This article has some pretty good tips. Especially this:
“First, strike a balance between trusting and foolish — most adventures happen when you say yes. But weigh out the options first. Does someone know where you are? Do you have cellphone reception? Do you know exactly where you’re going? Do you know the people you’re going with — even a first and last name is something.
“Second, be really comfortable with yourself. Some people can make friends easily anywhere they are, and that’s amazing. But even the friendliest of people need some down time, and when you’re all alone you can become lonely really fast. So make sure you can be okay with your own thoughts.
“And third, take a tampon everywhere. It’s not just good for your own period, it’s a bonding experience. If you’re in a crowded train, or a hostel room, or a bus ride, and someone doesn’t have one, you just made a new friend by giving yours away. They also work well to stop blood if you scrape your knee or get a nosebleed. Really, tampons are awesome.”
Also, sometimes airport security in places where tampons aren’t commonplace won’t know what your tampon is, and you can have a great uncomfortable moment where a dude pulls your tampon out of your bag, touches it, smells it, and then looks at you quizzically while you attempt to stammer out an explanation in a language you don’t really speak.
I travel a lot, and I am a lady, and I often travel alone. There are some major perks — waiters and waitresses assume you’re sad or lonely, so free wine is often involved in any dinner out. And if you are a big eater like me and you sit down alone and order half the menu and don’t bother anyone, the waitstaff also likes you and can give you good tips as to where to go out afterward.
It’s also a great way to meet people. Traveling with friends is lovely and fun, but traveling alone requires you to interact with others — and you might be pleasantly surprised at how wonderful other human beings can be. I spent my 22nd birthday in Belgrade, as part of a solo three-week trip through Turkey and the former Yugoslavia; I checked into a hostel, walked around the city, and when I came back everyone was gathered in the main room with a cake, ready to sing me Happy Birthday and take me out to the clubs — the hostel-owner saw my birthday on my passport and coordinated the whole thing. I met a girl a few days later who I traveled with for the next three days, and after she left I never saw her again; I met a boy who I talked to for five minutes on the walls around Dubrovnik and who I saw on and off, whenever he would come through New York, for years after. In Egypt, I met a group of girls who spent a whole day with me and showed me around their city, and a man who grabbed my hand and ran me across the impossible intersections on Tahrir Square; in Buenos Aires, I spent a lovely evening trapped in a restaurant with a Swiss journalist while the streets flooded outside; there are at least 10 Frenchmen in Paris who helped me navigate the subway, and as many waiters who helped me pronounce “chevre.” People have cut me slack and given me directions and taken me on rides on their motorbikes and refilled my wine glass and brought me free dessert.
People can be pretty cool, is my point, and while I’m sure men are also approached and talked to by strangers, solo women are less threatening and I suspect more likely to be invited out or chatted up or helped out by strangers — which can be a blessing and an annoyance.
The biggest downside to traveling while female is access: There are some places where women simply are not allowed, and it can be frustrating to have to go to the second-rate version of wherever the boys are (if there even is a second-rate version at all; sometimes you just don’t get to go). And of course there are people who will target you because you’re female and alone — I’ve had more than a few of those experiences, from the old naked man with a boner on a Greek beach to the pack of teenage boys in Cairo who followed me around for two hours before one of them handed me a note asking, “Do you have sex?” to the stoned hotel proprietor in Amsterdam who I almost stabbed in the neck with a pen after he followed me into my room and asked me to kiss him goodnight. Creeps, they are everywhere! But they are also in New York and probably in your home town too, so you know, you do a creep-scan anywhere and follow your gut and don’t be afraid to tell a man what’s what and don’t place being nice ahead of your own safety and realize that Bad Things actually happen fairly rarely and then hope for the best. The fear of creeps or uncomfortable situations keeps too many women from stepping outside of their comfort zones, so figure out how to stab someone in the neck with a pen and then get out there.
And always bring tampons. Always bring a scarf.