I've traveled to over 30 countries. You might be surprised to learn that some of my favorite places to travel alone are also the most difficult to navigate. I've dealt with catcalls, 24 hour train rides, dog attacks, endless begging, and more. But in those same countries, I experienced breathtaking beauty and grew as a person more than I could have imagined. So if you're a woman thinking of traveling alone, even to some of the most difficult places, go for it. Just stay smart and remember to enjoy the ride.
For example, even as I struggled my way through India, I also had an incredible time there. On my first day in Varanasi, I grabbed my journal and headed out to the banks of the Ganges River to do some writing. I sat and wrote for 15 minutes, and then I noticed something a bit disturbing. Around me stood six Indian men. Suddenly, I noticed how alone and unprotected I was.
My heart raced as I went back to my journal, unable to pay attention to what I was doing. Even though I didn't feel that I was in imminent danger, I got up and gathered my things anyway. Then I made my way back to my hotel.
The next day, I went out alone, again. This time, I paid attention to what was going on around me. And, of course, I was dressed modestly, as I had been told to do. That day, I tried on silks while drinking delicious chai, watched bodies being cremated on the side of the river, and had an experience I vividly remember now, 14 years later.
While India is one of the most difficult places to travel in general, and even moreso for women alone, with the right attitude and precautions, you can have a great time traveling alone in India. The same goes for the other places on this list. While they are difficult places for a woman to travel alone, you can totally do it — as long as you're smart about it.
Ancient wonders, like the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx, fill Egypt's landscape. But women who want to travel here should take the necessary precautions. Anthony Bianco, The Travel Tart, told me, "I've spoken to women who have travelled by themselves in Egypt and were constantly hassled by some men, for example, they asked for sexual favours for showing them around the pyramids. I've travelled with my partner there and she was sometimes hassled even though I was with her and she was stared at and ogled at a lot."
Katie Foote, a seasoned traveler and blogger at Gypsy Soul Itchy Feet, told Jessie Festa of Jessie on a Journey, "I had issues with taxi drivers trying to kiss me and constantly had to deal with catcalls on the streets. Luckily, I was able to say no to their advances and nothing terrible happened, but it could have easily been an extremely bad situation."
She recommended that women wanting to travel to Egypt alone stay in Dahab or Zamalek in Cairo. She also suggested that they bring modest clothing so as not to draw unwanted attention. Overall, Foote said, "I had a few bad experiences but the vast majority of people I met were extremely hospitable, helpful and wonderful."
I lived in Israel for a year, and one of my biggest regrets is that I didn't visit Turkey while I was there. Istanbul in particular has many beautiful historical sites, including the Hagia Sophia, an incredibly beautiful church that dates back to the sixth century.
Despite its beauty, women may have difficulty traveling alone in Turkey. In a blog post about the complexities of visiting Turkey, Becki Enright of Borders of Adventure wrote of her experience in Turkey, "Nothing extreme or life threatening actually happened, instead I was hit by a multitude of cultural setbacks that came in waves. Catching my breath momentarily, I would then be swept right back into the current that somehow keeps people in the country, before the next onslaught began."
Enright shared her difficulties with traveling in Turkey, including being caught up in riots in Istanbul, her frustrations with men following her to her guest house, and an ice cream vendor telling her he would drop the price if she gave him a kiss. But she also wrote that she enjoyed Istanbul for a time, sharing that, "Istanbul was a city of discovery and juxtapositions, of Middle Eastern exquisiteness and edgy modernity."
In the end, Enright concluded that if she were to ever return to Turkey, she would go with a man. G Adventures offers a few more suggestions for women wanting to travel to Turkey alone, including bringing your own toilet paper, dressing modestly, and paying attention to local customs.
My parents and sister went to Morocco and returned with beautiful ceramics, colorful photography, and tales of intense bargaining mixed with unmatched hospitality. "Morocco," my mom said, "is the most colorful place I've ever visited."
For women traveling alone, Morocco isn't without its frustrations. In an article in the Huffington Post, Rebecca Shapiro wrote, "Morocco is an incredibly patriarchal country, and for western women and feminists, this can be a shock to the system. Men's sense of entitlement, combined with the fact [that] you will stand out no matter what you do, means that unwanted attention is inevitable."
