As a solo female traveller, I’ve visited many countries around the world. Some make for comfortable experiences, others are more challenging. Here are my personal top five women-friendly countries.Iceland
When it comes to women-friendly travel, many European countries score highly and it’s hard to choose just one. But there’s something about the Icelandic people that helps this tiny mid-Atlantic island nation nose ahead. It’s not just that it’s safe to wander alone at night, even in the darkest depths of winter. It’s that you could probably knock on anyone’s front door if you had a problem and they’d not only offer to help, they’d invite you to dinner as well. Case in point: during my first visit to Iceland many years ago I found myself in a suburban housing estate on the edge of Reykjavik at a barbecue in someone’s garden – having known them for just two days. I felt so welcome that when, a decade later, I decided to get married, there was no doubt in my mind I wanted to do so in Iceland. Fortunately for my husband, it’s man-friendly too.
We Brits are very fond of saying that New Zealand feels very much like the UK thirty years ago. Whether that’s true or a reflection of a rose tinted spectacle approach to the past, it’s certainly one of the easiest countries on the planet for solo female travellers. Though Iceland has cleaned up, taking first place in the Institute for Economics and Peace organisation’s Global Peace Index for nine of the last ten years, New Zealand claimed second place on the most recent list, published in 2017. Auckland, the country’s largest city, manages to feel like a small town, especially in neighbourhoods like Ponsonby. The country’s laidback beach culture and accessible countryside help any traveller, male or female, feel relaxed. A solo hike in amid some of the most dramatic landscapes anywhere on the planet are a chance to get away from the stresses of your everyday life, secure in the knowledge that it’s perfectly safe to do so.
Africa might feel daunting for some female travellers but you don’t need to be intrepid to feel at ease in the West African nation of Senegal. In the capital Dakar, the pace is frenetic, the traffic horrendous, but ask for directions and everyone’s got time to help. Further north in the sleepy seaside town of St Louis, it’s even more chilled. On a visit there a few years ago, I hurried up a dimly-lit street after a late dinner, keen to reach the safety of my hotel. A man stepped out of the shadows, calling softly: “Calm, there’s no need to rush”. He was right. Aside from a few neighbourhoods in Dakar and the troubled southern province of Casamance, it’s the kind of place when a friendly approach is more likely to be a genuine desire to interact than an attempt to execute a scam.
Tokyo scored well in the most recent Thomson Reuters Foundation survey which analysed a clutch of factors affecting women in the world’s megacities. And though it might be easier to get to grips with its quirky eccentricities with a friend in tow, it’s one of Asia’s most women-friendly destinations should you choose to go it alone. The language barrier doesn’t have to be an issue either. English signposting is common in the big cities. Even in more off the beaten track small towns, the Japanese penchant for technology helps. I stopped off at the tourist office in Yanagawa to grab a map and the assistant was most apologetic that she couldn’t understand my request. Swivelling the computer screen, I found myself video-conferencing with a delightful woman who was not only fluent in English but keen to do anything she could to help my visit run as smoothly as possible.
The perception that Latin America’s characterised by a machismo-driven society can make some female travellers wary of going solo in the region, but I’d beg them to reconsider. Sure, the gender gap can feel more pronounced but in general, I’ve found that men are, by and large, keen to protect and look after women travellers. Cuba is one Latin nation where gender equality is less of an issue: women are well represented in government and the country’s longstanding commitment universal education means there are plenty of female lawyers, teachers, doctors and other professionals. But even there, female travellers can feel intimidated by persistent attention from street hustlers known as jineteros. Head instead to the southerly country of Chile where respect for women underpins every interaction. Get the most out of your stay by learning at least some basic Spanish and the people of this friendly and developed country will welcome you with open arms.
These five picks are, of course, by no means an exhaustive list. Where have you been that qualifies as a women-friendly country for travellers? Let’s hear about your experiences.