Every year, thousands of women, young and old, travel to on their own and come home safe and sound. You can, too, by using the same good judgment you use at home. Begin with caution and figure out as you travel what feels right to you. Create conditions that are likely to turn out in your favor, and you’ll have a safer, smoother, more enjoyable trip.
Here are some tips for safe and pleasant travels that I have picked up through the years:
Use street smarts. Be self-reliant and well prepared, so that you don’t need to depend on someone unless you want to. Always carry cash, a map, a guidebook, and a phrase book with you. Walk purposefully with your head up, look like you know where you’re going. If you get lost in an unfriendly neighborhood, be savvy about whom you ask for help; seek out another woman or a family, or go into a store or restaurant to ask for directions or to study your map. When you use cash machines, withdraw cash during the day on a busy street, not at night when it’s dark with too few people around.
- Be proactive about public transportation. Before you leave a city, consider visiting the train or bus station you’re going to leave from, so you’ll know where it is, how long it takes to reach it, if it feels safe, and what services it has. If you’re leaving late at night, cafes, including busy Internet cafes with long hours, are a safe and productive place to wait. When taking the train, avoid sleeping in empty compartments. You’re safer sharing a compartment with a family.
- Research prices. Know how long it takes and how much it costs to get from the airport to your hotel or to the city center. Solo travelers are more likely to be “taken for a ride,” so ask the taxi driver how much it will cost before you leave. If it’s considerably different from what you know to be true, take a different cab.
- Follow your insticts. Be your own best counsel; if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Without a companion to watch your back, you are more vulnerable to criminals and scam artists, so you have to have your wits about you.
- Learn how to deal with foreign men. In small towns, men are often more likely to speak English than women. If you never talk to men, you could miss out on a chance to learn about the country. So, by all means, talk to men. Just choose the man and choose the setting. Be aware that sometimes, when you smile and look a man in the eyes, it’s often considered an invitation. Wear dark sunglasses and you can stare all you want. Dress modestly to minimize attention from men. Take your cue from what the local women wear. Try to stay with a group when exploring, and avoid walking alone at night, particularly in unlit areas with few people around. Don’t be overly polite if you’re bothered by someone; it’s important to create boundaries to protect yourself. Use facial expressions, body language, and a loud firm voice to fend off any unwanted attention. If a man comes too close, say “no” firmly and loudly in the local language. That’s usually all it takes.
Stay visible. Keep to open and public places, especially at night. While returning to your hotel or hostel at night walk briskly and make sure you aren’t being followed. If you feel like you’re being followed or hassled, trust your instincts. Don’t worry about overreacting or seeming foolish. Start screaming and acting crazy if the situation warrants it. Or head to the nearest hotel ask the hotelier to call you a cab to take you to your own hotel, hostel, or B&B.
- Lie a little. Not only can you invent your own persona or history, but you can also make your life easier with little white lies. When asking directions, don’t let on that you are alone: “Can you direct me to the museum? I have to meet a friend.” Wear a real or fake wedding ring. While travelling through Bali I had honeymoon henna on my hands which stopped people from harassing me everywhere. Remember, there’s no need to tell people that you’re traveling alone, or whether you’re actually married or single. Lie unhesitatingly. You’re traveling with your husband. He’s waiting for you at the hotel.
- Avoid appearing like a tourist. Ditch the “I Love NY” t-shirt and dress like the locals so that you can blend in. Don’t draw attention to yourself by wearing flashy clothes or jewelry, you don’t want to stand out in a strange country. Don’t walk around with your face in a guidebook. Study your map or book while sitting at a cafe or restaurant not out on the street
- Stay in contact. Leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or family member at home, and stay in touch regularly via phone or e-mail. This way at least someone knows where you are or should be and can send out a search party if they havent heard from you in a while.10. Go with the flow. Unless you’re fluent in the language, accept the fact that you won’t always know what’s going on.
By using common sense, making good decisions, and above all else, having confidence in yourself and your ability to travel on your own, you’ll be rewarded with rich experiences — and great stories to tell your friends.