It’s almost three o’clock in the morning, and I’m standing in a dim lit parking lot.
The drums are echoing from inside the community center.
No taxi in sight. I try my cell phone again, praying for an answer from one of my “regular” drivers. The event had kicked off late as it always did, but it was the place to be in this small town in southern Belize. I felt sure I’d find a ride or someone I knew to take me back to my guesthouse. I’d guessed wrong, for the first time.
Mid-prayer, a truck pulls up, with a forty-something Belizean-Indian looking man at the wheel. I see him glancing at me through his rolled-down car window. After turning off the engine, he steps out and closer to me. A grin plastered on his face, he asks if I need a ride. I play it cool, so he doesn’t think I’m scared.
“No thanks, I’m just waiting for my taxi.”
“I can take you, no problem!”
The scenarios played out in my head. “Travel writer found dead. Last seen leaving the festival at 3am with an unknown male.”
It was solo travel 101: no getting into a random guy’s car, at night no less. But what to do? Anxiety sets in. Walking back to my guesthouse for 30 minutes wasn’t an option; it wasn’t safe to do that in this isolated town where streets emptied by 8pm.
“Hey Lily! And hey, you!” Jane, a lady I’d briefly met earlier that evening, was walking out of the community hall with one of her girlfriends. We’d bonded as frequent travelers and Belize fans, but I’d lost track of her early on in the packed room.
She exchanges hugs with the Belizean-Indian guy.
“I offered your beautiful friend a ride but she refused.”
Jane looks directly in my eyes. “It’s OK, let’s all go together!”
Less than 10 minutes later, I’m shutting my guesthouse’s gate behind me, breathing a quiet sigh of relief. Jane and the stranger wave goodbye, driving off into the night.
You’ve probably read the recent New York Times article on solo female travel. It caused numerous female travelers to respond, offering tips and encouragement: beat the fear, go, travel, see the world. A follow up NYT piece did the same afterwards, of course. And then the reader letters poured in.
It’s an important topic that will keep coming up as more privileged women explore the world solo. Because let’s face it: to travel is still one of the greatest privileges that exist. If you don’t believe me, come live in the Dominican Republic or much of the Caribbean and the “developing” world, and see how many people are at the mercy of a visa to step off their island — if they can even afford a passport application.
Women who can travel have been doing it for a long time. There are just more of us now out there. Hostels to travel agencies and hotels have confirmed over 40% increase in bookings year after year for the past four years, from solo females travelers. Booking.com says 65% of US women now travel without their partners, with the baby boomers leading the way. Their favorite destinations, after Europe? The Caribbean.
The Caribbean is a region I’ve explored solo for the past 14 years. Staying short or long-term on numerous islands, I’ve amassed tactics in trying to keep safe, particularly as a woman of color — and they are listed in this post. Some tactics are instinctive as someone who’s literally been “a serial expat” her whole life, studying and living in Europe, Africa, and the US. Other tactics I learned along the way as a “digital nomad,” and as travel writer and photographer in Jamaica, Belize, Dominican Republic, and other Caribbean destinations. I spend weeks on the road, too, researching for my Caribbean guidebooks.
The road wasn’t always smooth, but for the most part I’ve been fortunate. If you think I “blend in” easily because of I’m Black, I’d tell you my tongue often betrays me. I’m also as much of a target and the subject of stereotypes as a Black woman — not to mention, the FBI probably wouldn’t coming looking for me.
But I’m thankful to be here to share the small mishaps of a privileged traveler. There’s that time when I was stranded in the northern Dominican campo near dusk and a man making cheese in his kitchen came to my aid, or when I was bit by a dog in Belize and needed a tetanus shot, or that night a white man asked me what my rate was while my friends were on the dance floor. I could also give you examples of many times I took stupid risks (I was younger, is my excuse). All minor things but that, in hindsight, could have taken a turn for the worse.
