Despite the growing trend in solo travel, women still encounter challenges when they travel abroad alone. But some places are topping the rankings when it comes to safety and equality.
After a long pandemic pause on travel, people aren't waiting around for a partner to get packing. The interest in solo travel continues to rise worldwide, especially among women.
Research by Norwegian Cruise Line has found that one in three travellers prefers to travel solo, and older women in particular are driving the trend. According to internal research by travel network Virtuoso, the greatest increase in solo travel in 2022 came from women aged 65 and older. While they accounted for only 4% of solo travellers in 2019, they made up 18% of solo travellers in 2022.
Despite the growing trend in solo travel, women still encounter unique challenges when they venture abroad alone. While everywhere in the world should be safe for women to travel, the reality is that women still face discrimination and safety concerns in every part of the world. That said, many countries have put a concerted effort into both improving safety for women and measuring attitudes that female residents have towards safety in their country.
To find the places making the most progress when it comes to safety and equality for women travelling, we consulted Georgetown University's Women's Peace And Security Index (WPS), the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap report and the Institute for Economics and Peace Global Peace Index (PGP). We then talked to women who've travelled alone to the top-ranking countries to understand what made them feel safe, hear their own travel tips and find out the best things to see and do as a solo adventurer.
Slovenia's easy access to towns and wilderness makes for an ideal mix of solitude and safety (Credit: DavorLovincic/Getty Images)
Ranked at the top of the WPS index for Central and Eastern Europe, Slovenia has made big strides in the perception of women's safety in recent years, with 85% of women feeling safe here, according to the index.
When Claire Ramsdell first arrived in Slovenia's capital and largest city Ljubljana, she wandered the streets at night taking photographs.
I didn't have trouble with navigation, a language barrier or anything else that might sometimes seem intimidating to figure out when you're solo
"This could have been a dicey experience elsewhere, but in this case it was a delight," said Ramsdell, who is an adventure consultant for Wildland Trekking and runs the travel blog The Detour Effect. "Nobody ever bothered me at all during my time in the country and I didn't have trouble with navigation, a language barrier or anything else that might sometimes seem intimidating to figure out when you're solo."
She also found the city very walkable and the public transportation across the country reliable and extensive. For those looking to join up with like-minded travellers, she recommends Ljubljanayum Food Tours and Food Tour Ljubljana. Whether grouped or solo, she says travellers must order a buckwheat walnut štruklji, a filled dough treat, from Moji Štruklji, which she says is "one of the best desserts ever", and try the world-renowned gelato at Cacao.
As an avid hiker, Ramsdell came to Slovenia specifically to explore the vast outdoors and alpine mountains across the country, and found they offered an ideal mix of solitude and safety. "While I often felt like I was in the wilderness, I also always knew a town was nearby if some kind of emergency were to come up," said Ramsdell. "I didn't feel totally alone, which provides peace of mind."
She recommends visitors stop by the turquoise Soča River, which is on the western side of the country close to the Italian border and was a filming location for the Chronicles of Narnia. While hikers can enjoy peaceful walks along the water, even those travelling by car can pull over to explore the high-hanging pedestrian suspension bridges over the river.
Rwanda ranks sixth in the world in the Global Gender Gap index (Credit: Michael Cook - Altai World Photography/Getty Images)
With 55% of its parliament made up of women representatives, Rwanda ranks number one in the world for its gender equality in parliament, according to the WPS. It also ranks highly in the index's perception of community safety, and is ranked sixth in the world in the Global Gender Gap index, which measures how equitable a country is in terms of economics, education, healthcare and political participation.
Rebecca Hansen saw this first-hand when she moved to Rwanda from Denmark in 2019, finding it to be extremely safe for solo travel. "There is police, security and military around at almost all locations and all times of day and night," she said. "It may seem intimidating at first, but you will quickly learn that all of these uniforms are friendly people who are always willing to help out."
She said people generally don't bother you but might practise their English with an occasional "How are you?" or "Good morning", especially from school children. English and French are two of Rwanda's official languages, alongside Kinyarwanda and Kiswahili, lowering the language barrier here. Even people who don't speak English are happy to help and point out directions if you get lost, she said.
Rwanda has long been held up as a leader in its peace and reconciliation work following the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi people. The country has multiple memorials, but Hansen suggests visitors experience the Kigali Genocide Memorial in the capital, which not only shows the history of genocide here, but also other examples across the globe and the dangers the world still faces from this threat.
