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Australia is a fantastic destination for solo female travel! I love Australia and if it were easy and cheap to fly halfway around the world, I would go all the time!

Australia is probably the #1 country that people tell me they want to visit. Many people keep Australia as a “someday” destination, wanting to visit but put off by the long, expensive journey to get there. And I won’t lie — Australia isn’t a trip that you can plan casually on a whim. For most people, it’s going to require diligent saving and careful planning.

But it’s worth it. SO worth it.

And for that reason, I urge you not to save Australia for “someday.” Someday you might not be able to travel the way you can now. Don’t put it off too long.

I’ve traveled Australia with others, and I’ve traveled Australia solo. Australia is a particularly good destination for solo female travelers and this guide will give you an overview on how to stay safe in this unforgettable country.

Why Travel Solo to Australia?

Australia is an easy-to-visit country that also has a high exotic factor. Australia is endlessly interesting. The wildlife is one-of-a-kind. The nature is bonkers. And the cities are just different enough that you feel slightly off-kilter — in the best way.

If you’ve never been to Australia, you’ve never seen the best beaches in the world. It’s almost embarrassing how good the beaches are, from white sand behemoths in Western Australia and Queensland to the gorgeous urban beaches of Sydney. Nothing you’ve seen has prepared you for this.

Besides, you’ve probably been dreaming about visiting Australia since you were a kid! Isn’t it time to fulfill your childhood dreams?

Finally, as a solo traveler, you have so many options in Australia. Do you want to join a group tour? Go for it! Do you want to be part of a hop-on hop-off bus? That also works! Do you want to go on a solo road trip through the Outback? Challenging, but you can pull it off solo! Whether you want to meet people or be solo, whether you’re interested in cities or nature, whether you prefer touristy areas or getting off the beaten path, you can find so many things to do as a solo female traveler in Australia.

Is Australia Good for First-Time Solo Female Travelers?

Australia is a wonderful destination for first-time solo female travelers. Australia has some of the best travel infrastructure on the planet: everywhere is outfitted for travelers. English is the spoken language and Australians are incredibly friendly and helpful. The only mark against Australia is that it’s an expensive country, which becomes a bit of a pain when you’re not splitting costs with anyone.

Of course, not every Australia trip is equal — if this is your first solo trip ever, I wouldn’t recommend going extremely off the beaten path, like driving solo in the Outback. Driving in Australia requires its own set of skills unless you’re sticking to extremely well traversed areas. You can see more about driving in Australia below.

But for the vast majority of trips to Australia, particularly when driving is not a factor, it’s very easy to travel.

Group Tours to Australia

If you’re nervous about traveling solo in Australia, consider joining a group tour. You’ll meet lots of people and all the work will be taken care of for you! G Adventures, whom I’ve traveled with and recommend, offers several tours to Australia.

Is Australia Good for Experienced Solo Female Travelers?

Absolutely, Australia is terrific for experienced solo female travelers. I had already been to more than 40 countries before arriving in Australia and I was delighted in all senses of the word.

If you’re already an experienced solo traveler, chances are you’ll have different interests than a newbie. You might be drawn toward hiking and culinary exploration in Tasmania or exploring tougher-to-reach areas of the Kimberley. Then again, you might simply want to do the classic route of Sydney, Melbourne, and the Queensland coast. It’s a cliché for a reason.

I’ve spent time in two regions of Australia that are more challenging to travel: Western Australia and the Northern Territory. If you’re driving on your own in rural parts of these states, be sure to heed the driving advice below. Driving can turn deadly in the Outback, so be sure to take all the precautions you can.

Is Australia Safe?

Generally speaking, Australia is a very safe country. Likely safer than your home country. The kind of country that provides healthcare to its citizens and bans the vast majority of guns after one massacre, not thousands. (How about that?!)

The important thing is not to get lulled into a false sense of security in Australia. Anything can happen here, including crime, and it’s best to remain conscientious at all times.

If you’re hanging out in touristy or especially backpacker-filled areas, be conscious of petty theft. Many people prey on tourists who are drinking and are less aware and have fewer inhibitions. You can see the following advice for tips on keeping yourself and your belongings safe while traveling in Australia.

Travel and Safety Tips for Australia

For the most part, traveling safely in Australia is about having common sense. I’ve added a few travel safety tips specific to Australia, but for the most part you should be fine behaving as you would traveling in any other destination in the world.

Don’t forget to get your ETA before you arrive. The ETA, similar to a visa, is a requirement upon arrival in Australia, and you must secure it in advance. You can apply here. The current cost is $20 AUD. While ETAs tend to process within a few days, do not wait until the last minute!!

Australia is very strict in what you can bring over the border. When you arrive by plane, you may be questioned extensively by the customs agent to make sure you don’t have wooden products, homemade food, fruits, or vegetables in your luggage. See the full list here. (I’ve been to Australia twice; once I was questioned extensively and once I was questioned briefly.)

Australia has a big drinking culture. I burst out laughing on my first day in Australia ever, in Darwin, where I saw people sitting around in lawn chairs, drinking beers from coolers. It was exactly like the stereotype I had in my mind.

As I mentioned in my UK travel guide, you need to be cautious about “shout” culture where one person buys drinks for a group, then another person buys the next round, and so on. It can lead you to drinking more and faster than you want to, especially if you’re with men or heavy drinkers. Four beers may be fine for a larger guy, but that can be a LOT for a woman, especially if they’re strong beers.

The best thing to do is to tell the group early that you don’t want to drink much — two drinks, maybe three at most. People will totally understand.

Australian wildlife can be dangerous. While drop bears may be a myth, there are very real wildlife dangers. The box jellyfish is a deadly animal dwelling in northern reaches of Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory roughly from October through May. Locals will advise you on the precautions to take to avoid these creatures.

And in the Top End and other parts of the country, crocodiles are a very real danger. Always ask a local before going near any body of water. They know what is safe and what isn’t.

Furthermore, kangaroos may look cute, but they are actually quite vicious. Keep things safe by not approaching any wild animal.

READ MORE: It’s Always Croc Season in Darwin and the Top End

Be cautious of the ocean. Australia is famous for its surfing beaches, and with surfing comes riptides and dangerous currents. Always ask locals about whether it’s safe to swim. In most places in Australia, swim between the red and yellow flags, as these designate a safe area. If you get caught in a riptide, don’t fight it — swim parallel to shore until you escape the current.

Get a SIM card from Telstra. Having a SIM card is especially important in Australia, as wifi is slow and expensive. There are a few different carriers in Australia, but Telstra tends to have some of the best coverage. Keep in mind that there is no cell service in many rural areas, including on highways. When driving through rural Western Australia, I had zero signal until I landed within the city limits of the nearest town.

Be careful about your drinking. Drink less than you ordinarily would at home — two drinks is a good limit. Only take drinks from bartenders, never take a drink from a stranger, and always keep it with you and keep an eye on it.

Keep an eye on your belongings at all times. If you carry a purse, hold it close to you. I recommend a crossbody purse, made out of a tough material like leather or fake leather, that zips shut. I recommend many purses in this post. Never let it hang behind you — always keep it in a place where you can see it, and keep your hand on it if you’re in a crowd.

If you carry a wallet without a purse, don’t keep it in your back pocket. This is obvious to thieves and they will grab it and run.

If you use a small backpack, lock it. I use a Pacsafe backpack where you can lock the compartments shut.

Never leave your bags anywhere unattended. Take them with you. While in cities and touristy areas in Australia, if you’re keeping your bag under the table or otherwise out of sight, keep it between your feet or hook the strap around one of the chair legs.

Keep your valuables locked up in your accommodation and only take with you what you need that day. I do this with my Pacsafe Travelsafe and I consider it the most important thing I pack. Keep an extra debit card and at least $100 hidden in obscure parts of your luggage.

If someone robs you, GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT. Things can be replaced. Nothing is worth your life.

Don’t carry tons of cash around with you. You can use credit cards almost everywhere in Australia, and carrying lots of cash leaves you vulnerable to theft. Don’t be the traveler who loses her wallet and the $500 in it.

Only use ATMs at banks if possible. If your card gets eaten, it’s a lot easier to retrieve it from a real bank’s ATM. If you can’t find a bank and it’s at night, use an ATM indoors, in a vestibule or in a shopping mall.

Get a digital guidebook and keep it on your phone. Even today, I always keep a guidebook PDF on my phone — it’s great for calculating approximate time of journeys, knowing what days places are closed, and it lists medical centers you should go to in case of emergency. I’m a big fan of Lonely Planet guidebooks — I recommend Lonely Planet Australia.

Spend extra money on staying safe. If you’re not comfortable walking home at night, spend money on a cab or Uber. If you’re hesitant on spending money on a not-as-nice-looking hostel, pay for a nicer place. It’s worth the peace of mind. Don’t pinch pennies on your safety.

Most importantly, you have no obligation to be nice to anyone. Women often feel the need to be nice and please people at all costs. You don’t have to anywhere — especially so in Australia, where the laid-back culture might convince you that you’re being “difficult.” If anyone is making you feel uncomfortable, just leave. Trust me — you won’t be the rudest person they meet that day. And so what if you were? You’re never going to see them again.

READ MORE: Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women How to Get Around Australia Solo

Australia, once again, is huge and sparsely populated. Flying is the best way to get around unless you’re on a tight budget and have a LOT of time. Even Brisbane to Cairns, which looks close on the map, is an 18-hour drive! Take the 2.5-hour flight instead!

There are train lines that run along the east coast. You can see them here. There are also Greyhound Australia bus lines, which have more extensive coverage.

There are a few luxury long train rides in Australia — the Indian Pacific, from Sydney to Adelaide to Perth and vice versa; the Ghan, from Darwin to Alice Springs to Adelaide and vice versa; and the Overland, from Melbourne to Adelaide and vice versa. In late 2019 the Great Southern, from Brisbane to Adelaide and vice versa, will begin operations. If you’ve got the time and cash and love spending long train journeys staring out the window (and I do!) these are a great choice. See them all here.

While there are lots of tour companies in Australia, there are also hop-on hop-off backpacker buses like Stray Australia and Oz Experience. While those two companies also offer full-fledged tours with accommodation and activities, you can also just book the transportation and have the freedom to move on whenever you’d like.

Finally, you can rent a car. More on that below.

Driving in Australia

Driving safely in Australia requires a higher level of conscientiousness, particularly if you’re driving in the Outback or other rural areas. First off, they drive on the left side of the road, and they turn left at roundabouts. If you haven’t driven on the left before, it can take your brain some time to get used to it.

Wildlife is a major issue when driving in rural Australia. Kangaroos in particular will vault themselves straight in front of your car. It’s wise to drive slowly and be extra conscientious when driving in remote areas. Be especially conscientious at night and during dawn and dusk, when animals tend to be most active.

In extremely rural areas, there can be long stretches between service stations and roadhouses. Be sure to get gas (“petrol” in Australia!) as often as you can; this is not a place to wait until the next station. Additionally, when traveling the very rural route from Coral Bay to Tom Price in Western Australia, I was shocked that many of the towns on the map were a roadhouse and nothing else.

Cell service is more or less nonexistent in rural areas, even with Telstra, the network with the best coverage. I found that frequently there wouldn’t be any phone signal at all until I entered a town.

Look out for “road trains” — huge, long trucks. Give them a wide berth as it’s tough for them to swerve or slow down.

Another issue is driving long, monotonous distances on your own. For some people, driving long stretches where you see the same unchanging view in front of you can have an almost hypnotic effect, affecting your senses. It’s important to take frequent breaks.

If you’re driving in remote parts of Australia, you should know basic car maintenance, like knowing how to check oil and change a tire at the very least. You should also have an emergency survival kit packed with enough water to survive for days. Even though I’ve driven all over the world, I don’t consider myself a skilled enough driver to handle driving in rural Australia. I don’t even know how to change a tire. You should know your limits.

How to Meet People in Australia

Australians are gregarious, good-natured, and fun. In fact, I’d put Australia up there with Ireland as one of the easiest countries in which to make local friends! Australia is a country where you can walk into a bar and leave with a whole crew. Here are some ways to meet people while traveling.

Consider staying at a social hostel. There are tons of great hostels all over Australia, from surf lodges along the Queensland coast to modern chains in Melbourne to a hostel built in a former prison in Fremantle. Many of these hostels offer private rooms, if dorms aren’t your thing, and quite a few of them offer tours and other activities. If there is a bar in the hostel, it will be a very social place.

Join tours and activities. Tours are a great way to meet new people! Whether you’re doing a day trip to the Blue Mountains from Sydney or a river tubing trip from Cairns, you’ll meet people excited to explore the local region. I met so many wonderful Australians (though they were mostly 50+) at the Sounds of Silence dinner at Uluru.

Look for Couchsurfing meetup events throughout Australia. Couchsurfing isn’t just for free accommodation — they also put on meetup events where everyone is welcome. Many major cities have weekly meetups, and they always draw a great crowd.

Join a meetup on Meetup.com. Whether you’re into travel, running, movies, board games, or just want to meet a group of nice people, there’s a Meetup for that.

Put out feelers on social media. Often a..

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I used to freak out whenever I spent a month without leaving the confines of New York City. It brings to mind that episode of Sex and the City when Miranda briefly dates the guy who hasn’t left Manhattan in a decade.

These days, it happens about once a year, but I don’t mind anymore. It’s nice to have that respite from trips and concentrate on the things that mean most to me — spending time with friends and family, working out, and enjoying my routines.

And of all months to spend ensconced in New York, April is one of the best. It’s cherry blossom season!

Destinations Visited

New York, New York


Meeting Julián Castro and Stacey Abrams and attending a fundraiser with Pete and Chasten Buttigieg. What an awesome month for meeting the future of the Democratic Party!

Julián Castro appeared for a speech at 92Y, where I love attending lectures. I just wanted to hear him speak, then I was elated to learn that he was doing a meet and greet afterward! I took that time to tell him I was a donor, to tell him my favorite part of his book, An Unlikely Journey, and to talk to him about what it’s like to run a small business today.

I told him about my site and all the people I know who have quit their jobs to run small digital businesses, often boot-strapped businesses. People often talk about the gig economy, Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts, but not as much about digital entrepreneurs. As exhilarating as the freedom is to run your own business, we almost no protections if things go south. And as more and more people choose this method of employment, we need our leaders to prioritize our care. You shouldn’t have to be independently wealthy to run a small business and survive a trip to the hospital. Julián agreed wholeheartedly with me and said that we need to have a safety net — good healthcare, childcare, and more.

Julián has always fought for the rights of the most vulnerable. I respect him enormously and we would be well served with him as president. He is also JUST short of the 65,000 unique donors he needs to qualify for the debates — if you’ve got an extra $5, please consider sending it his way. He’s an important voice and we need him in the debates.

Stacey Abrams was incredible. She also spoke at 92Y. And I say this without exaggeration — I haven’t been this electrified in a theater since the first time I saw Hamilton. I was buzzing with excitement. Stacey is hilarious — she was cracking us up nonstop — and heartfelt, and so incredibly smart. She has got that magical quality. We would be so well served with her and it’s a tragedy that voter suppression kept her out of the Georgia governor’s office.

I met Stacey briefly for a book signing. She was a lot more personal than the other signings I’ve been to, like John Kerry’s and Cecile Richards’s. We chatted for a minute and I told her, “Anything you decide to do, you’ve got my money and you’ve got my volunteer hours.”

I was thrilled to snag tickets to Pete Buttigieg’s fundraiser in Brooklyn. And even more thrilled when I realized that his husband Chasten would be speaking there too!

The fundraiser, held at the Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, was pretty basic — Pete took questions from the audience (including mine, on behalf of my friend Beth, about paid family leave!) and the answers lined up with pretty much anything you’d expect.

But it was great to be there surrounded by Pete fans and enjoy the phenomenon of his unlikely candidacy. I was only 15 feet from him. And I loved when he and Chasten bickered over loading and unloading the dishwasher. I never thought that in 2019 that we would have a viable gay candidate for president and have his relationship with his husband be not only a prominent part of the campaign, but so beautifully normal.

