Compared to a decade ago, the number of female solo travellers has skyrocketed amid the many bloggers and influencers flying the flag for female empowerment. New hashtags on social media have been introduced including #womenwhoexplore, #wearetravelgirls and #femmetravel to encourage women to be bold and adventurous.
Solo travelling for women can certainly feel intimidating with questions placed over safety, but a small leap of faith can go a long way and completely change what you thought you knew about the world, and, importantly, yourself. The message is loud and clear: we should not fear the challenge but embrace it. There’s no doubt, though, that some countries are better for women who are travelling alone, and if you’re plucking up the courage to plan your own odyssey, Japan is the ideal place to begin. Here’s why:
Himeji Castle - (image: Shing Lin Yoong)
Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world
Safety is at the top of the list of concerns preventing females from exploring the globe alone. Without the security of being in a group, there’s no one to watch your bag, or your back, and no one to put you at ease in an unfamiliar place. For a sense of safety, it’s good to let the statistics do the talking. According to the 2016 UNODC statistics (United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime) Japan was recognised as having the lowest murder rate in the world, and furthermore, consistently ranks among the top 10 safest countries in the world on the Global Peace Index. This being said, opportunistic crimes happen wherever you go, so be sure to pack a healthy dose of common sense.
Want a photo? No problem!
One of the downsides of travelling solo is that you’re rarely in any of the photos. Granted, this is a self-indulgent ‘problem’ – we don’t need to plaster a smiling image of ourselves in every destination and upload it to social media to prove we’ve been. Definitely not. But still, a photo allows us to relive precious moments from our travels that may otherwise get lost between the dust and clutter of our grey matter.
Now how many times have you asked a stranger to take your photo, only to see a wonky horizon or discover the top of your head has been chopped off? I’ve lost count. But in Japan it’s a different story. Every time I asked a passerby to take my photo, there wasn’t a blurry image or decapitated head in sight – the Japanese have perfected the art of photography down to a tee.
Kyoto - (image: Shing Lin Yoong)
It has the most efficient and safest transport in the world
What I struggle with the most when solo travelling is finding reliable transport. Taxis can be cripplingly expensive, I’ve been ripped off by tuk-tuk drivers in the past, and the rigmarole of bus cancellations have wrecked entire days of travelling. Using public transport can be tough and tiresome when you have to pass through the whole alphabet before getting from A to B.
Thankfully, there are none of these troubles when using the Shinkansen high-speed trains. They operate like clockwork and connect every major city together at 200mph. Since the Shinkansen has been running, impressively there hasn’t been a single passenger fatality or injury due to train accidents, so you’re definitely in safe hands. Furthermore, some lines such as the Keihan Main Line from Kyoto to Osaka, have women-only cars on their trains.
Fushimi Inari - (image: Shing Lin Yoong)
A place to express your individuality
Foreign countries often have different cultural standards of decency and sometimes even have laws relating to dress code, so it’s important to research the rules of the fashion police before arriving at your destination. Fortunately, Japan isn’t a difficult country to pack for and you should find most styles of dress are accepted. Though as a general rule of etiquette in any country, it’s a good idea to look at what the locals wear to assess what’s appropriate or not. In more rural areas of Japan, people tend to be more conservative so make wearing a top that covers your cleavage standard practice. However, in Tokyo anything goes!
I’ve always thought of fashion as an extension of someone’s personality, and Tokyo is the place to wear your personality in as much colour or craziness as you desire. If you love dressing up, then you’ll find your spiritual home in Harajuku. This area of Tokyo is renowned for its offbeat trends and subculture fashion, much of which has been influenced by video games, manga and anime to create their own aesthetic.
Miyajima - (image: Shing Lin Yoong)
The kindness of strangers
The greatest gift of solo travel has been those I’ve met along the way, even for only brief moments. I experienced many acts of kindness. During the times I got lost and needed directions, someone always came to my rescue. To my astonishment, a few people even went completely out of their way to walk me to where I needed to be. These gestures might be small, but they make a big difference to solo travellers.
It’s not always easy navigating a new place by yourself, but remember: fortune favours the bold.