But you see, now that I live in the Caribbean full time (pretty much since 2014), I also hear and read often about the local women in my backyard who turn up missing or dead. It’s often domestic violence, abuse of various kinds, or simply an overall lack of opportunity that spirals into a tragic end. It happens here, too. They don’t make the New York Times or other mainstream international media, but they are our sisters in the “paradisiacal” Caribbean destinations we love to visit; many love to explore their countries like we do.
And that’s why I decided to write this post and add my voice to the solo female travel conversation.
First, I believe we need to get as region specific as possible with safety advice for solo women — beyond the short, often desk-researched and crowd-sourced travel listicles on “safest islands to visit.” Let’s stop saying, “use your common sense” because most of us women don’t walk out of our house with our heads in our rear ends. Specific place-related advice is key because there are many aspects at play, from politics to cultural norms and social issues, particularly in developing countries.
Second, solo female travelers are not a homogeneous group. We are of different races. Some of us have bolder personalities than others, while others are more timid. Some of us don’t want to go solo and prefer traveling with other women — and that’s all right, as my friend Nadeen says in her primer post on solo female travel. We each have our ways of easing into a new experience, and our set of issues. Let’s not make each other feel bad about it, but instead, let’s continue to share how we did it.
Third, it’s high time more of us traveling women looked beyond our
navels privilege and beyond this selfie-obsessed culture. Let’s use our voices, our influence and our passion for travel to shed more light on women’s rights in the destinations we visit, particularly in the Caribbean. Let’s tie women’s rights with travel to show and address that all women are at risk on the road, not just the privileged ones. We should feel horrified by tragedies happening to all women, not just the ones lucky to explore. Like the women mentioned in the New York Times article, but also the women who disappear in those destinations. We are all connected. Talking about these issues puts pressure on governments and tourism stakeholders to do better, to find solutions to keep all women safe.
Consider this a condensed mini-guide to solo female travel in the Caribbean. Bookmark it, plan your trip and pop your questions in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer and I also welcome the input of my fellow Caribbean sisters.
In this post, I share:
I. How I started traveling solo to the Caribbean
II. 20 safety tips for foreign women exploring the Caribbean
III. 7 Caribbean islands and locations ideal for newbies
IV. Improving the female experience in the Caribbean: How we can use our privilege to benefit all women
I. How I started traveling solo to the Caribbean: St. Lucia
If you think I took the plunge by staying in an isolated town and driving myself around, you’d be wrong. This now fiercely independent Caribbean solo traveler actually started out in an all-inclusive resort.
My first solo trip to the Caribbean as an adult was to Saint Lucia in 2005. I’m clarifying because I’ve traveled solo in the past, as a teenage boarding school student shuttling from West Africa to the UK at least twice a year.
I chose the Caribbean because I was completely burned out from my job as a corporate attorney, and I’d accumulated three weeks of vacation that would expire if I didn’t use them within the month.
I didn’t need to be told twice.
I spent hours on the Internet, looking at dreamy island photos and researching hotels that would be a fit — as a female traveling solo.
I can’t recall the websites that led me to the BodyHoliday Le Sport, but I’m grateful my travel juju was in full force.
The BodyHoliday is still somewhat of a rarity in the Caribbean, because it doesn’t charge single supplements and caters to couples and families, but also to solo travelers. Almost immediately, I was sharing meals and meeting fellow solo travelers of all ages and genders. Over my three weeks in St. Lucia — I still can’t believe I had that much time off in a luxury resort (with a daily free spa treatment too), but hey, that was the one good thing about being a lawyer — I began to ease into exploring on my own, and signing up for day trips solo.
While in St. Lucia, I ventured next door: Martinique (where I wished I’d stayed longer) and St. Vincent and the Grenadines on a day sail. All solo.
Three weeks of apprehension turned into three weeks of my best Caribbean vacation, ever. It opened up the gates to what followed: girlfriend trips to Spain, Portugal and Italy. Solo trips to (and stays in) Paris for the summer.