Spending a month on Whole30. I really enjoyed Whole30 the first time I did it, and I felt the need to do it again this year because I had a free month with no travel plans and I could tell my eating habits had gotten a lot worse over the winter. It’s been great to get myself back into positive eating habits. I did it for 35 days in total, from March 29 until May 1.

My first boxing classes. I’ve really upped my workouts this month, from four times per week to six times per week, and I’ve added a new class: boxing! And I really like it! It’s higher-intensity than the classes I usually do and I sweat absolute buckets, especially when doing the rounds of push-ups and burpees in between. And it’s awesome going to town on a giant sandbag and pretending it’s Mitch McConnell.

Celebrating the first birthday of a special little boy. Just a year ago, I was telling you in my recap that I became an auntie for the first time ever! Since then, two more babies have become part of my life, and this month my first practically-a-nephew turned one as he ate a cupcake, clapped for everyone, pointed at dogs while yelling, “Da,” and tried to stick his hand in the burning candle.

Seeing two great Broadway shows: Oklahoma! and Beetlejuice. Lately I’ve been getting complimentary tickets to Broadway shows and these two shows were comped. First I saw a new and offbeat version of Oklahoma! at the Circle in the Square theater.

I always thought Oklahoma! was a cheesy show, which isn’t my thing, but I appreciated how much they modernized the musical. There were some absolutely CRAZY moments in the show — like a Tarantino-esque moment that sent me to Wikipedia because surely that could not be in the original Oklahoma! The lights are on and everyone faces each other; it feels like a community meeting in a barn. The dream sequence dance is different from anything you’ve ever seen. They even serve chili and cornbread at intermission!

The highlight of the cast was Ali Stroker, who played Ado Annie — and Ali uses a wheelchair. In fact, she was the first Broadway actor who uses a wheelchair to be cast in a Broadway show (she debuted in Spring Awakening). She was the most hilarious one in a show that, frankly, is very dated, and the fact that she made us laugh uproariously from those 1943 lines is a testament to how good she is. Most importantly, her wheelchair was never played for laughs. She was just herself. And yes, she danced — on her own and with the whole cast.

Secondly, I saw Beetlejuice and I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS SHOW. It was so hilarious! I had actually never seen the movie, so I got in a quick viewing (it’s on Amazon Prime for free) and was delighted to see that the show improved upon the movie in every way possible! It’s totally updated for 2019 and they break the fourth wall frequently to make fun of other shows and say how different it is from the movie.

One thing I especially appreciated was how they updated Beetlejuice’s marriage to Lydia, who is a CHILD. In the movie, it’s extremely creepy; in the show, Beetlejuice points out how creepy it is and says that it’s like a green card thing!

Best of all? Beetlejuice is queer as hell. Seriously. Yes, this Beetlejuice loves the ladies but he loves the dudes (and one dude in particular) even more, and that just makes perfect sense. Go see this show. You’ll laugh hard.

Enjoying cherry blossom season. It’s one of my favorite times of year in New York.

Getting my passport renewed. It was time — I only had a few spots left. It’s unnerving to have a brand new, unblemished passport. My old passport was the one I had been using since mid-2010.


Seeing Notre-Dame burn. It broke my heart and I know it broke a lot of yours, too.

When I was a high school sophomore, my drama club wrote our own version of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. We called it Le Bossu and performed it at Dramafest in 2000. I played a gypsy (I wince at the use of the word today and also the fact that my school was so white that I was one of the darkest people in the cast).

That was my play. I was such a francophile and I lived for drama club — Le Bossu was my favorite play we did in all four years. I attempted to read it in the original French and gave up each time. And the following year, I went on my first trip overseas, the school trip to France. At that time, the French musical Notre-Dame de Paris was popular and it became my soundtrack for the rest of high school. Seeing Notre-Dame in person moved me so much.

One of my friends on the trip, Chris, had been in Le Bossu as well. We decided to climb the towers of Notre-Dame, even though we knew we didn’t have enough time. We called it “Chez Quasi” and squealed with delight when we got to the top. It was one of my favorite moments of that pivotal trip.

Chris and I got back — and our teachers were PISSED. We nearly made everyone late getting our train back to Rouen. We were reamed out in front of the whole group. It was absolutely worth it. Looking back, though, I’m so glad we didn’t miss our train!

Blog Posts of the Month

What’s it Really Like to Travel Guyana? — Not surprisingly, everyone wants to know!

Solo Female Travel in Central America — Is it Safe? — I unravel the truth about this misunderstood region.

How to Survive #Whole30 — 20 Best Tips to Changing Your Eating Habits — Required reading before you attempt 30 days of eating clean!

Quote of the Month

Six-year-old girl: “Kate, do you like Friends?”

Me: “I LOVE Friends.”

Six-year-old girl: “Paper! Snow! A ghost!”

What I Watched This Month

I mostly stayed off TV and movies this month. Wake me up when The Handmaid’s Tale comes back.

I’ll give you a few tidbits from what I searched for on YouTube this month: “snake juice,” “how to clean a cast iron skillet,” “kevin covais part time lover,” “how to wrap hands for boxing,” “aoc green new deal.”

What I Listened to This Month

Lots of podcasts! I really enjoyed To Live and Die in LA, a story about a missing woman in Los Angeles that goes in a lot of directions you wouldn’t predict.

Blackout is really interesting — it’s an episodic drama starring Rami Malek about what happens when the United States loses all electrical power. It takes place in a far northern New Hampshire town and as you would expect, mayhem breaks out. The sound quality is gorgeous and the New England accents are atrociously authentic. I say that with affection. And I could listen to Rami Malek talk about anything for hours. Also, I was listening to the credits and was surprised to hear that my dad’s friend, a voice actor, plays the mayor!

Another one I enjoyed was Rachel Maddow’s Bag Man, about Nixon’s criminal vice president, Spiro Agnew. What a story!! I didn’t know anything about Spiro Agnew, in part because as soon as my AP US History class got to the sixties, it became time to drill for the AP exam. This guy was insanely corrupt and there are so many parallels to Trump today. It’s an entertaining listen.

What I Read This Month

I’m continuing to read up a storm, and this month, I started borrowing audiobooks from the library. Why haven’t I been doing this all along?! I can get through so many books this way! I listen to them while I cook and clean, while I commute, and even when doing cardio at the gym!

So far I have read 42 books in 2019, which blows my mind. My record is 72 within a year and at the end of April I’m already more than halfway there. That’s what joining a library will do for you.

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish (2017) — Comedian Tiffany Haddish burst onto the national scene in 2017 when she debuted in Girls Trip and stole every scene she was in. Shortly after, she became one of the funniest guests on late night shows, telling such insane stories that Trevor Noah and Jimmy Kimmel lost it, repeatedly. This book is a collection of the funniest, strangest, and most unbelievable stories of her life, from her childhood as a foster kid to her high school years as a team mascot to when she decided to work in comedy — and lots of tales along the way.

THIS IS ONE OF THE FUNNIEST BOOKS I HAVE EVER READ. And I implore you to listen to the Audiobook version, because Tiffany’s voice is hilarious and she adds SO much to her stories. The story about Roscoe in particular has received a lot of press, and justifiably so — there is no book like Tiffany’s out there because there is nobody like HER out there!! I am SO happy for her success because SHE DESERVES IT, and I hope she is starring in films for decades to come. Also, interestingly, her co-writer for this book was Tucker Max. I LOVED Tucker Max back in the day, though looking back he was so problematic, so if you loved his crazy stories, you will love these ones too. Listen to this book!!!

Just Kids by Patti Smith (2010) — When Patti Smith moved to New York City, she was young, broke, and had nowhere to go. Again and again, she ran into an equally young and broke artist named Robert Mapplethorpe. They became friends, and lovers, and soulmates who acted as muse and artist, inspiring each other to create the best work possible while living in the most rundown conditions. This is the story of their relationship — an unconventional relationship, but one of two true soulmates.

This is one of the best books about New York City I have ever read. And it was so beautifully written. I love Patti Smith’s gentle, ethereal words — it reminds me a lot of Steve Martin’s writing, actually. I love a memoir that is centered on nostalgia, and this is pure nostalgia. It made me cry a few times from the very beginning. They were so young. They were so poor. They cared about nothing but art and each other. They lived in a New York that existed for a moment in time, a New York that we will never get back. New York is a playground for the rich these days, and I wonder if art will ever be able to flourish here the way it once did.

Atomic Habits by James Clear (2018) — We all have habits that we want to develop. But what allows us to start habits that we will actually keep up? We all fail at developing positive habits because we are focused on our goal, when really we should be focusing on our systems. The best habits are developed just a tiny bit each day — you could call it the atomic level.

This is one of the most useful books I’ve read in a very long time. It’s dense and packed with so many thoughtful tips — like stacking habits, where you make sure you do a set of things in a specific order, ending with a reward. And sometimes just starting is the best thing you can do. (It reminds me of Terry Crews’s tip that when you join a gym, if there’s a lounge or cafe, just go and hang out there for a few days without working out. It will get you in the habit.) Especially helpful was learning how to design your environment to let you achieve your goals. This is a great book, it really helped me, and I bet it will help you too.

Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs by Dave Holmes (2016) — Most people know Dave Holmes from when he came in second in MTV’s Wanna Be a VJ contest in 1998. That was the golden age of MTV, when the Backstreet Boys, N Sync and Korn were duking it out for the #1 spot on TRL. Dave was the smart, knowledgeable music geek and this memoir tells the story of being a perpetual outsider who found happiness in music, pop culture, and life.

I LOVED this book, and not just because I was MTV-crazed in those days. Dave is so smart and has a wonderful way of looking back at his life. I love that he basically talked and networked his way into an MTV job. I love how he wrote about the difficulties of coming out as a student at Holy Cross. I love that he blazed his own trail, was sometimes disgusted by the culture at MTV, and eventually carved out a life that fulfilled what was important to him. And I love that the book ends with revelations from a day doing San Pedro in a canyon! I listened to this book as an audiobook, which I highly recommend. As a fellow perpetual outsider who nodded my head more or less constantly while listening to him talk, I feel like Dave and I would be friends if we knew each other in real life.

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Is it safe for a woman to travel alone in Central America? Absolutely. With the right research and preparation, almost every destination in the world can be traveled safely by women on their own.

Central America has so much to offer — and it’s so much safer than many people think.

The closest I’ve ever been to having an “Eat, Pray, Love” trip was when I went to Central America for several months. I had been struggling through one of the worst times in my life and what got me through it was telling myself, “You’re going to survive, you’re going to get out, and then you’re going to spend the winter backpacking through Central America alone.”

I always thought I was more of an Asia and Europe person, but Central America changed that. I loved that music blasted out from every direction. I loved how easy it was to get to know locals, and how warm and friendly they were. I swam in the turquoise Caribbean waters surrounding Caye Caulker and Little Corn Island. I hiked up a volcano in Nicaragua and slid all the way down it in an orange jumpsuit. I made so many more friends than I dared to hope for.

Central America was great for me as a solo traveler. I want it to be great for you, too.

Why Travel to Central America Solo?

Central America is a fantastic destination for different kinds of travelers. But what makes it particularly good for solo travelers?

Central America has a great backpacker scene. If you want to meet people while on your travels, you will meet SO many people in Central America. To this day I’ve kept up friendships with people I met while watching the sunset on a dock in Ometepe, Nicaragua; while hanging out in the hostel pool in El Tunco, El Salvador; while sailing down the coast of Belize for three days; and while drinking at a bar in San Pedro, Guatemala!

Central America is great for being active and learning new skills. If you’re looking to become a certified scuba diver, Utila and Roatán in Honduras are home to gorgeous coral reefs and excellent diving schools. If you’re looking to learn to surf, the Pacific coast is full of surf camps, especially in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. If your tastes tend more toward dance, you can take salsa lessons in cities all over the region. And if you’re interested in trekking, Central America is filled with volcanoes to climb, rainforests to explore, and tour companies that will take you there.

Central America is ideal for learning Spanish. The best way to learn Spanish is through immersion while living with a family — and traveling solo can relieve you of the temptation to speak English with a companion. Some of the best immersion programs are in Quetzaltenango (also known as Xela) in Guatemala. If that’s too intense, you can take more relaxed classes and stay at your own accommodation, too.

Central America has gorgeous souvenirs. You could bring home a suitcase full of Mayan or Kuna textiles alone. If you’re looking for leather products, jewelry, or artwork, Central America has so much to offer.

Central America is cheap. Belize and Costa Rica tend to be the most expensive countries while Guatemala and Nicaragua tend to be the cheapest. As always, cities, beaches, islands, and tourism hotspots tend to be much more expensive than small towns and rural areas.

And if you’re flying from the US or Canada, it can be cheap to get there, too. Unlike the cheap countries of Southeast Asia, if you’re visiting from the United States, you can get a very cheap flight. Very often the cheapest (though often inconveniently timed) flights are on Spirit Airlines.

Central America is filled with constant delights. From the brightly painted chicken buses to the pulsating salsa clubs, from the deliciousness of pupasas to the thrill of sandboarding down a volcano, from the beauty of Mayan textiles to the shimmers of a sparkling Belizean cave, Central America will delight you again and again.

Is Central America Good for First-Time Solo Female Travelers?

I believe one Central American country is ideal for first-time solo female travelers: Costa Rica. Costa Rica has the most developed tourism scene of all the Central American countries. Costa Rica caters to first-time backpackers as well as resort travelers who just want to lie on the beach. In Costa Rica you can find five-star hotels and hostels, surf camps and eco-lodges. It has everything and they are very used to dealing with newbie tourists.

Belize is easy to navigate, has high-end resorts, and English is the language, so in some aspects it makes an easy choice. However, the street harassment in Belize is incessant, particularly on the islands. I wouldn’t send a first-time solo female traveler there unless she was already experienced in fending off street harassment (i.e. someone who lives in a big city would do much better than someone who has only lived in small towns).

As for the other countries of Central America, I don’t think they’re ideal for first-time solo female travelers. I might make an exception for someone who speaks Spanish and already has extensive experience traveling in Latin America with other people.

If you want to travel to Central America and you’ve never traveled solo before, I suggest you look into a group tour, anywhere you’d like, or a group retreat, fitness-oriented or not.

Group Tours in Central America

G Adventures, a tour company I recommend, offers several tours to Central America. Here are a few of their tours:

Is Central America Good for Experienced Solo Female Travelers?

Absolutely! Central America is a fantastic destination for experienced solo female travelers. I was 30 years old and had traveled to 50+ countries before arriving in Central America and I found it beautifully calibrated to my travel expertise.

When you’re an experienced solo traveler, your senses are more finely attuned to what’s going on around you. This is especially helpful in a region were petty crime isn’t uncommon. If you’re experienced, you’re (hopefully) not going to leave your passport under your pillow or walk around a city with a wide-open purse.

One thing I relished was that the backpacking scene was so different from Southeast Asia. People traveling in Central America tend to be older (late twenties and up), more experienced, and North Americans are far more prevalent. For this reason, I was grateful that I had spent my twenties backpacking Southeast Asia and Europe and had held off on Central America until I was in my thirties.

And if you’re sick of the backpacking trail, you can easily get off it. Some emerging destinations include the Rio Dulce region in Guatemala, the Miskito Keys in Nicaragua, and the Caribbean coast of Honduras.

READ MORE: Backpacking Southeast Asia vs. Central America Is Central America Safe?

Central America doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to crime. There is some truth to this. There are parts of Central America that are rife with violence — but the experience of a traveler is very different from a local who grew up in an impoverished neighborhood under gang control.

Many people who travel to Central America are concerned by gun violence, especially in cities like San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and San Salvador, El Salvador. The same truth holds anywhere in the world: most gun violence is gang-oriented and concentrated in areas where no sane tourist would ever go. Tourists are not the target.

To be honest, Central America’s major cities are not what make the region special. A lot of travelers dig the vibe of smaller, more tourism-driven cities like Antigua, Guatemala, and León, Nicaragua, but most steer clear of the major cities like Tegucigalpa, Belize City, and Managua. There is one exception: Panama City is major city that is safe, fun, and has a beautiful old town and lots of attractions for tourists.

