 60’s, love to combine my love of running with my travels, and am frequently interested in traveling to destinations where friends and family aren’t interested. I go anyway. I write about some of these on my blog
    Mass transit is a challenge for me when traveling alone, but I press on. I’ve come to anticipate that no matter how carefully I have planned my stop, it will turn out that it is closed on my day of travel or there is construction at the exit point and my direction-challenged mind must decide how to reroute underground or aboveground. I’ve learned how to smile and ask questions.
    If I am not running a race and am looking for a reasonably safe area to run, hike or walk, I can ask a local or someone at the hotel or home stay, but another great source is You can also find an app for this site. I will soon be adding running trails I enjoyed in Estonia and Iceland to this site. Happy travels all.

  4. Burcu Basar
    June 22, 2014, 5:47 am

    I am a 33 years old women traveling alone for more than 10 years now and I beileve it is a verry accurate and honest on the topic of solo women travelers (

  5. Gintare
    United Kingdom
    June 2, 2014, 2:25 am

    I have come to Malta just for a week of sunny holiday and I was amazed to see more tables occupied by women on their own at breakfast than men and families. It is the second time I travelled by myself and the second time I meet Canadian and American women travelling by themselves.
    Safety is the top priority for sure. I experienced that myself. I met a person who seemed friendly and absolutely normal but then certain signs told me that I was wrong. Women, we have to be careful when we are friendly and open and happy on holiday. We relax too much and become less alert.
    What I usually do so that I don’t feel lonely on holiday by myself I join groups of people so I get on a couch for excursions and this way I am always surrounded by people.
    This article inspires me to do volunteering. I have always wanted to do it and I think my next journey somewhere by myself will be to volunteer in some country. Sometimes I do feel selfish travelling by myself and spoiling myself. Volunteering would make the holiday much more meaningful.
    I agree women should travel alone there is nothing wrong or weird about it and the best thing about travelling alone is that you are never alone!…just be cautious of some people…

  6. sejal
    May 11, 2014, 2:26 pm

    so g8 ! to knw abt how to travel solo n very imp how to be safe, i m soon planning ma frst evr solo trip , n extremely excited to learn n know maself n face the world n live ma life.
    thank you so much ur article really helped.

  7. Alice
    May 1, 2014, 10:05 pm

    I nvr try to travel alone.. But would like to do so during this coming June.. Anyone here can suggest me a place ? This is my very first time, kinda anxious n nervous.. I’m 30 this year, would like to have some different experience that I nvr had before.. Thanks all dears..

  8. sonya
    February 18, 2014, 7:51 am

    I run a safe and comfortable home stay in Delhi/Gurgaon for women travelers to India, and provide assistance to first-time visitors unfamiliar with my country. I also organize safe, fascinating, economical journeys into the northern and western parts of India for small groups of women. Such tours offer travelers authentic, informative experiences of a wide variety of Indian flavours: spirituality (including yoga and meditation), culture, history, adventure, festivals, rural life, cuisine, handicrafts, people, business etc. I can be contacted through

  9. Cindy
    Gold Coast
    January 3, 2014, 3:20 am

    What a beautiful article. It is hard to be a woman, let alone a woman alone in a foreign country where often the police are completely useless to help in any situation. It takes a lot of courage to explore and immerse yourself in another culture, especially one that is dominantly male! However, this article has nevertheless inspired me and made me consider taking that first step.

  10. Mary
    November 25, 2013, 4:41 pm

    I am a female too and traveling around the world is one of my goal in life… but the places I want to visit are the one often not recommended because of “terrorism”, “potential attacks”, and things like that… In the Middle East or in Africa and even Asia… Plus that I am a female so that does not help… I would like so much to do what my feelings tell me but I have heard too many sad things about kidnappings, rape, violence … Should I still go, even with all the precautions in the world, or quit this project?

  11. Sharon Colburn
    Canal Winchester OH (Just outside Columbus OH)
    November 16, 2013, 9:37 am

    Several years ago I wanted to drive anywhere – somewhere, so I got in my car and started out. I followed US Route 33 South. It was a beautiful highway. Lots of hills and dales. I went on the road thru the mountains in WV, saw a baby bear at the side of the road (no mama near). Ended up in Virginia at Ft. Royal VA. Stayed the night and then traveled to Virginia Beach for 3 nights right on the beach. It was a lot of fun! I traveled back home and went thru Washington DC. I am going to travel West this Summer. I have a cat now, so I will have to board her with my vet – she doesn’t travel well in the car. I am deciding how far to go on my trip. I can’t wait! Follow your dreams!