There were no more all-inclusive resorts as I evolved into a more confident and responsible Caribbean traveler, supporting local businesses as much as possible.
By 2008, at the same time as my leap into travel journalism, I was back in the Caribbean and exploring independently. Since then, I’ve staying in small hotels but also rented apartments long-term, working my way from six months to a year: Jamaica, Grenada, Belize, Dominican Republic, Curacao, Barbados, and more.
I can’t imagine all that I would have missed out on had I given in to fear.
You see, it wasn’t overnight. It took time. But I knew right away solo travel was for me. There’s an invaluable benefit to learning to love your own company. It teaches you about who you are, but also how others see the world. It teaches confidence and self-reliance. I could spend an entire post telling you how good it was for me to explore as a solo female in the Caribbean. But I can also tell you how, a decade later, this lifestyle became lonely. Life is about balance.
II. 20 safety tips for foreign women exploring the Caribbean
One of the most frequent questions on travel forums goes something like this:
“Solo female traveler heading to [insert name of] island: is it safe?”
There are no “island guarantees,” but you can do your best to minimize risks, as I have over the years. The longer you stay, the more important it is to take precautions.
1. Brush up on history and local news when you’re trip planning
Read about up on your destination’s history pre-trip. The Caribbean’s colonial past means you must understand its influence on today’s Caribbean society, and how it plays out in tourism.
Also, browse the latest news in your destination before you go — in the local media. Even if it’s a one-week stay for work, learning about the socio-political issues and local life on the ground is every traveler’s responsibility. It leads to a more immersive, quality experience as well.
Every Caribbean destination has at least two to three major news outlets, including independent ones – find them on the Internet or social media. For example, Jamaica has The Gleaner and The Observer. In the Dominican Republic, it’s Diario Libre or for an English site, Dominican Today.
Don’t get too freaked out by the local crime news; it’s no different than what you hear on US evening local news channels.
Should you listen to US government warnings? Unless there are riots or a war, I’d say they are usually cautionary, to be taken into account and not dismissed, but not necessarily decisive of your trip.
If you have time to spare, I’d also recommend reading a novel based in the destination you’re visiting to balance it all out.
2. Stay in a locally-owned hotel or guesthouse
This is a tactic I still use today, and that I used in my beginner solo travel years in the Caribbean, after St. Lucia. I pick small or medium-sized properties that are family and locally owned.
The smaller guest-host ratio has its advantages: the hosts and their staff are more invested in their property, and in making sure you’re all right, while guiding you towards the best resources – from drivers to activities. On the flip side, your travel dollars go into the local economy and the benefits ripple right back.
It was clear to me back then that a more personalized, immersive local experience comes with having local hosts. It’s the premise that AirBnB banked on and they were right on the money. But you must do your research and be sure that where you are staying is an established business and not just a random local renting a room in a shady area (unfortunately, we have to be careful not to fall into that whole “like a local” marketing lure).
I’ve used this small local hotel/guesthouse tactic countless times and felt much safer exploring knowing my hosts were well-known and respected in their towns or cities and no one would mess with one of their guests. That’s how the Caribbean rolls.
Another reason to stay in a place with local owners or hosts on site and nearby: you have easier access to someone who can help should anything happen, even to get rides should you get stuck somewhere.
How do you find these properties? It’s easier these days, thanks to engines such as Booking.com and Hotels.com. Some places I’ve stayed as a solo female in my early days were found on websites, after researching and reading forums (ironically they were often women-owned guesthouses!). You can also grab a well-researched guidebook to your destination with reliable, independent advice including insight on the owners (shameless plug again but true, I research every single place I recommend). Moon Travel Guides has a solid line of Caribbean guidebooks and only experts who live in the destinations, who visit frequently or who’ve known it for years are hired to write them.
3. Mind your taxis and your guides
Listen: if you’re going to be stingy or budget-obsessed, don’t do that with transportation or guides in the Caribbean. Transport is one of the biggest expenses because fuel costs are high, but it’s also where your safety is in play. The same goes for hiring licensed guides. That’s why in the Caribbean, referrals are everything.
