“But solo travel is so dangerous!”
This is often the response I receive when I tell others of my long-time hobby.
As women, we are often subjected to a catalog of cans-and-can’ts, shoulds-and-shouldn’ts. Traveling by ourselves is one such item that tops the list.
Unsurprisingly, the horror stories and terror tales don’t help this situation.
So, it always surprises me when people ask me the same two questions.
Do you get lonely?
Is it safe?
As I got older, I realize that my childhood spent living between Canada and China has long prepared me for this life I enjoy now.
In fact, I’ve unconsciously adopted a range of safety tips for traveling alone- even defense mechanisms that keep me alive and running during some more adventurous trips 🙂
To really dive into the nitty-gritty of female solo traveling does open up a much discussed, yet still questioned movement. Below, I will get into common questions, concerns, and tips for female solo travel. Of course, some bits are applicable to all travelers regardless of gender.
Do you get lonely?
There isn’t a straightforward answer to this question. When you are far from family and friends in a foreign country, it is a given that you may feel a bit of heartache for some familiar company.
But truth be told, the amount of times I’ve felt fulfilled by sight or a conversation with a stranger far outnumbers those periods of isolation.
Waiting around for the perfect companion to join you on the road can be time-consuming. Not to mention, your ultimate wish list may be compromised to meet the needs and wants of others. Being with a group is comfortable and safe, but the opportunity of interacting with new perspectives, new ideas, and meeting a vastly different crowd will contribute to a broadened experience.
Besides, there are tons of travel meetups all around the world, e.g.: Couchsurfing meetups. There are also a ton of female solo travel groups on Facebook and other social media forums. Just post and voila, you have a new buddy in the city.
The freedom to appreciate your surroundings to your hearts’ desire is the humblest feeling. The whole experience will give you such fulfillment, on top of strength and resilience unattainable elsewhere. To sum it up- my loneliness (if any) usually stems from unfamiliarity. But even this feeling is subordinated to my excitement and awe of the new place.
And that’s why I rarely travel any other way.
Is it safe?
I want to be completely honest and say that I’ve been in several unsafe situations. Blame it on my rashness, but I don’t make the smartest of decisions. But since I am still alive and healthy, I guess I am doing something right.. even if it is mostly luck!
I always back up my documents. Whether it be an extra printout of the flight ticket or hostel reservation, keep it tucked away in your luggage. When moving to a new country, I generally have multiple copies of my passport, driver’s license, visa and passport-sized headshots (for sims and other services). Keep both hard-copies and digital ones.
Let your family known your itinerary. Whether it be the arrival date or hostel address, let someone know your whereabouts on a regular basis. I tend to gain a friend in one location before moving onto the next. In case of emergencies, local contacts and police support are much more useful than calling my family from some 3000 km away.
Travel insurance!! I can’t stress how important it is to get travel insurance beforehand and have their emergency contact number on you wherever you go. They saved me a good $7000 when I had an accident in Paris.
2. Blending in. (But not too much)
This is common sense for most, but being familiar with local customs is essential when it comes down to safety. Whether it be simple words or their wearables- respecting a countries’ culture will do you no harm. However, as foreigners, we do have some privileges while traveling. If ‘blending in’ isn’t working in my favor, I start speaking in English-and walking away. No need for a confrontation if it can be avoided!
3. The Resting Bitch Face, Smile, Confidence
Another skill I have acquired is the ‘resting bitch face’. RBF is a facial expression that unintentionally appears angry, annoyed, or irritated. This may sound inefficient to some, but the most critical thing in tackling an unknown street- especially in countries where men tend to stare, is to appear confident and unbothered. You may be completely lost, but don’t show it. Get into a store, sit down, drink some tea, ask the owner or consult your GPS, then get on with your day.
Yes! Smiles are just as important when getting others to help you out. But this also varies with country and custom. In some places, smiling at men may initiate unwanted attention.
Always have a few separate places for your money. I generally have one of those under-the-shirt money pouches for larger bills and my passport. In my bag, I’d carry smaller coins for purchases.
Remember that not only those you suspect pickpocket. Men, women, and even children sometimes orchestrate bizarre scenes with the aim of targeting your belongings. My friend told me that in China, there were often scams that involved fake babies and harmless grandparents!
5. The Wedding Ring
As women, traveling alone may bring about unwanted questions regarding one’s societal status. So, when needed, I’d wear a wedding band and say that I am meeting my husband or boyfriend in a few days. It may sound tedious to some, but it does earn us some autonomy and respect when navigating through cultures vastly different from our own.
6. Public Transportation and Accommodations
Ask to sit beside a woman on the bus/train if you’d like. Many are willing to lend a hand to foreigners. For longer journeys, I always ask if I can sit beside the bus driver if there is a free seat up front. I’d also tell them to give me a heads-up when we reach my stop, which generally comprises of me pointing at myself and repeating the destination a couple times like an idiot. I rarely take cabs when traveling. But when needed, do have a general understanding of how much the trip may cost. Ask the hotel receptionist or your host- even google online! I usually prefer Blablacar in Europe, Uber or rickshaws in India.
Ask the hostel staff for a recommendation on restaurants, areas to avoid, and other general information. They usually know tons of situations travelers have faced. Hostels also provide maps and various flyers. I often ask the receptionist to pencil in the route I need to take from the hostel to different points of interest in the city. Remember to keep the address of the hostel & their contact information with you at all times!
Trust your gut
If you are uncomfortable, walk away. You are not obligated to answer a cat call or continue a dreadful conversation.
Smile, apologize and leave.
But be firm with your decision- no means no.
Lastly, if someone wants to take your money or belongings, give it to them. Trust me, your safety matters more.
Need some motivation to get you off your feet? Read these traveler’s inspiring stories!