  12. xusheng
    September 1, 2013, 10:12 pm

    Travelling alone has been my dream for a long time.Now thanks to your inspiring story.

  13. Michael Hiser
    Santa Monica
    August 30, 2013, 2:40 pm

    This is a great article. Love the story. If you’re reticent about traveling alone, don’t be, it can be deeply rewarding. But use caution. Here are some tips/products to make it easier:

  14. veena walia
    August 22, 2013, 2:22 am

    Wow Jill..your story is so inspiring..
    I have travelled with women groups and also once with another
    friend and enjoyed the experience…I started travelling after
    retiring from work about five years ago…love to explore…
    After reading your story and all the comments by other women ,i am encouraged to try a solo experience starting with a short trip…Feel sorry for your bad experience at Kumbh Mela in India…am …ashamed at the behaviour of my country men…..I apologise…..

  15. zahoor ahmed
    Srinagar Kashmir
    July 26, 2013, 5:23 am

    you must now opt to write a book on your story…….

  16. Jill Schneider
    July 25, 2013, 5:51 pm

    Thank you for such kind comments everyone! I am overwhelmed with the positive feedback! At the time I never would have imagined people would learn from and be inspired by my story. I couldn’t have asked for more.

  17. zahoor ahmed
    Srinagar Kashmir
    July 25, 2013, 5:33 pm

    I don’t need to repeat, all the praise that is posted above but I must say you are one hell of a brave woman miss Jill Schneider and an inspirational soul for all women…. may god bless you…..:-)

  18. Clay
    June 24, 2013, 12:40 pm

    I enjoyed the article and the responses too. I’ve travelled alone since 1979, and have never had a such a problem with people, sometimes a challenge from nature that scared me, but I am glad to say that the people part has worked out well for me. I prepare sometimes even years ahead of a trip, like the recent one I made to the UK. Even so, I found myself lost among the hedgerows of south England (no GPS) and a 30 mile trip ending up being over 90! Tired from the 15 hour flight, no suitcase, and no way to make a cell call, I thought seriously of returning to the airport. I didn’t, and ended up having a very good experience that week with the warm people of England.

  19. Mary
    Beverly Hills
    June 16, 2013, 2:58 pm

    The most fun I’ve had is traveling solo! I am originally from New York and have an understanding of keeping safe. I have traveled many places from France to England and South America-then back to New York-alone. I try to blend in as much as I can-meaning I don’t wear flashy jewelry and I wear a belt bag around my waist. I think if you look scared it brings attention to yourself…there is always danger even in the safest places so I research the places I am going-try to find information about the area as much as I can. I traveled alone since my early 20’s. While In my early 20’s I was followed to my destination by a man who saw me at a bistro while in Washington D.C. as soon as I got out of my car he jumped me from behind. He had a knife and kept telling me he would kill me if I screamed. I screamed-FIRE. People may not help a person being attacked but scream FIRE and people will call the fire department and or come out to help you. I have to learn how to say fire in every language I guess. When people came to help the man ran off-and my life was spared. The police told me I must not try to reason with the attacker that I must scream as I did and FIRE was a good one. I hope this never happens to anyone and I hope I have helped a little-but this did not stop me from traveling alone 30 years later I am still traveling alone.

  20. Jennifer
    June 9, 2013, 2:24 am

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve traveled alone by myself through Asia, mostly China, where I lived for two years. I am setting off for three weeks in Greece and Turkey this summer and the negativity from ‘concerned friends’ is starting to seep in. Reading these kind of articles has really helped. I live in Tokyo, so look me up if you are ever here and want a place to sleep ;)

  21. Altaire Cambata
    May 25, 2013, 10:34 pm

    Just landed at Jakarta airport and read this. Perfect timing: I’m in Indonesia for two months for research for my masters degree. Alone. I feel so excited but am definitely taking precautions: conservative clothing, a Boker pocket knife, a whistle, mace and a flash light with a powerful strobe are all tools I have, just in case. I doubt I’ll need them but its empowering to know you can handle yourself, just in case. I’m definitely tweeting this article! @AltaireHTC I will be blogging about my research as well at for any curious ladies out there thinking about traveling solo to south east Asia!

