Posts tagged solo female travel
Practical Tips for Independent female travellers in Cuba

I remember the day when I made the decision to travel to Cuba: I was standing in the Sony Travel Photography Award Exhibition in London; among the hundreds of photos exhibited, the ones caught my eyes (and my heart) are a series on Cuba. The genuine smiles from people and its vibrant streets filled me with happiness. So, this winter, I boarded a plane to Havana, Cuba to start a 2-week trip.

Trinidad, Cuba

Trinidad, Cuba

The country is changing rapidly. I’ve done some research before I went but was surprised to find many things changed from travel guides. In this post, I will focus on some essentials that will help you to get the best out of your trip to Cuba as a solo female traveller.

Get your Tourist Card in advance. It is best to get this piece of paper in hand before you travel just to avoid any hassle. It’s only takes a couple of minutes to apply online and costs around £20-35 (depending on the service you choose). Just remember to leave enough time for it to arrive in post as it is a physical document.

Example of Cuba Tourist Card

Example of Cuba Tourist Card

Pack a bit more than your other trips. I am a light-packer, can usually survive a 2-week trip with just a small backpack. Though I’d suggest you pack a bit bigger bag for Cuba: you will otherwise struggle to find many basic things or queue for a long time to get them.

Bring your nice dresses. Cubans put a lot of attention to their attire. You do not need to dress down there, so pack your best dresses with you. The locals do see your nice dresses as a sign of respect to them.

Learn Spanish (at least the basics). Cubans are very welcoming and patient when it comes to communication. You don’t need to speak Spanish to get your way around. But if you want to get the most from your trip (eg. getting recommendation from locals, hearing their life stories and the country’s history), you will need to speak some Spanish. Even if only very basic or broken, the Cubans will make the effort to understand. Ensure you download Google Translation’s Spanish offline package before you trip.

Get familiar with the currency.  Cuba works on a dual currency system. As a foreigner, you will need to exchange CUC when you arrive (try to avoid US dollars as you’ll pay a “tax” on top of the exchange rate). It is important to know the difference between CUC and Cuba Peso: when you spend CUC, you will many times get changes in Peso, don’t be fooled if someone try to trick you with 1 Peso as a CUC.

Cuban Currency

Where to exchange. When travel to most places in the world, I avoid exchanging money at airports as it is often the most expensive. Though in Cuba, airport is one of the best places to exchange money: there is a very short queue and the exchange rate is only marginally higher from the bank. For example, when I arrived, rate at airport was 1.104 v.s. hotel’s 1.04 (worst) v.s. banco 1.114 (best). When you first arrive, you may think you don’t mind to get to the city to get a bit better rate, but wait until you see the queue at the door… You can easily spend a couple of hours queuing up.

Stay at Casa Particulars. The family you stay with will not only be your host, but also your contact point for everything. You can ask them about where to go to, get an idea of prices of everything, organise tours and transports. If you pay a bit extra, many will cook a home-made meal for you in the evening and invite you to join the family dinner with some rum and salsa. One of the best parties I’ve had was with one of my host family in Havana at their home! When it comes to choosing which casa, I’d say: host > location > room.

Look out for this sign

Look out for this sign

Find a casa to stay. Almost everyone who’s been there would say that you don’t really need to book anything in advance. I was suspicious until I landed: the signs of casa are almost on every other door. If you like the look and location of a building, just knock on the door and ask whether you can see the room. Even if that casa may not have any room for the night, they’d for sure recommend you to some other place that is similar with the same price. If you are not sure, just tell them and walk away to the next one; they won’t feel offended.

Transport within the city. Depending on where you are, you’d mostly rely on your feet and taxis. In big cities like Havana, some taxi driver may trick you with a higher-than-average price. When you first arrive, get an understanding of the standard charges by asking your host, other tourists, or at Infotur.

Bus transfers between cities Viazul is the bus operates for tourists between cities. The buses are air-conditioned, modern and comfortable. Though during peak season, you will need to book way in advance (at least 2-3 weeks). A secret tip I learnt if you want to get a seat without advanced booking: arrive one hour before the departure time on the day of travel; often there are untaken seats, and as a solo traveller – it is for you to grab. Even if there are no seats, you can easily find other people to share a taxi with there.