While gun violence is rare, a far more realistic risk for travelers in Central America is petty crime. Robbery is common, whether on the road or in your accommodation, and you should be more conscientious than you would be in your home country.

To guard against petty crime, I recommend locking up your valuables in a portable safe in your accommodation, use a camera bag or day bag that locks, and keep your valuables on you in transit. See the Travel and Safety Tips for more details on how to stay safe.

The other major consideration for women traveling in Central America is the prevalence of street harassment. See the Street Harassment section for more information on how to deal with it.

Please keep in mind that the vast majority of travelers to Central America travel safely and without incident. Additionally, the vast majority of Central Americans are warm, welcoming, and will bend over backwards to help you. But even so, I’ve known very experienced travelers who have been robbed in Central America. The most important thing is to get travel insurance (I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Central America), as they will help you out in your time of need.

Street Harassment in Central America

Street harassment is part of life. If you’re a woman, you know that already. Street harassment happens all over the world, but it’s particularly prevalent and incessant in Latin America, where machismo reigns.

In my travels throughout Central America, I found street harassment to be most common in cities. Personally, I found street harassment to be the absolute worst in Nicaragua, specifically in the cities of Granada and León, and not quite as bad but still a major annoyance in San Juan del Sur. It was also significant in Antigua, Guatemala, especially at night.

It’s so ingrained in the culture. Here’s an example: in Granada, a group of little boys around seven years old were playing soccer and lost their ball. I grabbed the ball and gave it back to them. Immediately, the boys started chanting, “Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful!” in English. That’s what they’ve learned from watching men. If you see a woman, treat her as a sex object first.

In Belize, particularly on Caye Caulker, the street harassment was a bit different, but nonetheless incessant — the men would often start a normal conversation, then get into, “Have you ever been with a black man before?” and laugh at however you reacted.

To avoid the worst of the street harassment, I wouldn’t walk alone at night — ever — in cities like León, Granada, and Antigua. Many times in Granada I would take a taxi on a four-block ride rather than walk home alone. Does that seem excessively cautious? Yes. And I did not regret it once.

Dressing like a local woman made a huge difference. In Central America and much of Latin America, women tend to wear long pants, even when it’s boiling hot outside, though they don’t cover up as much on top. Most casually dressed women tend to wear jeans, a tank top, and flip-flops. When I wore jeans or a long dress, I wouldn’t get nearly as much harassment as when I wore a knee-length dress.

In some cities, I chose guesthouses that had a restaurant so I would not have to go out at night. This was especially helpful in León because literally the moment I stepped outside my guesthouse at night, men on the street would be yelling at me. (This did not happen during the day.) This was on a relatively touristy street home to several guesthouses and hostels. Having a restaurant on-site gave me the option of avoiding that harassment.

However, there is one place in Central America where street harassment is almost nonexistent: Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. This is because Lake Atitlán is dominated by Mayans. It’s forbidden for Mayans to have relationships with non-Mayans, and they take this very seriously, so you don’t see any kind of sexual harassment on the streets.

Beyond that, I found that there was significantly less street harassment in smaller, more rural destinations. (“Significantly less” does not mean “nonexistent” — street harassment can happen anywhere.) I experienced no street harassment on the rural island of Ometepe, Nicaragua, or in the small town of Monteverde, Costa Rica, or even in the beach community of El Tunco, El Salvador.

Travel and Safety Tips for Central America

Most of staying safe in Central America comes down to using common sense. Don’t get blackout drunk, keep an eye on your belongings, be careful who you trust.

Double-check your passport stamps when you enter the country, especially if you’ve been in Central America for awhile. Sometimes immigration will give you fewer days in the country than you are allotted. This happened to me in Guatemala: I was allotted 13 days rather than the standard 90 and I didn’t realize until I was on my way out. They had written a “13” on the stamp; I still don’t know why this happened. I had to pay a fine of about $1.30 per day, which wasn’t severe, but it was a hassle to deal with.

Get a day bag that locks. Before I went to Central America, this was my biggest priority as I was concerned about petty crime. I ended up buying a Pacsafe bag and some padlocks; Pacsafe makes an excellent selection of bags that lock.

Be prepared for transportation scams. Once my friends and I booked a direct shuttle from San Pedro to Lanquín in Guatemala and the driver insisted on stopping in Antigua, which would add hours to an already long journey. The driver refused to go direct unless we paid him more, so we coughed up the cash.

Dress like the local women — and for all kinds of weather. Latin American women tend to cover their legs but be more liberal on top; I found that jeans and a tank top was a common uniform for local women. If you dress this way, you will be harassed less. If you’re in a resort town full of tourists, you can get away with more skimpy dressing.

Be sure to pack some warm clothing, too! I always bundle up before taking public transportation in Central America because buses LOVE to jack up the AC. Additionally, Central America is warm year-round, but there are some cooler regions. At 5,000 feet (1,500 meters), Lake Atitlán in Guatemala is at a high altitude, and it can get quite chilly, especially at night. You’ll spot travelers clad in colorful Mayan hoodies, pants, and hats because they didn’t think to bring anything warm.

Don’t flash your valuables or wear expensive jewelry. If you’re out taking photos with an expensive-looking camera, be extra cautious. Only take out your camera and phone when you need them — don’t walk around absentmindedly with them in your hand.

Pickpocketing happens in Central American destinations, especially on public transportation. Keep an eye on your belongings at all times.

If you carry a purse, hold it close to you. I recommend a crossbody purse, made out of a tough material like leather or fake leather, that zips shut. I recommend many purses in this post. Never let it hang behind you — always keep it in a place where you can see it, and keep your hand on it if you’re in a crowd.

If you carry a wallet without a purse, don’t keep it in your back pocket. This is obvious to thieves and they will grab it and run.

If you use a small backpack, lock it. I use a Pacsafe backpack where you can lock the compartments shut.

Keep your valuables locked up in your accommodation and only take with you what you need that day. I do this with my Pacsafe Travelsafe and I consider it the most important thing I pack. Keep an extra debit card and at least $100 hidden in obscure parts of your luggage.

Never leave your bags anywhere unattended. Even if you’re used to asking someone to watch your things while you use the bathroom in a coffeeshop at home, don’t do that in Central America. Take your belongings with you. If you’re keeping your bag under the table or otherwise out of sight, keep it between your feet or hook the strap around one of the chair legs.

Don’t carry tons of cash around with you. You can use credit cards in cities in Central America, and carrying lots of cash leaves you vulnerable to theft. Don’t be the traveler who loses her wallet and the $500 in it.

Only use ATMs at banks during the day, indoors. Don’t use standalone ATMs in convenience stores. Not only do they leave you susceptible to robbery, if your card gets eaten, it’s a lot easier to retrieve it from a real bank’s ATM. If you can’t find a bank, use an ATM in a shopping mall.

If someone robs you, GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT. Nothing is worth your life.

Haggling is the way to purchase at markets. Never accept the first price — people are expecting you to lowball them. Have fun with it, but don’t get so caught up in it that you’re arguing for five minutes over the value of 25 cents.

Protect yourself from the sun. Being in the sun so much leaves you vulnerable to skin damage. Be sure to cover up and use sunscreen as often as possible. If you’re snorkeling, you may want to wear a rash guard or shirt to keep your back from burning.

Use reef-safe sunscreen when snorkeling, diving, or swimming near coral reefs. In fact, there’s no reason not to use reef-safe sunscreen everywhere.

Hydrate — but be cautious about the water. The water is not safe to drink in most places in Central America. While most travelers rely on bottled water, it creates a major waste issue. For this reason, I recommend you bring a reusable bottle and invest in a SteriPen water purifier (much better and faster than tablets). Alternatively, you can bring a LifeStraw, a bottle that purifies water as you drink it through its straw.

See a travel doctor beforehand and be prepared on what to do if you get sick. On the Central America tours that I led in 2015, I was shocked that roughly half of my attendees got sick. Your doctor may advise you to take antibiotics that are easily available at pharmacies throughout Central America. That’s a conversation that you and your doctor should have.

Malaria is present in parts of Central America. This is the Costa Rica malaria map from the Center for Disease Control in the US. Some travelers choose to take malaria pills and some choose not to. I’m not going to tell you what to do because that’s a conversation you and a medical..

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When I knew I was traveling to Guyana, I had no idea what to expect. Even for the girl who grew up constantly reading about other countries, I knew very little about Guyana and never really had a desire to visit.

Then in November, I received an opportunity to visit Guyana on one of the Guyana Tourism Authority’s very first press trips. At the time, I was in Kenya on another press trip. One of the writers with me was Guyanese-American, and I excitedly told her I got invited to her home country.

“Why?” she said. “There’s nothing there.”

There’s nothing there. Quite the endorsement!

The trip was an instant yes for me, though. Lately I’ve been craving trips to lesser-known destinations. My mission this year and beyond is to visit and write about emerging destinations that don’t get a lot of tourism yet. Even when I go to Italy, I’m planning to visit cities that don’t get a lot of attention.

Guyana, I learned, would be all about waterfalls and wildlife and traveling in a way. It would be an adventure.

And BOY, did Guyana deliver. There is QUITE a bit there.

I know nothing about Guyana. What’s it like?

When I said I was traveling to Guyana, I was surprised at how many of my friends — even some very well-traveled friends — told me, “Have fun in Africa!”

Not quite! It’s Guyana — not Ghana or Guinea or Gabon — and it’s located in the northeast of South America, bordering Brazil, Venezuela, and Suriname.

Guyana is unique among South American countries in that it’s an anglophone country, thanks to its years as a British colony. Guyana gained independence in 1966. Guyanese tend to consider themselves a Caribbean country rather than a Latin American country and they’re part of CARICOM, the Caribbean country organization. The interior is defined by its Amerindian culture. English is the primary language, but Guyanese Creole is spoken on the coast and a variety of Amerindian languages are spoken in the interior.

Guyana has six distinct ethnic groups. As of 2012, 40% are of East Indian descent, 30% are of African descent, 20% are of mixed ethnicity, 10.5% are Amerindian, 0.3% are white, and 0.2% are Chinese. The East Indians came to Guyana as indentured laborers; the Africans came to Guyana as slaves. After multiple slave rebellions, slavery was abolished in 1838.

East Indian culture dominates. Even when out in the most isolated parts of Guyana, Amerindian families listen to Hindi music as their children throw colored powders at each other to celebrate Holi (called Phagwa in Guyana).

I was surprised to learn that the Guyanese are the fifth largest immigrant group in New York City. The heart of the Guyanese community is in Richmond Hill, Queens. I once ended up in the neighborhood by accident and assumed I was in an Indian neighborhood — little did I know it was actually Indo-Caribbean!

In Guyana, you’ll be traveling extremely off the beaten path.

When I traveled in Guyana, I felt like I was experiencing travel in a way I hadn’t for years. Zero reliance on technology, because there was none. Few countries having flights to Guyana added to the feeling of being cut off from the world (though you can fly direct from New York and Miami). One of the properties where I stayed, Saddle Mountain Ranch, was so remote that it didn’t even have a website.

Guyana is, without a doubt, the most off the beaten path destination I’ve ever visited. While Antarctica or Hawaii or Easter Island may technically be more geographically isolated, each receives loads of tourists — far more than what Guyana gets. (It’s hard to isolate tourism numbers because most Guyana visitors are business travelers.)

Anecdotally, among my travel blogger friends, I can name well over two dozen who have been to Antarctica or Hawaii or Easter Island. I can name only two who have been to Guyana — neither of whom have been to the Rupununi.

I saw very few tourists in Guyana — less than half a dozen in the interior and about a dozen at Kaieteur Falls. At this point in time, many of Guyana’s tourists come for wildlife and birdwatching in particular. According to Brian Mullis, Director of the Guyana Tourism Authority, Guyana’s tourists tend to be affluent, North American or European, and age 35-60.

This utter lack of tourism added to Guyana’s charm for me. Multiple times I heard people in the Rupununi say something along the lines of, “We don’t care if you come to our lodge or another lodge, we’re just happy people are coming here.” Imagine hearing that in Venice or Barcelona.

You will eat well in Georgetown — and everywhere.

I’ll be honest — the capital of Georgetown is a necessary landing pad, and that’s about it. It’s not a terrible city, but it has little in terms of attractions, and the true beauty of Guyana is in the interior. That being said, you’ll probably arrive early on an overnight flight, and it’s smart to give yourself a little buffer of time before your plans begin, just in case your flight is delayed or canceled.

The vast majority of Guyanese live in Georgetown and its environs. This city is a crash course on contemporary Guyanese culture.

And so there is one activity that I highly recommend in Georgetown: a food tour with Backyard Cafe. Run by Delven Adams and Mailini Jaikarran, this is quite literally a backyard cafe in the heart of a residential neighborhood in Georgetown. They run market tours where they take you around the market, then bring you back to the cafe to cook lunch with the food you picked out!

Bourda Market is colorful, organized chaos. Delven weaves us in and out of the stalls, treating us to samples of fruits. Delven spent most of his life in New York but felt the pull to come home to Guyana. At one point he beckons for us to follow and we’re in a rum shop — a bar — at 9:30 in the morning, surrounded by locals in various levels of intoxication.

Would we like a beer? Why not?!

After securing our provisions, we go back to the Backyard Cafe itself, hidden within a residential neighborhood. We drink passionfruit juice and sit back, listening to the music, and it’s hard to think of a place that could be more chilled out than this.

The piece de resistance is a giant fish called a snook — enormous and impossibly delicious. When the fish is that fresh and delicious, all you need to do is put some garlic and salt on it and let it cook away. One of the best fish I have ever tasted.

With it we had those long green beans, called bora, beef curry, and bitter melon.

While that was just the first showcase of Guyanese food, plenty more awaited over the next week.

Guyanese food is delicious. It has a lot of Indian, Chinese, British, and Caribbean influences. And the Guyanese love their hot sauces, ranging from roughly “Wow, that’s got a kick to it” to “This could strip the paint off a car.”

Some of the most popular dishes? Curry is the standard home cooking dish. Chow Mein is surprisingly popular — you’ll find it on tons of menus. Pepper pot is a delicious Amerindian dish of stewed meat with spices. I couldn’t get enough of bakes — the giant fried pieces of bread.

Most of the nicer hotels in Guyana tend to favor international cuisine over Guyanese specialties; I suspect this is related to Guyana catering to business travelers rather than leisure travelers.

You’ll Have to Pack Light

If you’re flying domestically within Guyana, you will be flying on a tiny plane and limited to 20 lbs/9 kg of luggage per person. That’s a REALLY small amount of luggage, especially if you’re carrying photography equipment.

You’ll have to pack extremely light — and forget hard-sided bags, which add a lot of weight. You’ll have to pack only the essentials. (You also have the option of leaving your excess luggage at your hotel in Georgetown while you fly into the interior.)

Alternatively, it’s possible to travel from Georgetown to Lethem by bus. The journey takes about 13 hours and costs around $75 USD.

What to Pack for Guyana’s Interior
  • Sun protection — sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, light long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Insect repellent (ideally insect repellent for clothing) — especially when you’re near water
  • Closed-toe shoes for the outdoors. A hiking shoe/sneaker hybrid is ideal.
  • Photography equipment, including long lenses if you’re photographing wildlife
  • Portable charger and power strip (you might be sharing a single outlet with everyone at the lodge)
  • Kindle Paperwhite (you’ll have downtime for reading in the afternoons, and this is much lighter than bringing books)
  • All the toiletries you’ll need, including menstrual products (I recommend a DivaCup)
  • Extra underwear, because you will sweat A LOT
  • Bathing suit, just in case there’s a creek to swim in!

The Rupununi is Isolated and Breathtaking

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’ve never heard of the Rupununi before. This part of southwest Guyana is home to savannah — endless plains mixed in with forested areas called bush islands, mountains in the distance, the Rupununi River winding throughout the region.

This is where the magic begins in Guyana.

