The USA and Canada are ideal for solo female travelers – both countries are relatively cheap, have excellent and safe transport links, and are home to some of the friendliest people in the world. Check out our list of excellent hostels for women in North America to find a great place to stay.
America is the home of ‘service with a smile’, so you’ll find it easy to meet other people and ask for help if you need it. But even such a well-known destination can throw up a few surprises. Here’s our guide to safe solo travel in North America.
Attitudes to Female Travelers
You won’t feel out of place as a single female traveler here – most of the major cities in America and Canada are full of women eating, drinking, shopping and going about their daily lives alone. There’s also a huge market in the States for ‘single women’ holidays, and there are plenty of backpackers around, so you shouldn’t feel out of place unless you are in a really remote area.
As for sexual attitudes toward women, the worst you’ll probably get is a come-on in a bar! American and Canadian men are in general good-natured and not overtly sexist, but there’s an exception to every rule, especially in more rural areas off the beaten track. If you do get any hassle, just politely ignore it until they stop, and if that doesn’t work, firmly and loudly tell them to back off.
As a last resort, if you make a lot of noise a guy should leave you alone, as they won’t want the hassle, especially in a crowded public place. If you are in a secluded area, get to the nearest crowded place. If you do feel unsafe in a particular area, pepper spray and safety alarms are widely available in the US and Canada.
Some women may find that parts of the rural Midwest and South are slightly less liberal compared to the rest of America, and attitudes are a little more old-fashioned. This will probably only translate into men treating you with a little more respect, but if you do get any dodgy comments or gestures, just ignore them or tell them to go away.
The main risk in major American and Canadian cities is theft, so take all the usual precautions you would in any unknown destination– don’t wander around unlit areas alone at night, don’t take any valuables out with you, lock up all your personal belongings, and bring a money belt. Watch out for pickpockets in crowded areas.
- Vancouver is notorious for theft from cars – never leave any valuables there if you are hiring a car.
- Check your hostel is in a safe area of town, and has a safety deposit box or lockable storage for your bags. Can you get home safely after dark?
- Ask at your hostel for a list of reputable cab companies, for getting home from somewhere late at night. Most public transport in major cities should be ok, but you may feel safer if you are alone.
- If you are planning a road trip across America, try to go with a friend. Whilst you may be safe in a car, America is a vast country with huge expanses of near deserted roads – not great if you break down or get lost. If you do drive, stick to the excellent highways – the roads are so easy to use, well signposted and have loads of places to stop off on the way – there’s no reason to risk it with a random country road.
- If you ever feel someone is following you, pull over at the nearest gas station, motel or stop off point, to try and lose them. Ask for help if you feel unsafe.
- If you get lost, or need to take a break when it’s dark, pull over in a more public or crowded place, like a gas station, diner, motel or mall, rather than the ‘rest areas’ you sometimes see on major US highways. The rest areas can often seem a little eerie late at night, especially when you are alone.
- If you’d rather not drive, both countries have an excellent transport systems – in the US, the Greyhound Bus network and the Amtrak train system are a great way to travel between states. Both are safe, great value and full of single travelers like yourself. Domestic flights are always a good option as well.
- Remember the USA’s strict attitude to alcohol – you must be 21 to drink and can’t be seen drinking outside in some states. The last thing you want to do is get in trouble with American cops! Take ID with you if you are going out (a driver’s licence will do) if you plan to go to a club or drink in a bar. And do what you would at home – never accept a drink from strangers unless you see it made at the bar!
- Smoking is also prohibited in most public areas in American and Canadian cities – check before you travel!
- Both America and Canada are packed with outstanding natural landmarks, and are ideal for hiking. But before you go exploring the great outdoors, make sure you are well prepared. Let someone know if you are going out alone, stick to National Parks and marked trails, and only go out in daylight. Ask the Rangers at National Parks for advice on the best routes to take, and take a map, and cellphone! If you see any bears or wild creatures – back away and DON’T try to feed them!
- If you are camping overnight, stay on a campsite where you will be near other people, especially families – avoid setting up shop in a secluded area.
- Be prepared for extreme weather conditions – from East Canada’s epic snowfall, to the arid heat of Death valley and tropical storms in Florida, the continent has some bizarre weather. This is not to say you are going to be caught in a tropical storm, but check the weather or season of your destination before you travel so you are well prepared.
- For more remote landmarks like Monument Valley, don’t feel like you can’t take a tour – group trips can often be less touristy than you think, are much safer than trying to get there on your own, and are a great way to meet other travelers. Ask if your hostel if they organize any group excursions or trips to local landmarks, or ask their advice on who to book with.
- Do NOT go hitchhiking – it may be your dream to hitch a ride across the Route 66, but you have no idea who you are getting in a car with, however friendly they look.
Places to Avoid
The main places to avoid are the seedier areas of cities, especially after dark. Some cities have a particularly bad reputation for crime – Baltimore, LA, Washington – but as long as you stick to the tourist-friendly areas, and don’t wander around late at night alone, you should be fine.
Every town has a dodgy area– ask at your hostel where you should avoid! For example in LA, you’ll need to keep your wits about you in East and South-Central, and avoid Venice Beach and Hollywood after dark.
Avoid going out into unmarked wilderness alone – stick to the National Parks or marked trails so you can find your way around safely.
Best Places for Female Travelers
There are dozens of places perfect for female travelers, but women are more likely to feel comfortable in the more cosmopolitan cities, where it’s perfectly normal to be seen wandering around alone as a woman, and it’s easy to get around solo. A couple of our favourites are New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, San Diego, Quebec, Ottawa, and Vancouver.
Need some ideas for places to stay? Check out our guide to the most female friendly hostels in North America.
What to Pack
- What you pack depends on what you are going to do. Remember you can get pretty much everything you need in America – this is the land of mega malls, so stocking up on travel essentials
will only be a problem in the most remote of areas!
- Check the weather before you go, and pack layers – Canada especially can get bitterly cold in the winter. Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat are a must.
- If you are planning on trekking outside, take all the usuals – hiking boots, socks, bug repellent, hat, and a mini-first aid kit for cuts, stings and bites.
- You’ll need an adaptor plug for Canada and the US if you are bringing any electrical equipment – plug sockets accept two or three pronged plugs.
- There’s no ‘dress code’ to worry about here, although you will get more attention if you wear skimpy clothes. America and Canada are both pretty casual places, where jeans are the norm, so don’t worry too much about looking like a scruffy backpacker. If you do want to dress up for a night out, take one nice pair of shoes, and either a nice dress, skirt or top to wear with jeans.
- It sounds obvious, but make sure you have some sort of travel insurance – the health care system in Canada and America is excellent, but in America you need to pay astronomical fees (unless you can find a subsidized clinic). There are 24-hour pharmacies in most towns if you need to buy any medication. Dial 911 for any emergency.
- Bring Car Insurance and a Driver’s Licence if you are planning to drive.