solo female travel

When Things Go Wrong, and I'm Alone

I get asked about this all the time:

What if something terrible happens to you?

Are you ever really scared?

How do you handle weird situations when you’re alone?

Finally I decided to write about it, mainly for those who don’t travel alone and are curious. I’ll tell you now, I’ve heard just about every travel horror story and have been warned many times by friends, family, and acquaintance to ‘be very careful.’ And I am. But I also have faith in myself.

Despite the trials and mishaps, I love exploring alone. 

Despite the trials and mishaps, I love exploring alone. 

I’ve had weird and unnerving experiences abroad, especially traveling alone. Yet every time, I am able to figure my way out of the situation, usually in one piece. Take for example, my arrival in the south of France during my gap year. I took the TGV train from Paris to the south of France and from there I hopped on a local bus. The bus driver helped me figure out where to get off, a tiny town with one small grocery store, a bakery, and a bank. From there I did my best to follow the directions my hosts had provided, thanking my foresight to look up the bed and breakfast on the walkthrough version of Google maps. Still I was confused when I got there. There were two gates onto the property, both of them locked. One was obviously for the bed and breakfast, and the other was down the hill and around the side of the property and looked to be for staff. I couldn’t see anyone and tried calling out to no avail. I checked my last email with my hosts, where I told them when I would arrive. I sat on my suitcase for a while, until a woman passed walking her dog. She knew of the people who owned the B&B, but didn’t have their phone number. I saw a group of people pull up and unlock the front gate, and quickly hurried that way. Chatting with them, they had no clue about the owners and had just been hired for the night. They suggested I go to the other gate. Now, a few hours after being dropped off, I was really wondering what I had  signed myself up for. Finally, as I was trying to figure out where to go for the night, I saw a figure walking down the road toward the back gate. I jumped off my suitcase, waving a little frantically.

It was another volunteer, and he told me that I was expected tomorrow due to an email mixup. He had been heading to the beach for a swim when he saw me. My hosts were visiting Morocco at the time so the B&B was pretty quiet. He helped me get settled in my small, sparse room before showing me around. Throughout that afternoon and laying in bed that night, I was anxious about my choices and situation. I took some basic precautions--I used my doorstop on my room door that night and my family knew where I was going. But I stuck it out, trusting my instincts. As I settled in, I made amazing friends, learned a lot about gardening and running a B&B, and enjoyed living between the beach and the mountains. This first workaway experience was unforgettable and changed my outlook on life. And I wouldn’t have gotten there if I wasn’t willing to take a few risks.

To be okay through almost any situation abroad, here is what you need:

  1. Travel Insurance - I recommend World Nomads, an affordable insurance that varies by length of stay and region of travel but always offers two levels of insurance. They have helped me find reliable emergency clinics in Bangkok when I had a staph infection and then covered the cost of the visit. They also will cover some electronics and personal items, helping me pay for a new iPhone when mine got wet while traveling. A dependable travel insurance that is easy to contact will help you know that you have someone to help if you get sick or your plans are ruined.

  2. Emergency money and medications - It is super important to carry some backup cash (this can be U.S. dollars or any currency) just in case ATMs are not accessible or your cards are not working. I usually keep $50-100 dollars stashed in a few places in my luggage.Also traveling with some basic medications is smart. This means Advil, Imodium, and any prescription medications you use regularly. It’s very possible to get medications abroad, but it’s easiest to carry some with you.

  3. Your instincts - There have been moments where I have switched metro cars or taken a better-lit street even if it was a longer route. Once I was waiting for a bus in Thailand, at a stop next to a police station. A policeman came out of the building and a driver pulled over. They obviously knew each other and chatted for a few moments. Then the policeman came over to me and told me the man in the car could give me a ride back to the city. I declined, saying I would wait. The policeman asked again and told me it was okay to go in the car. Reluctantly, I hopped in. We made light conversation and the driver was very polite. However, the second we got into the city and I knew the area, I thanked him and hopped out. Maybe he was fine, but I prefered to take the reins and control the situation.

  4. The ability to ask for help - I can’t even count the number of times I’ve stopped someone to ask for help. This can be directions, a translation, or to use their phone. At a small restaurant in Bangkok the businessman at the table next to me translated the menu for me and conveyed to the waitress that I was vegetarian. Asking for help is something that comes naturally to me now and I understand that often, people can be trusted. I believe the American viewpoint is often distrustful of others abroad, but so many people have been willing to help me that I now I have a different viewpoint.