We arrived on a dirt airstrip near Karanambu. Waiting there to pick us up were three aged SUVs caked in dirt. They took us on a dirt road — and occasionally drove through burning sections of forest!

By the time we arrived in Yupukari, my phone, my luggage, and I were covered in dirt that didn’t leave for days.

The people who come to the Rupununi tend to be “the generation that grew up with David Attenborough,” according to Melanie McTurk, Director of Karanambu Lodge. Attenborough wrote extensively about Guyana and Karanambu Lodge featured heavily in his books.

One of the nice things about staying at Caiman House is that it’s right in the town of Yupukari — you get to experience Amerindian life here in a way you don’t at more isolated lodges. I loved getting to visit the school, seeing the local library (with a HUGE collection of Baby-Sitters Club books!!) and learn about how locals are building a local enterprise where they design housewares for IKEA!

Guyana’s Wildlife Will Thrill You

Forget lions, elephants and giraffes — you can see those all over Africa. You come to Guyana to see the weird wildlife.

Ever heard of the Giants of Guyana? Guyana is home to several giant species. Giant river otters, giant anteaters, giant lilies, and the world’s largest spider, the South American Goliath Birdeater (BOY, AM I GLAD I MISSED THAT GUY).

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March brought me to Guyana. That, far and away, was what dominated the month — my weeklong trip to the little-visited country in South America. It was an unbelievable trip and I can’t wait to start writing about it for you.

Honestly, this month was so dominated by work that I didn’t get up to much else. I was working like crazy to write all kinds of solo female travel guides, and I still have quite a few. But even though I was crazy busy this month, I still got a TON of books in. Behold: March 2019!

Destinations Visited

New York, NY

Georgetown, Yupukari, Karanambu, Lethem, Saddle Mountain Ranch, and Kaiteur National Park, Guyana


My trip to Guyana was absolutely FANTASTIC. One of the best press trips I’ve ever done, with one of the best groups of people with whom I’ve traveled. I don’t want to write too much about Guyana here because I’m preparing a huge post on it, but it was so special to be in a place SO untouristed, with natural beauty and insane wildlife and warm, welcoming people. It reminded me of how travel used to be.

Enjoying a digital detox. There was practically no internet outside Georgetown in Guyana, so for five days I enjoyed the bliss of being completely offline, my first proper detox since Antarctica a year ago. It is so good for your brain — the ticks you have toward checking your phone completely disappear. I need to make an effort to do this more often.

Speaking at an event for solo female travelers in Harlem. I loved giving out travel tips, chatting with cool travel people, and discovering a brand-new venue — Callie’s, a cool bar that opened recently.

Great times in New York. I attended a book event for Laurie Halse Anderson’s new book Shout with my friend Anna. It was a great reading and we got to meet Mara Wilson afterward (yep, the little girl from Mrs. Doubtfire)! She was cool; she liked my nails.

Celebrating my bud Jessie‘s engagement party was a lot of fun. I hung out with my book group and went to some Drag Race watch parties and comedy shows. And on my quest to try all the best pizza in New York, I finally tried the famous spicy slice from Prince St. Pizzeria in SoHo. The verdict? It was all right. I didn’t see anything life-changing about it.


Helping a friend through her grief. I was with a friend when she got the worst news of her life. I helped her and comforted her throughout that horrible day, but she was in so much pain that it destroyed me knowing there was nothing I could do to make things better.

Saying goodbye to a furry friend. My friends said goodbye to their dog, a Very Good Boy who loved his family so much. He was a sweet and protective pup who loved my coffee breath and wouldn’t leave my friend’s side while she was pregnant. He was adopted from a shelter in Brooklyn. Seeing how much love my friends’ rescue dogs have brought to their lives, if you’re thinking of getting a dog, I encourage you to adopt one from a shelter, rather than going to a breeder.

My building was on fire and I found out through an app. I use the Citizen app to get updates of nearby crimes close to wherever I am, whether it’s a robbery or a stabbing or a fight (though my favorite was “AGGRESSIVE CHIHUAHUA” when I was on the Upper West Side).

Boy, was I surprised when I was at home working and got a notification that said “Fire at [Kate’s address]”!! I freaked out, grabbed my valuables and coat and closed the doors, and went out into the hallway. Lots of my neighbors were there talking as the FDNY went up and down the stairs.

It turns out that an apartment on the floor beneath mine had a kitchen fire. They called the fire department but kept the door closed so the smoke wouldn’t go into the hallway — that’s why the alarms didn’t go off. There was no danger to anyone — it was just a scary experience to go through!

Most Popular Blog Post

Solo Female Travel in Paris — Is it Safe? — How did it take me so many years to write this post? I’m delighted you all enjoyed it! Paris is VERY different from what first-time visitors think it’s going to be, and it’s important to protect yourself.

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How I Became a Successful Travel Blogger — My Smartest Decisions — One of my favorite posts I’ve EVER written, and that’s saying a lot.

Solo Female Travel in Colombia — Is it Safe? — Everyone warns you against going to Colombia, but I was determined to uncover what it was really like for solo women.

The Best Things to Do in Ushuaia, Argentina — I wasn’t super excited for my mandatory stop in Ushuaia before Antarctica, but I discovered an absolutely gorgeous place!

Solo Female Travel in South Africa — Is it Safe? — South Africa is one destination where you need to take precautions you wouldn’t take anywhere else. I think it’s great for women who already have a lot of solo travel experience under their belt.

Solo Female Travel in England, Scotland, and Wales — On the other end of the spectrum, Britain is a very easy country in which to travel solo, and a great spot for first-time solo travelers. I share a lot of my favorite things about British culture here.

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

A selfie, an elephant, a leopard-print scarf — what’s not to love? This shot was from Kenya back in November. For more photos from my travels, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.

What I Wore This Month

I rented this awesome Yumi Kim dress from Rent the Runway. We had severe luggage restrictions for Guyana (only 20 lbs each, including tech and photography gear!!), so we were told to keep it EXTREMELY simple, but I couldn’t resist bringing one outlandish dress for our day in Georgetown. I love how tall it makes me look.

Solange - Almeda (Official Video) - YouTube

What I Listened To This Month

This month, I have a music recommendation rather than a podcast — Solange’s new album When I Get Home. SUCH a good album — dreamlike, ethereal, and a long meditation on what it is to be a black woman in 2019. The album was released at midnight between Black History Month and Women’s History Month for that reason.

This album is great to listen to on its own, but it also makes good background music for working. (Not an insult; it’s just that kind of album.) I’ve listened to it a million times this month.

Strangely, I realized this month that I’ve always liked Solange’s music more than her sister Beyonce’s. She has done her own thing from the very beginning, without worrying about playing to the needs of the masses. (Don’t come for me, Beyhive!!!)

Shrill: Trailer (Official) • A Hulu Original - YouTube

What I Watched This Month

Everyone, you need to watch Shrill on Hulu. This show is amazing — based on the memoir by Lindy West (whom I love), and starring Aidy Bryant (whom I also love), it’s a sweet, six-episode comedy about a woman who finds her voice.

Annie has a good life, but it could be better — she’s got a regular hookup but he won’t let her be seen with him publicly, she’s got loving parents but her mom needles her about her weight, and she has a job with potential but a boss who fat-shames her constantly. Annie learns to rise up and blossom — not by losing weight, but finally allowing herself the self-love she’s denied herself her entire life.

It’s not an after-school special — it’s funny, and sweet, and gorgeously diverse, and the fashion is amazing. Also, Daniel Stern plays her dad, and how AMAZING would it be to not only get your own show, but have Marv from Home Alone play your dad?!

Queer Eye has a new season this month as well, and it’s SO good. I bawled my eyes out for the whole widower episode.

What I Read This Month

This month I read 10 books, and I’ve now read 34 in 2019. And I finished the BookRiot ReadHarder challenge! It feels amazing to finish a yearlong challenge in MARCH, but you know me — I’m crazy competitive with myself. Books that fulfilled the categories are listed at the end of the review.

Delicious Foods by James Hannaham (2015) — After the unexpected death of her husband, Darlene spins out of control and becomes addicted to crack cocaine. One night, she is picked up in a van by people promising her a good job and she winds up at Delicious Foods, a farm that uses drug addicts for labor and holds debt over their heads, effectively keeping them as slaves. Darlene’s 11-year-old son, Eddie, sets out to look for her, and he eventually ends up at Delicious Foods himself.

This may be the single best book I’ve read in 2019. What makes it extraordinary is that it’s narrated by crack itself, in a sexy, seductive tone that makes you just want to party. I was horrified and fascinated by the human trafficking operation that welcomes drug addicts, and gladly provides them with crack if they want it, but charges them for every little thing and has them amass a debt they’ll never be able to repay. It turns out that this premise is sadly based in reality — there have been farms in Florida targeting Latinx undocumented immigrants for slave labor. I loved each of the characters and wanted to spend time with them. Category: a book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (2008) — Why is it that some people are able to break through and be phenomenally successful? Talent and effort play major roles, but there are also thousands of tiny factors that create success. This book explains why most Canadian professional hockey players were born in the first three months of the year, why certain nationalities of pilots were more likely to crash, why so many children of Jewish garment-makers went on to become the most powerful lawyers in New York, and why Bill Gates succeeded when other similarly intelligent men did not.

I adored this book so much that I actually wrote a whole post about how I was an outlier. After reading The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis earlier this year, I resolved to read more books about data, and this was a hardcore data book. I was fascinated by it. This was actually my first time reading a Malcolm Gladwell book, and I know I’ll be reading a lot more by him in the future. Just one thing — this is not the best book to be reading on a plane, as you suddenly get to a chapter all about plane crashes. Oops.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum (2019) — This book tells the stories of three Palestinian-American women living in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. In 1990, a seventeen-year-old Palestinian girl named Isra is married off to a man living in America. She bears him a daughter, which earns her scorn from her mother-in-law Fareeda, and then she bears three more daughters — each earning her more anger than the last. The book skips forward to 2008, when Isra and her husband are dead, and Fareeda is now pressuring Isra’s seventeen-year-old Deya to marry as soon as possible. Deya has doubts over marrying so soon and it leads her to investigate what happened to her family so many years ago.

This is a great addition to the books about immigrants living in contemporary New York, like Lisa Ko’s The Leavers and Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers. I felt so hard for the characters in this book, especially Isra — imagine being taken to a new country, never being allowed to leave your house, and getting constantly degraded for giving birth to girls, something that’s completely out of your control. I was also surprised when the book jumped to 2008 and the girls were still living in Bay Ridge, going to an Islamic school, never having ridden the subway or gone anywhere on their own but getting ready to get married. I had no idea communities like that existed in New York today, but I shouldn’t be surprised — everything’s here.

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh (2018) — Sarah Smarsh grew up poor and white in rural Kansas, coming from a long line of farmers on her father’s side and a long line of teen mothers on her mother’s side. This book is a memoir examining her own life and those of her mother and grandmother, and the specific difficulties poor white people face in rural areas. Smarsh was eventually able to escape and go on to college and become a journalist; she ties in her memories with research making interesting observations about the sociology, economics, and politics of being poor.

This is the book that Hillbilly Elegy wishes it was. Plain and simple. A million times better — much better researched, much more compassionate, and much more intelligent. This book and Matthew Desmond’s Evicted have been the two most important books I’ve read about poverty in America. You think you can understand it when you learn and research from a distance, but when you read a book like this, you realize that there are so many layers to being poor and that they’re nearly impossible to escape. While at times it was hard to keep all the characters straight, I found this to be a fascinating and sad book with moments of genuine joy. I think everyone should read it.

The Black Coats by Colleen Oakes (2019) — Months after her beloved cousin Natalie was murdered, sixteen-year-old Thea is recruited into a mysterious organization. Run entirely by women, the Black Coats serve as vigilantes, seeking out to hurt men who hurt women. Thea and the girls on her team are trained in combat and eventually take part in “balancings,” or justice-based assignments, but as their assignments become increasingly violent, she worries that the organization is on the wrong side of history.

This is my cousin’s latest book! She’s an amazingly prolific writer. What she does best, and what you’ll notice across all her books, is how she builds beautiful, intricate, fantasy-like worlds. They’re the kinds of worlds you’d want to see directed by Tim Burton, and that especially goes for the Black Coats’ headquarters. Also amazingly, she finished this book in mid-2016, before #MeToo became a movement. I loved the idea of this secret society and how women were supporting each other as they took down truly evil men. And once the organization began to crumble, I loved the moral dilemma over who is truly served by vigilantism. This isn’t the kind of book I’d pick up on my own, but it was a fun, exciting read and an excellent choice for a teen girl in your life.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2019) — In the late 1970s, Daisy Jones and the Six were the hottest band in the world — huge tours, a critically acclaimed album, and two stars in lead singers Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne. A year later, the band disbanded. Nobody ever knew why. This book is told in the form of an oral history — all of the band’s members, plus some outsiders, each tell their side of the story.

Reid wrote The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, one of my favorite books from 2017, which is why I was so eager to read this book. And honestly, it’s not QUITE as good, but I enjoyed it enormously anyways. Reid is so good at building worlds in the Los Angeles of decades past. The characters were hard to keep straight at the beginning, especially since there were two sets of brothers, but eventually I figured it out. Eventually I was so into the story that I couldn’t put it down. It’s bubbly and frothy in all the right ways. I could relate so much to having that insane chemistry with someone — but having nowhere to put it. (In fact, that’s a relationship I’ve been exploring in a piece of fiction I’ve been writing.) This is a fun, great read.

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson (2019) — Laurie Halse Anderson came to fame when she published Speak, a book giving a voice to survivors of sexual assault. For her follow-up, she wrote an autobiography in the form of poetry — an idea, she joked, that her editors were NOT thrilled about. Who buys an autobiography in verse these days? But this book is a gorgeous, eloquent look at the most important events in Anderson’s life, from her own sexual assault to her months as an exchange student in Denmark to her work as an activist.

I went to the launch event for this book at HousingWorks in SoHo. This isn’t the kind of book I’d pick up ordinarily, especially without having read any of Anderson’s previous work — but I loved the book. SO much. Most of the poetry I’ve read in the past few years has been hit or miss, but this one was hit after hit. I feel like I know her so well now, and I enjoyed reading a very different book from what I usually read.

An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up From My American Dream by Julián Castro (2018) — Julián Castro served as the Mayor of San Antonio and Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Today, he’s running for president. This memoir tells the story of his life, beginning with his grandmother’s arrival in America as an immigrant from Mexico, who spent her life working for other people. Castro and his twin brother, Joaquin, grew up economically disadvantaged, but they worked hard — the graduated high school a year early, both got into Stanford, both got into Harvard, and returned to San Antonio, becoming political workers and always working for justice in their communities.

Castro is one of my favorite candidates running for president. I know that candidates’ books can err on the side of cheesy, but this book was so engrossing. More than anything, I was struck by how service has always been the..

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How did I become a successful travel blogger? It sure wasn’t intentional from the start! Back when I started Adventurous Kate in 2010, I had no idea it was even possible to make money with a blog.

Recently I read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, which explains how certain individuals became successful. People tend to believe that genius leads to success — for example, that Bill Gates became successful because he was so smart.

But that’s not all of it. Intelligence is a huge factor. So is hard work. But so is opportunity — whether it’s being born at the right time, having the right background, or spending years on a new hobby that eventually becomes a viable career.

Bill Gates was smart and worked hard, but he also had unlimited access to a computer lab as a teenager — something so unusual at the time it was almost unprecedented. This allowed him to get in far more computing practice than his peers, giving him nearly unmatched experience by the time he founded Microsoft.

After reading this, I began thinking of every event in my life that put me in a position to become a successful travel blogger. After a bit of thinking, it came into clear focus. It was being obsessed with an early social network that taught you how to build your own website. It was a professor identifying my potential during my first semester in college. It was getting one of the earliest jobs in social media for a travel company. It was moving to Europe at a time when the travel blogging industry was strongest in Europe. And far, FAR more.

When all of this information added up at once, I was flabbergasted.