  22. Laura
    May 25, 2013, 3:36 am

    You shouldn’t have any trouble in California. It’s a lovely place, friendly people, not much to worry about, in my opinion! I’m not familiar with that part of Mexico, but have been to the east coast. My advice would be to stay alert in Mexico. At times, I felt like if I hadn’t been with a man, I would have been uncomfortable. But go for it – last summer I went to New York by myself, and was terrified! But it was great, I had lots of fun. Hope you have a great trip! :)

  23. Fernweh
    United Kingdom
    May 24, 2013, 5:14 am

    Earlier this year i had made plans to travel to California for 3 weeks and then straight onto Mexico (oaxaca) with my partner.. unfortunately the relationship ended and i now need to decide whether to go it alone.. I love to travel and i love the idea of having the courage to do it by myself, it’s really daunting.
    Does anyone have any advice on lone travel in either of these destinations?

  24. Jiarong
    April 28, 2013, 11:34 pm

    great article, especially with more women being independent in today’s society. I have female friends travelling to developing countries all by themselves. anyway here’s another useful article about How To Travel Alone

  25. Dian McGowan
    April 18, 2013, 1:56 am

    I am now 60. I have been traveling the world since I was 19 yrs of age. 76 countries under my belt. Traveling single or with a fellow female friend has been very empowering! I will go just about anywhere. My decision on where to go is based on weather and wars! I hyperventilate with excitement when heading out on an adventure. My next one will be completely around the world with no time lines or particular destination in mind. Wanna join me? My motto has always been, stay fit, fun and flexible. That will get you just about anywhere!
    Fit……. Mentally and physically.
    Fun, means keeping your sense of humor!
    Flexible. One must always stay alert, be on yer toes n jog left when plans call for a change. Plan B

  26. Pilar Pérez
    Bogotá, Colombia
    April 15, 2013, 2:33 pm

    Wow! How inspiring to see that there are brave women, older than me, who still choose to travel by themselves. I have been doing it for the past 10 years and they have all turned out to be memorable trips. Combining a few days of the trip with a tour allows one to know other people and not be alone all the time. That way one gets the best out of the vacation: some alone time but also some new friends :)

  27. Pamela Dumas
    April 15, 2013, 12:59 pm

    July will be 4 years since I started flying (my first flight was in a 4 seater propeller training plane) and my passport has over 40 stamps in it! I am 53 and went thru hypnosis to get over my fear – guess it worked. I have been to the middle east, europe, asia, the caribbean and africa alone. Sometimes I book tours with just a guide, with a small or large group, or figure out my travel by myself. I agree that investigating the place you are going via books and videos is very important as well as knowing the local customs. Being a 5’10” blonde I stick out just about everywhere I go. I have inspired many women over 50 to travel alone and hope to continue to do so.

  28. angelina bonoan
    April 14, 2013, 5:15 pm

    I share your love of travel and like you I love photography and often go solo to distant places. I am 74yrs old and enjoy meeting people often making lifelong friends from around the globe. I have learned a lot about myself and gained new perspective about living liife to the fullest.

  29. Virginia Lindsey
    April 14, 2013, 2:22 pm

    I have traveled alone twice through Italy (my favorite due to the great art!) and Spain.
    First, I ALWAYS go to a book store and purchase a current copy of Rick Steves book for the country I’m visiting!! He includes recommendations for places to see, places to stay, and to eat, including cost, and hours open. He includes many helpful comments re: safety in some locations, etc also.
    I have all important papers, credit cards, cash, plane tickets, etc in a panty bag around my waist inside my underware.
    My “outside” small purse around my waist, only includes a small amount of cash, one credit card only, a COPY of my passport, drivers license, and medical card. (all on one sheet) several more copies of just my passport for places I stay overnight, etc. In addition, I make many copies, front and back, of my credit cards I’m carrying on the trip. This gives me the credit card numbers and, more importantly, on the back the phone # to call (both US and overseas) if the card is lost. You would have a replacement delivered within a few days to your hotel.
    The panty bag goes under my mattress each night(-not on the dresser!!), on the side I’m going to sleep on.
    I’m 75 now and am planning one more trip! GO! GO!

