In a world where many women don’t feel safe walking the streets of their hometown, how can solo female travellers comfortably explore further afield?
As a guy with no direct knowledge of the experience of being a woman abroad, I didn’t feel best placed to answer this question.
Women can explore the world safely, alone or otherwise. Proof of that is Adventurous Kate, who’s been doing just that since 2010.
Having travelled to 83 countries and counting, I couldn’t think of anyone better to discuss the topic of safe travel for women.
Where’s Your Hometown?
Kate: I grew up in Reading, Massachusetts. I lived in Boston for four years in my early twenties and consider the Boston area my hometown. More recently, I spent four years living in New York and now I live in Prague.
As a twenty-something, I felt like living in Boston was a bit of a cop-out — it was too easy for me, too expected. I wanted something bigger. That and a lot of other factors led to me saving money, quitting my job, and traveling Southeast Asia for six months.
My blog took off while I was away, and those six months turned into more than 10 years across 83 countries!
What’s the Goal of Adventurous Kate?
Kate: I started my site to show women what it was like to travel solo long-term. I didn’t know the concept of long-term solo travel even existed until 2006, when I was working at my first job after college and found the online diary of a guy who had backpacked around the world by himself.
Long-term solo travel was unusual for Americans at that time. Right away I planned my first solo trip, to Buenos Aires, just to see if I could handle it — and I could! I started writing about what it’s like for a woman to travel alone.
Lately, my blog and my writing have taken on a more political tone. Politics are part of absolutely everything, and our travels have reverberating consequences. I’ve been using my platform to educate people about responsible practices, both in travel and at home.
How has the Pandemic Affected You?
Kate: When the pandemic really hit in late March, my income dropped by 90%. Display ads were down by 80%; affiliate sales shriveled to almost nothing.
I decided to pivot and promptly created several new income streams: a Patreon, One on One with Adventurous Kate consult calls, blog consulting services, and some Travelers’ Night In and Book Club chats. The Patreon particularly went well — so well that I launched a Patreon course called Earn Like an Artist.
Between these new income streams, scaling down my business, and a PPP loan, I was able to economically survive during this tough time. Though I REALLY hope that with the vaccines, people will be traveling internationally again by the summer. I’ll be ready for them.
Which travel destination is the best value for money?
Kate: Mexico is an excellent value-for-money destination – particularly once you leave the beaches and head inland. You get high-quality accommodation, fun activities, it’s a short flight from the US – and the FOOD is outrageously good for such cheap prices!
Destination-wise, I’m a huge fan of Mérida and Oaxaca, and Mexico City is a world-class city for a fraction of the price of London, New York, or Tokyo.
I should give a shout-out to Thailand as well, and northern Thailand in particular. You can live well in northern Thailand, get weekly massages, and eat every meal out for less than $1000 per month.
What do men need to know about the experience of women abroad?
Kate: What men don’t realize isn’t that travel for women is different — they don’t realize that LIFE is different. Men don’t realize that women spend so much of their emotional energy planning for the possibility of sexual assault.
Every single day, I wonder if the height of my skirt or the shade of my lipstick will lead to catcalls from strange men. I wonder if sitting next to a man on public transportation will lead to him hitting on me.
I wonder if walking through an unfamiliar neighborhood will result in me being followed. This is what life is like for most women. It’s so embedded in us that it’s fully part of our lives.
We experience the same thing while traveling because it’s part of life. You can’t turn it off.
Best and worst destinations for solo female travellers?
Kate: I’m a huge fan of Thailand for solo female travelers. It’s a very easy country to travel with excellent value for money. Best of all, Thailand’s street vendor culture means that people are out all night long — so you’re seldom in isolated situations.
In terms of where to avoid, I’m not a fan of travelers who visit countries currently at war for “badass” points. Traveling to Syria or Yemen right now does not establish you as an adventurer — it establishes you as a thoughtless, self-centered traveler who puts their own social media clout ahead of the lives of people at war.
Personally, I feel like it’s not ethical to travel to North Korea at this time, regardless of citizenship, and one of my proudest moments was turning down work for the Saudi government.
Advice for women who feel unsafe abroad?
Kate: If you’re in an uncomfortable situation, the best thing to do is surround yourself with other people — regardless of whether they’re with you or not. Crowded places are your friend. And don’t underestimate the power of walking confidently. Fake it as best you can, even if you’re not confident.
How can women travel better?
Consider traveling more slowly! Spending longer time in fewer places allows you to experience a destination more deeply, and it’s a good way to save money and emissions, too. If you want to experience a lot in one destination, plan to stay in one city a full week, and add on two or three day trips.
It seems like every other week I’m trying to talk a reader out of a two-week trip to five countries. When you plan too much in too little time, you’ll be spending more time in transit than enjoying your destinations.
I totally understand the impulse to see as much as you can, but I try to get people to plan trips they’ll enjoy more!