When you look at my life, from my birth to today, not only is it unsurprising that I ended up in this career — it seems inevitable that I would eventually become a professional travel blogger.

I had awesome hair when I was born.

A Privileged Position from Birth (1984-present)

You can’t begin to examine my life without first acknowledging my privilege. I grew up white and Catholic in a middle-class community in Massachusetts with a good school system. I didn’t grow up anywhere close to wealthy, and my childhood was difficult in some ways, but I was overall in a very privileged position.

My life was never made more difficult due to my race, religion, sexuality, gender identity, economic background, or nationality. As a result, opportunities came more easily and frequently to me and I didn’t have to work as hard as most people.

It didn’t feel like it at the time, especially when I went to college and was surrounded by kids from obscenely wealthy families, but I now realize how my privilege set me up for success.

Girl reading book (via Pixabay)

An Intellectual Upbringing with a Geography Obsession (1989-1995)

From the moment I began school, I was expected to excel. This translated into being pushed to work as hard as possible and supplement my schoolwork with other activities, like piano lessons and constant reading. Drama and music were my main interests; I did sports but was never a skilled or enthusiastic athlete.

I couldn’t tell you when my geography fascination began — I can’t remember it ever not being there. All I know is that whenever I got my hands on a map, I would get lost in it. As soon as we were allowed to check out nonfiction books in school, I would make a beeline to the 900s section and choose a book about a different country every week.

I had a placemat with a world map on it. I was obsessed with it and my family would quiz me on countries every night. (My mom took a picture of me with the placemat the day I left to travel.)

What kind of kid was I? I was the kid who got in trouble for leaving her Ethiopia library book at her after-school Math Magic class. (God, I hated that class. I was the youngest kid and the only girl.)

Being pushed academically is what gave me my lifelong work ethic, and my love for geography eventually grew into a love for travel.

Growing Up a Dreamer (1989-2002)

There’s a Jack Donaghy quote from 30 Rock that I love: “The first generation comes to this country and works their fingers to the bone. The second generation goes to college and creates new innovations…the third generation snowboards and takes improv classes.”

My family has been in the US for a long time, but I was a classic third generation kid. Both of my parents were the first people in their families to go to college. And both of them lost their fathers when they were teenagers, which meant that their mothers had to go to work, money was tight, and they had to pay for college themselves. They both commuted to state schools, chose “smart” career paths — business for Dad, teaching for Mom — and eventually earned graduate degrees.

My parents wanted me to have a childhood without constantly worrying about money. To be able to go to the best college for me and live on campus. To eventually have a career I loved.

This translated into a freedom to dream in a way that many of my friends couldn’t. My friends who grew up with immigrant families, or in conservative cultures, were more or less forced into medicine, law, or engineering from a young age, spending their time on extracurriculars that could lead to a better future.

I was told I could do anything, study anything, be anyone I wanted to be. I wholeheartedly believe that growing up with this mindset led me to quit my job, travel solo, start a business in a brand new industry, and live unconventionally.

A Technology-Filled Childhood (1990-2002)

My dad has always been interested in computers and technology; he passed on this excitement to me. On Christmas when I was six years old in 1990, I was led downstairs to see the latest addition to the family and I squealed, “It’s a computer! And it’s a Macintosh!”

That small, square, early 90s computer was the beginning of my love for technology. I was only playing games and creating art as a kid, but I was hooked. The computer was a million times more fun than anything else.

I grew up in the nascence of the internet and was immersed in its early days. My dad went on to train his colleagues in how to use the internet. Around the same time, we brought the 1990 computer to my fifth-grade classroom and I taught my teacher and classmates how to use it.

I was never interested in coding or the engineering side of computing. But growing up with computers, being comfortable with them, and constantly learning what they could do gave me an edge that came to fruition in high school.

Building Websites in the Early Days (1998-2002)

When I was around 13 in 1998 or so, I spent my time on a website called Bolt — it was one of the early social networks predating MySpace. They had message boards, quizzes, badges, private messaging. There were different sections for music, movies, sports, astrology. I was obsessed with Bolt and spent so much of my internet time on there.

And one thing you could do on Bolt was create your own website. I was fascinated and decided to build an astrology website.

It was simple — a home page with twelve links linking to separate pages for each astrological sign. On each sign’s page, I posted a description of the sign’s qualities. I copied and pasted the description from another site (holy plagiarism!).

I kept that simple site immaculate, though. It was neat and clean. Each page had a “go back home” link at the bottom. I spent time targeting the colors to each sign. It wasn’t overloaded with counters or 90s clipart.

But then Bolt featured the site on its astrology homepage. I was thrilled to high heaven. People were visiting a site I made!

For my second website, when I was 14, I turned to Angelfire and decided to build a fan site for my favorite Backstreet Boy, A.J. McLean. (Amusingly, 15 years later, I would learn that we are actually cousins.) I was already an expert on all things A.J. — this site would be a place to put it all together. I created pages with his biography, his favorite things, pictures of A.J., videos of A.J., his songwriting credits.

Angelfire was where I began teaching myself rudimentary HTML. I wasn’t hardcore coding or anything like that, but I loved learning the basics. More importantly, though, I was learning how to structure content in a way that would entertain readers.

My third site, also created at age 14, was definitely my most embarrassing site: a Backstreet Boys humor site called Out the Dizzo. Yes, a Backstreet Boys humor site. Around 1999, they were a thing and there were tons of them.

I would constantly create new content for the site: funny alternate lyrics to Backstreet Boys songs, funny quotes for Backstreet Boys pictures, links to the funniest Backstreet Boys fan fiction, and of course, commentary on “All I Have to Give: The Conversation Mix.” The name Out the Dizzo came from a random quote Kevin Richardson once gave in an interview that was an ongoing joke in our community.

My fourth site was my most professional site yet, and it served a purpose: it was called “Who’s Going Where” and I built it my senior year of high school as a directory showing where everyone was going to college. There were headings, there were colors, it was laid out professionally, and I was proud of it.

These days of building websites were absolutely blissful — I fell in love with it. But more importantly, when it became time to build a professional time, I wasn’t slowed down by learning HTML and how to structure content. I already had years of experience.

My First Trip Overseas Trip to France (2001)

From an early age, I was a hardcore francophile, thanks to the influence of my French Canadian grandmother. She taught me basic French, gave me French books, and made me proud of my French heritage. I signed up to take French in the eighth grade; the vast majority of my classmates took Spanish.

Every other year, my high school did an exchange with a school in Rouen, France. Their students would come visit for two weeks in the fall and stay with our families, then we’d visit them in the spring. By the time I was a junior, I had been dreaming of this trip for years.

WHAT A TRIP. I felt such freedom traveling with my friends. I felt electrified when I spoke French and was understood. I got to know French culture while staying with a family in the countryside. My language skills improved rapidly thanks to the immersive environment. I took more photos than any normal human would. I saw so much of Normandy, from Etretat to Caen to Giverny. And I fell madly in love with Paris, a love that remains to this day.

I look back at that trip with fondness — but also with embarrassment. I got roped into paying for shitty portraits and bracelets woven on my wrist without my consent by men who approached me at Montmartre. (Looking back, I find it absurd that our teachers didn’t warn us about the Montmartre scam artists but made a big deal about the word “bagel” being code for pickpocket.) And our behavior at the Normandy battlefields was appalling — we called it “Teletubby land” and took goofy pictures.

But that first trip began everything. For the first time, my love of reading travel books and studying maps had grown into something more real. I was a traveler — and I was good at it.

A Professor Who Saw a Spark (2002)

When I started college at Fairfield University, I planned to double-major in psychology and French — then I decided to keep my options open and go in undeclared. I’d chosen a Jesuit university because they force you to study so many different areas in depth; I wanted to learn about as many subjects as I could.

During my first semester of college, I took the introductory writing class required for all freshmen. Papers were due every week and I wrote them in a way I thought college writing was supposed to be: intellectual, distant, emotionless.

Then one week I was bored and decided to write an essay about how I loved to take on dares when I was in middle and high school. If someone dared me to do something crazy, I would do it. I had a blast writing about all the adventures resulting from my dares. If my professor hated the essay, I’d do something more normal the next week.

I got my paper back and the entire back page was covered in red pen. My professor had LOVED it. He himself loved to do silly things to make people laugh. “SEE ME!” It read at the bottom of the paper.

I went to see him after class and he raved about my paper, telling me how much he loved it and what a talented writer I was. He was expecting to see more great things from me in the English program.

“Do you think…I should major in English?” I said, dumbfounded. I had never considered majoring in English; it sounded like such a boring major.

“If you didn’t, I would be disappointed,” he told me, his face suddenly serious.

Though I didn’t declare for another year, I ended up majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. It wasn’t remotely boring. I overloaded on the electives, from poetry writing and journalism to literature of the Irish Famine, and I felt so intellectually fulfilled.

My whole life, I had taken my love for writing for granted — I assumed it was easy and fun for everyone. That professor helped me see that my writing was exceptional, and while I never had him as a professor again, he set me on a path to making writing my career.

Laptop (via Pixabay)

Starting a Blog in the Earliest Days (2002)

Early during my freshman fall semester in 2002, I discovered the concept of an “online diary.” You could write anything you wanted and it would be put online for anyone to read. How cool would that be?

I wrote my first blog post on Diary-X one afternoon — and I loved it so much that I immediately wrote two more! I was hooked on blogging (though keep in mind that the word “blog” was barely used back then). From then on it was a near-daily habit that continued for the rest of college and beyond.

Oh, and I had no filter back then. I got in trouble for writing about who was hooking up with whom and which girls on my floor were feuding with each other!

During my spring semester of senior year, Diary-X’s server failed. Every online diary had disappeared, and all my years of writings were lost.

Well, it was time to start something new. I started a new blog on the much more reliable platform of Blogger. I called it “Adventurous Kate” — the first emergence of that name — and continued writing constantly.

Sometime during college, I was asked what my true dream job would be. “Getting paid to blog about my life,” I replied, laughing at the concept.

Studying Abroad in Florence, Italy (2004)

For years I had dreamed of studying abroad in Paris. But at the last minute, I decided to apply to be an RA my junior year instead — a resident advisor in a dorm. RAs had to commit to a full year, so I wouldn’t be able to study abroad at all.

Then the tables turned — I didn’t make the cut to be an RA. As I reeled in shock, I decided in that moment that having the year free meant I HAD to study abroad. But the Paris program was through another school, and it was too late to apply for the fall semester. If I had any chance of going abroad in the fall, it would need to be through one of Fairfield’s own programs.

At the time, Fairfield had study abroad programs in Galway, London, and Brisbane — but the most popular one was in Florence. Of those four, Florence was easily the most exciting and the most exotic to me. ITALY! I had to do it.

I ran around campus, securing transcripts and begging for recommendations, and applied the same day. I was accepted less than 24 hours later.

Florence was an incredible, life-changing experience. I wrote a 10-year retrospective about it here; it’s a great read. I lived in a huge apartment with eight other girls. We spent our weeks eating and partying in Florence and spent our weekends traveling to different places. Budapest, Interlaken, and Capri were some of my favorite spots.

And I did go to Paris after all — as part of my fall break with my friends. I was their navigator, translator, and tour guide.

While I was away, I kept a meticulous diary and wrote long, detailed emails to my friends about my adventures in Europe. People began looking forward to my weekly emails, and I began sharing them as blog posts.

I had no idea of its significance at the time, but I was in my first days of travel blogging — something that would become my full-time career six years later.

Discovering the Concept of Long-Term Travel (2006)

After graduating college, I got a job at a company in Boston. While my interviewer described the company as a marketing firm with celebrity clients, it turned out to be more of a call center (yes, with a few celebrity clients). We were a high-end concierge service for rich people; I was hired as a research assistant for the extra tough requests.

It was possible to have a lot of free time at this job if you did your tasks quickly, and I was a speed demon. I’d browse the web when I could, and I can’t remember how this happened, but I came across a website called Gone Walkabout. It was a collection of journals by a guy named Sean who had gone backpacking around the world for a year.

This guy spent a year traveling the world alone. Just because he wanted to.

My heart raced. I’d heard of entire families traveling together for a year, but a single person, alone? THE THOUGHT HAD NEVER EVEN CROSSED MY MIND. Keep in mind this was 2006. The internet was nothing like what it is today.

Right then and there, I knew I was going to do exactly what he did. I would save up for a year around the world.

Every day at work, I would go in, get my work done, and sneakily read more of Gone Walkabout, nearly jumping out of my seat with excitement. I vowed to do a similar route to his, starting in New Zealand and heading westward. I knew I had to visit Railay in Thailand, just like him.

At the same time, I became active on another travel site: BootsnAll. In those very early pre-travel blogging days, I hung out on the message boards with people like Beth of Beers and Beans, who went on to create the Speakeasy Travel Supply scarves that I share with you often, and Brooke from Her Packing List and Anne-Sophie from Sophie’s World. We talked about our favorite places, planned our future trips, and..

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I have spent a LOT of time traveling alone in England, Scotland, and Wales. Much more than I originally intended. I went to Europe without a plan, ended up living for months at a time in two different cities in England, and used them as a base to explore the country.

I never thought the UK would become one of my most extensively traveled countries. At the time, I was more interested in warmer, sexier, more exotic travel destinations — the UK seemed so boring compared to Thailand or Italy or South Africa. And yet I completely fell under its spell.

Traveling in the UK is seen as an “easy” option. I can’t deny that — it’s one of the easiest possible countries for newbie travelers. But that doesn’t mean more experienced travelers can’t enjoy it. I think Britain is one of the most interesting countries I’ve visited! Speaking the local language and being in a similar culture allows you to get in deeper to the nuances that make the culture unique.

If you’re looking to travel solo in England, or Scotland, or Wales — or all three! — you’ve come to the right place. This guide lists everything you need to know.

Why Travel to the UK?

First things first: let’s talk about what terms are best to use. The UK, or Britain, consists of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Great Britain consists of England, Scotland, and Wales — not Northern Ireland. The British Isles include all of the UK plus Ireland. Oh, and don’t get me started on the Channel Islands, which are parts of some of these groups but not others…

For the ease of this post, I will be focusing solely on England, Scotland, and Wales. I’ll be rolling Northern Ireland into the future Ireland travel guide. There’s no political reasoning behind that; it’s just for geographical reasons.

People travel to the UK because it’s a destination of which they already have an idea in their mind. Everyone knows that London, at the very least, is foggy and has bridges. Scotland has kilts and bagpipes. All of the UK is covered in castles and villages. And they love tea and they have a queen.

Plenty of people grow up as Anglophiles, dreaming of one day experiencing the culture for themselves. People come to the UK for history. Quite a few North Americans come to the UK for ancestry-related reasons, to see their family roots. And some just want to learn what it’s like to drive on the left.

But I think the true charms of Britain involve getting to know the people and the culture on a deeper level. You can do that by spending time in a pub, or joining a meetup with lots of locals. You can absolutely get there by attending a festival! This will show you that Britain is far beyond its stereotypes.

There’s More to England than London!!!

This is my biggest tip of all. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say they want to go to “London and Ireland” or “London and Scotland” while ignoring the rest of England. Or maybe, maybe they’ll add in a quick trip to Stonehenge before leaving English territory.

I used to be one of those people, actually. I met four friends from the north of England (which is culturally very different from the south of England) while traveling in Vietnam, they told me where they were from Chester and Oldham, I asked, “Oh, is that close to London?” and all four of them visibly cringed.

Believe me, there is SO much more to England than London. If you come to England and only visit London, you’re missing out on some truly wonderful destinations. See more below on exactly where to go in England.

Is Britain Good for First-Time Solo Female Travelers?

Absolutely — it’s one of the BEST destinations for first-time solo female travelers. English is the local language, there’s excellent travel infrastructure, it’s easy to get around, and there are plenty of travelers doing the same thing you are.

If you’ve never traveled solo in your life, England, Scotland, or Wales would be a terrific choice. If you’ve never been to Europe in your life, any of the three would be a great choice, too, with or without a partner.