Move between cities with taxi collectivo. It is basically a taxi that shared by several people depending on how big the car is and how lucky the drive is in getting passengers. You only need to book them one day in advance through your host or just wander towards the bus station – the price is quite standard from most drivers. Remember, you MUST get the driver’s phone number, so you can call in case of no-show or late (and trust me, it happens all the time).

Online & offline. Be prepared to be offline most of your time at Cuba, which is a real blessing. To get online, you will need to buy internet cards (1 CUC per hour), and find hotspots in town. The hotspots are easy to find, just look around for a square/park where everyone’s sitting and looking at their handset.

Food and drinks. Cubans are used to simple meals and they don’t like spicy food. Most Cuba restaurants offer similar menus. I was told to keep my expectation low on Cuban food but to my pleasant surprise, I’ve had some excellent local cuisines and enjoyed some good Italian, America, even Russian food there. Tap water is clean enough to drink – I did try it a couple of times. But to be safe, I’d recommend bottled water.

Typical Cuban food

Typical Cuban food

I’ve also bought food from the street stalls: roasted pork and grilled chicken without having any stomach problems. Though if you do have a sensitive digestion system, I’d suggest you stick with restaurants or your host’s home-cooked meals (breakfast is offered at most casas for a cost of $5CUC per person, while lunch/dinner ranging from $8-15CUC).

A hearty homemade Cuban breakfast

A hearty homemade Cuban breakfast

Don’t expect that you can use the kitchen to cook. Even if some host may allow you to use the kitchen, you will struggle to buy ingredients to cook with.

Taking photos of people. Most people will smile at you when they see you pointing your lens to them. The Cubans are super friendly. Though you should always try to ask for permission and after the photo, leave some tips to show your appreciation.

Understanding the local prices. Prices of things/services can differ quite a lot, depending where you get it. For example, a bottle of water can cost 1CUC on the street and 0.25 in a “supermarket”; a horseback riding tour may cost $15CUC if you book directly with a farm owner and your host will ask for $25 as there will be an “agency fee”.

My recommendation is when you first arrive at a new city, pay a visit to Infotur and ask about the price standard too get an idea. It is always better to book directly with someone rather than through someone – as you’ll likely to be charged a higher fee.

Though the most important thing is enjoying your trip. Even if you do pay a slightly higher fee, it does go to someone who probably in need.

Tips get you further. Remember to always have some changes on you. Not all Cubans are privileged to take advantage of the blooming tourism. If someone has helped you, gave you a good service, made you laugh, leave them something to show your gratitude which will help them.

Where to party. Every city has some place(s) where live music played every night. These places are either free or very cheap ($1CUC) to enter. If you love salsa, then it is heaven for you. Many local people are there to enjoy the night. Though as a foreign woman, you may be target for local men – some do unfortunately see you as an opportunity to get out and they can be difficult to get rid of. If you end up in such situation, say that you came with friends, and ask other tourists to help you. If anyone goes too far, ask the bartender for help.

Don’t forget, one of the best party venue can be your casa! I have stayed in a couple of places where the hosts turn on music when they cook and invitde guests to dance together over some rum (a bottle of rum as gift is always welcomed).

Staying safe: As a woman, I was confident and comfortable enough to walk the streets even at 2am in the morning in the city centre. Of course, I’d not recommend it to other women, but it does demonstrate how safe it is. Tourism is the most important industry for Cuba, the government make all the effort to make sure tourists feel safe and welcoming. Crimes target at tourists are extremely rare, though there can be some common scams (eg. Cigar festival, unexpected cab fare, over friendly locals). Just remember: if something sounds too good to be true or special just for you, it probably because it is not; and always agree on the price beforehand whatever you do.

Connect with other travellers. Maybe the friendly atmosphere change people. When in Cuba, travellers love to talk with each other. It really did not feel like a solo trip: I chat with my hosts, people on streets, travellers sitting next to the table or stand next to me in queue, travellers who were on the same tour etc. You may not have internet connection there, but you will be truly connected with people there.

Last but not least on my list: Do not judge. Cuba is a different country. It is easy to judge what you see or experience. Just remember, your perspective is only valid for yourself and based on your background. Go with open eyes and an open heart, and you will experience life a bit differently over there.


