As one of the most backpacker friendly continents in the world, Australasia is one of the easiest places to travel alone as a woman. Australia and New Zealand cater to backpackers, with hundreds of hostels across both countries, warm and friendly locals and loads of places to stock up on essentials.
The sheer number of people that go backpacking here means that even outside of Sydney and Melbourne, you’re sure to bump into some other travelers, so even if you arrive alone, you’ll leave with loads of new travel buddies!
Once unspoilt, tourist free islands, much of the Pacific – (Fiji, the Cook Islands, French Polynesia…) has also become firmly rooted on the backpacker trail, making this region more accessible than ever to solo travelers.
Of course, there are still things to be aware of when traveling as a female here, whether you spend a month surfing in Sydney, or on the more remote islands in the Pacific.
Attitudes to Female Travelers
There’s a huge backpacker culture in both Australia and New Zealand, so solo female travelers are perfectly normal here. Overall, the locals in both countries are friendly and welcoming and most female travelers shouldn’t find they face anything different to home, aside from the odd come-on in a bar! Aussie men may have a reputation for being macho, but attitudes to girls are more friendly than massively sexist.
Attitudes to women do differ in the Pacific, from island to island. In general the more touristy or backpacker-friendly the island (e.g. French Polynesia, Tahiti, Fiji), the more normal you will feel as a female traveling alone.
In the more remote islands, rural Melanesian men have rather old-fashioned attitudes to women, and would think it very strange that a foreign woman was travelling alone in isolated areas. Western women can be treated differently to men when traveling alone, so just use a bit of extra caution, and listen to locals if they are concerned about you traveling to an area alone. Remember though that most locals in the Pacific are friendly people – they will be concerned for your safety rather than anything else.
Australia and New Zealand
- In such backpacker friendly destinations, you still need to be on your guard and use your common sense. Act like you would at home!
- Like anywhere in the world, the cities in Australia and New Zealand have dodgy areas, and you should be careful to avoid theft, making sure that your hostel is secure, and located in a safe area to return to after dark.
- Don’t wander around cities in unlit or ‘dodgy’ areas alone after dark, or when drunk. If you plan on going out, make sure you are in a group of fellow travelers or people you know, so you can return to your hostel safely.
- Ask at your hostel for a list of places to avoid, a list of reputable taxi firms, and a map of safe ways to get home.
- Many of the hostels in Australia have female only floors if that makes you feel safer. Make sure you have lockers and a safety deposit box available to stash your belongings in.
- If you are planning on going hiking, scuba-diving, surfing or doing any extreme sports, make sure you are fully competent or with a trained instructor, have the right equipment, and are within easy access/contact of other people in case anything goes wrong.
- Don’t go out and try a new sport alone without telling anyone, even if it’s someone at the hostel (they can usually give you a list of reputable companies or places for activities – failing that, see if you hostel organizes their own activity trips and excursions!).
- Do NOT go surfing alone on a notoriously rough beach if there is no lifeguard or anyone around, and listen to the signs telling you if waters are unsafe/riddled with jellyfish!
- DON’T go off into the bush, desert or wilderness alone and without preparation. There are several horror stories of backpackers going off and getting lost/hurt/or worse in the outback, but these are usually because the travelers didn’t even think about their personal safety, didn’t bring the right equipment, or let anyone know of their whereabouts. If you are planning on an adventure into the wilderness, READ UP ON IT before you go.
- Avoid any dangerous-looking animals or wildlife. If you are confronted with anything, just back away!
- On an adventure through the bush, stick to marked trails and National Parks. Even the most experienced hikers and ‘trampers will stay on the beaten path if it means staying safe.
- There’s nothing wrong with going on an organized tour or trip to some of Australia and New Zealand’s most fascinating natural wonders. If you do decide to head out alone,
take someone with you, or let people know you are going.
- For a cheap and safe way to get around, try Greyhound Buses, DON’T go hitchhiking alone.
- Some of the Pacific Islands, such as Samoa and Papua New Guinea have got a bad reputation for female travelers in recent years.But for every women complaining they didn’t feel safe, there are always plenty that say they traveled alone there and loved it.
