As I have planned and prepared for my trip over the last few months, I have gotten some concerned comments from family and friends. Is it really safe to travel now, with all that is going on in our world? Is it safe to travel alone as a woman, given there is so much more we have to look out for to stay safe as women? All of these concerns are valid. Yet, my experiences traveling solo before have led me to the realization that common sense goes a long way, whether at home or abroad. Honestly, I am more worried about being a victim of gun violence in the U.S. than I am of dangers abroad. That being said, language barriers, unfamiliarity with new surroundings, and the unique set of issues women face mean that traveling abroad solo as a female is a special situation that requires careful action and forethought. I’ve outlined my tips below.
- Trust your female intuition. I am a firm believer in the strength of a woman’s intuition. If a situation doesn’t “feel” right, remove yourself. Always listen to your gut instincts.
- Make friends with other female travelers. Other women who are traveling (whether solo or in a group) are in the same boat as you. Why not make new friends who can watch your back, and you can watch their backs in return? Plus, it’s always fun to add to your #squad, international-style!
- Be friendly. While your intuition should always take precedent, don’t automatically distrust everyone you meet. Traveling solo is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and make new friends from different cultures who often have a lot to share in terms of practical advice and helpful insights that can keep you safe and make your trip more enjoyable. A smile goes a long way! That being said, always yield to advice #1.
- Be smart about your money and valuables. I’ve read advice about keeping a “throwaway” wallet with just a few bills and a cancelled credit card or two. That way if someone tries to mug you, you can throw the wallet away and run in the opposite direction. I find this advice to be well-intentioned, but a bit cumbersome. I find it more workable to keep your money and credit cards split among a few different places on your person and in your bags. Even if the unthinkable happens, chances are you will still have some access to your money.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Hang out in public places with large groups of people at night. Keep your hostel/hotel address written on paper and with you. If you’re going out alone during the day, let your hostel/hotel know where you plan to be. Take time to study maps as you go, so even if you get “lost” (which is fun!) you have a general sense of how to get back to your home base, wherever that is. Study maps before you leave, or in a restaurant or shop, but never out in public…you don’t want to appear lost and alone!
- Watch what you drink. This advice goes for being at home in the U.S. too. Never turn your back on an open drink, or let someone you don’t know hand you an open drink. Also, don’t drink so much that you’re not always in control of your situation. If it suits you, don’t drink at all.
- Share your itinerary with family and friends at home before you leave. Even if it’s a rough outline, it will give peace of mind to your family and friends, and it will make it easier for them to get in touch with you if needed. Always check in via email/iMessage/WhatsApp once you arrive! I try to check in with family every 1-2 days while abroad, and with friends just as frequently if possible.
- Research how much cab/tuk tuk/etc rides should cost in advance. Look it up on Google, or ask the folks who run your hotel/hostel. This will make you more confident when bargaining over prices with the driver, and will help to prevent you from being ripped off.
- What about the monthly visitor?! In an effort to combat the stigma around women’s health issues, I’ve decided to address this issue directly on my blog. The truth is, you will be able to find feminine supplies wherever you are (yes, even in Africa!) These products may not look like what you’re used to, and may be somewhat expensive, so it’s a good idea to pack some before you leave. But, rest assured you will not be stranded. One tool that has become popular among female travelers is the DivaCup. It minimizes the amount of paper/plastic waste you have to deal with (especially if camping) so it’s practical and environmentally friendly. Or, you can consider getting an IUD. With this form of birth control, you will not get a period at all for 5 years (after the first month or two), which is extremely convenient for the long-term traveler. Check with your health care and insurance providers to see if it’s the right option for you.
- Fake it until you make it! If you feel lost and alone, don’t freak out. Try your best to look like a local and like you know where you’re going. Appearing lost and alone can make you easy prey…and ain’t nobody got time for that, especially when you’re on an amazing adventure!
The bottom line is that women have every right to travel alone and explore all the amazing things this world has to offer, but we do face a special set of challenges. The key is to remain aware, practice good judgment, and stay in tune with your feminine instincts!