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The cost of safety: Budgeting for solo female travel

Nearly two-thirds of today’s travelers are women – and safety is a top priority


Traveling by yourself as a woman can unfortunately come with extra costs as a way to ensure physical safety. Here’s what you can do to make sure you’re safe and healthy if you plan to solo travel soon.

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Within the last decade, we’ve seen a record number of female travelers packing their bags to see the world on their own. And as borders begin to reopen for travel, these women are once again ready hit the road.

Traveling during a pandemic requires extra preparation and awareness, but solo female travelers are no strangers to budgeting for the added costs of independent exploration. Female travelers going it alone are often paying a surcharge to ensure their health and safety.

It’s no surprise that physical safety is top of mind for women travelers. According to the 2019 Portrait of American Travelers study, 64% of women cited safety as their top consideration in deciding a destination – and this was before travelers had the additional worry of COVID-19.

If you want to go it alone as a female traveler, you’ll not only need to keep in mind the health precautions of pandemic travel, you’ll also have to learn how to factor safety precautions into your trip planning and budget – even when it feels unfair.

“Budgeting to ensure your physical safety is like a ‘pink tax’ on travel; an unfortunate cost that women endure, but male travelers likely wouldn’t think twice about,” said Kelly Lewis, founder of the Women’s Travel Fest and Damesly. “Yet, it’s very important for women to think ahead and budget for safety when planning solo travel.”

See related: Can we safely return to sleeping in hotels?

COVID-19 precautions

  • Check the entry and exit requirements: Before you even book a ticket, check the current COVID-19 requirements for the country you’re visiting and any country you might transit. Will they allow passport holders from your country to enter? Will you need to show a COVID negative test? Is there a mandatory quarantine? Make sure you have the answers to all these questions before making any purchases.
  • Do your destination research: Learn everything you can about how COVID-19 is being managed in the destination you’re headed to, so you know what to expect.
  • Build a backup plan into your booking: Be prepared to change or cancel your travel at a moment’s notice. When you book, ensure plane tickets, hotel and car reservations and activity bookings are refundable – or at least changeable. And be sure to have an emergency budget.
  • Pack for a pandemic: Carry your own sanitation kit, including wipes and hand sanitizer, and don’t forget to pack snacks. Airplanes aren’t serving food onboard and lines can get long in airports. When packing, ask yourself what you think you might need if you wound up quarantined somewhere.
  • Mask up: Travel, by nature, puts you in the proximity of a lot of people outside of your normal bubble. Following the mask mandates in airports and at your destination is an easy way to protect yourself when you’re on the road.

See related: Travel deals to watch out for post-coronavirus

The added costs of solo travel

When it comes to travel budgeting, Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo, has another take. She believes the biggest differences in how we spend money are less about gender than they are about travel preferences.

Yet she still recognizes the need for some added costs. “Unfortunately, solo female travelers are generally seen as [or feel] more vulnerable than solo male travelers, so in some cases we might make different traveling decisions,” she says.

The two biggest travel budget line items where solo women are most likely to spend extra to ensure they feel safe on the road are accommodations and transportation.

Budgeting for safe accommodations

For most solo travelers, safe accommodation is the No. 1 priority, and the category you’ll likely need to allocate the greatest increase in your budget.

“Feeling comfortable and confident where you’re staying is critical, but it certainly doesn’t mean you need to stay at an expensive hotel,” Lewis explains. “Higher priced accommodation doesn’t always equate to greater safety.”

What’s most important is to look for lodging with practical amenities that can help keep you safe:

  • Reception staffed 24 hours
  • Well-lit locations populated at night (Are there restaurants, shops and public transportation nearby?)
  • Hotel rooms without ground-floor windows
  • A door that opens inward with double locks (read reviews or email the hotel to ask)
  • Options for single-sex dorms and bathrooms if you’re choosing shared accommodations

The cost may be marginally more to book a room at a property that meets these standards, but your peace of mind is worth the investment.

Alternatively, if you’re a fan of home-sharing, but anxious about the ambiguity of hosts and location when traveling solo, consider joining a members-only network like Go Lightly that connects female travelers to vetted vacation rentals.

To set the dollar amount for your accommodation budget:

  • Research lodging costs at your destination.
  • Find the average price for the level of accommodation you’ll feel most comfortable.
  • Round up $25 to give yourself a cushion.
  • Multiply that by the number of nights you’re traveling.
  • Add one extra night as a buffer – just in case you have to change accommodation without notice.

Budgeting for safe transport

Getting safely to your destination and moving around once you’re there is another area where solo female travelers spend more cautionary cash.

“Knowing where you’re going and feeling confident about getting yourself from point A to B reduces your vulnerability,” Lewis said.

While some solo travelers feel more confident getting around town on a local bus, others might budget more because they feel safer taking private transportation like a taxi or rideshare.

“Many countries have both nationally-run taxi companies and locally-run cabs. When I’m traveling solo, I often opt to ride with the company that is regulated or ‘known’. I also prefer to have someone call a cab for me versus hailing it myself off the street,” Lewis explains.

