Without further ado, I’ll list what appear to be the safest countries for women who are travelling on their own, especially for the first time.
Further down, I’ll go into why the concept of safest country is mildly ridiculous, and what questions to ask yourself before you go.
But first, the countries. Second, why these countries. Third, what safety really means.
The safest countries for female solo travelers
It’s impossible to name THE safest country to travel alone but the top spots tend to be systematically taken by Iceland, Finland, Ireland and New Zealand. But now, for detail.
Here are the safest countries to travel to, and a few that you might consider staying away from, at least if it’s your first solo trip.
No entire country (barring a few of those at war) can be tarred with either the “safe” or “dangerous” brush. Some countries are mostly safe, others are mostly dangerous, others are both dangerous and safe, depending on the town or neighborhood. So please accept these as broad generalizations, designed to give you a sense of risk rather than an all-out characterization. This is a partly subjective list, based on my personal experience AND on the Global Peace Index.
Best places in Europe to travel alone
(I’ll include other Western countries here as well.)
- Northern Europe (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden) – Scandinavia consistently ranks among the world’s happiest (and safest) countries, with Iceland leading the Global Peace Index most years and usually deemed the safest country for women. You could easily add Ireland to this list.
- Most Western European countries can be considered safe for solo female travel, although countries in the Mediterranean region can be a bit more daunting, as men are far more vocal about women than their northern neighbors might be used to… but safe nonetheless.
- Canada (largely comfortable for solo women travelers but not evenly safe throughout – think huge empty expanses and dodgy neighborhoods – and wildlife). The USA, on the other hand, is considered less safe by many (more below about who says what on safety).
- Australia and New Zealand. Melbourne has a great reputation for female safety and New Zealand consistently comes in at #2 or 3, right after Iceland or Finland. That said, both countries do suffer from natural disasters.
Less safe in Europe
- While the vast majority of each European country would qualify as safe, there are a few regions or city districts – certain suburbs on the outskirts of Paris or Lyon, for example – which you should avoid.
- Eastern European countries get a pretty bad rap when it comes to racism, but some women writers of color report fabulous experiences and are trying to debunk these myths. See below for more resources.
Safest places to travel in Asia
- Southeast Asia is mostly safe, although there have been a few unsettling incidents of violence aimed at foreign visitors, not to mention political unrest. That said, a bit of alertness and some research before you head off should be enough, especially if elections are taking place or were recently held or hotly contested.
- Singapore usually wins hands down for Asia’s safest country to visit.
- In Japan, often your biggest danger is getting lost, due to the lack of English, although there is a risk of natural disasters (tsunamis and earthquakes). South Korea is quite safe – I spent 2-3 weeks visiting on my own but as in Japan, the alphabet and language can be an obstacle (not to mention the hot and cold political winds blowing in from North Korea). Singapore is consistently rated as safe for men and women, and I’ve traveled solo at many ages in many places in Malaysia and always felt perfectly comfortable. Indonesia also gets a thumbs up for Bali.
- Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia, which I visited on my own, felt inherently safe although bride kidnappings (of local women, not foreigners) are still known to occur in Kyrgyzstan; in Uzbekistan, the constant police presence makes it difficult for anything untoward to happen but the fact that it’s needed remains unsettling.
- In the Middle East, Dubai and the UAE are less conservative than some of their neighbors. I’d also add Oman and Jordan to this list. Qatar too. It’s a mixed bag and while I don’t hesitate to travel to the region, I don’t think it’s necessarily the right choice for a first-timer.
- Finally, there’s Turkey. Some of the more touristy regions, like Istanbul and Cappadocia, are fine, although I’d keep an eye out for news of occasional demonstrations or political unrest or yes, terrorist attacks. I’m much more cautious about Istanbul now than I used to be… but I still feel absolutely safe as a solo female traveler in the city. The eastern border regions are a different story.
Safest places to travel in Africa
- Botswana and Namibia are often considered among the safest countries to visit in Africa, and if you include the Indian Ocean, you could add the Seychelles to that list.
- Morocco is another country I’ve been to often and loved, although sexual harassment – usually verbal – is quite common and can be invasive. In highly touristed areas, there is a significant police presence to keep things smooth. I have no hesitation about Morocco and love it, but I might suggest this for your second solo trip.
- The safer and more tourist-oriented countries of Africa, those where there is no conflict or imminent danger of terrorism or piracy, are the best destinations for solo female travelers considering safety issues, as are some of the smaller countries, like Malawi. Africa, however, may not be the best choice for first-time solo travelers because tourism infrastructure isn’t as developed but if you’re tempted – GO! It’s one of my favorite regions.
- Mega-cities like Nairobi or Johannesburg used to be overcome with crime but things are slowly improving (although Nairobi has suffered several terrorist attacks in the past few years and South Africa is consistently rated as one of the least safe places to travel solo).