Without fail, I make sure to know and keep at least two to three numbers of reliable, recommended local taxis-slash-guides. In the Caribbean, the taxi situation is too random to just get into a any car.
Hop on travel forums or Facebook women’s groups for referrals, or grab your guidebook again. For example, I share my best drivers – the ones that I use myself – in my books on the DR and Belize. It’s the best way to find a safe driver if you need an airport pick up, unless your property offers the latter.
Arrange your airport pick up and drop off in advance, and keep the taxi’s phone number handy. If I can use the same person during my stay, I do that as well. But usually you’ll need a couple more names for the day-to-day drives, unless you choose to drive solo (I personally don’t recommend the latter in places like Santo Domingo, for instance, or in parts of Central America where driving solo in deserted areas isn’t smart).
Public transportation in the Caribbean — including shared taxis or minivans — is usually safe to use as long as it’s a busy time of day (rush hour). The majority of people don’t have the luxury of a private vehicle. I’ve taken shared taxis, local chicken buses, and large long-distance coach buses – all fine.
The one thing I pay attention to? Hopping into a shared taxi with only men inside, for instance. I’ll let it pass and wait for the next one. There’s no rush in the islands. I check out people’s faces and if it doesn’t feel right, I simply don’t go – no shame in my game.
In some places, criminals have been known to use a fake license plate to make tourists think that it’s a legitimate, licensed taxi. Don’t blindly trust license plate colors unless you see plenty of folks getting in. It doesn’t happen often, but knowledge is power.
5. Get a local phone number
There’s one thing I do without fail and within 24 hours when I arrive in a Caribbean destination for a longer period of time: I get a local phone (a local SIM card). Whether it’s Digicell in Jamaica, Altice or Claro in the DR, there’s guaranteed to be a store near where you are staying. If not, you can ask your airport driver to make a stop on your way to the hotel. They’re used to these kinds of requests.
You’ll need an unlocked GSM phone (one that accepts all SIM cards), your passport and some cash to pay for the SIM card (usually cheap) and for a prepaid plan. Pick a plan with Internet data.
Another tactic of mine: using a local flip-phone for my local calls, instead of my iPhone. This way, when I want to make a call while in a busy public location but don’t want to flash my iPhone, I can take out my local, cheap cell and use that instead. The less attention, the better. If you don’t have a flip phone, they sell cheap ones at the store; purchase one with your SIM card.
Having access to a local phone is super useful when you’re a solo female traveler in the Caribbean. You can call your hotel for help if needed because they’re not necessarily on WhatsApp all the time; you can call your driver or the business you can’t find on the road. It can also save you from sticky situations: if you’re with someone or in a taxi and feeling nervous, you can pretend to call and make people think you’re not lost or you live there. It’s helped me deflect attention several times.
One last tip: only hand out your local phone number to trusted contacts. I remember a friend who shared her number with a guy she met on the first night of her vacation. When she decided to not hang with him a second time? He was blowing up her phone, stalking where she was staying. It was getting scary. Luckily he gave up, but you see how easily things can spiral. A Caribbean island isn’t as big as a US city — you will stick out and run into folks.
6. Download useful apps
We have access to many useful apps today that didn’t exist when I was a beginner solo traveler.
I highly recommend downloading Maps.me before you leave. It has free, detailed maps of destinations around the world. It’s much better than Google Maps because it works offline, but it also shows streets and areas with more precision. Download the countries and cities you’re visiting before your flight and you’re set. It’s not just because I’m a guidebook writer, but I’ve always believed in the power of maps.
Another useful and free app is WhatsApp, used widely in the Caribbean. Phone credits can add up so most people here have it. It’s convenient and it works with any Wi-Fi connection. You can also call home or anywhere in the world for free.