When going out at night, another financial safety precaution Lewis takes is to always carry enough cash to take a taxi from anywhere in the city back to her accommodation – usually around $50. “In the best-case scenario, I won’t use this money, but I always have a way home without having to rely on anyone else.”

An Uber can also be a good choice abroad – cutting out language barriers, cash and bargaining for fares. Uber’s safety toolkit is also a great resource if something goes wrong.

To set the dollar amount for your transport budget:

  • Add up airfare costs to and from your destination, plus transport to and from the airport.
  • Consider paying extra to take a flight that lands during daylight hours rather than arriving to a new location in the middle of the night.
  • Consider how much you’ll be moving between locations and the average cost of transport at your destination.
  • Allocate extra cash for taxis or rideshares even if you’re primarily planning to use public transportation.
  • Don’t forget to factor in the extra $50 night-time taxi fund.

Budgeting for an emergency

Beyond cushioning your accommodation and transportation budgets for safety, both Lewis and Dunn note the importance of having access to an emergency fund.

Set aside some extra money that you can use to change plans at the last minute if you feel compromised, Dunn explains.

“For example, let’s say you booked accommodation somewhere, but when you arrive you don’t like the place, the area, the host – whatever. Because you’ve got extra money set aside, you can leave right away and move to a nicer hotel without giving it a second thought, versus feeling ‘stuck’ with the plans you made because there’s no wiggle room in the budget.”

Will you have to use that emergency fund? Hopefully not, but you’re always better safe than stranded in a bad situation like Dunn found herself.

“Years ago, I was in Sydney staying at a reputable hostel in a female dorm, but it was still a bit pricey. I wanted to save even more money, so I moved to a hole-in-the-wall hostel with a co-ed dorm. This was a bad decision. After an unsavory encounter in the middle of the night with one of the fellas in my dorm, I got up and moved out the next day.”

When budgeting for your emergency fund:

  • Make sure you have enough on hand to get yourself home.
  • At minimum, know the cost to change your return plane ticket (normally around $200 plus any fare differences).
  • If you can swing it, aim for backup savings of $500 or more.

Creating a travel budget before going solo

Outside of these three safety-centric budget categories, you’ll want to have cash set aside for meals, and a discretionary budget for miscellaneous expenses like souvenirs or skydiving.

The rest of your budget as a solo traveler doesn’t need to be significantly different from other travelers. Nora recommends her Professional Hobo budget resource for financially sustainable travel as a tool to help you determine how much money is sufficient to fund the travel lifestyle you desire.

Ways to save as a safe solo traveler

While you’re likely taking on extra expenses to ensure your safety, it’s not all bad news. Some travelers actually save money when traveling solo.

“Budget travel needn’t be the antithesis of safe travel,” Dunn explains. “I traveled solo for many years in a budget-conscious way without feeling that I’d compromised my safety.”

Erica Virvo, director of the Nomadic Network and solo traveler, agrees. “As a budget traveler, I find it much easier to stretch my dollars traveling solo than I do when I’m traveling with a companion.”

“I can almost always couch-surf with a friend, or even be hosted by a friend of a friend when I’m on my own, but that’s much harder when with someone,” she said. “This not only eliminates the entire cost of accommodation for a night or two, it also allows me to stay in a local community where I’m better connected, and typically feel safer than if I was staying alone in a hotel.”

Virvo notes she’s also more likely to be invited to a new local friend’s home to share a meal when she’s traveling solo.

“If you can, connect to the local community where you’re traveling. Locals will often take you to see the places where they hang out, instead of tourist sites where you’re more likely to pay inflated prices. Plus, having local connections helps you feel more secure in a foreign setting and can be a resource if something does happen.”

Virvo recommends reaching out to different networks to make local connections as part of your trip planning process. Facebook groups like Women Helping Women Worldwide, Girls Gone Global and the Nomadic Network can be great resources, in addition to asking your personal networks for connections.

You’ll never know that the daughter of your high school piano teacher works as a teacher in the Eastern European city you’re nervous about visiting unless you ask.

See related: Best credit cards for travel insurance

Final thoughts

Sure, you give up some financial benefits of companionship when you travel solo – like splitting a pizza for dinner or sharing the grocery bill. But you also gain in other situations where you might have had to compromise – like spending money on a social activity or a museum ticket you wouldn’t have purchased if you were on your own.

“It’s easy stick to my budget when I don’t have to factor in anyone else’s level of comfort or choices,” Virvo says.

Lewis agrees. “When I’m traveling on my own, I eat cheap. No one is pressuring me to sit down to a fancy meal. Even though my accommodation and transportation costs increase, I will always save on food.”

“You don’t want to spend your entire trip feeling afraid or being pre-occupied with your safety,” Lewis reminds us.  “I always go back to remembering that the world is mostly safe and the people you encounter are mostly good. Set yourself up with research and the resources you need so you feel comfortable in your experience – then you can focus on having fun.”

Freedom and fun are why we, as women, are traveling solo in record numbers after all!

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