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Safest Destinations for Women
Peace of mind, especially if you'r a first-time solo traveler

What are the world's safest destinations for women?

No place is perfectly safe, not even home - nor are dangerous places always absolutely dangerous (with notable exceptions for countries at war or whose laws actively discriminate against women).

But solo travel has its challenges so it's best to be forewarned - and prepared. Not all places are created equal, and some places are safer than others.

Safest travel destinations for women

I'm often asked where it's safest to travel, especially by first-time or beginning solo women travelers...

What constitutes the world's safest destinations for women is a personal choice - not everyone will agree. Places change - Thailand during periods of unrest, for example.

Safety and danger come in different shapes and can range from outright physical danger - weather, crime, wildlife or war - to social dangers like corruption or discrimination against women. I have been much closer to an anaconda (very big snake) than I care to remember but fortunately I saw it before it saw me.

And remember, safety is subjective - what I consider dangerous, a woman from that region - or you, for that matter - might consider absolutely safe.

For example, I have no issue with wolf whistles as I was brought up in Spain and don't even notice them, whereas some women will feel angry or downright scared if a group of men start catcalling. Similarly, countries in conflict are not safe places to travel - but if you're a development worker or journalist as I am, that won't stop you from going, whatever the embassy travel warnings say.

Even in the safest places, there are some no-go areas - inner-city neighborhoods, deserted roads and countryside, parks after dark.

Every city has its neighborhoods

With a bit of preparation and caution, there's no limit to where you can go! In the end, safety is a judgment call only you can make for yourself.

Although this list can't guarantee your safety, it can point you towards places many women travelers consider as safe as possible.

Some examples of countries considered among the safest destinations

  • Northern Europe (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden)
  • Most Western European countries (despite occasional terrorist attacks)
  • Canada and USA (easy for solo women travelers but not evenly safe throughout - think huge empty expanses and dodgy neighborhoods)
  • Australia and New Zealand - the same applies as to Canada and USA
  • Cuba - now that it's opening up
  • Hong Kong and China
  • Bhutan
  • Bahrain
  • Japan - often your biggest danger is getting lost, due to the lack of English
  • Singapore
  • Panama (an unusual pick but I've rarely felt so safe in a Latin country)

Havana, Cuba - a wonderful destination for women (Photo Annabel Haslop)

Most of these places are relatively easy to visit, although if you don't speak or read the language, China (though not Hong Kong) and Japan can both be a bit of a challenge. Still, people will help when they can, and there's little to worry about in terms of petty crime or harassment if you're a woman traveling on your own (although Japanese trains and subways at rush hour do have a reputation for grope-happy men).

These next countries may be perceived as less safe, but are mostly perfectly fine on your own as long as you keep your wits about you:

  • All of Western Europe (the vast majority of each country would qualify as absolutely safe but there may be a few regions or city districts where you might be a tiny bit cautious)
  • Malaysian mainland and resorts (some women might consider places like Borneo a little less that totally safe)
  • Thailand (depending on the state of civil unrest)
  • Laos
  • Morocco (though sexual harassment - usually verbal - is quite common)
  • I'm leaving Turkey on this list but possibly not for long. Despite terrorism and upheaval in Istanbul, it remains a relatively safe city. No one can make any guarantees, but I'm still traveling through and to Istanbul. I'm a lot more cautious than I used to be, however, and I don't lounge about as much as I used to.  

I've traveled in each of these countries on my own and have felt perfectly safe. They may not be at the top of the list of safest destinations, but with a bit of research and planning there's no reason a trip to these - slightly more exotic - countries shouldn't be perfectly simple and pleasurable.

Most dangerous destinations for women

  • Any country or region at war or in conflict, like Afghanistan, Somalia, Darfur or Iraq - no ands, ifs or buts - just stay away
  • Countries in the throes of a natural disaster - Aceh in Indonesia right after the tsunami, Bangladesh during floods (although disaster tourism is growing) - but once it's over tourism actually helps rebuild shattered destinations
  • Burundi, Central Africa, the Niger River Delta, Zimbabwe (this used to be one of the world's safest destinations but no more)
  • Large African mega-cities like Lagos, Nairobi, Johannesburg (these can be daunting if it's your first time out)
  • Saudi Arabia (you'll never get a visa unless you're on the Hajj pilgrimage), Lebanon (depends on the month), Yemen
  • Pakistan (although I know of women who have traveled there perfectly safely)
  • North Korea (don't count on a visa here either)

Make sure you read up on travel advisories and political information from your nearest government source in AustraliaCanada, the UK or the US (but take them with a grain of salt - they are trying to scare you!)

That said, wherever you go, do your homework and be prepared. Safety should always be your primary concern. Know that poor neighborhoods are usually riskier than wealthy ones (if you look foreign), train stations more dodgy than the financial district. And read your guidebooks and websites carefully!

Choosing where you go and preparing for it may well be the most important decisions you make on the road.