Uber has a presence in several Caribbean cities including in Santo Domingo and Santiago, Dominican Republic; and Kingston Jamaica. Again, forums are the best way to find out the latest situation with rideshare apps, even Uber – because in the Caribbean, things change fast. In case the app doesn’t work, or you don’t have access to Wi-Fi, register important numbers in your local cell, such as the local taxi company or your hotel front desk.
7. Share your itinerary — before and during your trip
Before leaving on your trip, let a friend or loved one know where you’re heading, and where you’re staying. If you have a contact on the ground, throw their number in as well.
I manage to do this even as a crazed guidebook writer who literally switches hotels every two to three days, or every week. I still let my better half know exactly where I am and what I’m up to that day.
At your small hotel or guesthouse, build a good relationship with the staff from day one — go with your gut on this one, usually front desk staff are solid — and let them know what you’re up to that day. If you picked a great spot, they’ll care and they will keep an eye on your well-being.
8. Dress simply, but blend in
The advice to leave your heels at home? That doesn’t apply for Caribbean nights, when locals dress up and go out to fancy places. If you’re just heading to the local beach bar in a tourist town, that’s another story.
Generally, however, I recommend dressing simple during the day when you’re wandering and sightseeing. No need for bling. If you’re exploring cities like Santo Domingo for example, leave the shorts in your luggage and go for city clothes.
Blend in, but also recognize that in the Caribbean, locals save their beach gear for the beach or for weekends, and the party gear for after-hours. The less you stick out, the better.
9. Connect with women groups and communities, on and offline
The benefit of being a solo female traveler today is that there are so many cool women’s travel groups now, and everyone is ready to share experiences and safety tips.
Reach out to groups like Girls Love Travel, with members from all around the world, or Women Who Live On Rocks, made up mostly of women who live in the Caribbean. You can get instant advice before your trip, or reach out while on the ground. More than likely, you’ll find that the women in your destination will want to meet up for a meal or show you around.
Before your trip or while in your destination, you should also research or ask about local women’s cooperatives and sign up for their community tours. It’s important to connect with local women and learn about the place, their lives and their culture first hand, in a safe space. It might not seem like it, but places like Jamaica, Belize, Barbados and the Dominican Republic, for instance, have plenty such opportunities, from food tours to historical walks led by women.
10. Explore the outdoors, but avoid trekking far solo
I don’t recommend you wander off deep into the Caribbean’s rainforests or secluded sights. I’ve visited national parks or massive botanical gardens when there was barely anyone there, but I didn’t linger long if I noticed it was too deserted or if it felt unsafe. That’s a gut decision you’ll need to make, but best to avoid it.
I know, we should be able to do whatever the heck we want, it’s our money and our trip. But again, it’s not about what you believe – it’s about the place you’re visiting and the psyche of the culture that’s been in place for a long time. We’re not going to change it overnight. But it is slowly changing.
Hire an expert guide when you want to go hike to waterfalls or go diving or any other splendid outdoor Caribbean adventure. There are numerous qualified outfitters.
In Guadeloupe for example, I love Vert Intense and their extreme hiking and canyoning adventures, or Bike Caribbean in Barbados.
A woman asked recently whether it’s safe to go to a remote but well-known sight in Guadeloupe (shown in this image) at sunrise to take photos.
The thing is, you’d be taking a big risk venturing into a remote, deserted location where no one can hear you even scream. Even if you’re driving, find someone to go with you; ask your host and they’re likely find a solution.
Up your “no game”
The persistence is strong in many parts of the Caribbean. And it’s particularly insane in Cuba, I found out, where I had more than my fair share of direct harassment, including from a “casa” manager. A friend who’s a Cuba expert had warned me ahead of my trip, but woo! — I wasn’t expecting that much boldness.
Caribbean men are often portrayed as the harassing kind. The truth is, it depends where you are: tourist town or city? City folks are just like anywhere else: minding their own business, shuffling to work and home.
