One of the most important parts of travel planning is finding safe neighborhoods for solo female travelers. Whether you book a hostel, hotel or Airbnb, your accommodations are a place you’ll be returning day after day, frequently after dark. If you’re traveling alone, the last thing you want is to be stuck in a sketchy neighborhood. But everyone slips up — this is how I wound up in a less-than-stellar part of Buenos Aires, how I solved my problem and what you need to do to find safe neighborhoods for solo female travelers no matter where your destination.
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How I Wound Up in an Unsafe Neighborhood of Buenos Aires
Friends, I have nothing to blame except my own cockiness. I had been traveling for 9 months and had spent the last few months in very safe destinations for solo female travelers like Bali, Japan and Uruguay. I had gotten too comfortable and when I booked an Airbnb for a month in Buenos Aires, I didn’t do enough research.
When I arrived and gave the address to a cab driver, he was reluctant to take me. He wanted to know if I was visiting family. I said I was meeting a host and off we went, but as we drove, he continued expressing concern that this wasn’t a good place for me to be staying and told me he’d be happy to just drive me back into the city center. Meanwhile, my host’s daughter was texting me, insisting that cab drivers in town were dishonest and would say anything for an extra buck. My driver seemed pretty genuine and gave me his phone number as he dropped me off in case I changed my mind.
When I arrived, the apartment itself was nice and my host was lovely. I asked her about the neighborhood’s safety and she said it would be fine as long as I was vigilant. I really couldn’t tell who was being honest and looking out for my welfare, and who was bending the truth to get more money out of me.
How I Fixed My Problem
I fortunately had a few groceries with me so didn’t need to leave the apartment for food. I decided to stay in and watch out the windows to see what the neighborhood was like at night and if there were any local women out after dark.
There weren’t. Sure enough, as I kept an eye on the street outside the apartment, I got more and more bad vibes.
I also found out that in my lazy booking, I failed to reserve a room with WiFi. Being far from the city center in a sketchy neighborhood without the internet access I needed to do my job was definitely one problem too many. There was no salvaging the situation. I had to find somewhere else to stay and lose the money I spent on the Airbnb reservation.
At first, I tried contacting a couple other Airbnb hosts, but wasn’t getting much response so I had to book a hostel instead. I wound up in a mixed dorm (something I almost never do as all of my bad hostel experiences have been in mixed dorms) and I was also only able to book two weeks instead of a full month. (This wound up being a blessing in disguise, as I had to cut my trip short for a family emergency.)
Despite the lost money and concessions I made, changing accommodations saved my experience of Buenos Aires. Being in a nicer, albeit more touristy neighborhood made it possible for me to feel comfortable walking alone at night as a solo female traveler.
Getting lazy and booking that Airbnb is one of my biggest travel fails. Avoid your own sketchy situation by following these tips for solo female travel safety:
Tips for Finding Safe Neighborhoods for Solo Female Travelers
Ask for advice in Facebook groups
Before you book accommodations, do your research and get informed, unbiased opinions. There are loads of Facebook groups for solo female travelers and groups specific to destinations around the world. Join them and ask for recommendations and advice whenever you are planning a trip. You can get the low down on what areas are safest for women and foreigners, get tips from experienced travelers and locals in your destination, and you might even find a new friend you can meet up with on your trip.
Be ok with tourist areas
Getting off the beaten path can be wonderful, but sometimes the safest place for you to be is a tourist district. This was often the advice I got in large cities of South America and I learned to make my peace with it. Sometimes we can feel like neighborhoods that are popular with tourists are inauthentic and bad ways to experience a destination, but honestly, I think if you have an open mind and a good attitude, it doesn’t matter where you stay. Safety is more important than impressing others with how “hardcore” a traveler you are.
Look for well-lit streets
Doing your research in advance is important, but there is no substitute for seeing a place in person. When you arrive to check-in at your accommodations, pay attention to your surroundings. Do you feel comfortable? Does the building and its surroundings look safe? Are there plenty of streetlights nearby? Don’t panic, and don’t be paranoid, but do listen to your gut. It might tell you that this reservation is one you shouldn’t keep.
Make sure you’re well connected
When you book and when you arrive, you should pay attention to how close your accommodations are to restaurants and attractions, and what your public transportation options are. If you’re not in the heart of the city, make sure you have easy access to a subway or bus stop. Long walks back to your bed at night can be a vulnerable, so the less time you have to spend walking, the better.
Watch what locals do
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When I was having doubts about my Airbnb in Buenos Aires, the first thing I did was watch out for other women. If you see women walking alone and going out at night, then that’s a big vote of confidence in the safety of a neighborhood for solo female travelers. If, however, streets look eerily deserted after dark, that may be a sign that you shouldn’t be out either.
Be friendly with the front desk staff
You should be nice to front desk staff no matter what, but there is a good safety perk to being friendly. The staffers you meet will know their city well and give you advice for where to go and what to see. They will also be frequently be keeping an eye on comings and goings, so even if you are traveling alone, somebody will know where you’re headed and notice if you don’t come back.
I learned my lesson from those first couple nights in Buenos Aires. No matter how experienced a traveler you are, you can still make mistakes. So, I hope you learn from my mistake and always do your due diligence before you book any trip. Do your research, ask locals, and be aware of your surroundings to make sure you stay in safe neighborhoods for solo female travelers.