Travel Author Ruth Millington tells all: Safe solo female travel destinations, why you should travel solo, tips, and mistakes to avoid while traveling. May 11, 2022

It's well-known that traveling alone as a woman may be difficult but it doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. In fact, these challenges can be overcome and there are plenty of advantages to solo travel.

We interviewed award-winning author, podcast host, and avid solo traveler Ruth Millington to learn about her solo female travel experiences throughout the years. We hope you enjoy her answers as much as we did!

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Tips to travel safely from someone who has been around the world

From all the places you have visited, what has been the place you have felt safest as a solo traveler?

China. Whilst China is a vast and extremely diverse country both in terms of its geography and cultural influences (China has over 55 ethnic minorities), it's also one of the safest for solo travelers. I think this is partly because of the political landscape. The communist ruling authorities will generally come down heavily on anyone committing a violent crime, especially against tourists. Whilst locals in the bigger cities are used to tourism, there is still a general fascination towards tourists, and no more so if you originate from outside of Asia and are traveling on your own. As a woman, I have always received the utmost respect from both men and women and there are many occasions when villagers and locals traveling on public transport have gone out of their way to help me or ensure I get to my destination despite the language barrier.

The Chinese are generally very friendly, and a smile breaks down any barriers quickly. As in any country, though, avoid taking photos of the army, police, military installations, or strategic bridges towards the borders.

What are some things that you do every time before you travel that help you feel safe?

It's very important to be organized - and I'm not talking about having a planned itinerary as that itself can make things too rigid and close other opportunities that may come your way.

Rather, share important information such as details of your passport, flights, hotels you are staying at, your insurance details, photographs of your bank cards, etc with family and friends. You can do this by giving them a photocopy or, better still, connecting them to your HelpYouFind.Me account. You can also keep a hard spare copy for yourself and stash it somewhere secret in your luggage.

I always carry a guidebook that contains books and maps as it gives me a better perspective of where I am rather than just relying on say, Google maps. It is also a backup in case I have my electronic devices stolen. Separate money and bank cards - keep some on your person, and others in your luggage in case the worse happens and you lose or have a set stolen. Take some small padlocks so you can secure your luggage. I also bag up my clothing into separate items such as underwear, nightwear, T-shirts, jumpers, trousers, etc. Particularly when I am moving from one to place to another every couple of days, it saves a huge amount of time repacking, keeps items clean and neat, and I always know where everything is.

Often, I will book my first night's accommodation when I arrive in a new country, especially if my flight is arriving late. Jetlag/travel tiredness can make you let your guard down and then it becomes easy to mistakes and makes you an easy target. Knowing you can go straight to your hotel to crash and recover is reassuring.

What do you think holds people back from solo travel?

Personally, I believe solo travel is one of the best things you can experience. However, I think it's a combination of factors that hold people back (and this list isn't exhaustive): fear of the unknown; not knowing what to expect; having to rely on oneself; worrying about what to do if you run into trouble; fear of getting lost; feeling lonely and getting homesick; not speaking the language of the country you are in, the additional costs of traveling solo such as having your own hotel room or hiring a guide. Little things which you normally take for granted when you are in a group such as finding your way back to your hotel, especially at night, can become offputting as is the overriding sense of 'safety in numbers that many of us have had drummed into us since childhood. When you are on your own, you have to keep alert most of the time other than when you are sleeping, and that can be very tiring and too much effort!

I struggled for years going into restaurants and eating on my own but overcame this by taking a book with me or a travel guide so I could plan what I was going to do the next day. These days, it's much easier with mobile phones and keeping connected with loved ones back home. I think as well as you get older and you become more experienced traveling on your own, your confidence builds and all the factors I mentioned above become less significant or off putting.

Contrary to many myths, I have come across many more solo women travelers than men. Generally, I find men travel with friends or their partners.

What are some mistakes you see people make when traveling by themselves?

I've come across some solo travelers who are very rigid and have to have everything planned. I think this is partly down to fear. It's best to relax, especially if you are traveling for a long period. Conversely, there are those who have a huge 'to-do list' and are rushing around trying to see too much within a small time frame. My advice would be to slow down and limit yourself to one particular country or region and cover it thoroughly. The beauty of traveling is that you rarely have to go far to see a huge amount of diversity whether that be some ancient monuments, a remote landscape, or a change in scenery or climate.

If you are traveling for an extended period of, say, a year, ensure you take at least one week's rest (preferably by the beach) every two to three months. It's easy to burn out when you are traveling across large distances often overnight. Travelling is very different from taking a short holiday.

Don't take drinks from strangers or drink alone (unless you are with other trusted travelers). Better still, don't drink and certainly don't behave how you might do when you are drunk at home. I've seen this a lot in places like Thailand. It's easy to offend locals if you are drunk and you could end up in serious trouble or worse. Many communities will take the law into their own hands, so be mindful of that.

