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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
Published: November 10, 2020
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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?
Tips for solo female travelers
- COVID-19 precautions
- The added costs of solo travel
- Budgeting for safe accommodations
- Budgeting for safe transport
- Budgeting for an emergency
- Creating a travel budget before going solo
- Ways to save as a safe solo traveler
- 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.
Our Take: After I graduated college, I spent about a month traveling around Europe. In some cities I met up with friends, but in others I was solo. Though I had stayed in hostels before and was comfortable doing so with a friend, I ended up splurging for a nicer hotel in Paris when I stayed alone. Knowing that the door was locked at night and I had the added security of hotel staff made me more comfortable in such a big city. I even picked one where the reception desk had to buzz in visitors, just in case.
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.