  5. The knowledge that you’ll get through it - This may not sound like a lot, but often the simple understanding that I’ll come out on the other side of a situation keeps me calm and allows me to get through it. This stems from my past experiences that have tested my reflexes and emotions, giving me a confidence in myself and my coping abilities.

I hope you found these tips and stories helpful. Also I have a post specifically about safety and the questions I often receive about staying safe abroad.

The Secret to Traveling Alone

The number one question I am asked when I start talking about traveling is: ‘Who went with you?’

‘Myself,’ I answer.

Okay, so I went alone. But in today’s world that is not an acceptable answer for a teenage girl. We think that outside our country is a world filled with crime and terrorism. And who is a girl to protect herself and make her own way?

Next comes a series of questions: ‘Why? Couldn’t you have found a friend to go? Weren’t you scared? How did you do it? Were you lonely?’

Honestly, I went by myself because that was the only way to make it happen. Since I funded all of my travels myself, I didn’t have the money for any of the gap year programs available. All of my friends were set on going to college straight-away and my parents certainly couldn’t take off work to come with me. That just leaves me. I was so set on traveling and taking a gap year that I told myself the things I would see would make up for any loneliness I felt.

But here’s the thing--I was rarely lonely. ‘Traveling solo’ is a misnomer. Traveling without anyone else meant that I met so many great people as I went. Because I didn’t have anyone I knew to talk to, I would start up conversations at hostels or wherever I was staying. Soon, I was going on day trips with strangers and making life-long friends. When I stayed with hosts or volunteered I made even closer connections, with my fellow volunteers or with the families I stayed with. I went on a 6 hour road trip with some amazing people I met in the South of France (it wasn’t supposed to take that long) and I explored Rome with a pair of Canadians I met over coffee in the hostel kitchen. If you go in with an open mind and a willingness to meet new people, you will make more connections with those around you then you would have if you were not alone.

This picture was kindly taken by a stranger after they saw me trying to catch a photo in front of Buckingham Palace. 

This picture was kindly taken by a stranger after they saw me trying to catch a photo in front of Buckingham Palace. 

In spite of that, sometimes I would rather do something alone. While I was traveling by myself, I became spoiled. I did just what I wanted. If I wanted to spend all day in one gallery of an art museum, no one was spurring me to move faster. When I decided to cafe-hop and ramble around a city with no aim, no one was opening up a map and directing me. Even now, when I am not traveling, I can really appreciate a day by myself, doing exactly what I want to do. This made me more independent than I already was and pushed me past my comfort zone, as traveling tends to do.

To answer how I managed alone, it could be said that it is just my independent personality. Although I am young, I had no trouble planning where I was going and how I would get there by myself. I heard a funny story when my friend ran into my mother at the grocery store. Apparently he asked which cities I was planning on traveling to and my mother said that she didn’t really know. She knew some of the countries I wanted to visit, but all the particulars were managed by me. The only advice I can give for this sort of planning is to do your research, such as to find out which hostels are safe, and to have confidence that you will make everything work out. Life finds a way of happening no matter where in the world you are.

Lastly, I am very frequently asked if I was scared while traveling alone. I won’t lie. There were moments when I felt unsure of what was going to happen next or if I was safe. But I was fine. I relied heavily on my gut instincts as well as taking as many precautions as possible. If I didn’t like the way it felt to walk down a certain street, I would quickly move to a busier area. If I needed to find something, I would ask a stranger for directions. When my overnight bus connection in Phnom Penh, Cambodia seemed a little sketchy, I stuck with the rest of the people transferring and spoke up when the new bus driver told us we were on the wrong bus. (We weren’t.) I kept my valuables in the bags I could keep close to me and always had a hand on my purse. Some things you cannot stop from happening, but you can do your best to be aware and take precautions against edgy situations.

I’ve come to love traveling on my own. Despite anything that gets in my way, I’ve had amazing experiences abroad and by myself. I also take pride in the fact that I’ve become a person who can function independently. I believe that solo traveling has strengthened my character and capabilities.

So next time you want to get away from work or school, and nobody can go with you, don’t let that stop you.

Travel Gossip: Safety as a Solo Female Traveler

As a teenage girl traveling by herself, I've gotten many questions: Are you scared? Don't your parents worry about you? Why alone? How do you stay alive? You're staying at a hostel?! While I take my safety very seriously and am always careful and alert, sometimes these questions make me want to bang my head on a wall. So for all you non-solo travelers, new travelers, and even those veteran solo women globe-trotters: here's safety tips and tricks from some of the coolest women on the blogosphere.