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Gender Bias in Solo Travel

Men and women equally enjoy travelling. But when it comes to solo travel, women dominate this space (65% v.s. 35%*). This does not mean it is any easier for women to embark on an independent journey – there are actually lots of bias around solo female travellers.

Balance for better

The Magical cure

We are familiar with “travelling to heal and find myself” stereotypes from famous films/books like “Eat Pray Love” and “Under Tuscan Sun”. The popularity of them have made many think travelling is the magic cure: “I feel a bit lost” “oh, you should go travel and it will all be fine”. While escaping from the familiar daily routines do bring inspirations and broaden your perspectives, if you are not mentally prepared to be honest with yourself, step out of your comfort zone and be open-minded and receptive (away or back at home), you are likely to return to the old problems after a trip.

Pity from others

When we travel alone, it is because we have big problems in our life. This makes many people automatically feel sorry for us. We are so familiar with the pity glances of others – some kind ones will even invite you to join and talk about our problems.

The truth is that many of us do it precisely because we want the time and space to ourselves. While having a conversation over food is great, many just want to quietness and absorb in ourselves when we want to. We are thankful for the ones who offer their helps. But we also ask you to not to put any label on us.

Single and lonely

“She’s by herself because she has no one, poor girl.” – this is another label people often putting on us. We often hear people telling us how brave we are, but they would still feel pity that we choose travelling alone over with someone. Firstly, a large percentage of solo female travellers are not single. We can be in a relationship, married, even with kids. What’s more, even if we are single and alone, it does not mean we are lonely. It means we are mature enough to enjoy our own company.

Irresponsible and easy

How many of solo female travellers have heard comments like “do it when you can, cause we you are married/once you have kids…”. Being a wife or a mom does not change our individuality, and travelling alone does not make us irresponsible. In fact, we are more responsible to our lives as we accept the fact that we need time for ourselves and truly take care of ourselves.

In places where women have very defined roles, this prejudice from locals are much stronger. While local women feel sorry for us, local men may think we are a carefree and everything-goes woman.  Some men will assume we are easy and see us as easy targets for “fun” just because we don’t have a partner by our side.

Open to sexual encounters

One of the worst problems solo female traveller have is harassment from men. Many of us are happily married or in a committed relationship, and even if some are single, it does not mean they are interested in sexual encounters.

The harassment can be so bad so some women decide to wear a wedding band and pretend to be married. Sometimes this works, but sometimes not – some men just do not believe women in a happy relationship can be travel by herself, as see married women as opportunities for casual sex.

Vulnerable and in need of a buddy

Before I got married, I hid all of my solo travels from her, as she sees the outside world too dangerous for a young woman and I could not take care of myself: as far as she knew, I’d always go with some mysteries friend, and I’d send her photos of me and friends I met along the way to keep her mind set.  Now married, she now thinks wherever I go, I finally got my husband to take care of me.

Maybe as women alone on the road, we are more vulnerable. But the world is full of kind people, and we are smart and strong enough to avoid danger and face challenges along the way without the need of any buddy.

Cultural bias

In some cultures, being a woman means you have limitations. I was denied entry to Dubai as I was under 30 and single; I was approached by man who thought I was prostitute in hotel lobby in Abu Dhabi; I could not get into a temple where women were not allowed in Thailand; I had to go fully dressed into the sea when I was in a private beach in Indonesia… Every culture is different and we do respect and follow the local traditions when we can, but this sometimes do limit what we can do when we travel.

Travelling solo is truly liberating. Women who decide to embark on this journey are because of all different reasons and comes in all different backgrounds. We just want to explore and experience the world our own way and would like others to see us like individuals without any labels.


Solocal Travel is building a platform for women, to empower them to explore, learn and grow via travelling. Our iOS app is currently available in London. We welcome any feedback to help us involve and grow to serve you better.

6 Travel Films that Ignite the Wanderlust in Women
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When it comes to adventure and exploring the world, men often dominate the big silver screen. If there are women characters in those films, it is often about romance, which gives a wrong perception of all women who travel are mainly in the search of love. This is so far from the truth.

In reality, women travel just as much (even more), and are actually more adventurous. And we travel because we want to explore the world and our selves. Though few, there are some great movies with female lead (other than Eat Pray Love), which inspire women to step into the unknown.

