One of the questions that I get asked most frequently whilst travelling is “You’re on your own?”, or “Isn’t that scary?”.
The first question isn’t really a question, let’s start there. And as for the second, yes, yes it was at times. But that’s what made it an adventure! I met a lot of couples travelling together, friends, solo guys, even a few mother-daughter combos, but not a whole lot of sisters doing it for themselves. And that’s a damn shame, because there’s a whole lot of exploring to be done out there, and I personally didn’t want to sit around waiting for someone to come with me.
So, for any females thinking about taking the plunge, I present to you my top 10 tips to ensure your solo female travels are successful:
- Give yourself a safety net. Keep loved ones aware of where you are with fairly detailed itineraries. This, unfortunately, means sacrificing some of the spontaneity that you might have been hankering for, but it’s always better to know that someone knows where you are.
- Put a ring on it. This is personal preference, but I know of several female travellers who sport engagement or wedding rings. This is the first time I’ve travelled sans a ring, and there were a few occasions when it would have made my evening easier. However, sometimes this means missing out on meeting some well-intentioned people!
- Do your homework. This is kind of a no-brainer, but I amazingly met a few younger travellers who were visiting places that were not so welcoming to women and they were completely oblivious of it. Just doing a quick Google on the village/town/city or country that you’re keen on will give you enough of a snapshot of what you’re in for.
- Bring lady items. Enough said, as many countries aren’t so well-stocked. However, also be prepared for possibly having to explain (and in countries where English isn’t so common, act out) said items when going through customs.
- Be aware of unmarked cabs. In some places I visited, illegal cabs were more plentiful than the legit ones. If there was a female working at the front desk of the hostel I was staying at (or a friendly guy, which they were more often than not), I just asked for the lowdown on taxis – usually the good ones were a particular colour or had some sort of sticker. And I found it helpful to keep an emergency cab fund stashed away in my pack in case the need arose.
- Walk assertively and confidently. Looking people that you meet in the eye and walking around like you’re familiar with your surroundings gives you an air of confidence and some shady folks will be intimidated by it. Of course, don’t let this uber-assertiveness make you too cocky – that could backfire when you end up miles away from where you intended and totally lost.
- Eat at the bar. And no, don’t be a total lush. While dining solo can be intimidating, chances are you’ll find other solo diners and a bartender to banter with, rather than looks of pity from the groups around you. And if that fails, there will probably be a TV. Or peanuts!
- Dress appropriately. Take a cue from what the locals are wearing and follow suit. There were days when it was sweltering hot and I would’ve loved to pull out my shorts, but in some parts of Asia that would have been considered disrespectful. Pay attention to local customs and you’ll blend in easier.
- Keep yourself well-equipped. Only withdraw cash during daylight hours and keep it stashed in various places, keep your guide book and local phrase guide handy, carry water, food, and for pete’s sake a map. That way you can be self-reliant and won’t need to ask someone for help and point out that you’re clearly a foreigner. On the flipside, I occasionally just couldn’t figure out my map (hello, Amsterdam), so I sought out other females or families. Which sometimes worked out in my favour, when it resulted in dinner companions or someone to grab a drink with. So use common sense. No point in being an anti-social hermit all the time!
- Above all else, use your head. Common sense is key. Your intuition will tell you when to get out of a situation, so pay attention to it. There are safer and saner ways to challenge your thrill-seeking side than by taking a short cut down an alley or by hitchhiking.