Let's face it: when we plan a solo trip, safety is at the forefront of our concerns and we look for the safest places to travel alone.
Now, there's a simple and accurate way to assess that safety risk before we travel.
Determining the safety of a destination isn't an easy task for a single woman traveling alone:
Obviously we'll search for a destination that promises us safe adventure travel or city tourism - safe from pickpockets or crime or terrorism or natural disasters. We'll also want it to be female-friendly and respectful, free from the kind of harassment that can turn a trip into a nightmare. (And it helps if it's on our bucket list!)
In our research, we automatically gravitate towards the more authoritative sources of information for safe travel: government advisories, the news media, travel forums, Google and many more.
These sources remain important, but now there's a shortcut: Geosure.
Until recently, Geosure wouldn't have even have been listed on this page but this new - and free - app is so useful I had to share it with you. (I have no financial relationship with Geosure - I just like the app!)
Basically GeoSure is a free phone app that lets you evaluate a place's safety based on your own relative idea of safety. It applies a safety “temperature” for every city in the world with a population greater than 100,000 (or 200,000 in China and Japan).
While this won’t help you gauge the safety of remote towns or tell you the best places to travel alone, it will help you plan trips to major cities and, eventually, to... everywhere, once they have the data they need.
The cool thing is it can act as a tripwire of sorts - we'll know when to “raise or lower our safety antennae” because the information is kept up to date. Users like ourselves can (and should!) use the Experience Report button to share your destination experiences.
But first, my usual caveat: there is no guarantee of safety.
Not at home, not abroad, not crossing the street. The risk will simply be higher or lower depending on where you go - and it won't always be what you think.
Here's a quick dose of reality.
Safety is important and we should pay close attention to it, without obsessing. Apps like this can help put it all into perspective.
Let’s say I’m going to Morocco and I’m worried about safety (I’m not, but a lot of women are, which is why I’m using it as an example).
I open the app (after downloading it from the Geosure page) and click on the folding map to access the Search bar. Then I type “Morocco” in the search bar. It brings me to a Google-Map-ish view of Morocco and I click on Fes, a wonderful city whose labyrinthine alleys are notorious for getting you lost. Notice how each city has its own temperature rating.
The temperature is pretty warm at 65 (as at November 2019), which means it's a bit risky. But I need to dig more.
Scroll down and I'll find that the women's safety score is 59, which is pretty much average, but the risk of theft is 68, which is higher than I'd like, and the risk if you're LGBTQ is a whopping 85!
According to Geosure, scores between 41-60 mean “There is a slight elevation of relative vulnerability. Stay alert, especially at night.”
These may not be the safest places to travel solo for first-timers, but might be perfect solo travel destinations for the seasoned traveler. You can read more about each temperature range below.
To get an even more representative reading, click 'Personalize', which allows you to weight certain factors - for example, it'll take into account if you speak the language, or if you're a seasoned traveler, if you're traveling solo or if you've been here before.
Notice that one of your choices is to define your travel style - for example, if you're traveling by yourself your score will change. This means you get a customized score based on several major risk factors: being alone, being a woman, being younger or older, or being a member of the LGBTQ community, if that's the case.
Geosure takes all these factors into account.
GeoSure takes data from official sources and visitor reviews and assigns risk based on six criteria:
Besides getting the overall score for a city, you can check the breakdown and individual criteria for yourself. The global score might be high, but it could be skewed by such factors as LGBTQ safety or theft.
One way to better understand these temperatures is to check your own city or one you know well. Have a look at its Geosure score (you'll have to download the app first) and you'll have a comparison point for the other scores.
Still curious, I decided to investigate Madrid, where I grew up and speak the language. In comparison, it scored a 35 when I last checked, or “low risk” temperature. Women’s safety is a comfortable 35, with health and medical a mere 20.
Barcelona, another city I know well, is slightly more problematic at 42. Although women's safety is close to Madrid's at 37, theft tips the balance at 54 (and we've all heard about or witnessed those Barcelona pickpockets.) So it's safe, but you'll have to grip your purse or wallet tightly!
These breakdowns are the best part of GeoSure. When it comes to solo female travel, it's helpful to know which are the safest cities to visit - and which to avoid.
So based on the data for Morocco, women traveling alone might choose to book a hotel in Meknes rather than Fes, although the rating for Fes is absolutely acceptable. If I see that theft is a big issue, I might think twice about couchsurfing or booking an Airbnb, where security might be a bit weaker.
If I wanted to see Fes in the evening, I would consider exploring the city with a friend or reliable guide rather than wandering around alone. If the health and medical temperature is high, I could decide to curtail some excursions if I'm worried about falling ill.
Ultimately the main decision-makers in choosing the safest country will be your brain and your gut, but knowing which way to point them can help put the chances on your side.
So download the app - it'll help you choose the best solo travel destinations.
Bear in mind that I write these lines from the point of view of a 65+ white Western European woman, and who you are has an influence on how your are treated (through no fault of your own). A younger woman might have to face more male interest, and a woman of color might face the kind of discrimination I won't, so please bear that in mind.
Rather than give you places for this one, I suggest visiting the place that is most familiar. If you're from the US or Canada, then Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain or Ireland would make ideal choices: the language is the same, customs and habits aren't that different, and for a first trip the most important thing is to feel at home.
It's hard to narrow down a safe country to travel alone in Asia - because most of them are supremely safe. Singapore probably heads the list, but places like South Korea or Japan are easy to visit and a pleasure to explore.
Chile is South America's safest country, according to data, but if you include Central America, then Costa Rica and Uruguay are close behind. Panama isn't too far down the list and these are all countries where travel is relatively simple and safety relatively high.
I live in Europe and have visited most of its countries, and it's a broadly safe continent. In fact, of the 13 most peaceful countries in the world, eight are in Europe. There are a few pockets around the Mediterranean where male attitudes to women might be more forceful but by and large, your level of safety will be pretty high anywhere.
Absolutely everyone has their favorites! I don't know the US well but I can say that during a recent visit to Austin, Texas, I felt perfectly safe! Here's what Rough Guides have to say.
The index, put together by the Institute for Economics and Peace, lists countries in order of overall "peacefulness", which looks at broad issues of safety and conflict (you can download the report here if you'd like to have a read).
In 2019, these were the world's top ten safest places to travel alone for females - or at least, the most peaceful:
Of course these places are not crime-free, but have less violence than, for example, Brazil or Pakistan, which are both in the red zone (most dangerous) of the Global Peace Index.
We instinctively know how to stay safe when we travel solo. We know what to do and not to do, but sometimes, we forget. Or we don't pay attention. Or we think it won't happen to us. It's always helpful to be reminded to...
Want more about safe travels? Here it is!
—Updated 6 November 2019