Tourist towns are a different story, as you know. In those areas, yes, it’s common to deal with male persistence. I’ve had a strong “no game” for a long time because I grew up in West Africa. But even in the Caribbean (especially in Jamaica), I perfected the “don’t mess with me” vibe. Never rude, just loud and clear, followed by walking away.
11. Have a plan for handling the “catcalling” – or street harassment
Related to #10, it’s a fact that this happens in many destinations around the world, and it’s more pervasive in the Caribbean. I dream of the day I and all women can all walk around without any verbal harassment.
The degree to which street harassment happens will vary according to the Caribbean destination. I’ve found it to be the most frequent in beach resort towns. The safest thing to do if you’re solo is just say “All rite!” and keep it moving. If they insist on a conversation I say, “I’m on a mission!”
In the Dominican Republic, catcalling is known as piropo (which actually translates to “compliment” or “flattery”). The comments go from basic (“Morena linda!”) to more crass ones, but over the past five years, we’ve seen the piropo level decrease dramatically, thanks to Dominican women who have been more vocal in the press, on social media, in local campaigns and in government. The “cultural” veil has been lifted and it’s recognized as a form of violence against women, with the law saying men can be fined for it (I know, not likely to happen). It’s irritating at best.
Ignore and keep it moving.
12. Don’t tell your life story (Nuh chat too much!)
I’ve witnessed this from newbie solo travelers in the Caribbean: sharing your life story with the first friendly local you meet at the bar.
A few months ago while in San Pedro, Belize, I was having lunch at a local restaurant and a solo traveler was sitting at a bar, talking to a local guy she’d clearly just met. The conversation evolved into life stories, and she mentioned the inheritance she’d just won – also within earshot of surrounding diners – and asked where to buy property.
It’s easy to get lured into thinking the Caribbean is paradise all the time, and it’s easy to buy into that whole “people are so friendly here” refrain.
But in tourist areas, there are hustlers consistently on the lookout and on the listen for their next prey. Sharing personal details – even what you do for work – can make you vulnerable as a solo female traveler.
In the same vein, don’t feel obligated to answer questions (of course, context matters): “Where are you staying?” or “What do you do back home?”
I remember another time when I was having lunch in Hopkins Village, a couple of years ago, and a random guy approached my table. He said, “Enjoy!” As soon as I replied thank you, he was on a roll. “You visiting? Where are you staying?”
I answered: “Why? Why are you asking me where I’m staying?” Cue fumbling and stutters. I explained to him that he shouldn’t ask women where they are staying, because it’s inappropriate and it makes visitors feel unsafe. It wasn’t good for tourism (this village attracts plenty of independent travelers). He recognized his error, probably cursing me under his breath, and disappeared faster than I expected.
The point is, don’t answer if you don’t feel right. You can have a conversation, yet remain discreet and not share personal details.
13. Put valuables out of sight
Whether in you room or on your person, keep your valuables out of sight. Obvious? Again, I’ve seen this a lot with solo female travelers in the islands. Walking around with your US$1,000+ iPhone Plus in hand isn’t smart. Use it to snap photos, sure, but put it away as soon as you’re done. Don’t walk while staring at your screen.
In the room, I never ever leave my valuables in view — whether it’s my Mac or my passport, or any personal details. I lock it all up in my suitcase using my own heavy-duty locks. At least if someone tries to steal from it, they’ll have their work cut out and it’ll be clear I didn’t just misplace my things.
14. Watch the hotel elevator and hallways
If you insist on staying in large properties (and fail to follow advice in #2 above), stay mindful of hotel hallways and isolated corners as you leave or return from your room.
The times I’ve stayed solo in big resorts, usually for a work conference or on the occasional press trip, I’ve skipped elevators that only had a man on board (and my gut said “no”). Or I never walk in front of another male who exits on my floor. I’ll stall if I have to and retrace my steps. Better safe than sorry.
If a hotel staff member, even a manager, offers to walk you to your room “to make sure you’re safe,” say no (yes, that happened to me and I was ready to bring out my African side).
