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While the first time around can be intimidating, travelling alone can be really rewarding. For female solo travellers, there are a few extra precautions that are worth taking, but you can still travel very safely in most areas.
Lonely Planet has a list of top destinations for women who want to travel solo. Lonely Planet's Solo Travel Handbook is also a good place to do some research.
Before travelling to countries where there could be some unrest, it's always worth checking whether your government has issued any travel advisories for that region or has any other suggestions.
Here are a few strategies for travelling alone that I've picked up over the years.
Keep your wits about you.
Be aware of your surroundings. Keep your head up, and don't have your eyes glued to your phone. Be aware of anyone that might be staring at you. In some countries, if you're not of the majority race there you will get stared at a lot, but it shouldn't take too long to get a feel for the difference between "wow, a white girl!" staring and creepy staring.
Be careful with alcohol. Walking around drunk in a foreign country is a bad idea, especially if you're alone. Limit your alcohol consumption unless it's a bar at your hotel/hostel and your room is just a short stumble away. Don't leave your drink unattended, or if you do, then don't finish it.
If someone wants you to go somewhere with them, politely say no. They may just be trying to be helpful, but you have no way of knowing that. If they persist, ignore them. If it feels like you're being rude, that's ok. Them pushing your boundaries is a sign that you were right to say no in the first place.
Obviously there's nothing to say that a female isn't going to scam you or rob you. However, if you have to stop and ask for directions or other help, females and families are probably going to be your best bet.
In many cultures, children are adored. If you show interest and play with their kids, that family will have your back. They'll point you in the right direction, get you on the right train car, or whatever you need. You show affection for their kids, you're a temporary member of the family.
Night and Day
Creepy people can be out and about at any time of day, but in the daytime it's harder for them to get away with being creepy without getting noticed. My personal preference is to do most of the things I want to do during the daytime, and then get back to my accommodation in the early evening.
Of course not everyone is going to rock it senior citizen style like I do, but there are some basic precautions that you can take, especially if you're out at night. Walk with confidence like you know where you're going, even if you actually have no idea. Stick to busier streets. If things are looking pretty deserted in a subway station, try to tag along behind one or more females. On the bus or subway, stand rather than sit next to someone who gives you the heebie-jeebies.
Go with your gut.
If something doesn't feel right, get the heck out of there. I was staying at a hostel once in Italy, and one of the male staff was regularly flirting with me. It was awkward and uncomfortable, but at first it didn't make me feel unsafe. And then it crossed a line and got creepy. I started freaking out, wondering what I should do, and if I should bail on that hostel and try to find somewhere else to stay. Then I realized that if I was asking myself that question, that was a very good indicator that I needed to leave. When the other male staff member started questioning the veracity of what I was reporting, I knew that my gut was absolutely right.
Fast food joints can be your friend.
This is especially the case in non-western countries. Fast food chains will often give more leeway to Westerns in terms of things like hanging around for an extended period of time and using the washroom. Sometimes fast food chains will be proactive about keeping out people they consider undesirable.
When I was travelling in Peru, the guide for a day tour I'd been on was getting flirty and ended up following me back to my hotel. That creeped me right out, so I went to the tour agency office and went on a rant on him (although the person I was ranting to spoke almost no English). I ended up at the bus station because I was leaving town that evening, and the tour guide showed up there and started berating me. I pleaded with the bus station security guard to help me, and he ignored me. Eventually I remembered that across the street was a fast food chain restaurant that had a security guard at the door. Saved by the burger!
Just do it!
If solo travel is something you're thinking about, I would really encourage you to give it a try. It's a great way to experience with the world, and as long as you keep these common sense tips in mind as well as region-specific tips from your guidebook and your government, there's no reason why it shouldn't be quite safe.