Safest countries in South America and the Caribbean
- Chile and Uruguay tend to be considered the safest South American countries for women travelers. That said, Chile is listed as unsafe at least as many times as it is proclaimed safe.
- In Latin America, Panama is a wonderfully warm and welcoming country. Beware though – it’s not safe everywhere. Some cities, like Colon, and the outskirts of Panama City’s Old Town, are no-go zones.
- Uruguay is consistently quoted as safe.
- I visited Colombia’s coffee region not too long ago and while safety might be uneven in the country, I certainly wouldn’t stay away. Recently, however, safety appears to be an issue again.
- Cuba, too, is a great country for solo travel, although it’s becoming increasingly difficult to visit for US citizens.
What exactly do we mean by “safest country”?
This is actually an odd issue and frankly, we shouldn’t be dealing with it at all.
Women should be able to travel anywhere, period.
But for now, reality has decreed otherwise. I would love not to be writing this page. I would love it to be superfluous, outdated, ridiculous even.
But the reality is that women do travel differently than men, especially when we travel solo, and especially if we happen to be LGBTQ+, disabled, belonging to a racial minority… and no amount of rebellion or irateness or burying our head in the sand will change that.
Our best option (and this is my personal opinion, doesn’t have to be yours!) is to acknowledge the differences and dangers, do our best to circumvent them, and keep traveling with a vengeance.
Eventually, by consistently being out there, we won’t stand out, raise eyebrows or be seen to encourage approaches. Maybe men will change. Maybe society will change.
But we, certainly, will change.
Our confidence and empowerment will take us where WE want to go, not where everyone else thinks we should go. Or shouldn’t go.
No place is 100% safe!
It’s important to understand there are no guarantees in travel, especially solo vacations and trips, and that no place is perfectly safe, not even home.
We should try to put the odds on our side when we travel to places that are foreign, where we don’t speak the language, and don’t know the rules.
ABOUT POINTS OF VIEW
One thing to remember is that travel as I describe it here is overwhelmingly experienced by women who are white and Western. Yet race plays a major role in safety, as do such factors as nationality, social status, income and sexual orientation. While anyone who can afford it can and should travel, the dangers each one of us faces can be magnified by discrimination. To this end I’ve tried to include resources that highlight a variety of points of view (you’ll find some at the bottom of this page).
Another important consideration is that this list is not ABSOLUTE. I have used available online materials and combined them with my own experience. But for each country I call safe, a hundred people will maintain they had their worst travel experience there. So please understand this is partly based
No two places are created equal. Chances are I’ll be safer walking down a sophisticated city street than in the middle of a war. Yet as terrorist attacks have shown with alarming frequency, violence can strike anywhere, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, in a war zone, or at the nearest mall or school.
Since there are no guarantees, what we can do is choose wisely, do our homework, be cautious – and enjoy ourselves to the max because the rest is out of our hands.
How to choose the safest travel destinations
We first need to define ‘safety’.
What makes a place safe or unsafe? A number of factors are at play here.
1. Personal perception and factors
First, there is our personal perception. Do we feel a place is dangerous?
I have a friend who opted not to go to Morocco because it is in Africa, “where there is Ebola”. You may remember the major Ebola outbreak in 2014 in three West African countries. It was the largest in history, took two years to stamp out and killed more than 11,000 people. That is a terrifying thought.
Now let’s place that Ebola outbreak in context: the epicenter of the epidemic was 2800 kilometers (1750 miles) from Morocco as the bird flies, nearly twice as far by road. That’s quite a distance (farther than from Minneapolis to Miami!)
But her perception was that because it was “Africa”, the danger was everywhere. And so she didn’t go.
Personal factors, too, come into play, age in particular. For example, in many societies, younger women on their own are more vulnerable than older ones, and that’s something to be aware of.
2. Safety thresholds
You may think walking high up on a mountain path is a wonderful thing – I’d feel I was putting my life in danger. I have vertigo and tend to be attracted to open spaces next to high ledges. That same mountain path may be perfectly safe for you, but life-threatening to me.
3. Environmental factors
Safety and danger can come from environmental factors that make a place unsafe for solo female travel (or any travel, in some cases):
- natural disasters, such as frequent earthquakes, volcanic action, cyclones, tsunamis, avalanche, landslides…
- other natural threats such as wildlife or extreme isolation or rugged terrain
- high crime, violence or urban threat
- internal conflicts, political unrest or demonstrations, with riot police and all
- war or a high state of alert, as well as post-conflict countries littered with landmines and unexploded ordnance
- corruption, which makes navigating a country difficult and potentially more dangerous
- discrimination increases danger thresholds and can lead to violence
- low status of women, which predisposes societies to treat women with diminished respect and is particularly worrying to those of us who travel solo
- extreme economic disparities, with huge poverty and excessive wealth living side by side (under these circumstances, foreigners can easily be targeted as rich – even when they are broke backpackers; after all, we were able to pay for our trip, right?)
