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Basic Travel Tips for solo female travellers

Written by DanielaZavala. Posted in PracticalAdvice, Tips, Videos

Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Published on May 18, 2011 with 3 Comments

“Aren’t you afraid of traveling solo?” “Don’t you get bored on the road?” “Who do you share the experiences with?” “Don’t you feel lonely?” “Isn’t it too dangerous?” “You are crazy” “You are brave”… these are the common questions or comments I get from the people who hear or know about my solo adventures around the world.

The fact is that:
No, I am not afraid AT ALL
No, I don’t get bored AT ALL
No, I am never alone while traveling even if I travel on my own, so NO loneliness!
No, I am not crazy…well, maybe a bit 😉
No, I am not brave. I am just prepared in advance and passionate about traveling

One thing you should know: YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE. There are thousands of women traveling solo around the world nowadays. So if they can, why can you?

I strongly believe that it is all about being prepared and cautious and using common sense at all times.

Yes, I have faced a very few scary situations but I have come out of them unharmed by keeping calm and using, again, common sense.

The advantages of traveling as a solo female traveler are immense and worth the extra care. But before I talk about the rewards, let me share with you some basic rules I follow to be safe and enjoy my adventures fully.

Pick the right destination: If this is your first solo travel, do not go to a remote place or a country that could be challenging due to the language barrier, security or cultural differences. I always recommend Europe as a first solo traveling experience (it was mine). I also recommend South East Asia (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand) because locals are very friendly and they are used to see women traveling solo. As you become a more seasoned solo traveler, you can move forward to other more remote destinations. So remember: one step at a time!

Read in advance and be prepared! Know the local culture and protocol prior your trip. It will save you a lot of headaches. What is completely OK at home, it may be offensive in another country. It is not the same to go to Paris or Luang Prabang than to go to Cairo or Iran. Do not assume that locals will accept what you do just because you are a foreign. By knowing about the culture, the traditions or the history of the place you are visiting not only you will appreciate more what you are experiencing but you will also be able to connect quicker and much deeper with locals, who will for sure value your consideration to their way of life and customs. When I travel, I actually look at myself as an ambassador with a big responsibility, so I try to be respectful to locals because I know that the impression I make on them will probably affect the way how they treat and see the next foreigner they meet.

Be confident. Do not show vulnerability even if you are afraid. Always ALWAYS show that you are in control of the situation or that you will put resistance in the case of aggression. That attitude will potentially discourage the person who looks at you as a target. I remember in Jaipur, India, a taxi left me alone in a slum and I had to walk through a lonely and zigzagging path to reach a palace in the top of a mountain. Some young men were following me. I turned back, stood with confidence and yelled at them to stay away. I pretended I had a weapon in my pocket and was going to take it out. It was a mosquito repellant but they thought it was a gun and ran away. In another occasion, I arrived in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia at 4am after a day of bloody riots and the city’s streets were empty. The taxi I had arranged through the hotel didn’t pick me up and I had no options but to take the only taxi outside the terminal. While going into the city center, the driver insisted the hotel I was going to was closed and that he could take me to a better one. I was terrified, but I pretended I was in charge and threatened him that if he didn’t take me to my hotel, I would jump from the car (and I did slightly opened the door). The driver accepted and took me straight to my hotel.

Dress and behave properly. What it may be totally acceptable in the West could be extremely revealing in another country and even unacceptable. The best is to follow the dress code of the locals. See what other local women wear (you don’t have to put on the traditional costume, but be sensitive to the local rules) and do as local women do. For instance, a lot is being said about Iran, but the reality is that there is not police on the street reinforcing a dress code. There are actually different interpretations of the hijab, so it is not so strict, but it is important for locals for you to dress modestly and cover your hear (not you don’t need a burka!).

Be nice but keep your distance with local men. There are countries where talking to local men is OK, but there are others where you are better off by avoiding any flirtation, direct eyes contact or anything that it could be interpreted as an invitation to “romance”. When I travel, I talk to local women and men, but my approach to them is different. It also varies depending on the country, the age and nationality, and how and where I meet these men. Do never accept an invitation to go alone with a local man to a place that isn’t public. Do not go on a car with a local man you just met. Do not give them the address where you are staying. Many of the things we wouldn’t do at home apply also abroad, and even more abroad because you are on your own, so the only person taking care of yourself is you! You can become friends with a local man without a problem – I still keep in touch with many of them, and they are to date good friends of mine. Just be always respectful, clear and cautious.

• If in trouble, seek help and protection from local women. If someone is following you or bothering you, enter into the store near you or approach a local woman and tell her how you feel. Even if she doesn’t understand English, she will understand the distress in your face, and by pointing the man or men who are bothering you, this woman is for sure going out of her way to protect you and scare off those men. When I first arrived in Cairo, I was all the time with a close Egyptian friend I knew for years. Cairo felt great and safe when I was with her, but the first time I went alone to the train station, I was attacked by a mod of men. As I walked into the terminal, men approached me and tried to touch me from different sides. I was in such distress and didn’t expect it, I started crying and ran inside the train station. As soon as a group of women saw me crying, they came to me and took my friend’s phone number to call her and even went with me in the subway to make sure I made it safely back to my friend’s house. These Egyptian women didn’t speak a word of English, but they took care of me and we even had a good laugh together on the train afterwards.

Use a wedding or engagement ring. This accessory can keep away the unwanted “candidates”. When I talk to a local man, I always bring softly into the conversation how wonderful my –fictional- fiancé or husband is. This white lie has enabled me to talk to local men all while making sure they won’t dare to make a move because they already know that I am already a “taken woman” madly in love with her “fiancé/boyfriend”.