Lauren Juliff of Neverending Footsteps echoed this sentiment in her blog. "Morocco is one of my favourite countries but it was also one of the hardest to travel in." She added that in Essaouira, "I suddenly had hassle from men in the street, – grabbing me, trying to touch my breasts, telling me they liked my 'American tits', whispering in French in my ear and then calling me a slut and a whore when I walked away."
Despite the difficulty of traveling in Morocco, it's still a country worth visiting. And you can enjoy your time there, if you're smart about it. Juliff concluded her post with this advice: "My time in Morocco was challenging, but it was rewarding, too. As long as you're fully aware of what to expect, stay positive, dress respectfully and take time to rest when the hassle gets too much, there's no reason you can't have a safe and enjoyable trip."
I will never forget going to Guatemala when I was 20 years old. I walked the colorful, bustling streets with the wide-eyed wonder of a first time backpacker. My friends and I built homes for Habitat for Humanity, cliff dove into the clear waters of Lake Atitlan, and learned Spanish in a tiny town called Argueta near Tikal. Those were some of the best weeks of my life.
I had a great time in Guatemala because I went on a guided trip with counselors who kept me safe. But solo traveling is very different, and Guatemala has high crime rates and an unstable government. Women traveling to Guatemala should take precautions and stay in areas with other tourists.
Lauren Salisbury, blogger at Something In Her Ramblings, suggests that women traveling to Guatemala stay away from public buses (the colorful buses known as 'chicken buses'), stick to the beaten path, take guided tours, don't drink the tap water, and "don't be afraid to be rude if you feel you are being harassed."
She suggested that women handle harassment in this way: "There is no rule that says you have to be kind to people who are bothering you. If you find yourself approached by someone who makes you uncomfortable, give them a firm indication you don't want to talk, ignore them, and walk away."
Colombia was long thought of as a country too dangerous for any Westerners to visit, let alone solo women travelers. The drug cartels and crime stopped many Americans from going there. But things have changed. At least for some travelers. Lonely Planet writer Kevin Raub wrote, "Today, the security situation has improved dramatically, helping Colombia to become South America's phoenix from the flames."
On Her Packing List, Ali Garland interviewed two women travelers, Ginger Kern and Gigi Griffis, who recounted vastly different experiences traveling in Colombia. While Kern felt safe in Colombia and didn't experience much harassment, Griffis was harassed on a constant basis. For example, when it came to walking alone at night, Kern said, "I felt safer walking alone at night in districts like Poblado, Laureles, and the municipality Envigado than I do in many U.S. cities."
In contrast, Griffis told Garland, "In Colombia, I witnessed domestic violence (and stepped in to stop it, which is doubly terrifying), was harassed on the streets daily, was followed home by men on motorcycles, had men block my way into my apartment, had other men attempt to grab me while I stood in line at the ATM."
When asked what they recommended for women wanting to travel alone in Colombia, Kern suggested getting to know people in the country before you go. "Put yourself out there and make the connections, as they'll make all the difference once you're in the country and ready for great people and even better adventures!"
Griffis stressed that if you want to go to Colombia, you should know about the potential for harassment there. "If you are going to go, I think it's really important that you know what you're getting into."
Brazil, the largest country in South America, is home to the majestic Iguazu Falls, the parties of Carnival, and incredibly gorgeous beaches. But don't get too swept up in the excitement of Brazil. It's not completely safe for travelers.
Caleb McElveen, the SEO Director for Reservations.com, told me, "Brazil's economy isn't the best, so tourists might have to deal with some nasty stuff. This includes robberies, sexual assault, kidnapping and just overall crime. Driving in Brazil is also not recommended. Roads aren't maintained, people drive fast and some places don't have street lights. Yikes! That's just an accident waiting to happen."
If you want to enjoy the natural beauty and culture of Brazil while staying safe, Leyla Alyanak of Women on the Road provided many thoughtful suggestions, including keeping your wits about you, staying away from touristy areas, and leaving your valuables at home. If you do get attacked, she wrote, "Forget the fancy self-defense moves. Give them what they want. You won't win."