Destinations that are friendly (and not so friendly) for women

Women are becoming the leading consumers in the travel market, say industry experts. While most choose to travel with family members or in groups, more women are also travelling solo for business and pleasure.

While the number of female-friendly (and not so friendly) destinations is potentially endless, the experts at offer this list of worldwide spots that have a reputation for being women-friendly — as well as the regions where women are advised to use extra caution.

Female-friendly destinations

Most Western European cities are considered safe for female visitors, either alone or with companions. European women have many of the same rights as North American women. Public transportation is generally safe and English is widely spoken.

Despite its sometimes dubious image revolving around sex and drugs, many women find Amsterdam particularly welcoming. “From experience, I suggest Amsterdam,” says Evelyn Hannon, editor of, an online resource for women travellers. “English is spoken everywhere. The Duch are completely pragmatic and believe that women should be independent. I seldom experience male harassment in that city.”

Ireland is known for its friendly people, beautiful countryside and pubs that keep the Guinness flowing. When asked about women-friendly countries, travel expert Pauline Frommer says, “Ireland, absolutely. [It is] a very welcoming destination where everyone is really made to feel like family and the pubs are friendly, non-threatening places to party.”

Ireland’s many family-owned B&Bs allow travellers to feel part of the local culture and offer an opportunity to meet locals and other travellers for insights on where to go for a good meal or off-the-beaten-path attractions to visit.

Costa Rica
While much of Latin America has a reputation of “forward” men, pick-pocketing, and harassment, Costa Rica has been increasingly popular with North Americans. And it’s considered one of the safest Latin American destinations, particularly outside of San Jose, the capital.

Many Costa Ricans have adopted the motto pura vida or “pure life,” which roughly translates to “living the good life.” Locals with this attitude tend to be very laid-back and go out of their way to help visitors.

Costa Rica is also a good destination for women on a budget. Comfortable, safe accommodations are available for less than $40 US per night, and Costa Rica offers both ecotourism and luxury accommodations. Shared vans shuttle small groups of tourists around the country so you don’t have to rely on public buses or a rental car.

Business and leisure travel to India is on the rise. Still, it is not for the faint of heart — interspersed with the beauty of attractions like the Taj Mahal are crowded, dirty, and poverty-stricken areas. Still many experts consider India a safe destination for women.

Women, in general, are respected in India, and many hold important jobs in the tourism industry, such as managing hotels or manning the front desk, according to Phyllis Stroller of the Women’s Travel Club. And, many locals, particularly in popular tourist areas, speak English.

For reasons of safety, experts suggest staying in three- or four-star hotels.

In 2005, Vietnam was named one of the world’s safest countries by Aon, a large insurance broker. In the past, Vietnam was considered an off-beat alternative to Thailand, but as more travellers discover the charms of Southeast Asia, it is becoming a popular destination in its own right.

As more English speaking tourists explore the country, the tourism infrastructure is becoming more developed. There is a good range of services for tourists, from high-class hotels to youth hostels.

Not so friendly destinations for women

Middle East and Northern Africa
Religion is an important part of daily life in many of these countries, so be sure to do your research. You’ll not only save yourself potential embarrassment by committing a faux-pas (such as walking into a mosque with bare shoulders), but you’ll get more out of your trip.

You’re likely to see many women in full hijab, or at the very least covered discreetly by veils, long shirts, and flowing pants. No one will insist that you follow suit, but consider these details when you’re packing. Leave the tank tops and miniskirts at home.

The laws may also be different than you expect. For example, the US State Department warns: “In many Islamic countries, even those that give tourist visas and do not require sponsorship, a woman needs the permission of her husband, and children need the permission of their father, to leave the country. If you travel or allow your children to travel, be aware of the laws of the country you plan to visit. Once overseas, you are subject to the laws of the country where you are…”

The Mediterranean Coast
Stories about overly aggressive male suitors are not uncommon from women travelling along the Mediterranean coast. Experts advise women travelling in this region to be on guard about accepting invitations or offers to visit off-the-beaten paths from “overfriendly men.”

The United States
Think you’re safer in the U.S. than abroad? Not necessarily, say experts. According to an FBI report, nearly 100,000 rapes are reported in the U.S. every year. While most sexual violence is attempted by friends or acquaintances, a large portion of crime is still random. Some of this is violent, and it can affect anyone, including the female traveller.

Don’t let your guard just because your destination is Denver, Miami, or Los Angeles. Pay attention to your surroundings and ask locals about which areas to avoid.

Latin America and the Caribbean
American women traveling south of the border, whether to the Caribbean, Mexico, or other Latin American countries, should prepare themselves for attention. Cat-calling, groping, and staring are all common complaints.

However, you can have a safe visit to the Caribbean or Latin America by employing a good dose of common sense. Ignore aggressive men and try to avoid compromising situations by keeping to well-lit and populated areas.

The states of the former U.S.S.R.
Women traveling to Russia and the states of the former U.S.S.R. may not encounter the same aggressive cat-calling they might find in the Mediterranean, but other safety issues warrant precaution. There have been many horror stories, for example, about attempted sexual assault on trains and other public transportation.

And get used to not smiling. Throughout the states of the former U.S.S.R., the smile most North Americans effortlessly put forth may cause trouble. Culturally, the smile in former Soviet countries has come to mean that you’re sly, crazy, or you’re interested in the person at whom you’re smiling. Experts advise practicing your best emotionless face in preparation for a trip to the region.

OF course, “safe” and “dangerous” are all relative — sometimes it depends on where you want to go and what you want to do. Aside from government travel advice and guidebooks, here are some sources for safety tips for women:
Her Own Way – A Woman’s Safe-travel Guide
Journey Woman


Photo © Reuben Schulz

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