  30. Elizabeth
    United States
    April 13, 2013, 9:28 pm

    Shannon, I am 71 and still frequently travel alone, by choice. I encourage you to try it out with a short trip, following the suggestions in Jill’s article. I often try to strike up a conversation with the people sitting at the next table during breakfast or lunch – many times it turns out that they envy my freedom as an independent traveler!

  31. Paulainsc
    April 13, 2013, 7:26 pm

    I would love to know how you handled the lost wallet and phone problem. Must have had a good outcome?? Bless and safe travels all.

  32. Shannon
    WEstern USA
    April 13, 2013, 6:23 pm

    I’m 75, and wondering if any women my age would travel alone. There are places I’d like to see in this country, but feel quite vulnerable about stepping out alone.

  33. Bonnie
    April 13, 2013, 12:37 pm

    I have travelled the globe as a solo traveler sometimes in groups and sometime by myself. Totally agree with the comments about learning who you are as a person and the being smart. Calculated risk management is the biggest thing. I always carry cash separate from my cards and passport. Only cash is in the main pocket of my purse. I, too, was pick-pocketed once. The sickening feeling is immense but I was encouraged that they did not get cards, phone or passport. Things happened. Like when I got all the way to the airport in a foreign country and realized my entire purse was not with me.

  34. Dixie
    United States
    April 13, 2013, 11:19 am

    @ Klaus Wilken – sure, that would be wonderful – but most of us can’t afford that kind of trip! Like the ladies above, I have done some traveling alone, and have found that relaxing and talking to the locals (while still paying attention to safety!) is the best part of ANY trip, in the US or abroad. (And I also use a safety pouch tucked in my bra…. :)

  35. Kerry Maxwell
    April 13, 2013, 10:04 am

    Traveling alone has provided some of my most memorable experiences — I highly recommend it! Early on, my mother, also a solo traveler, gave me the BEST advice…. Keep your passport, a credit card and the majority of your cash in a pouch that hangs around your neck (I tie mine to my bra) and is tucked into the waistband of your pants or skirt. I keep another credit card and some cash in my pocket or a purse for easy access.

  36. Judi
    April 13, 2013, 9:35 am

    I have hiked and backpacked alone and have done many road trips through out the west. I had my dog along when she was alive and made me feel safe.I have grown when faced with poblems that I resolved. I went to Mexico alone once and went to a resort area,feeling very safe and made friends there. A few peple even commented to me how they wish they could do what I was doing. I say-just do it!

  37. Debra
    Pacific NW/USA
    April 2, 2013, 9:11 pm

    Love to hear how you handled the situation where you were robbed. The outcome to your story would bring it full circle and not leave us female travelers hanging.

  38. Sarah
    March 19, 2013, 2:39 pm

    It isn’t for everyone, but I travel the US ‘alone’ – by that, I mean, I am the only human, but I have my dog, Choppy, with me. If you like animals, it is a fun way to travel!

  39. Klaus Wilken
    Masai Mara, Kenya
    March 19, 2013, 5:30 am

    One of the safest places to go travelling as a single lady is to go on a safari in Kenyas Masai Mara. Wildlife, Masai culture, Bush % Beach if you like! Check out And even your camera-equipment will be not taken away by a lion or an elephant, just trust us! :))

  40. Danika
    March 18, 2013, 10:44 pm

    This was amazing. All I can say for now is that you are my inspiration.

  41. hajar
    March 18, 2013, 2:34 pm

    I also have traveled alone and learned lot s of things! I don’t always travel alone but If the situations prepared I wana to travel alone!

  42. lynne
    March 18, 2013, 1:18 pm

    I also have traveled alone and have found that doing your homework ahead of travel is the smartest thing.. Try to make friends via social networks and check them out when traveling..Tip find the local pub that the police hang out and buy a few rounds …you might be surprised about the contacts and info you get in return.

  43. Victoria
    March 15, 2013, 10:32 pm

    wow, I just loved reading this! I’m a young female and I consider myself a traveler! I don’t always travel alone but I’ve had my experiences in distant places all by myself and I intend to travel more and more because that’s something I really love doing and I don’t mind being on my own, be sure that I will not forget your tips!