- Remember that traveling alone to these islands is more difficult than Australia and New Zealand, mainly because they are remote, rural places, with poor transport links, and backpackers in general are rare, so you will stand out, and may find it difficult to meet up with fellow travelers. Follow these tips, and you can explore these islands safely and hassle free.
- Fiji is a pretty backpacker friendly place, with welcoming locals, but some women have noted that on the streets of Nadi and Suva it is quite common to get harassed by men. This is similar to many conservative cultures, where western women are dressed differently to the locals.
- The best way to avoid hassle, and offending locals in more traditional villages is to dress appropriately, e.g. with skirts below the knees or long shorts/pants, and loose tops with short sleeves etc. Avoid skimpy clothing, and keep your knees and shoulders covered if in doubt.
- Men in general are very chivalrous, but if anyone offers to ‘show you around’ and you are feeling uncomfortable, just firmly decline and walk away.
- Listen to the locals – they know what is dangerous, so if they advise you against a place, listen to them!
- Learn a couple of phrases of the language if you can – it will really help in sticky situations. In Papua New Guinea learn some Tok Pisin phrases.
- To make sure your travel plans go through safely and without a hitch, plan your way around the islands and be aware you might need to fly to get from place to place. Find out when cargo ships leave. The taxi systems in general can be quite unreliable, and the roads can be in poor condition.
- Be cautious when taking out your camera for photos, and avoid having valuables or jewellery on your person – make sure your hostel has a safe to store things in.
- In Papua New Guinea, avoid walking around at night in general and exploring quieter parts of the cities alone. Don’t go hiking alone, especially in the Highlands – hire a local guide or ask your hostel for a list of reputable guides. The same goes for canoeing down the Sepik – a guide increases the chances of a safe trip.
- Try to arrange a pick up from the airport form your hostel.
- Try and plan ahead for your trip to the more remote islands, and let people know where you are going. If you are visiting Australia or New Zealand beforehand, why not see if anyone is going to the Pacific and join them – you may feel safer if you travel around with a buddy.
Places to Avoid
Papua New Guinea has a bad reputation for solo tourists, but some areas are safe to visit. In general Port Moresby, Lae and some of the larger cities are known for being more dangerous. Take extra care in the Highlands as well. Stick to the relaxed island provinces, coastal areas, and countryside such as Milne Bay and Alotau.
In general, avoid going into the wilderness or bush alone – you are putting yourself in unnecessary danger, as even the most experienced hiker can get lost.
Other than that…the continent is your oyster!
Best Places for Female Travelers
Fiji is also a backpacker friendly destination- there are loads of hostels, it’s dirt cheap with a laid back vibe, and the local bus and boat system makes it easy to get from a to b.
The Mamanuca and Yasawa island chains are picturesque, Bounty Island is the best for a tight budget, and Beachcomber Island is great for activities like snorkeling, para-sailing and kayaking. For partying and meeting up with other backpackers, try Waya, Waya Sewa and Tavewa – get the small boats over from Lautoka.
What to Pack
- This all depends on what you want to do whilst you’re there – but remember not to pack too much – alot of stuff you will be able to pick up easily in Australia and New Zealand. A separate day bag and standard backpack should be perfect.
- If you are heading out into the wilderness, you’ll need insect repellent and bite cream, proper hiking shoes, plasters, a proper hat to keep the sun off your face and neck, and practical gear like shorts and thick socks. Mini flashlights and some sort of alarm are also useful in case you get lost (and if you need to rummage through a backpack in the dark).
- If you’re just hitting the beach and major cities, swim suits, flip flops, shorts and a top are all you’ll need! Oh, and loads of suncream!
- For the more rural, remote and traditional Pacific Islands, pack layers to cover your knees and shoulders, and items you won’t be able to get with very basic shops around, like feminine hygiene products.
- A secure money belt, proper padlocks and a separate purse for ‘day’ money are travel essentials for anywhere in the world – don’t forget them!