Tracks (2013)

IMDB rating 7.2
Country travelled: Australia

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This film is based on the real story of Robyn Davidson, which follows her nine-month 1,700-mile journey ls across the Australian desert with four camels and a faithful dog in the mid-seventies. On the screen, you will witness the determination of the young woman to find purpose in her life, see her struggles - both physically and mentally, and how she grows stronger along the way.

Wild (2014)

IMDB rating 7.1
Country travelled: U.S.A.

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Wild is the chronicle of Cheryl’s one thousand one hundred mile solo hike through the most difficult trails in the U.S: the Pacific Crest Trail. To recover from a recent personal tragedy, Cheryl set out on the journey into the wild, which transforms her life. It is a beautiful film both in terms of the scenery and the personal growth journey.

How Much Further/Que tan lejos (2006)

iMDB rating 7.1
Country travelled: Ecuador

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Esperanza from Barcelona and Tristeza both need to get to Cuenca, and they met on a bus which was delayed due to strike. They then decided to hitchhike to Cuenca. Through their experiences along the way, you will see Ecuador from both visitors’ and locals’ eyes. It is a sweet and fun film with traveller’s spirit at its core.

Queen (2013)

IMDB rating 8.2
Country travelled: India, France, the Netherlands

Queen.jpg

The Queen’s plot revolves around Rani, a bride-to-be, who gets dumped one day before her wedding day. Rather than sobbing at home for her fate, she decides to go onto the honeymoon by herself. This light-hearted comedy follows the girl’s self-empowerment journey. Like in this film, seemingly bad things can just be the start of something wonderful, it is up to us to decide where to take it.

Whale Rider (2002)

IMDB rating 7.6
Country covered: New Zealand

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Okay, this is not really a travel film, but we still decided to keep it on this list. Firstly, it showcases the authentic culture and tradition of the Maori tribe in New Zealand. Secondly, it is a story about a 12-year old girl’s growth – the fighting spirit, the love, the belief, the magic, all will make you want to wander into the unknow world.

Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

IMDB rating 6.8
Country travelled: Italy

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The story is a bit “chic”: a woman from San Francisco goes to Tuscany to escape from her failed marriage, and buys ad renovates a crumbling villa, during which she gains the courage to find love again. It is a sweet story about pain and recovery. We have it on the list because we just love the breath-taking beauty of Tuscany. If you have not been yet, this film will definitely put it on top of your bucket list.

Watched any on our list? What do you think? Do you know any other films that inspired you to travel? Share them out!

Top Tips for First-time Solo Female Travellers
solo travel - happy with map

Most would agree that travelling alone is a very rewarding experience. Yet if you have never done it before, it can feel very scary, especially for women. That’s why last year in December at a solo female traveller’s social event, we asked the attendees: “What you wish you would have known before your first-time ever solo trip”.

Here are the top ones we recorded from these real solo female travellers. We hope they will inspire you to take your first solo trip and help you prepare for it better.

Be open-minded: “I’m a Londoner, and mostly travelled in Europe before. Many people told me how “unsafe” it is before I took my first solo trip. I was overly cautious about people I met – thought they’d try to scam me, and complaint about how inconvenient some local systems were. Of course, you need to take care of yourself, but meeting people and getting to know the local culture are the best parts of solo travelling. I wish I was more open-minded hen. “ – Charmaine

Embrace it: “You’ll encounter lots of unexpected- good or bad, just embrace them, even the bad ones. Later you will realise that all those experience will make your trip memorable and yourself to be stronger.” - Vera

Learn basics of the language: “It was 22 years ago when I went to China by myself, I wish I learnt some basics of the language before I went there – even just a little. You don’t need to learn all the languages to travel the world, but everywhere I went, the locals really appreciate when they see you making some effort, and you will make more friends – a little goes a long way!” – Amy

Pack light: “My first backpack was almost 20kg! I struggled a lot carrying it around. Seriously, you only need ½ of what you just packed, if not less.” – Kirsty.