Beyond that, locals in the UK — particularly in London and Edinburgh — are used to dealing with less experienced travelers and know how to cater to their needs. That said, new travelers don’t get scammed or targeted here nearly as much as in Paris or Barcelona. For that reason, if you’re set on Paris or Barcelona for your first solo trip ever, I recommend spending a few days in London or Edinburgh first to get your solo travel bearings in an easy and safe place.

Is Britain Good for Experienced Solo Female Travelers?

Hell yes, Britain is good for experienced solo female travelers! It might seem “too easy” if you’re used to traveling in the developing world, but sometimes you’re in the mood for somewhere a bit easier. And there are plenty of places to get off the beaten path.

And that doesn’t mean going into rural areas — it could mean visiting a fun but not-as-famous city like Glasgow or Leeds. It could mean renting a car and stopping at every adorable pub you see in one particular region. It could mean doing an extended hike like the Dales Way or Hadrian’s Wall Path. It could mean climbing the Three Peaks — Ben Nevis in Scotland, Mt. Scafell in England, and Mount Snowden in Wales (some crazy people do all three within 24 hours!).

As someone who has already traveled extensively in the UK, here are the places still high on my list: Cornwall, the Scilly Islands, Bristol, Brighton, and Newcastle in England; the Outer Hebrides, Orkney Islands, and St. Kilda in Scotland; and Anglesey and much more of the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales.

Consider traveling to destinations that are popular getaways for Brits but fairly unknown to foreigners. For people who live further south, Cornwall and Devon are popular coastal destinations. When I was based in Chester, lots of people went for weekends away in the Lake District (which is so beautiful!) or the coast of Wales.

READ MORE: Scenes from England’s Lake District  Getting Around the UK as a Solo Traveler

There are lots of ways to travel around the UK. If you want to travel solely on public transportation, it’s possible! But if you want maximum flexibility in rural areas, a car is your best option.

My favorite way to travel in the UK is by train. The train system extends throughout the country and trains run fast and often. Trains are extremely comfortable and in a country as small as the UK it doesn’t take super-long to cross the country — you can even cover super-long journeys like from Inverness to Penzance in just 15 hours. For long distances, however, it can sometimes be cheaper to take a budget flight.

Traveling by flight is fast and efficient. Sometimes it can be cheaper than trains. It does make more of an environmental impact, so consider traveling by train if you can — especially since when you add time traveling to and waiting at the airport, it can be a faster door-to-door journey by train. If you’re using miles, it usually costs the same to fly to or from anywhere in the UK as it would from London.

Traveling by coach is slower and cheaper. Brits refer to long-distance buses as coaches and the biggest network is National Express. These coaches are very comfortable and cost less than trains. Some other lines like Megabus have cheaper but less comfortable coaches.

Ferries exist as well. There are short ferries to nearby islands, especially island-dotted Scotland, and longer ferries for further afield journeys. I took the overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Shetland — a wild, tumultuous journey across the North Sea but a lot of fun!

Renting a car is possible. This is especially useful if you want to explore a remote, beautiful region like the Cornwall coast, the Cotswolds, or the North Coast 500 drive in Scotland. Keep in mind that they drive on the left in the UK, cars tend to be manual (make sure you specify renting an automatic car if you need one), and the cars are much smaller than their American counterparts.

Travel and Safety Tips for England, Scotland, and Wales

Britain isn’t the kind of place where you need lots of detailed, unusual safety tips — it’s an easy place to travel and crime is fairly low. You can stick to the usual travel safety tips you’d follow anywhere else, but I thought I’d include a few things I’ve learned about British culture. It’s much more complicated and nuanced than “They drink tea!” and “They have a queen!”

So much of British culture is understanding how Brits interact with each other. British people tend to be a lot more pulled in than Americans. They’re far less likely to strike up conversations with strangers. They tend to want to avoid confrontation and awkward conversations at all costs, and will often be polite to people for the sake of keeping the peace.

How to explain this? Here are some Very British Problems: “Asking to sample an ale, disliking it and ordering a whole pint so as not to waste the barman’s time.” “Not quite catching someone’s name, meaning you can never speak to them again.” “Assuring your hairdresser the temperature is fine, despite a strong suspicion your scalp is beginning to melt.”

English people tend to be the quietest; Scottish people tend to be warmer and more welcoming.

“You all right?” doesn’t mean “What’s wrong?” — it means “How are you?” Embarrassingly, it took me six months of replying, “Yeah, why?” to my British friends before I realized this. Now you know!

Brits tend to mock people they love and be icily polite to people they hate. It took me a long time to realize that the people who often made fun of me were doing so out of great affection. I wish I had realized that at the time.

Brits often sign emails or texts with an X, even if it’s a platonic conversation. Don’t read too much into this (as I may have once or twice). They’re not saying that they want to kiss you or they have a crush on you; it’s just a common thing to do.

Brits drive on the left, walk on the left, and stand on the left. Look both ways when crossing the street! Most crosswalks say LOOK LEFT, especially in London, or otherwise show you where to look.

Know that some British terms are different from American English. Three that are particularly important: Pissed means drunk, not angry; pants means underwear and trousers is what you’d say for pants; and fanny means vagina, not butt.

“Shouting” beers can lead to drinking too much. In Britain, it’s common to take turns paying for each other’s drinks — one person will pay for a round for the whole table, then another person will buy the next round. If you’re drinking with men or heavy drinkers, you may feel pressured to keep pace to avoid any awkward moments (see, that’s British culture seeping into you!), and this is a fast way to get drunker than you want to. Four beers may be fine for a larger guy, but that can be a LOT for a woman, especially if they’re strong beers.

The best thing to do is to tell the group early that you only want to have two drinks that night. That way people won’t think you’re trying to weasel your way out of paying for others.

Some of London’s airports are far outside the city. You could argue that all of them are far out except for London City — and London City is usually an expensive place to fly into (but easy to do with points!). Luton and Stansted are especially far out. Keep this in mind if you have an early departing flight, since trains often won’t run early enough and you’ll need to book a cab.

I encourage you not to switch airports on a layover in London if you can help it — it adds a ton of transfer time and hassle, especially if you hit traffic. Paying a bit more to have a layover in the same airport is worth the money.

Scotland has its own currency. The Scottish pound has the same value as the British pound and they use both currencies interchangeably in Scotland. Try to use it up before you leave Scotland, however, because places outside Scotland don’t like to accept it, even though it’s legal tender.

Get a SIM card. SIM cards are good for helping you navigate your way around, as well as summoning Ubers. There are lots of different companies in Britain, and they are all much cheaper than US plans. Three, GiffGaff, O2, and TescoMobile are some of the companies that do short-term SIM cards with data.

SIM card coverage is spotty on highways throughout the UK and in rural areas, especially rural Scotland. Don’t rely on a SIM card to get you around the Scottish Highlands.

Be careful about your drinking. Drink less than you ordinarily would at home — two drinks is a good limit. Only take drinks from bartenders, never take a drink from a stranger, and always keep it with you and keep an eye on it.

Keep an eye on your belongings at all times. If you carry a purse, hold it close to you. I recommend a crossbody purse, made out of a tough material like leather or fake leather, that zips shut. I recommend many purses in this post. Never let it hang behind you — always keep it in a place where you can see it, and keep your hand on it if you’re in a crowd.

If you carry a wallet without a purse, don’t keep it in your back pocket. This is obvious to thieves and they will grab it and run.

If you use a small backpack, lock it. I use a Pacsafe backpack where you can lock the compartments shut.

Never leave your bags anywhere unattended. Take them with you. While in cities and touristy areas in the UK, if you’re keeping your bag under the table or otherwise out of sight, keep it between your feet or hook the strap around one of the chair legs.

Keep your valuables locked up in your accommodation and only take with you what you need that day. I do this with my Pacsafe Travelsafe and I consider it the most important thing I pack. Keep an extra debit card and at least $100 hidden in obscure parts of your luggage.

If someone robs you, GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT. Things can be replaced. Nothing is worth your life.

Don’t carry tons of cash around with you. You can use credit cards almost everywhere in the UK, and carrying lots of cash leaves you vulnerable to theft. Don’t be the traveler who loses her wallet and the $500 in it.

Only use ATMs at banks if possible. If your card gets eaten, it’s a lot easier to retrieve it from a real bank’s ATM. If you can’t find a bank and it’s at night, use an ATM indoors, in a vestibule or in a shopping mall.

Get a digital guidebook and keep it on your phone. Even today, I always keep a guidebook PDF on my phone — it’s great for calculating approximate time of journeys, knowing what days places are closed, and it lists medical centers you should go to in case of emergency. I’m a big fan of Lonely Planet guidebooks — get the digital version of Lonely Planet Great Britain.

Spend extra money on staying safe. If you’re not comfortable walking home at night, spend money on an Uber. If you’re hesitant on spending money on a not-as-nice-looking hostel, pay for a nicer place. It’s worth the peace of mind. Don’t pinch pennies on your safety.

Most importantly, you have no obligation to be nice to anyone. Women often feel the need to be nice and please people at all costs. You don’t have to anywhere — especially so in the UK, where acquiescing to other people’s needs is part of the culture. If anyone is making you feel uncomfortable, just leave. Trust me — you won’t be the rudest person they meet that day. And so what if you were? You’re never going to see them again.

READ MORE: Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women

How will Brexit affect travelers?

As of the time of publication (March 2019), there isn’t a clear answer on what the next step is for Brexit. That said, as a foreigner visiting the UK, Brexit is unlikely to affect your travels in any meaningful way other than a slightly better exchange rate.

Britain has always been located outside the Schengen Area of Europe, which means that flights to Europe are treated as international flights, not domestic. Nothing about Brexit will change this.

One major Brexit factor is that the currently open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland may close in the future. When anything is announced about this, I will include an update here.

The Best Travel Experiences in the UK

Walking in the steps of the Beatles in Liverpool. Take a bus ride to Strawberry Fields, see a show at the Cavern Club, check out the Beatles Experience. You can even visit John’s and Paul’s houses! Seeing Liverpool through their eyes gives you a special context that you’ll always remember when you listen to them in the future.

Treating yourself to high tea at one of the hotels in London. Afternoon tea can be a pleasure anywhere in the country, but high tea is fancy, sophisticated, and refined. Be sure to dress up if you go to one of the luxury hotels. For something wacky, choose a high tea with an unusual theme!

Getting into British food. British food is SO much better than its reputation! My favorite way to experience the food is to have a farm-to-table meal and glass of wine in a high-end pub. Other faves? Arbroath smokies (smoked whole fish for breakfast) in Scotland, fresh Welsh cakes off the griddle in Wales, and tucking into a perfect sticky toffee pudding in England.

Geeking out at the Harry Potter locations. At the very least, go to King’s Cross Station in London and pose at Platform 9 3/4, where you can be photographed pushing a disappearing luggage cart into the wall! If you’re an even bigger fan, head to more obscure sites like Alnwick Castle, where Harry took his first Quidditch lesson, and Christ Church College in Oxford, which was used for some Hogwarts scenes.

Catching shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This theater festival takes place every August and you’ll find hundreds of shows taking place all over the city! From stand-up comedy to dark dramas to musicals involving taxidermied animals, this festival has something for everyone. And..

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South Africa is one of my favorite places on the planet — especially to travel alone. It’s a country I fell in love with instantly, a country I’ve gone on to travel extensively on three different trips. South Africa fills me with a deep happiness that I’ve found very few places in the world.

But is it safe?

That’s the question most people ask about South Africa. And for good reason — South Africa has a high crime rate and you have to guard against theft and assault in ways that you wouldn’t even need to think about in other countries.

Is it crazy for a woman to consider traveling to South Africa alone? No. It’s not crazy. I firmly believe that with the right research and preparation, almost any destination on the planet can be traveled safely by a woman on her own. I wrote this guide to serve as a strong resource for your research.

There are lots of South Africa travel guides for women that either downplay the dangers (“Just have common sense, you’ll be fine!”) or are overwhelmingly fearmongering (“DON’T GO THERE, IT’S NOT SAFE!”). I disagree with both approaches. The truth is in between, and there are a lot of safety issues specific to South Africa. You need to be cautious of panhandlers who don’t just stay in one place but follow you. You can take the Gautrain, sure, but the Metrorail can be dicey. And vacuum-wrapping your luggage is usually unnecessary, but you should do it if you’re flying through Johannesburg.

I have traveled South Africa several times and spent some of that time traveling alone. I’ve stayed safe and had a good time — then again, I’m a very experienced solo traveler who writes about solo female travel for a living. I think traveling solo in South Africa is best for experienced women travelers with a lot of solo travel experience under their belts.

Why Travel to South Africa?

Because it is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. I believe this fervently. South Africa doesn’t get enough credit for its astounding natural beauty. The coastline, the mountains, the deserts, even Kruger is gorgeous. And Cape Town is one of the most beautifully situated cities on the planet.

Because it has some of the best wildlife viewing in the world. Kruger National Park is one of the outstanding wildlife destinations on the planet. There are tons of animals, from elephants to giraffes to zebras to lions to rhinos, and they’re highly concentrated. Safari guides say that you shouldn’t plan on seeing the Big Five — leopards are always the toughest — but it’s a lot easier here than some of the other safari hotspots in Africa.

Because the adventure activities are outstanding. New Zealand might have the reputation of being the world’s adventure capital — but South Africa has a LOT to offer (and it’s cheaper here, too). Bungee jumping off the bridge in Storms River, crocodile cage diving in Outdtshoorn, paragliding off Lion’s Head in Cape Town, cage diving with great white sharks in Mossel Bay, leaping off one of the world’s scariest swings in Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

Because the wine is some of the best in the world. South Africa is actually my favorite wine country! If you don’t think you’re a fan of chardonnay, wait until you try South African chardonnay, with its magical vanilla notes. Chenin blanc and Pinotage are two local standouts, and it’s absurd how cheap the bottles are.

Because it’s extremely affordable. South Africa is an affordable country to begin with, and on top of that, the local currency has taken some hits in the past few years. You can visit South Africa and have an outstanding, adventure-filled trip for far less than what a trip to Australia or New Zealand would cost.

Is South Africa Safe Today?

There is a lot of fearmongering about South Africa, particularly in my home country of the United States. If you watch American cable news, you’d think that it’s a hotbed of carjackings and robberies and that apartheid ended yesterday.

That’s overblown, of course — but once you arrive and see that every home has a giant fence built around it, that may unnerve you a bit. Then talk with middle-class South Africans and hear about how much they talk about their security systems and it will unnerve you more.

South Africa has a high rate of crime, including violent crime like rape and murder. Much of it is localized (particularly in neighborhoods where no tourists will go). Here is GOV.UK (the British government’s travel advisory site, which I find to be less alarmist than the US site) with what they have to say about South Africa:

South Africa has a very high level of crime, including rape and murder. The risk of violent crime to visitors travelling to the main tourist destinations is generally low. The South African authorities give high priority to protecting tourists and tourism police are deployed in several large towns. The risk of crime increases in urban areas across South Africa, particularly in central business districts in major cities, and townships on the outskirts of major cities. A higher state of awareness is required if travelling through these areas. Most cases of violent crime and murder tend to occur in townships remote and isolated areas. Consult a reliable tour guide if you visit a township.

And there are outlying incidents — when I was on the Blue Train back in 2012, one of most luxurious trains in the world, farmers protested by throwing rocks at the train, breaking the windows of some of the cabins. Nobody was hurt, though glass shattered all over my friend’s cabin. (I was in the shower and missed the whole thing.)

One thing I find in my travels is that so many people associate 90s conflicts with today. Colombia is a perfect example of that — people assume that the drug wars and kidnappings of the 90s are still in full swing. So a lot of people, particularly of older generations (i.e. your parents) haven’t heard much about South Africa on the news since the end of apartheid, and those images are burned into their head.

In the past decade, only two stories about South Africa got mainstream coverage in the US: the death of Nelson Mandela and Oscar Pistorious murdering his girlfriend. Not exactly stories that extol the beauty of the country.

South Africa can be traveled safely — but you need to know about this context. Read on for how to stay safe in South Africa.

READ MORE: Is South Africa Safe?