Do not go alone at night. This is a simple rule I follow but that I consider very important. Before it is dark, I make sure I am back in my hotel. There are a few places and towns where you can stroll on the street at the early evening, but I would recommend tostay at your hotel/hostel at night. It is very likely that you will meet other travelers (especially at hostels) who want to go for dinner or a drink, and that is totally fine. Just make sure you always leave and go back with the group, not alone.

Do not accept food, drinks or objects from strangers. Again, there are exceptions and use your common sense. If a local grandmother or a family doing a picnic in a park invite you to eat with them or have a tea, enjoy the kindness of the locals. They just want to be nice and welcoming to you. However, there can be some cases where they expect more or they can put something on it. I always say that locals and my fellow travelers –I have met on the road- have turned my trips into memorable experiences. I have made very close friends during my trips, but again you hardly know the people you meet so if they ask you to put something in your backpack or carry something for them, watch out! It may be nothing, but it could be something. Do not be naive.

Be alert 24/7. It is not about being paranoid, but alert about your belongings. In a second you can be pickpocket by a kid or even an elder. So never stop watching your surroundings.

Money distribution. Do not keep all your money in one place. Distribute it in two or three places! Put the basic of the day in your wallet. The rest spread it between a money belt hidden under your clothes and a security box in the hotel.

Avoid late arrival. Arriving in an airport, bus station or train station at dark put you in a more vulnerable situation. If there is no option but a late arrival, make sure to have an airport transfer arranged in advance (you can arrange that through the hotel for instance).

Hotel reservation on the first night. Before I leave home, I always have a tentative itinerary and a list of potential places to stay. I don’t make hotels reservations so I can have more flexibility to change my plans if I feel like it, but I always make you I have a reservation in the first stop of my journey so I can use as a base to move around the country.

Only registered taxis. In some countries it is ok to catch a taxi on the street, but there are others (Latin America for instance) where it could be highly dangerous so always go for a registered taxi.

Check the security of the accommodations before booking. Always verify that the place you are staying is located in a safe area and has high ranks in security. You can check that through the reviews of fellow travelers at www.tripadvisor.com, which a great source of information. Also, try to ask for rooms in higher floors rather than the ground floor.

Travel light. My backpack is my only travel companion. It is convenient to move around, but it always leaves me the hands free… and in the case of emergency to have two free hands can be a lifesaver!

Lonely and alone. Do talk to strangers. It is OK to do that just use your common sense in what context that conversation is taking place. As I always say “I travel alone, but I am never lonely”. I am actually most of the time surrounded by locals or fellow travelers who make my experience all more rewarding and interesting. It is all about being open and kind. Hostels are great place to meet other travelers, so is the dining room of the Bed & Breakfasts (another reason why I prefer these types of accommodations than big hotels!). If you take short or day tour trips in certain locations, you can also make quick friends on the way.

Although it looks like a lot of extra care, the reality is that it becomes part of your natural instincts the more you travel. No one taught me any of these rules. This comes from experience and seeing what works and what doesn’t work.

The most important is all the benefits and unique experiences that traveling as a solo female gives you!

• It gives you the power and flexibility to change your plans, go on your own pace and do what you want without negotiating with anyone

• It will give you the opportunity to immerse fully in the culture, because many locals will open the doors of your home to you without hesitation- a solo woman is less intimidated than one with a companion or in group

• It will force you to interact to other locals and with other travelers, whose life experiences will amaze you and enrich your own life. You will make friends around the world and that friendship will last for life! There is something really beautiful about bonding with a new friend while abroad…

• It will give you access to the lives of other women around the world-which is out-of-the-way for men.

MOST important, traveling solo will

Empower you!

• Make you experience what true freedom is!

• Help you learn and see different sides of yourself

• Make you discover an inner strength you never thought you had.

After traveling solo, nothing will stop you from pursuing your own dreams even if you must do it all alone!

That is the story of my life and my experience on the road.

Take the chance, pack, go alone and discover!!!

Safe travels 🙂

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3 Comments

There are currently 3 Comments on Basic Travel Tips for solo female travellers. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

  1. Those are some awesome tips. I’m a 23 years old girl, and I’m also planning to go solo for the first time in my life, I’m planning in visiting either Korea or Australia, what would you think would be the best place to do so?

  2. Those are some awesome tips. I’m a 23 years old girl, and I’m also planning to go solo for the first time in my life, I’m planning in visiting either Korea or Australia, what would you think would be the best place to do so?

    Thanks!

  3. Hi Karla! Your first solo trip? That’s so exciting!!! You would LOVE Australia. Aussies are super nice (also big world travelers so they know what it is to be traveling abroad and alone!) and it is a beautiful country. How much time do you have? Remember the tips Karla, and you will be fine. Traveling alone as a woman is empowering and you will meet really interesting people along the way, so it is very likely you will NEVER feel lonely 🙂 ENJOY!!

  4. […] -¿Qué no debe hacer jamás una backpacker?                                                                   -Yo tengo ciertas reglas. A veces -por circunstancias muy particulares- las rompo pero por lo general las he seguido y me han ayudado a mantenerme segura en mis viajes. No salgo sola de noche. Siempre antes de que oscurezca, estoy en mi hotel. Le recomiendo a las mujeres que viajan solas no tomar alcohol o consumir drogas porque eso las pone en situaciones de vulnerabilidad. No ir sola con extraños, especialmente si son hombres. Si tu instinto te dice que algo es sospechoso, créele. Cuando se sientan en peligro, pidan ayuda a las mujeres locales que tienen cerca (siempre son solidarias) y si están solas, NO muestren vulnerabilidad, sino fuerza y seguridad. Muy importante, leer de las costumbres de los países que van a visitar para ir vestida apropiadamente y saber los patrones de conducta. Mostrar respeto y sensibilidad por la cultura local te abre muchísimas puertas. He acumulado varios consejos en este link […]

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