Traveling solo can be a liberating experience, especially for a woman. Going where you want to go, on your own timetable. Experiencing sublime moments without the din of companions complaining about their bouts of traveler’s diarrhoea. Making one’s own itinerary and stumbling upon a serendipitous experience you would not ordinarily have found in the straitjacket of a plotted holiday.
We are often taught that a woman traveling alone can be a dangerous thing, where a girl can fall prey to all sorts of scams, unwanted attention, and unnecessary risks were she not traveling with a man. Yet the benefits going solo are immeasurable. Women are seen as more approachable than men when traveling, and countless people have helped me when I have stumbled over the language or have lost my way. I have been invited to weddings by Berber women in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, played with women’s children in the Annapurnas of Nepal, woven baskets with village matrons in Madagascar. I have traveled alone as a woman on five continents, and for me, the experience has always been more heartfelt than harrowing. Yet, the fear and anxiety some women feel about traveling alone can be abated quite easily if one follows some basic tips:
1. Stay aware – This doesn’t mean actively practicing paranoia. It only means when you are walking from your hotel into town, register landmarks and remember street names. Notice your surroundings, but don’t forget to notice the people around you too. If you keep seeing the same guy turning up at the market or near your hotel, take note. If a guy gets it in his head that he wants to follow or harass you, ignore him or be firm and ask him politely to leave you alone. Always be ahead of the game.
2. Trust your female instincts – Traveling to foreign lands does not mean that a woman puts her instincts on holiday too. You may not know the language or even the lie of the land, but a woman has great awareness when it comes to knowing if someone means well or ill. If a person is making you uncomfortable, or a situation is suddenly going from friendly to aggressive, turn on the charm and get out of there – fast.
3. A guidebook can be better than a boyfriend – I love guidebooks, and not because I look at them every ten minutes. They often have great maps which can orientate you, give you choices about all ranges of accommodation, and are a great reference when that restaurant no longer exists or that shopping district is not where you thought it was. Boyfriends get me lost more often than guidebooks.
4. Busy places are best – Remember your dad warned you about walking down dark alleys? Think about things you wouldn’t do in your home country, like walking down isolated roads or taking hikes without telling someone where you are going. Finding places where a lot of people go can actually make a woman less of a target, and helps her to blend in more with the surroundings.
5. Take calculated risks – Traveling is about risk, after all. Jumping on a bus to an unknown destination, talking to strangers in a bar, getting off the map. As a woman, you can minimize problems by basic planning. Try to avoid arriving in places at night, have enough money with you to check into a hotel without going to an ATM when you arrive somewhere new, and don’t go off with your new friends if you have no idea how to get home.
6. Book your first night hotel – If you are showing up in a country for the first time, it is wise to get a room booked ahead of time. It saves you time driving aimlessly in a taxi after two hours sleep in two days. After the first night, you can always find another hotel that suits you better.
7. Dress according to the culture – Sure, Western women sometimes think that a woman should be free to dress however she wants. However, most countries outside of the Western hemisphere did not get the memo. Understanding a country’s culture and dress code will save a woman from unwanted attention, but will also allow her to interact more comfortably with the local population.
8. Have fun, but watch your drinks – Nightlife is one of the great perks of travel. If you are traveling alone, enjoy yourself, but bear in mind that being tipsy in your own neighborhood is a lot different than being tipsy in a bar in Africa. For one, your instincts are shot and any potential dangers go unnoticed. Secondly, getting home can be dicey, especially in foreign cabs on unknown streets.
9. Leave valuables in the hotel – If you must, bring copies of your passport with you when you go out and explore, but lock all your valuables away. Flashy jewellery and handbags make great fodder for thieves. Check if your hotel has a safe or bring your own lock with you for your valuables, and leave them in the room.
10. Make friends with other travelers – Traveling as a woman alone can be brilliant, but in the off-chance you want to go somewhere remote and would like company, having the GPS on other travelers is a great way to do it. Travelers often watch each other’s backs, and sometimes, this is the best insurance of all.