While it's expensive, visiting the country's mountain gorillas is a must-do for any traveller; but Hansen also recommends Nyungwe National Park in the south-west and the Volcanoes National Park in the north to see monkeys, or the Akagera National Park in the east for game drives.
Solo female travellers will generally find a safe and secure environment across the United Arab Emirates (Credit: Jorg Greuel/Getty Images)
United Arab Emirates
With the highest scores in the WPS within the Middle East and North Africa for women's schooling and financial inclusion, the UAE continues to be a leader in gender equality in the region, and recently reached gender parity in its parliament. It also ranks the highest of all countries in the index in the category of community safety, with 98.5% of women aged 15 years and older reporting that they "feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where [they] live".
Dubai, in particular, has been ranked as the safest city for solo female travellers based on an index by the travel insurance company Insure My Trip. Influencer Sandy Aouad, who splits her time living between Paris and Dubai, says she has always felt safe in the city, even in the outskirts. "One time I had a flat tyre, I left my car in the middle of the desert, unlocked with the keys inside," she said. "I knew fully well that I could trust the taxi would come to pick me up, and I would be sure the car would be safe."
For solo travellers, she recommends booking a desert safari because it's an easy way to meet a variety of interesting people. But if you're feeling more adventurous, she personally loved skydiving over the Palm Dropzone.
Dining alone is a cultural norm in Japan with many eateries offering seating for solo diners (Credit: D3sign/Getty Images)
Ranked one of the top-10 safest countries in the world by the Global Peace Index for its extremely low rates of violent crime and low number of external or internal conflicts, Japan has a culture of women-only subway cars (during certain times and routes) and women-only accommodations that can make it feel extra safe for women travelling alone.
Due to the depopulation, people not wanting to get married and cherishing as a culture our 'solo time', there are so many things surrounding 'solo' travel
Solo dining and solo activities are also more of a cultural norm here than elsewhere. "Due to the depopulation, people not wanting to get married and cherishing as a culture our 'solo time', there are so many things surrounding 'solo' travel," said Mika White, who was born in Japan and is the founder of tourism firm Chapter White. "Magazines always feature the best solo karaoke, solo ramen shops and solo onsen."
Lulu Assagaf, who moved here from Indonesia 20 years ago, felt safe here right away. "The locals make you feel at home and are happy to help strangers," said Assagaf, who now works as a tour leader for Intrepid Travel. If you're travelling to more rural areas, however, she recommends going with a guide as English is less likely to be spoken.
Since dining solo is a norm here, Assagaf recommends checking out the food scene, especially in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. Her favourite spot in Tokyo is the Shinjuku San-Chome area, which has lots of restaurants, nightlife and local izakayas (a Japanese version of a pub).
For visitors who want to venture outside of the typical tourist spots, she recommends the coastal city of Kanazawa, known for being the home of the samurai; and Takayama in the Japanese Alps. "Takayama has beautiful traditional architecture and sake breweries," she said. She also recommends the Takayama Showa-kan Museum, which showcases pop culture artefacts from Emperor Hirohito's reign from 1926 to 1989.
Consistently ranking as one of the happiest countries in the world, Norway is an inclusive place for travellers of all types (Credit: Johner Images/Getty Images)
Ranked number one in the WPS for its top scores in women's financial inclusion, absence of legal discrimination and women's community safety – and consistently ranking in the top 10 of the most gender equitable and happiest countries in the world – Norway has proved to be an inclusive place for travellers of all types, including LGBTQ+ and solo visitors.
Oslo resident and founder of Up Norway Torunn Tronsvang notes that the culture is socially tolerant and trusting, making it an ideal place for solo women. "You can comfortably ask someone at a neighbouring cafe table to look after your things whilst you use the restroom," she said. She's also proud of how many businesses here are run by women, who have created iconic places to eat and stay in rural areas across the country.
To get the most out of a visit, Tronsvang encourages visitors to embrace the Norwegian concept of "friluftsliv", a philosophy of living life in the great outdoors. With Nasa reporting an increase in solar activity through 2025, it can be an ideal time to see the Northern Lights with an Arctic trip, dog sledding and snowshoeing by day and staying in family-run igloos and ice hotels at night.
Living In is a series from BBC Travel that discovers what it’s like to reside in some of the world’s top destinations.
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