15. Mind yuh food and drinks — all the time
I’ve had to abandon cocktails and plates more times than I can count because I needed to walk away. But I’m all right with losing half of US$20 (or less).
I also don’t hand my drink for someone to hold unless I’m sure of that person (like a fellow female solo traveler). I wish that weren’t the case, but better safe than sorry.
16. Pack a doorstop or use the furniture if you must
Yes, I’ve done it before — shifted the furniture, that is. I could write a separate blog post about that misadventure in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, when my standby flight unexpectedly filled up and I was left stranded to find a place to stay after dark. Let’s just say, the hotel turned out to be sketchy and my room door had a flimsy, single lock. To boot, there was a storm and the wind kept shaking my bedroom window and howling through its cracks. I did not sleep a wink and was out of there at 4am.
Another time, I was in a countryside lodge — it was low season, and I was the only guest on property (the occasional downside of being a travel writer). I didn’t feel 100% safe, so I pushed the wooden dresser over to block the door as an additional precaution. At least I’d hear if someone messed with my door? No clue what I’d do after, but hey, it made me feel better. Next time, I’m packing a doorstop.
17. Mind your new fren
It’s great to mix and mingle with residents, but not every local is your friend. This goes with fraternizing with staff beyond the premises. Each situation is different of course, but stay vigilant. Best to be more conservative than not.
For this reason, I rarely go out solo at night in the Caribbean (that’s another tip) unless with a group of friends or with a trusted contact who is also my ride; there is strength in numbers.
18. Learn the language and some slang
Learn a few key phrases in the local language, for emergency purposes. It can also help you blend in more and understand others. In the Dominican Republic, for instance, I can’t imagine how you’d explore the capital or the countryside — on buses no less — if you didn’t speak a few phrases of Spanish, and a few phrases of Dominican Spanish.
Speaking the language has earned me allies and given me more confidence in a space where others might feel intimidated.
19. Keep an email journal
This is easier than it sounds but it’s quite simple. Create a draft email for your trip and every day — before your day ends. Write random words and bits that describe what you did that day, and with whom, and what you’re up to next. Jot down anything else that stood out.
I do this as a writer, but it also occurs to me that it’s useful to keep track because you never know when a loved one will need to track where you are or whom you’ve met.
20. Enroll in STEP if you’re a US citizen
I registered early on with this free State Department service for US citizens and residents abroad (for any length of time). I update when I’m in new destinations, and I’ve received alerts over time that otherwise haven’t appeared in the media. It is useful – just to stay informed. Check to see if your country/embassy offers something similar.
III. 7 Caribbean islands and locations ideal for solo travel newbies
There are specific spots in the Caribbean that I’ve found to be a great fit for newbie solo female travelers. If you’re ready to try but want to start small, look into these locations. That’s not to say you shouldn’t keep your guard up, but at least these areas have a great balance of social if you want that, in addition to culture and community. You won’t feel isolated if it’s your first time venturing solo.
Treasure Beach, Jamaica:
Lots of locally owned guesthouses, including many that are family owned. There’s a solid community here and they look out for their tourism industry. The most well known hotel is Jakes, but there are more in Treasure Beach.
South, East or West Barbados : Barbados is very easy for female travelers to navigate solo, including by public transportation. General good vibes all around.
Santo Domingo Colonial City; Jarabacoa; Bayahibe – the Dominican Republic: Easy areas for newbies to explore; there are hostels as well as guesthouses. Dominicans are very hospitable. Learn some Spanish.
It’s easy to drive on this island. The west attracts a good number of solo travelers as well as families because of the beaches. Great chill out island.
Gosier on Grande-Terre; Terre-de-Haut Island on Les Saintes – Guadeloupe Islands:
It’s easier to get around on foot, or use as a base for exploration. There’s enough tourism around but also culture and beaches.
This beach town is ideal for newbies. Stay in a small hotel in the village – with everything from roadside food to fine dining, craft shopping, and bars with live music. Snorkel tours to nearby cayes. Social but low key.
