Nepal ranks high on solo female travel destinations not just because of the beautiful countryside and outdoor adventure opportunities, but because it is a safe country to travel as a woman.
My first experience in Asia was India. And years later I still heard the same thing from travellers coming from India “oh goodness Nepal is so much more friendly”. Anyone who has ever travelled India will feel the difference immediately! Not that India isn’t a very interesting country. It has amazing places to see. No, it’s just as a woman you always need to be on your guard. So enough about that other country – on to Nepal!
Nepal is amazing for family tours and is among the safe travel destinations in Asia so straight away you get the overall picture about the safety level in the country.
However, as a solo traveller, and particularly a female solo traveller, there are some basic things to take into consideration. Here are some of my tips.
Nepal has Traditional Core Values
Part of the reason we love to travel is we want to experience something different from what we know in our daily lives. Part of the wonder of travelling to foreign countries is to experience the culture. And part of that experience is accepting the local culture, religion, heritage etc which is different from our own is of no less value and should be respected and celebrated.
Two main areas of ‘differences’ are in how people dress in Nepal and how they act around religious sites and objects.
Dress: No doubt the first place you will go on arriving in Nepal is Thamel. This is the tourist hub with lots of hotel and restaurant options to fit all budgets. And bars and clubs. Do not be confused about seeing local women in skimpy dresses and shorts. There is no way they left the house dressed like that. Nor would they walk around any other part of town dressed like that. So yeah, go ahead and wear those little tops and tight jeans in Thamel but then packed them away!
Certainly, if you are going trekking you will automatically be dressed conservatively. Otherwise, expect to freeze! Everest Base Camp Trek and Dhaulagiri Circuit Trek, to name just two, are places for vests, sweaters and fleece jackets! Even if you are heading to Chitwan National Park, where temperatures can be up near 40oC, cover-up! It also helps protect you from sunburn and jungle creepy crawlies!
Respect: Please show respect when going to religious sites, even if they are not advertised as ‘religious’ such as Swayambunath Temple and Boudha. Dress even more conservative around these areas. It’s not that long ago that I would not go out with sleeveless top on. Nowadays sleeveless is fine, but cover the other bits!
It may be that no one will ever say anything to you regarding your clothing. But definitely, they will be thinking about it! And pleeeeease, leave all that ‘my body, my choice’ stuff at home. Respect for others is key.
If travelling around Asia you will find the safe travel destinations in Asia are among those with fascinating ancient cultures.
Bits and Pieces: Don’t forget to follow other cultural norms such as taking your shoes off before entering anyone’s home (and some offices), not putting your feet on tables or seats in public areas such as hotel lobbies, restaurants, bars etc, not touching idols and statues and not touching anyone's head. Do not take photographs of people without asking first. Do not climb on stupas or other religious buildings. You might find that people do get a bit closer in the street and shops. This is also a cultural aspect of life. The ‘personal space’ between people in most of Asia tends to be much less than that in Europe. And if you think about it, among the Latin countries in Europe – Spain, Italy etc – that personal space is less than in countries like, for example, Germany and the UK. So don’t be alarmed! Unless it’s some creepy dude! But certainly don’t be surprised if women get close and perhaps even want to hold your hand while crossing a busy road.
Safety When Trekking
Personally, I tell everyone to Never Trek Alone. Why? Every year there will be someone who goes missing on the trails. Every year even more people have accidents on the trails. Even a small accident such as a sprained ankle can be a major problem if you are trekking alone off the beaten track. Always take a guide or porter. If you don’t want to sign up for a group trek then you can hire a guide or porter from a reputable trekking company. In this way you and enjoy the freedom of being the only trekker in your ‘group’ while benefiting from the knowledge your registered and trained guide or porter will provide you with a safety net in case something, god forbid, goes wrong. You can also find other solo trekkers to go with and that way share the cost of your guide and enjoy the company of people you have chosen to trek with.
Yes, you will hear “I trekked xyz trail myself and I was totally fine”. But you don’t want to be the one who is not ‘fine’. Thousands of trekkers come through annually with no mishaps, but… Be particularly careful around the Langtang area as many lone trekkers have vanished in this area over the years.
In some areas, you cannot trek without a local trekking agency, but there are lots of areas that you can trek alone in. Easier trekking routes for solo travellers in Nepal include the Annapurnas. The high seasons (spring and autumn) are the best bet as far as having other trekkers on the trails and all the teahouses (lodges) open in case of problems.
Keep in touch: Always tell someone at home, and in the country (at your hotel for example) where you are going and how long you expect to be away. And tell those at home if you think you will be out of internet/ phone signal range for some time so that they don’t worry.
Girl Power: Or, here is an idea – there are female trekking guides and porters these days. Why not help empower local women, increase their income and have fun sharing with a woman from another culture at the same time? Swotah Travel organises women-only tours and treks twice a year. Get in touch with them to see what they have to offer! They also have a great homestay trek in Nepal. Check it out!
Bits and Pieces: Pretty much all the same safety tips for the mountains apply to everyone, regardless of sex. If hiking alone everyone needs to be extra careful to take the correct trail and of accidents. The best idea is to touch base with some of the best travel companies in Nepal who will be able to advise you on your travel plans.