Is South Africa Good for First-Time Solo Female Travelers?

I do not recommend South Africa for first-time solo female travelers. This is a country where you have to be on your guard constantly, particularly when it comes to theft, and I think first-timers are better off getting their feet wet in another destination.

Instead, if you have your heart set on South Africa, I recommend that you join a group tour instead.

G Adventures offers dozens of tours to South Africa. I have traveled with G before and recommend them, as they employ local guides, focus on sustainability, and keep their tour sizes small. They’re a lot of fun, too! Here are some of their South Africa tours:

  • South Africa & Swazi Quest (17 days, Johannesburg to Cape Town) — This budget, 18-30-somethings trip covers most of the major highlights in South Africa, including safari in Kruger, with a quick Swaziland detour. You can also do the Johannesburg to Durban half (9 days) or the Durban to Cape Town half (10 days).
  • Hiking South Africa (17 days, Cape Town to Johannesburg) — This trip takes you to some of the most stunning parts of the country and includes hiking in the Drakensburg Mountains, the Tsitsikamma Rainforest, plus stops in Lesotho and Swaziland.
  • Mozambique, Kruger, & Swazi Discoverer (13 days, from Johannesburg) — This tour combines safari time in Kruger and Swaziland with beach time in Mozambique.

A less structured tour option is the Baz Bus.

The Baz Bus is a hop-on, hop-off backpacker bus that travels along the coast and drops you off at hostels. While I have never used it, I’ve always wanted to try it, and I would definitely use it if I planned a South Africa trip that traveled along the route.

  • The hop-on, hop-off bus route travels from Cape Town to Johannesburg and reverse, including popular towns along the Garden Route and harder-to-reach spots like Cintsa and Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast.
  • You can add on a Kruger National Park safari or a number of other day tours, rounding out the most challenging part of traveling solo.

Is South Africa Good for Experienced Solo Female Travelers?

Yes! South Africa is fantastic for women who have already traveled solo! I did my first solo travels in South Africa after I had a few years of solo travel experience under my belt (as well as 10 days traveling with a group in South Africa) and I didn’t have any issues whatsoever.

If you’re an experienced solo female traveler, you can do whatever you want. Nothing in South Africa is too touristy for you. Oh, and don’t think you’re too good for the hop-on, hop-off bus in Cape Town — I actually think it’s one of the best ways to see Cape Town! I’ve done it on two different trips!

Getting Around South Africa as a Solo Traveler

It can be a challenge to get around South Africa — the public transportation here isn’t nearly as good as Europe, for example. Public transportation is limited in some destinations and nonexistent in others. So what’s the best way to get around the country?

You can get around by flying and using public transportation. If you’re basing in a few areas during the trip, you can get by this way. South Africa has tons of domestic airline routes, including on budget airlines like Kulula. I went on safaris that picked me up from Hoedspruit airport; I got around using Uber in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Stellenbosch; and while a local friend drove me the hourlong journey from Cape Town to Stellenbosch, I could have hired an Uber or private car to do the same.

In Johannesburg I enjoyed taking the Gautrain, a sleek, modern train running between the city center and the airport. I do not recommend taking the Metrorail, the train system in and around several South African cities, due to the poor infrastructure and risk of theft.

For longer distances, you can get around on South Africa’s bus networks. Two bus lines are Greyhound South Africa and Intercape. I took Intercape from Cape Town to Knysna and back, and though it was a long ride (eight hours each way!), it was fairly comfortable. (Interestingly, Intercape is a Christian business and there’s a prayer before the journey.)

You can rent a car. South Africa is such a great country for a road trip — I loved my road trip along the Garden Route! It gives you the maximum freedom, and so much of the fun is stopping at the bizarre places along the road (you MUST read about my visit to Ronnie’s Sex Shop). Keep in mind that in South Africa they drive on the left.

If you rent a car, avoid driving in the major cities at night. While carjacking is no longer as big of a threat as it used to be, it still happens in rough neighborhoods today. Some of my South African friends don’t stop for red lights in certain neighborhoods at night. Since you don’t know the neighborhoods, avoid driving in the major cities at night.

Smash-and-grab car robberies are not uncommon. For that reason, keep valuables out of sight in your parked car. In fact, you might want to avoid keeping ANYTHING in your car altogether.

Finally, there’s the Baz Bus, a backpacker bus that takes you along the coast and from hostel to hostel. The good thing about the Baz Bus is that it stops exclusively in destinations for tourists, it connects you to a network of travelers, and it takes you from hostel to hostel so you don’t have to worry about additional transport. (And South African hostels often have private rooms if dorms aren’t your thing.)

I’ve never taken the Baz Bus, but I’ve always wanted to! If I plan another trip along the route that the Baz Bus takes, I’ll definitely try it.

Travel and Safety Tips for South Africa

My #1 tip for solo female travel in South Africa is to not put yourself in isolating situations. Every time I go to South Africa, this is something that locals frequently warn me about. If I were riding a motorbike around Thailand or Italy and saw a gorgeous empty beach, I wouldn’t hesitate to go down and take some photos — but this is something that I wouldn’t do in South Africa due to the risk of robbery or sexual assault.

Stay in places where people are around. That’s the single best thing you can do to keep yourself safe.

Get a SIM card from Vodacom. SIM cards are important because they help you navigate around cities and allow you to call Ubers. Get a big data package — it’s cheap here. Remember to bring your passport to the store.

Use UberBLACK when you can. Uber was a game-changer for South Africa — it made it possible for locals to get reliable taxis. While UberX is dirt cheap, UberBLACK is staffed by professional drivers. Rides on UberBLACK cost twice as much as UberX, but they’re still cheap enough to be worth it. Uber is available in most major cities in South Africa, including Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Port Elizabeth, and Stellenbosch.

I had one scary experience with an UberX driver in Cape Town who didn’t know what he was doing and got lost. I demanded he take us back to the restaurant where he had picked us up. After that, I only hired UberBLACK drivers and didn’t have any incidents.

Do not walk around alone after dark. This is often given as advice to women traveling alone anywhere, which I think it ridiculous — most cities are perfectly safe to walk around alone. I wouldn’t think twice about walking alone at night in Paris or Buenos Aires or Bangkok or New York, where I live. But South Africa is different. You shouldn’t really walk around alone after dark at all; if you’re in doubt, ask a staff member at your accommodation or restaurant. Just use Ubers for ridiculously short distances; drivers are used to it.

Panhandlers will often get up and follow you in South Africa, sometimes for a long time. This is unusual and it scared me the first time it happened, but my local friends kept me calm. If this happens to you, just ignore them and keep walking. 99% of the time they will eventually lose interest and leave you alone.

People will often scam you by offering to help you in an airport or finding an ATM in a tourist area, then will ask you for a tip. If you say no, they’ll become angry and make a scene until you give them money. If anyone offers to help you in a tourist zone, you can say yes, but be prepared for this to happen.

Consider vacuum-wrapping your luggage if you’re transiting through O.R. Tambo Airport in Johannesburg. I never wrap my luggage anywhere else, but I do here. It’s not uncommon for luggage to be burglarized while in transit, but thieves are less likely to choose a wrapped bag and make it obvious. As always, keep all your valuables in your carry-on luggage.

Know that late afternoon can be a popular time for petty crime. Not everywhere — but some neighborhoods, including the highly Instagrammable neighborhood of Bo-Kaap in Cape Town, tend to have more crimes take place during the late afternoon hours. If you’re in one of these neighborhoods, the locals will tell you that you should get going.

Driving requires extra caution. Smash-and-grab robberies in cars are common; you’re best off keeping nothing in view in your car when it’s parked. Carjacking still happens today, though it’s less common than it used to be and is usually confined to certain neighborhoods. It’s best not to drive in cities at night.

Don’t visit a township without a guide. Plain and simple. Visiting a township alone opens you up to the risk of theft.

There was a drought on the Western Cape a few years ago, so bad that public restrooms in Cape Town offered hand sanitizer in lieu of water. These regulations were relaxed in October 2018 when the situation improved, but you should make an effort to minimize your water usage while in South Africa.

Listen to your safari guides. It may seem safe on safari, but that’s only because your guides are in control of the situation. NEVER get out of the safari vehicle unless your guide tells you it’s safe to do so. Be careful about standing up unless you’re in a vehicle with a roof.

Many of South Africa’s beaches have strong currents but there is often no signage reflecting this. Only swim in the ocean after you confirm with locals that it’s safe to do so.

Be careful about your drinking. Drink less than you ordinarily would at home — two drinks is a good limit. Only take drinks from bartenders, never take a drink from a stranger, and always keep it with you and keep an eye on it.

Be cautious about wine tourism in South Africa. Getting intoxicated means that you lose your inhibitions, which may make you susceptible to theft or assault. I recommend doing wine tasting as part of a tour — there are lots of great wine tours based in Cape Town, as well as the the hop-on, hop-off Vine Hopper wine tasting tour in Stellenbosch — but try to keep your consumption low. There’s no shame in not finishing your sampler glass — or spitting!

Don’t flash your valuables or wear expensive jewelry. If you’re out taking photos with an expensive-looking camera, be extra cautious. Only take out your camera and phone when you need them — don’t walk around absentmindedly with them in your hand.

Keep an eye on your belongings at all times. If you carry a purse, hold it close to you. I recommend a crossbody purse, made out of a tough material like leather or fake leather, that zips shut. I recommend many purses in this post. Never let it hang behind you — always keep it in a place where you can see it, and keep your hand on it if you’re in a crowd.

If you carry a wallet without a purse, don’t keep it in your back pocket. This is obvious to thieves and they will grab it and run.

If you use a small backpack, lock it. I use a Pacsafe backpack where you can..

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What things are there do on a trip to Ushuaia? It’s the southernmost city in the world, but how do you commemorate that? Is it worth a trip on its own, or just a brief stopover on your way to Antarctica?

Honestly, I didn’t have high expectations for Ushuaia. I was just there for a few days before my life-changing Antarctica trip and while I was curious about the city, I didn’t think it would be that impressive. After all, aren’t there much more beautiful places like Torres del Paine and El Chaltén?

I was wrong. The scenery surrounding Ushuaia is STUNNING. It began with a flight that descended through a web of jagged black mountains reminiscent of crow feathers. Soon the mountains gave way to grassy hills, bright blue seas, and peaks of all colors in every direction. And the lakes! Tierra del Fuego National Park introduced me to bright teal lakes and turquoise coastline leading to the Beagle Channel.

Ushuaia was definitely worth a few days of my time. Here’s how you should spend your time there.

Traveling to Antarctica? Give yourself a full extra day in Ushuaia beforehand.

When scheduling my flights for my Antarctica trip, I made sure to arrive one full day earlier than necessary. Why? I was terrified that my luggage would be lost. Antarctica is NOT a place where you can pop over to H&M to pick up some essentials (even though there is a shop with winter gear on board). I wanted the extra day just in case I had to wait an extra 24 hours for my luggage.

Turns out I didn’t have to worry; my luggage arrived with me. But soon I realized I had lucked out — giving myself a full extra day in Ushuaia allowed me to book a sightseeing excursion and explore the region!

If you’re on your way to Antarctica, there’s no need to book a penguin cruise in Ushuaia — it will pale in comparison to Antarctica. Plus, you might get to see the lighthouse on the way out and on the way back. Instead, prioritize land-based excursions, like the gorgeous Tierra del Fuego National Park.

Don’t plan on doing any sightseeing when you come back from Antarctica. After 10+ days offline, you’ll probably want to go straight to a coffeeshop with wifi and catch up on everything you missed.

What to Do in Ushuaia if You’re Not Going to Antarctica

In this case, go for everything! See penguins, go on cruises, see the national park, do it all.

If you’re traveling to Ushuaia without going to Antarctica, you’re probably doing a longer Patagonia trip. In that case, it’s smart to plan out what activities you can do in each of your destinations and seeing what you should prioritize in each place.

In that case, I would prioritize the Beagle Channel and seeing penguins; I would not prioritize glacier trekking if you’re already planning to visit Perito Moreno Glacier.

Visit Tierra del Fuego National Park

This is my favorite activity I did in Ushuaia. I had no idea that it was so beautiful in this part of the world! (It definitely helped that the weather cooperated that day!)

There are several versions of this tour that take place; mine lasted a half day. We began with a ride on the Tren del Fin del Mundo (train to the end of the world).

Ushauia used to be home to a prison colony, and the prisoners cut down trees as part of their labor. This train was used for transporting the timber.

Today, the prison is closed, but the train has reinvented itself as a way for tourists to explore the national park.

We got to see some nearby waterfalls — and that is my oh-so-bad attempt at a waterfall when I didn’t have my tripod with me. HA.

From there we took a ride to a lookout. I would SO love to bring a picnic out here…

After this we took a trip to the post office, where I got my passport stamped and sent a postcard (see more on that below). Next up was a gentle hike through the park, taking in the many colors of the landscape.

A wooden path built over the marsh took us to our final destination…

…this glorious bit of coastline. Doesn’t it make you want to take a dip?

I loved this tour. I love that it covered so much different scenery and some of the quintessential experiences in the area within a short time period. This tour really made me fall in love with Tierra del Fuego in a way that I didn’t expect.

The only problem is that the lighting conditions weren’t great for photography. But honestly, with Ushuaia being so far south, if you visit in the summer months, you’re going to struggle with the light.

This is the half-day tour I did. You can also combine it with a Beagle Channel Tour to make it a full-day tour.

Have a Quirky High-End Patagonian Meal at Kalma Resto

If you want to have one special meal in Ushuaia, I highly recommend Kalma Resto. This place is outstanding — probably the most interesting meal you could find in town.

I’m not a huge fan of Argentine cuisine in general — the steak is fantastic, as is the red wine — but move beyond that and it’s a carb parade of pizza, pasta, empanadas, bread, and sweets. This fresh, creative Patagonian tasting menu was an antidote to traditional Argentine cuisine.

Pictured above, I started with nuts and levistico bread, canelo, focaccia and lactonesa. It was followed by the following courses:

Cured lamb loin, sambayon, centollón little ball. Centollón is a kind of crab — these were basically fried crab balls!

Wild salmon tartare, forest berries, vinegar gel. This was my favorite course and reminded me of many dishes I’ve had in the Nordic countries.

Fuegian centollón cappelletti with vegetable extract and levistico pesto. I love that this soup was served with panache, poured right into my bowl!

Fin del mundo “Entraña,” spring carrots and alfalfa sprouts. Entraña is skirt steak, one of the most popular cuts in Argentina. So juicy and delicious.

Three milks cake, sea celery meringue and dulce de leche. The perfect quirky end to a perfect quirky meal.

Everything was fantastic, from beginning to end. At one point the chef came out and we chatted about the menu. Nobody was around when I sat down (at around 8:00 PM, early for Argentines), but by the time I left the tourist groups were arriving en masse. Definitely make a reservation here if possible.

In March 2018 I paid $1100 AR (around $50 back then) for the tasting menu, with an additional $500 AR (around $24 back then) for wine pairings. However, the exchange rate of Argentine pesos has fluctuated wildly since then, so I didn’t want to compare the price back then to the exchange rate today. Check with the restaurant for the current prices and check xe.com for the current exchange rate.

Explore the Town of Ushuaia

Ushuaia is a fun city to explore for a day or two. The population is about 60,000, but 50 years ago it was closer to 5,000. In short, this is a new city, a young city, and a city built around the demand for tourism. The population swells during the southern hemisphere’s summer months (December to March).

Walk around, take photos, and enjoy the colorful homes and street art. Sit in cafes and enjoy some coffee with medialunas (little Argentine croissants).

If you want to so some sightseeing in Ushuaia, I recommend the Museo del Fin del Mundo (museum of the end of the world) and the Museo Marítimo (Maritime Museum).

Have a Guinness at the Southernmost Irish Pub in the World

Man, is there anywhere on the planet that DOESN’T have an Irish pub?! You may scoff at the sight of an Irish pub in Paris or Rome…but sometimes they’re welcome sights when you’re exhausted and need something familiar. And in Ushuaia, an Irish pub called Dublín claims to be the southernmost Irish pub in the world.