Moriah Kent at Global Girl Gone

Moriah Kent

What is your best travel safety tip?

The best piece of travel safety advice I can give is to not walk around with earbuds or headphones. You are cut off from sounds that can alert you to danger or strange going-ons. It’s safer to walk around a new place with all of your working senses on guard so that you can be aware and protect yourself.

Do you consider some countries unsafe for solo female travelers? If so what is your criteria for determining this?

Yes, there are countries that I consider unsafe for solo female travelers, however, it has yet to stop me from traveling to them. The criteria I use to judge the safety of a destination includes statistics of yearly reported rapes of both local and foreign women; I take into account the general attitude towards women in a country (based on religious and cultural beliefs); I also read the travel warnings provided by the US State Department. As a solo female traveler, I would avoid places where there are high reports of abduction, rape, or harassment, unless I found a group of other travelers to venture there with or I would take all of the precautions possible, if I had to be someone alone that felt unsafe.

What is the most sexist/most common sexist question you've been asked when talking about solo travel?

“Are you alone?” is the question I have been asked most frequently that feels sexist depending on the person asking and what I perceive as their intent for asking. Often, this question carries the weight of assumptions such as: “You’re alone and female and therefore, you must stupid or unaware of how to take care of yourself, so I shall now attempt to take advantage of you”. And, yes, I do get all that from those three little words (not every time, but enough times for it to make me groan in annoyance and move away quickly).

Any stories about times you have felt unsafe or threatened and what you did in that situation?

Once upon a time, I lived in Japan for three years. Within the first year, I was visiting another person in my prefecture who lived in a more rural area. On my way home, I was waiting at a secluded bus stop at 8:00 in the morning with my earbuds in. A local man also happened to be at this bus stop. This local man thought it would be a fantastic idea to whip out his junk and walk inches away from my face with it fully erect. My heart began racing when I realized what was happening and after rearing my head back in immense disgust and literally yelling “UM. OK. NO!” I grabbed my cell phone, opened it, and started filming. Pointing my cell phone in the direction of this flasher was enough to scare him into the field across the street, but the aftermath left me feeling violated, scared, and embarrassed. I recovered after acknowledging it and talking with friends about it, but I still to this day feel lucky that that man had not tried to rape me, and I have since tried to educate myself in the way of self-defense and protection.

Find more of her at:

Facebook: /Moriah-Kent Twitter: @global_moriah

 

Kari at Words and Other Such Things

KariRedmond

What is your best travel safety tip?

I believe common sense and trusting your instinct are the best safety tip I can provide. I tell my mother every time I take off to a new, even more dangerous than the last country destination that all the horrible things she fears could happen in Colombia, Honduras, or Cuba could just as easily happen right here in the little town I live in, were it not for common sense.

Do you consider some countries unsafe for solo female travelers? If so what is your criteria for determining this?

I do not think some countries are more dangerous than others. I believe some people are smarter and more experienced than others. They are the successful travelers.

What is the most sexist/most common sexist question you've been asked when talking about solo travel?

I’ve not really heard too many sexist comments, other than, ‘what’s a pretty girl like you doing traveling around here,’ which I don’t think is all that sexist, more naïve.

Any stories about times you have felt unsafe or threatened and what you did in that situation?

I’ve been in several sticky situations, mostly due to recreational pursuits. My best advice is to simply comply. Do whatever ‘the bad’ guy asks- give him your money, your phone, your purse and walk away unharmed.

 

Beth Gregory at International Playgirl

bethgregory

What is your best travel safety tip?

It is really important to research the area you are visiting beforehand. Knowing what the local customs and belief systems are, if there are any common scams in that area or other dangers to be aware of may save you a lot of trouble. Research sounds boring but it’s useful. Many people have ended up out of pocket or worse because they didn’t know about the risks in the city or country they were traveling to. More importantly however, always follow your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, then follow your instincts.

Do you consider some countries unsafe for solo female travelers? If so what is your criteria for determining this?

No. I believe some countries may be more risky to travel to and you will have to take more precautions and consider what to wear more. Wearing a short skirt in India, for example, may attract some unwanted attention. But I believe all countries can be travelled solo by women and women should not let fear or their gender stop them from traveling.