Perhaps one of the biggest faux pas I have seen is solo travelers dressing inappropriately for the climate (such as not having warm enough clothing in the mountains) or, worse, underdressing and looking like they are at the beach. Many locals won't say anything to your face, but it can cause great offense.

Always dress and speak respectively, and never shout or lose your cool. You'll get much further and build better relations if you follow these golden rules.

Extreme Holidays Podcast

What inspired you to start the Extreme Holidays Podcast?

One day a friend, Don Robbie, (who is now a co-producer of the show) called me and said:

"You have done a huge amount of traveling and been in some extreme situations whilst on the road. Have you thought about setting up a podcast to talk about such things?"

Don was referring in particular to when I went to Iran in 2003 for a two-week holiday over Christmas and on my first night in a city called Bam, a huge earthquake struck.

The hotel collapsed on top of me whilst I was sleeping, but I escaped and over the next 10 hours rescued 12 people, 7 of whom survived.

The Guardian:Bam Earthquake

At the time Don mentioned this, I had barely listened to any podcasts and certainly knew nothing about how to create and host one! It was a scary proposition, but the seed was planted and I wanted a challenge. I also wanted to share people's stories of ending up in often life-changing events whilst on their holidays and travels, and take the listeners to locations and events they had never experienced before.

It was a steep learning curve setting up the podcast, including several months researching the best platform to host the podcast; the recording system which would allow us to publish at a professional broadcasting level; scripting the jingles; researching the background music; sourcing guests, developing and writing the scripts; recording, learning how to edit and market the podcast. There was a lot of trial and error along the way, but we did it, and am proud of what we have achieved so far.

Your podcast, Extreme Holidays features travelers who have been caught in extreme situations during their trips. If you could pick one of your guests to travel with during their extreme adventure, which one would you pick and why?

Hannah Scott. I met Hannah in Beijing, China in 2009 during the PRC's 60th-anniversary celebrations. I had just traveled down from Harbin overnight and, not realizing there was a curfew on, had insisted the taxi driver take me to my hostel close to Tiananmen Square. The hostel owners were horrified when I showed up and told me I could have been shot! Hannah was in the reception area at the time and laughed when she overheard. We met up later in Tibet where we spent two fantastic weeks exploring the region by jeep and at one stage nearly got arrested by the Chinese army for taking photos of the military spying on the worshippers close to Jokhang Temple in the center of Lhasa.

Hannah is adventurous, open-minded, fun, diverse, creative, responsible, eco-minded and a very experienced traveler having completed an 18-month cycle trip across the world for an art project. We have shared many adventures, including trekking to Everest Base Camp. When we are together, we laugh a lot and have the best of times no matter what challenges we face.

The most important thing to remember about safe solo travel is to find a balance between being cautious and aware and having fun, but it takes a brave person to get involved with the communities after a disaster, what do you think is something that makes an extreme adventure traveler different from every other traveler in the world?

I think it's more than just about travel for an extreme adventure traveler. They have an affinity to connect with the communities they pass through and the people they meet. They are very compassionate and want to help and assist communities after a disaster.

As a child, I was fascinated with what lay beyond the horizon. Later in my teens, I became obsessed with geography, history, and anthropology. I was desperate to learn more and meet people from different countries and cultures and dispel the falsehoods and stereotypes portrayed by the media about these very groups.

Coming from England, I live in a very safe environment. We rarely have natural disasters, have a temperate climate, our standard of living is high, and we live under relatively stable social, economic, and political systems. There is nothing particularly extreme about any of it. I think the extreme traveler knows this and appreciates it. Personally, I have a hard time accepting poverty in the UK is as acute as, say, in Nepal. I have witnessed both and the different levels are not comparable. Likewise, that goes for natural disasters. Often the very countries that suffer disasters also suffer from acute social, economic, and political issues, making it all the more important to reach out and help.

Wrapping Up

What advice would you give aspiring solo travelers?

Avoid listening to people that have rarely traveled or traveled on their own. They will fill you with fear!

Instead, take practical advice from people that are experienced, solo travelers. They will have some great tips and dispel many myths.

Also, don't overthink, but be streetwise and go with your instinct. It usually is right!

And remember: one of the most magical things about traveling is not the actual destination but the journey getting there, all the more special when you are traveling on your own.

If you enjoyed reading, make sure to listen to Ruth's Extreme Holidays Travel Podcast on your favorite podcast platforms.

Ruth is one of our content partners, if you wish to create a HelpYouFind.Me account, you can use her code EXTREME10 for a free trial and discount!

Written by
Ana

Ana