Be flexible: “Have an itinerary which allows some flexibility. The beauty of by yourself is that you can do more of whatever you like. So don’t feel you need to pack your days full, make sure you leave enough space for yourself to soak it in, rather than rushing from A to B.” – Annette

Learn to say no: “I wish I knew how to say no to people. My advice is: learn to say no politely and rudely. A woman alone in parts of the world attracts a lot attention, mostly friendly but some can have bad intentions. You need to say no firmly in some situations and just walk away. Be friendly but be alert.” – Yvonne

Find local events in the evening: “Evenings are the worst for me. I spent the evenings of my first trip alone in my hotel eating sandwiches as I hated to dine by myself and did not want to get harassed in the bar. There’re lots of local activities – use Meetup, CouchSurfing, local forums to find them and most times you will have a great time.” – Sahra

Don’t be afraid of asking: “Be thick-skinned: just ask for more and you may get more. I’ve got upgraded, transferred to a better room, a space in a fully booked tour etc.  Just be polite and reasonable. People do tend to be kinder to a woman travelling alone. ” – Lynn

Solo travel can open a whole new world for you, just take the leap and you won’t be disappointment. Trust yourself, be confident and don’t forget to share your stories to inspire more.

Do we need to look fabulous to travel? Travel in the age of Social Media

It’s 22:05, I opened my Instagram and surfed through the most recent photos displayed on the Explore Feed. It is a familiar scene: gorgeous girls in perfect shape posing to the camera (among cute animals and kids).

A snapshot of my 'Explore' feed

A snapshot of my 'Explore' feed

We have been in search of “authentic” travel photos by women to feature on our account, representing women from different backgrounds, but struggled with the seemingly easy task.

Don’t get me wrong, we do not hate those ‘perfect’ photos. They are absolutely wonderful, but a world filled of them is far from reality and has painted the wrong picture… Just based on this snapshot, it seems like we live in a world of those girls, and only those girls travel! We start to ask the question: do we need to look fabulous to travel and to share? Of course we do not. And here’s why ‘picture perfect’ social media can be troublesome:

Is there a beauty standard?

There should not be one standard for being beautiful. As we travel around the world, we know people from different cultures view beauty differently. But as the popularity of Western media rapidly spreading, we see the influence of it worldwide (a perceived beauty in China in 1960s v.s. now).

Beauty in China 1960s v.s. 2010s

Beauty in China 1960s v.s. 2010s

What’s more, we are all individuals, and there’s no standard whatsoever – as long as we are ourselves and confident, that’s beautiful. And that’s the beauty needs to be shared: being different, being individual, being loving and confident!

Remember the Beach Body advert from Protein World?

Remember the Beach Body advert from Protein World?

We love the Real Beauty campaign from Dove

We love the Real Beauty campaign from Dove

But some of it is actually good: being fit. You do see lots of outdoors and fitness posts. Only they should not be about getting the so-called perfect body (/slim), but a healthy one which we are comfortable and confident in.

Depression haunted social media generation

A recent survey revealed that regular usage of Instagram is associated with low self-esteem, poor body image and lack of sleep. Unfortunately, it does not seem to make us happier, but quite the opposite – it causes depression, especially among young women. No wonder! 5 minutes in, I started to question my body! Thank god that my husband does not use Instagram, or I may have him point to one of these perfect bodies and asking me ‘why don’t you make some effort and look like that?'. It can even lead to a nasty divorce :P

Life’s viewed through the lens

“Happiness is only real when shared”, the boom of social media has given it a new meaning. Many people nowadays do things only because they can be shared. Last week when I was in Croatia, I hit the thunderstorm. I watched a group of girls ran into a super market, then started Facebook Live and one of them jumped into the rain and started to spin. Could she have done it if it could not be shared?

Earlier this year, I was in a beautiful beach in Costa Rica, and during the 2 hours we were there, we watched a pretty girl taking photos in different poses for a full hour and then left. I am not saying that’s not the right thing to do. If she’s really happy about it, and remembers the time, sure. But some of us do care more about what’s shown in through the lens (of others) than through our own eyes. Just choose whatever suits you the best.

It seems all about 'Me', but actually it is all about 'Others', nothing about 'Me'. 

It seems all about 'Me', but actually it is all about 'Others', nothing about 'Me'. 

Social media have empowered each of us to be a broadcasting channel. It is up to us what we present to the world, and what we like and follow. At Solocal, we choose to be authentic and encourage diversity. What’s your choice? Just follow your heart, not others.


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