There is a nice selection of beer here and a very lively crowd, especially in the evenings.

Send a Postcard From the End of the World

There is a tiny post office on stilts located in Tierra del Fuego National Park, and if you’re on a tour, you’ll likely stop there. They sell postcards at the shop and you can buy postage to send a postcard right from there.

Don’t expect it to arrive in a timely manner. My friends actually got my Antarctica postcard (which traveled from a British base south of the Antarctic Circle to the Falkland Islands, then Britain, then the US) before they got my Tierra del Fuego postcard.

Get a Giant Souvenir Passport Stamp

It can be fun to get a souvenir stamp in your passport! I’ve gotten them from Liechtenstein and Stonington Island, Antarctica. I had room to spare in my passport, so I got this at the post office in the national park.

I had NO IDEA it would be this big, though! I thought it would be a tiny one-square stamp! Just know that before you get it.

Penguins in Ushuaia, Argentina (via Pixabay)

See the Penguins of Martillo Island

If you’re not heading to Antarctica, this is as south as you’re going — so you might as well see some penguins while on the way! Just a short boat trip away are penguin colonies. Martillo Island is one of the best spots to see them, and you’ll learn the most while on a tour with a naturalist guide.

Penguins are sociable animals and while you should never walk up to them, they very well may approach you out of curiosity! Perfect for getting the penguin selfie you’ve always wanted.

Martillo Island is easily done as a half-day excursion from Ushuaia. Book your tour here.

Beagle Channel, near Ushuaia (Via Pixabay)

Cruise the the Beagle Channel

Ushuaia is perched on the Argentine side of the Beagle Channel. Look straight ahead and you’re actually looking at Chilean land.

On shorter visits, you’ll get to marvel at the scenery, sail past colonies of sea lions, pass the Lighthouse Les Eclaireurs, and stop for some brief hiking. Some of the best views of Ushuaia are from the channel.

Book a half-day Beagle Channel cruises here or book a full-day tour with a side trip to Estancia Harberton.

Climbing a Glacier (via Pixabay)

Hike Vinciguerra Glacier or Albino’s Eye Glacier

With all the heavy Argentine cuisine..

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Is it safe for a woman to travel alone in Colombia? I wanted to find out for myself. One of the main reasons why I traveled to Colombia alone was to report for you, dear readers, on what it was like to experience the country as a solo female traveler.

I visited Colombia for just under three weeks and explored Cartagena, Medellín, Guatapé, El Peñol, Salento, the Valle de Cocora, Bogotá, and Zipaquirá. In a single trip I hit up most of the major tourist destinations in the country.

Tell your family that you’re going to Colombia, though, and they’ll probably freak out. “It’s not safe!” is usually the first thing out of people’s mouths. And it’s understandable why they would say that — for many people, drugs, kidnappings, and Pablo Escobar are the first things that come to mind when you mention Colombia.

But it’s not like that anymore. Colombia is exponentially safer today than it was in the 1990s.

I have a lot of friends who are hardcore travelers, and almost everyone I know who has been to Colombia considers it one of their favorite countries. That’s huge. I can’t think of any other country that earns such universal praise. Maybe Japan.

So I went to Colombia on my own — and I had a blast. Most importantly, I stayed safe. I don’t quite consider Colombia one of my favorite countries, but I had a wonderful time there and I encourage travelers to check it out.

First of all: it’s not the 1990s anymore.

In the mid-90s, Pablo Escobar was king and Medellín had one of the highest murder rates on the planet. Today, digital nomads from around the world flock to Medellín to enjoy its year-round spring-like weather and lively nightlife.

Conflict casts a long shadow. I’ve found that 90s conflicts in particular tend to be brought up today. Many people I’ve talked with about my travels were worried that the Khmer Rouge is still fighting in Cambodia, that bombs are falling in Bosnia, or that South Africa is still in chaos post-apartheid. These were all major conflicts that happened during the 90s, but are nonissues today.

Cable news doesn’t report anything when things are good. And for that reason, many people today still associate Colombia most strongly with drugs, cartels, murders, and kidnappings.

Today, things are different. Year after year, Colombia has become more peaceful. Kidnappings decreased by 90%. Now Peru produces more drugs than Colombia. Gun violence in Colombian cities is much lower than many American cities. And in 2016, Colombia’s government ratified a peace deal with the FARC, the country’s largest rebel group and the group behind many kidnappings. This was a major step in establishing long-lasting peace.

Something to keep in mind is that the 1990s were 20 years ago. Where were you 20 years ago? The world has changed a lot since then, and so has Colombia.

Is Colombia Safe for Solo Female Travelers Today?

That’s where things get a bit more complicated. I had a perfectly safe solo trip to Colombia — nothing remotely bad happened to me. I was also intensely cautious, and perhaps a bit lucky.

When you’re a woman traveling alone in Colombia, you will hear lots of anecdotes from other travelers. There are women who had a safe time and will say, “Don’t worry, Colombia’s fine, nothing happened to me!” And then you’ll hear from other women who will say, “I know so many people who got robbed there.”

Think about Colombia like Yelp reviews. People who had a bad experience will assume that everyone else’s experience was awful. And people are going to rave and think that everyone who had a less-than-perfect experience was an idiot. The job is sifting through the reviews and trying to find a common narrative.

Here’s the narrative — even experienced travelers can fall victim to crime in Colombia, and they often do. And for that reason, I’m not going to say that Colombia is perfectly safe because I happened to have a perfectly safe trip there. It’s more nuanced than that. Colombia requires extra precautions, and this post will go into detail on which precautions to take.

Most of the guides I’ve read for women traveling alone in Colombia shockingly underplay the dangers. I think that’s wrong.

My job is to teach women how to stay safe while traveling the world. I take that responsibility seriously. I understand the temptation to tell women that Colombia is much safer than people think it is — and it is — but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of failing to mention the realities of traveling here.

Traveling Solo in Colombia Requires Extra Precautions

I’m going to quote a few lines from Travel.State.gov, the US government’s guide for traveler:

Terrorism: The National Liberation Army (ELN) and dissident groups from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) continue plotting and executing attacks in Colombia.

Crime: Crimes and scams against unsuspecting tourists are common in urban areas. Firearms are prevalent in Colombia and muggings or robberies can quickly turn violent…Robberies by people riding motorcycles are common in all major cities. U.S. citizens have been robbed by individuals posing as police officers. U.S. citizens reported sexual assaults in several different cities throughout Colombia.

ATMs: People are sometimes robbed after using automated teller machines (ATMs) on the street. Use ATMs inside shopping malls or other protected locations.

Taxis: U.S. citizens have been killed during robberies while using taxis, most recently in September 2015 in Medellin. Use telephone or internet-based dispatch services whenever possible.

Disabling Drugs: Criminals may use drugs to temporarily incapacitate unsuspecting victims and then rob or assault them.

While the majority of travelers to Colombia visit without incident, there is still quite a bit of crime that happens. Even so, the majority of crimes that happen against tourists are petty crimes (like pickpocketing and robberies), which you can guard against.

One thing that is scary is the use of disabling drunks like scopolamine. Scopolamine, also known as Devil’s Breath, is a powdered drug that disorients you when you breathe it in. (Yes, it’s the same name as the motion sickness patch.) Criminals distract you, blow the drug on you or put it in your drink, and then they rob you, convince you to empty your bank accounts, and you’ll have no memory of it the next day. Vice did a documentary about scopolamine here.

Kidnapping today is far rarer than it used to be in the 90s, but it does still happen. Most of the time, it happens in areas where tourists are told not to go — like the Darién Gap. You can reduce your risk by sticking to the beaten path in Colombia and flying Viva Colombia for longer overland journeys (see more on that in the Travel and Safety Tips for Colombia section.)

Is Colombia Good for First-Time Solo Female Travelers?

I do not recommend Colombia for first-time solo female travelers. This is a destination that requires a lot of expertise and it’s not the kind of place where you want to try solo travel for the first time. The only exception would be for someone who has already traveled extensively and/or lived in Latin America and speaks decent Spanish.

Instead, I encourage first-time solo travelers to book a group tour to Colombia.

G Adventures offers more than a dozen tours to Colombia. I have traveled with G before and recommend them, as they employ local guides, focus on sustainability, and keep their tour sizes small. They’re a lot of fun, too! Here are some of their Colombia tours:

If you’re looking to plan your first solo trip ever in Latin America, I recommend choosing Mexico or Central America rather than Colombia. Costa Rica and Belize tend to be the easiest for first-timers, followed by Mexico and Guatemala.

READ MORE: Solo Female Travel in Mexico: Is it Safe? Is Colombia Good for Experienced Solo Female Travelers?

Yes, I definitely recommend Colombia for experienced solo female travelers. I visited as an experienced solo traveler and it was a good level of challenge for me, especially with the language barrier.

I do recommend you to take a lot more precautions than you would ordinarily. While in Thailand or Italy or even Guatemala, you might be comfortable wandering around solo at night, or taking a long walk by yourself in a deserted area, or taking the metro to a random stop and getting off, just to see what’s there.

Those are all things I wouldn’t recommend in most of Colombia. Instead, I recommend that you team up with other travelers as often as you can.

Arriving on a flight with some foreigners? Ask them if they want to share a taxi to town. Hear people at the hostel wanting to visit a coffee plantation? Ask if you can join.

As an introvert, I agree that walking up to a group and introducing yourself is the stuff of nightmares, but it’s much easier once you actually do it. Most people are very nice and I’m always glad I joined a group. I made more friends than usual in Colombia.

Is Colombia Good for Female Digital Nomads?

There are lots of digital nomads and remote workers living in Colombia — in Medellín in particular. Many of my friends have lived in Medellín on a short- or long-term basis, and all but one of them are male. That’s curious, considering that the travel blogging industry is dominated by women (I’d estimate it’s around 70% women).

On the surface, Medellín looks great for digital nomads. There’s a big expat scene, the internet is pretty good, there are lots of cafes for working, it’s affordable, and you’ve got that year-round springtime climate.

But in addition to that…there’s a reason why *cough* STRAIGHT! *cough* men love living here.

The local women in Medellín are gorgeous, it’s common for them to have breast and/or butt implants, and they love to date foreign men. Basically, if you’re a mediocre guy from the States, you can immediately have a smoking hot girl on your arm, short-term or long-term.

And it’s just not the same situation for foreign women. Not that foreign women don’t like Colombian men, but it’s not like dynamics are the same between local men and expat women.

Like the rest of Colombia, Medellín is a place where you need to constantly think about safety. As a woman, you’re constantly weighing whether it’s too dark to walk a few blocks home safely. Living in that environment, day in and day out, is exhausting. (It’s the same reason why I love South Africa but would never want to live there.)

And when you compare safety between Medellín and other digital nomad cities like Berlin or Chiang Mai or Mérida or Lisbon, there’s just no comparison. Medellín is the only place where women need to constantly be on their guard, where walking at night for even short distances can be questionable.

So yes. Medellín does have some positive attributes for people who work remotely, but if you’re not interested in dating the local women, I think its “digital nomad heaven” reputation is overblown.

Travel and Safety Tips for Colombia

Most of staying safe in Colombia comes down to using common sense. Don’t get blackout drunk, keep an eye on your belongings, be careful who you trust. And it is very important to know some Spanish before you visit Colombia (see more on that in the next section).

Get a SIM card from Claro. Having a SIM card gives you the option to hail Ubers, and Claro has good coverage throughout Colombia. I got my SIM card from a shopping center in the Gethsemane neighborhood of Cartagena. Bring your passport and it helps to know some Spanish, even if it’s something simple like, “Estoy aquí en Colombia por diez días y quiero cuatro gig de internet.”

Uber exists in many Colombian cities — use it. Colombians will tell you to take Ubers instead of hailing random cabs. Plus you can stay inside until your ride arrives. Uber operates in Bogotá, Cartagena, Medellín, Calí, and Baranquilla. UberBLACK will get you a black car, but I honestly saw no difference in quality between regular Uber and UberBLACK.

Look into the budget airline Viva Colombia. I was shocked that some of the prices weren’t much more than the cost of a bus, even when booking a few days out! It’s a good way to travel across routes that aren’t safe to do overland.

Some journeys are not safe to do overland. And this can change on a dime. Why? Because sometimes buses are robbed — especially public buses. My advice is to ask the person at your guesthouse, or another local, whether it’s safe to travel by land to your next destination. Some more cautious people decide to omit overland journeys overland altogether and fly Viva Colombia whenever possible.

Don’t take the bus at night. Keep your long journeys restricted to daytime hours.

Don’t put yourself in isolating situations. One example of this was when I wanted to visit a coffee plantation in Colombia. I was told that it would be a short, 30-minute walk from Salento down a road, but I ended up teaming up with people from the hostel and hiring a jeep. It turns out that the journey would have taken far longer than 30 minutes and I would have spent a long time as a woman alone with nobody else around, leaving me susceptible to sexual assault.

Don’t flash your valuables or wear expensive jewelry. If you’re out taking photos with an expensive-looking camera, be extra cautious. Only take out your camera and phone when you need them — don’t walk around absentmindedly with them in your hand.

Pickpocketing happens in Colombian cities, especially on public transportation. Keep an eye on your belongings at all times.

If you carry a purse, hold it close to you. I recommend a crossbody purse, made out of a tough material like leather or fake leather, that zips shut. I recommend many purses in this post. Never let it hang behind you — always keep it in a place where you can see it, and keep your hand on it if you’re in a crowd.

If you carry a wallet without a purse, don’t keep it in your back pocket. This is obvious to thieves and they will grab it and run.

If you use a small backpack, lock it. I use a Pacsafe backpack where you can lock the compartments shut.

Keep your valuables locked up in your accommodation and only take with you what you need that day. I do this with my Pacsafe Travelsafe and I consider it the most important thing I pack. Keep an extra debit card and at least $100 hidden in obscure parts of your luggage.

Never leave your bags anywhere unattended. Even if you’re used to asking someone to watch your things while you use the bathroom in a coffeeshop at home, don’t do that in Colombia. Take your belongings with you. If you’re keeping your bag under the table or otherwise out of sight, keep it between your feet or hook the strap around one of the chair legs.

Don’t carry tons of cash around with you. You can use credit cards at many places in Colombia, especially in the cities, and carrying lots of cash leaves you vulnerable to theft. Don’t be the traveler who loses her wallet and the $500 in it.

Only use ATMs at banks during the day, indoors. Don’t use standalone ATMs in convenience stores. Not only do they leave you susceptible to robbery, if your card gets eaten, it’s a lot easier to retrieve it from a real bank’s ATM. If you can’t find a bank, use an ATM in a shopping mall.

The water is safe to drink in Colombia’s major cities. Smaller towns are more of a gamble — ask the locals whether they drink the water or use bottle water. While most travelers in Colombia rely on bottled water, it creates a major waste issue. For this reason, I recommend you bring a reusable bottle and invest in a SteriPen water purifier (much better and faster than tablets). Alternatively, you can bring a LifeStraw, a bottle that purifies water as you drink it through its straw.

Be prepared for street harassment. Street harassment happens all over the world, but especially in Latin American countries where machismo reigns. Honestly, I didn’t find Colombia to be the worst — it’s far worse in Argentina and Nicaragua —  but it will happen with regularity when you’re alone. The comments, the catcalls, the hisses.

The single best thing you can do is ignore it. These men are looking for a reaction. And 98% of the time, it doesn’t escalate into anything worse. If you feel nervous, go into a shop or restaurant and call an Uber or wait for them to leave.

If someone robs you, GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT. Nothing is worth your life.

Parts of Colombia are at high altitude and it takes some getting used to. Bogotá is especially high at 8,660 feet. When you’re at a higher altitude, you’ll exhaust yourself doing normal things like climbing stairs, and — THIS IS IMPORTANT — you’ll get drunk much faster. If you’re going from a low elevation to a high elevation in a day, take it easy on the first day. If you go from Cartagena to Medellín to Bogotá, you’ll slowly progress in..

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