IV. Beyond safety tips: Addressing the (traveling) solo female experience in the Caribbean
Those of us who travel by choice — for leisure or work — are not the only ones who are attacked or who have to be on the guard all the time. Many Caribbean women face even greater challenges in their countries, and they’re not all able to escape on a plane the next day.
How can we expand the discussion then, to look beyond our privilege and make the Caribbean safer for all women? How can we do better?
We can look past ourselves for solutions and instead, look to the women and the governments we’re visiting. Below are just a few ideas, and I welcome yours in the comments.
1. Innovative campaigns from Caribbean governments and tourism stakeholders
The tourism industry and governments have a responsibility in protecting all their citizens, women in particular — and all their visitors.
The public and private sectors could partner to create one-of-a kind awareness campaigns: a) a local, grassroots initiative addressing day-to-day harassment issues all women face in the destination, so as to continue shifting perspectives; and b) an international campaign highlighting the large solo female travel niche in the Caribbean, and how it bridges and benefits both groups of women — locals and visitors.
[W]hile couples, families, and groups will remain the largest buyers of Caribbean travel and hospitality… solo travel has become mainstream. It represents a unique if quite complex market segment that deserves greater consideration by destinations and an industry that too often relies on standard business models.– “The Solo Traveller and the Caribbean.” Jessop, D. Caribbean Council
2. Crime awareness
When crimes against women occur in the Caribbean, governments and the tourism industry shouldn’t shove them under the rug or rush to make them go away.
Bad news is a double-edged sword, I get it. It can scare away tourism easily – but it can also hurt the destination long term when the place is seen as “covering up” the crime. Reputation goes a long way in traveler circles.
To know is to educate and find solutions. Let’s be vocal about it.
3. Linking women’s rights to travel articles, and supporting women in tourism
Bloggers, “influencers” and writers (I include myself on that list) could collaborate more often with women’s cooperatives and other women-owned businesses to share stories on the challenges our sisters face in the destinations we visit. Let’s find our counterparts and let’s tell their stories. Let’s connect with women who might not be our counterparts and tell their stories.
We should promote more Caribbean female entrepreneurs — a topic I plan to expand here on my blog, as I have in my guidebooks.
We should hire female guides and opt for women-owned guesthouses.
We could also share more stories on the kindness of strangers — female and male — in the places we visit, because they far outweigh the bad ones.
Editors, I see you too: perhaps it’s time to balance the good and the bad, and not just seek pitches about crime and misadventures. Let’s share all sides of the spectrum, irrespective of clicks. Let’s also mention the men who are protecting women and celebrate them as role models.
V. What’s the verdict?
I certainly don’t have all the answers. I’m aware that as a privileged traveler who gets to hop around the Caribbean and live where I choose, as well as fly to the US when I need to, I don’t get to dictate a destination’s cultural norms. I can only speak from my experiences in the region over nearly 15 years.
On the flip side, if a Caribbean vacation is simply about sun and sand at the resort for the solo female traveler, how can the situation improve for all of us? It won’t. Nothing changes if nothing changes.
The best thing we can do then, as privileged women, is to keep traveling to the Caribbean and beyond, not just for our own benefit, but also to reach out and connect with other women around the world — to magnify their voices, to break down the stereotypes and to advocate for our collective safety.
We all deserve to enjoy this amazing adventure called life, at home or abroad — solo or otherwise.
Have you explored the Caribbean as solo female traveler? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Update on April 8, 2019: Just ONE day after I published this post, the city of Santo Domingo launched a public awareness campaign against “piropo” or verbal street harrassment against women in the Dominican Republic. The campaign, in collaboration between the city and UN Women, will last a week and began with messages on the busiest street in the Colonial City, which attracts both locals and tourists. Way to go to the leading women of Santo Domingo. The men are being educated and we are here for it. A great example for Caribbean governments and cities to follow.