Safety on the Road
Buses: The first rule of road safety in Nepal is: always take a tourist bus! These are much safer than local buses. Why? Because local buses are in a race against each other to get to the next stop to pick up more passengers. And that can be fatal on mountain roads. Almost every day we hear about buses going over cliffs. Tourist buses have no such reason to drive fast and drivers are better trained by the owners in safety (or I assume so). In some places, there may be no choice other than to take a local bus. Catch 22.
This more applies to city buses – it’s not usually for more harassment to take place on a bus than anywhere else. Conductors and male passengers might try to get too close! This is definitely one situation where invading your personal space is not cultural, but a deliberate infringement of your rights. Just be on your guard.
Vehicle hire: If you are thinking to hire a car or jeep in Nepal note they come with a driver! There are no self-drive cars. Motorbikes are available to hire in some locations. Helmets are compulsory. But do not assume other drivers will be following the rules. Actually, you can assume, ‘what rules?’ I suggest you don’t drive a motorbike unless you are very experienced. What about a mountain bike instead?
Taxis are generally safe and there are some Uber type apps for cars and bikes. I would stick to taxis tho because they are regulated better. Your hotel will help you organise a vehicle if you are heading on a self-organised tour or to the other side of town. If your driver speaks English he will most likely enquire about your marital status. Do you have children etc etc. While mostly this is just conversation, I always make up a husband waiting at the other end in case it is not just conversation! Some women do not like taking taxis alone late at night. I have seen local women take down the license plate number and text it home before getting in. I don’t have any problem with late night taxis but then I do know where I am going and know the routes well.
On the positive side, although a lot of drivers will try to cheat you on the fare, they are in general pretty okay and do not take you the long way round to increase the fare (if you manage to get it on the meter lol). A couple of times they have gone above and beyond in terms of driving through flooded streets for me. J
Crossing the road: This might seem a strange topic if you have not been to Asia before! In towns where there are zebra crossings – again, assume nothing! No one is going to stop because you are standing on the crossing! Well, very few will. The idea is to hold up your hand and walk slowly across and bikes will stream around you. Not for the faint-hearted! If there is no zebra crossing, the same technique applies… hold up your hand to show you are crossing and cross slowly. Yeah, I know, you would think if you are standing in the middle of the road it’s a sure thing you are crossing but seemingly they just need that extra reassurance you are not just standing there for fun!
Bits and Pieces: It should go without saying, never leave your hand luggage on the intercity bus unattended when it takes a break. Try to sit at the window for fresh air and the view! Take a light shawl to shade you from the sun – local buses don’t all have curtains on the windows. Don’t expect the windows to close just because its winter!
Safety in Towns
If you are trekking through villages, then the only real danger is on the trail itself – landslides, floods etc. Or spicy food your stomach is not used to! But in towns such as Kathmandu and Pokhara, while they are in general safer than a town in your own country, you should be alert.
Muggings are rare but do happen. Keep your valuables in the hotel safe and your bag close to you. Most likely you will probably only be walking after dark in the tourist areas – Thamel in Kathmandu and Lakeside in Pokhara. Be aware that while the rural areas still treat ‘guest as god’, some in the tourist industry or who hang around in the bars in these areas frequented by tourists no longer see it that way. Tourist areas are pretty well lit now but try not to go down dark alleys on your own. If you are staying in a small hostel or lodge ask if they lock the door at night. If they do, let them know if you think you will be out late.
Men: Nepali men are lovely! A lot of hooking up happens in the bars and on the treks. Use the same common sense you would use at home if you meet someone. If you are being hassled, tell the barman, doorman or another tourist about it. But in general, a cold stare and a strong “no” will send most men off.
Tourist police are available if anything does happen. They have an office in Durbar Marg or ask your hotel to help. Which would definitely be easier than trying to do it yourself! Outside of Kathmandu and Pokhara police will not be very effectual so unless it is something serious, or unless you need a police report for, say, your insurance company, just forget about reporting to the police. And don’t even think about asking directions! Nepalis will never say no or admit they don’t know something. So you will be sent in the wrong direction if the police person (or general public) don’t know the actual location!
Best Season to Visit Nepal
Definitely, the best season to visit Nepal is spring or autumn. But it really depends on what you want to do. For trekking, yes March to June and October to December are best in the areas where independent travel is allowed. If you want to go with a Nepal tour agency into the more remote areas and which fall into the rain shadow, you can trek in the summer monsoon months also.
If you are into peak trekking you will need to go through a local agency before you head off. The most famous peak trek is Island Peak. Again the best times for peak trekking are spring and autumn. Note that while peak trekking introduces you to climbing and they say no prior experience is required for some of the peaks, I would recommend you try out on your local climbing wall before coming to Nepal!
Bits and Pieces: Nepal is the best place to start your Nepal Bhutan Tour or Nepal Tibet Tour. Tibet cannot be visited in the winter and you cannot visit Tibet or Bhutan alone. Please ask us about these tours.
At the time of writing (mid-September 2020) Nepal is closed to tourists. It is unsure when we will open again or what compliances will be put into place. Please check back into this blog in the coming weeks for information.
Long Story Short
Nepal is equally as safe for women as it is for men. The main thing is to dress a bit more conservatively than you might on the beach or at home, be respectful of others and don’t flirt with men outside of the bars in town! And open displays of affection are frowned on. So if you do meet someone, don’t even hold hands in public!
And do remember, even if you love travelling totally alone, this is the Himalayas! It’s definitely much safer to trek through a reputable company who has all the trail knowledge and emergency resources should they be needed.