4. Exact location of unsafe places
Just because there’s a problem in a country doesn’t mean the ENTIRE country is a dangerous place. The Turkish-Syrian border remains a region to avoid, but plenty of travelers (including myself) still visit other cities in Turkey.
Even in the world’s safest places, there are some no-go areas – inner-city neighborhoods, deserted roads and countryside or parks after dark, so don’t judge an entire country by a single point in it.
Safe travels: How to assess the safety of a place
There is an abundance of resources to help you decide the best places to travel solo.
- Many western countries have government advisories through their foreign ministries or in the US, the State Department. (You’ll find links in the resources below.) They provide a list of countries with warnings and alerts about safety and security. While they are useful, the last thing a country wants is to mount a rescue operation for a misguided citizen, so they tend to be a bit alarmist. If you use them, compare what they say and remember – they are trying to scare you – at least a little).
- One way to bypass these advisories and find information in a single convenient place is by downloading the Geosure app, a new (free) service that scSapes the data from government advisories and many more international, UN and national sources to deliver a safety rating for many countries – and a unique rating of safe countries for women.
- Keep on top of the news – it’s still the quickest way to know what’s going on. But do take it with a grain of salt. Reporters are only human, and only as good as the information they are given or events they are able or allowed to see. Use news sources with reliable international bureaux and a strong tradition of international coverage, like The Guardian or Al Jazeera English or the Washington Post.
- Google. Of course. “How safe is xxx…” You can also sign up for Google news alerts right in your Inbox so you will be notified whenever your destination is mentioned in the news.
- Check Twitter. If something just happened at your destination, Twitter will probably have it first. But since social media can be inflammatory, double-check every tweet with a factual source.
- There are several expat forums and sites, and some of the most accurate and immediate news you’ll get will be from them – Search for “expat blog [country]” or “expat forum [country]”. People on the sites actually live at your destination and if something is happening, you can bet they’ll be talking about it. Ask questions, take the local temperature.
- If you don’t frequent travel forums (see my list of good travel forums) or solo travel facebook groups, you should! These places are treasure troves of first-hand experience to help you make wise decisions when traveling by yourself. You can either search to see if other people have already mentioned your destination and safety concerns, or you can start your own thread or ask your own question. You’ll find a list of useful groups and forums in the resources section below.
- Local tourism websites sometimes have breaking news, although the situation would have to be pretty dire for them to warn tourists away. Still, they’re usually good for essential local information, like emergency phone numbers and English-speaking tourist police services.
- Travel blogs, bien sûr! If a blogger happens to be on site, she may write about it while still in-country. Have a look at a few of my own favorite travel blogs for women!
- Real people are great sources of information – friends, friends of friends who have recently come back from where you’re going. If you don’t know anyone personally, you can always post on Facebook and ask your friends if they know anyone who has just returned from that country.
- For health warnings, be sure to visit the travel sections of the WHO and the CDC, in case there’s an Ebola or other deadly epidemic to avoid.
I’ve traveled in all of these destinations on my own and have felt safe. They may not be at the top of the list of safest destinations, but with a bit of research and planning (and a dollop of luck) there’s no reason a trip to these countries shouldn’t be perfectly simple and pleasurable.
Clearly, this list is anything but exhaustive. It is designed to give the sensible solo traveler some food for thought and to encourage you to do your homework and be prepared, taking responsibility for your choices.
And be aware that things change quickly. A country considered perfectly safe can be the subject of social upheavals and all of a sudden, that safety factor is gone.
Safety should always be your primary concern.
But – there can always be an exception to absolutely everything I’ve said so far. Many women travel safely to countries deemed dangerous, while others experience danger in the safest of places. There is no cookie-cutter approach.
Choosing where you go and preparing well for it is the best guarantee of having a wonderful travel experience!
TRAVEL SAFETY RESOURCES FOR WOMEN
Forums and groups for your travel safety questions
- LonelyPlanet Thorn Tree
- Rick Steves
- Travellers Point
- Solo Female Traveler Network
- Solo Female Travelers (Facebook page)
- Girls Love Travel (Facebook page)
Government travel advisory listings
Travel resources for women of color
- The Blog Abroad (blog)
- Oneika the Traveller (blog)
- Black Girls Travel Too (Facebook page)
- On She Goes (Facebook page)
- Latinas Who Travel (Facebook page)
- Expat Women of Color (Facebook page)
- and an excellent article by Bani Amor
Travel resources for LGBTQ+ travelers
- World sexual orientation map
- ILGA Global Attitudes Survey
- Geosure (an app with an LGBTQ safety rating)
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— Originally published on 31 July 2011