Women traveling alone: myths undone.
Are you a woman thinking of traveling solo, just you and your backpack? Family and friends trying to dissuade you saying it’s not safe, pointing out all the catastrophic scenarios that will befall you?
Do you still want to go? Read on…
There are many articles & web sites offering tips to women for staying safe while traveling alone. Many of them read like dire warnings and are alarmist to the point that I even start to question my own motivations for traveling solo. Truth is, we’re all conditioned differently when it comes to personal safety and what’s comfortable and safe for one person might not be for another. Knowing your own limits and what feels right will go a long way in making your travels safe and enjoyable. An even greater truth is that our planet is mostly harmless, and, unless you’re going to a war zone, you can safely travel the world solo by taking a few sensible precautions.
Travel safety tips for women (and men!) can easily be summed up to one piece of advice: be aware of your environment, and also be aware of how you fit (or not) into your new surroundings.
Research your destinations ahead of time, and don’t limit yourself to just reading a few guidebooks. Speak to women and men who’ve traveled to the same places and ask about their good and bad experiences. Browse travel forums. Many have topics dedicated to the subject of female travelers, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Though, always remember that you are the best judge of what is right, or not, for you.
Know where you’re going and more important, learn about the cultural and social norms of the places you will be visiting and how they apply to you, how to behave and what you should wear. Learn a few words in the local language, at the very least polite greetings and please and thank you. Blending in, in dress and manner will always be appreciated and often opens doors closed to most visitors. Sometimes less is expected of foreigners than locals, but that doesn’t mean locals are not offended. Better to be too polite than risk offending. Pay special attention when visiting religious or sacred sites. When in doubt, ask.
Travel light! I can’t emphasize this enough for any solo traveler female or male. It’s difficult to remain aware of your surroundings if you’re loaded down with too much luggage. Don’t let yourself be caught off guard with all of your attention focused on keeping track of your bags.
When you arrive, do yourself a big favor and take a few days to adjust and acclimatize, i.e. get over jet-lag and get used to the new climate. Booking your first few nights accommodation ahead of time or arranging for a pick-up at the airport can offer some peace of mind if you’re arriving late or in the middle of the night. Ask to see a few rooms when checking-in and verify that the door locks function and the windows close and lock properly. Ask for another room if anything looks sketchy.
Traveling alone doesn’t mean having to stay in at night. However, do stick to busy public areas with lots of activity and with people around and budget a bit extra to take taxis after dark just in case you need it. Ask the staff and other travelers at your hostel or guest house if there are areas you should avoid. There is safety in numbers, and you’re sure to meet many other travelers along the way and can group together to go out at night. Don’t let your guard down completely though, you are still responsible for your own safety, whether you’re part of a group or not.
No sense tempting thieves. Leave the expensive or flashy jewelry and watches at home. Safely carrying your money is important as well. Carry your travel funds, passport and plastic in a money belt at all times. Only keep ones days worth of cash easily accessible in a pocket or wallet.
Unwanted male attention…
Aphrodite rejecting Pan
The most common annoyance for solo women travelers is dealing with unwanted male attention from locals or even other travelers. Different cultures have different perceptions and norms regarding women and what they can or cannot do. Just being friendly can sometimes be misinterpreted as flirting.
Unfortunately, the stereotype that Western women are sexually available persists in some places. Most of this attention is harmless, at least in the physical sense, though they’re annoying like cat-calls, wolf-whistles, provocative comments. How you react to these things is up to you, but 99% of the time, ignoring them will work. Wearing dark sunglasses can help if you want to avoid eye contact, and look cool at the same time. 😉
Some of the braver male locals may attempt to touch, grope or grab unsuspecting female tourists. This might happen in a crowded place like a busy market or street or on public transport. Slapping the groping hand, moving away and yelling “Stop!” loudly and firmly will make most offenders back off. It can be useful to know a few words in the local language for telling someone to “back off!”. In some countries, you’ll find subway cars, buses or even train wagons reserved just for women. Take advantage! I’ve had some wonderful encounters with local women traveling this way.
Common sense things like not accepting drinks and rides from strangers are a given. Even at home, most of us (women and men!) are a tad wary of any overly friendly stranger. Same common sense applies when you’re away. Ultimately, if a situation becomes uncomfortable, leave, and seek help.
It can be convenient to invent a husband or boyfriend and wearing a wedding band can help make it clear you’re unavailable. I usually have a alternate name and hotel when dealing with persistent touts or hustlers. Make sure the alternate hotel is far away from your actual hotel.
All by your lonesome (not)…
A big misconception is that solo travel is lonely, and it’s sometimes the determining factor which discourages many from heading out on their own. Women thinking of traveling solo get a lot of grief on that one, believe me. Who will you talk to? Who will watch out for you? Eating alone? Horrors! What’s a girl to do?
Fact #1: unless you’re headed to a remote mountaintop, chances are, you’ll not want for human contact. You will meet loads of other solo travelers on the budget travel or backpackers circuit. Trust me, you’ll have more difficulty trying to spend time on your own when staying in hostels and budget accommodation. Hang around the common areas of your hostel and you’ll meet lots of other travelers looking for conversation or group together to go out for a meal or explore
Fact #2: being alone, you’re more likely to meet new people, locals and travelers alike. A single person is much more approachable than a group, or even a couple. Two or more travelers often move around in a closed bubble with a large part of their attention focussed on each other rather than their surroundings.
Fact #3: loneliness on the road need not be the end of the world. Instant companionship can be found by joining a guided tour for a day or seeking out the party hostel for a night or two.
The surprising thing is that many of the tips and suggestions mentioned above can easily apply to men as well as women. Awareness, confidence and a bit of common sense are the three main ingredients to safe travels. And above all, trust your instincts.
As a woman, I enjoy solo travel for just that, the opportunity and freedom to experience new places, meet like-minded people and interact with locals. Solo travel is a huge confidence builder and there’s no price to the freedom you’ll experience traveling on your own and the memories you’ll bring back.
Have a tip or solo travel experience you’d like to share? There’s a space below reserved just for you!