What is the most sexist/most common sexist question you've been asked when talking about solo travel?

Many people don’t understand why I would travel solo. I’ve also had many people take the attitude that when I travel to countries like Australia I will be more safe than when traveling to South East Asia. This isn’t sexist but is a very ignorant attitude to take. I once had a taxi driver in Thailand tell me that if I had been his girlfriend he would ‘forbid me’ to travel alone. This annoyed me at first but then I managed to laugh it off. It does upset me that many people still see it as odd that a woman could travel alone, or would want to. No one has really asked me sexist questions but many have outright told me that I won’t be safe. I think many people find it odd that I have a partner yet still choose to sometimes travel solo.

Any stories about times you have felt unsafe or threatened and what you did in that situation?

The times I have felt most threatened because of my gender whilst traveling have actually been because of other travelers rather than locals. Sadly a lot of male backpackers or expats have tried to take advantage of me whilst in a bar. Drinking is a big part of backpacker culture and whilst a lot of men will be decent, there are always some men that try to take advantage in these situations. It’s important to watch your drinks if you’re in a bar and stand your ground.

Sometimes in other cultures men have a tendency to stare. This can be uncomfortable but it’s important to remember they are more likely staring because you’re a female foreigner rather than purely staring in a sexual manner. The best action to take is to simply ignore it, even though it can be uncomfortable at first.

Find more of her at:

Twitter: @InterPlaygirl Instagram: @international_playgirl

 

Tara of Where is Tara

Tara

What is your best travel safety tip?

Just don't drink. If I was ever backpacking a country that had a bad reputation, again, I would want to be sober and fully aware of my surroundings at all times. Oh and always take the business card of the hotel/hostel with you in case you get lost or can't find your way back.

Do you consider some countries unsafe for solo female travelers? If so what is your criteria for determining this?

Yes. It is the attitude of men towards women (often western women in particular) in some countries that makes it unsafe. Also the lack of respect that local law enforcement officers sometimes have towards western tourists and women in particular.

What is the most sexist/most common sexist question you've been asked when talking about solo travel?

A lot of people are surprised when I say I went to South America by myself. They say things like, "yeah Brazil (for example) would be fine for a guy by himself..... but not a girl". It's not necessarily sexist though. It's kind of a fact with some countries.

Any stories about times you have felt unsafe or threatened and what you did in that situation?

In Peru I got a lot of unwanted attention because of my fair hair and skin. I had something awful happen in Peru, in a situation that I previously would have considered very safe. I could not wait to leave that country after that. I kept traveling but part of me wanted to fly home and never leave.

Find more of her at:

Twitter:      @whereistarablog
Facebook:  /whereistara
Instagram: @whereistarablog

 

Katelyn Michaud at Diaries of a Wandering Lobster

KatelynMichaud2

What is your best travel safety tip?

The world is not as dangerous as the media and your parents make it out to be. You need to be open-minded and do your research before you head to a new place. The media often hypes up a place to be dangerous when it probably isn't as bad as they make it out to be. Find travel bloggers, friends, family or anyone who has been to that place and ask them about their thoughts on the place. Of course, there are places you probably shouldn't go and you should pay attention to travel advisories from your government, but don't be afraid to go to a new place. I was recently in Greece and several people told me before I left that I shouldn't go because of their economic issues. However, I felt completely safe and loved my time in Greece. Be smart. Be cautious, but don't skip out on an amazing place because someone says not to go there.

Do you consider some countries unsafe for solo female travelers? If so what is your criteria for determining this?

Yes and no. There are some women that are rocking it in countries that I might not travel solo in at the moment. All the power to them! I think it depends on your comfort zone. I would never travel in a country currently in a war or where recent terrorist attacks have occurred. I think it's very important to be aware of travel advisories and the customs and recent events in any country that you might travel to in the near future. I'm currently planning a trip to the Arabian Peninsula next year, but I plan to stay away from Yemen, although someday I would love to visit the country.

What is the most sexist/most common sexist question you've been asked when talking about solo travel?

I've traveled a lot in Central America and have been cat-called and whistled at more times then you can count. Last year my friend and I were on Caye Caulker in Belize and we were constantly being cat called. They would call us "baby" and follow any comments with the f-bomb. My friend was really bothered by it, but I mostly ignore it at this point. Is it right? Absolutely not. Women should be treated with respect, but in many areas of the world we are not.

Any stories about times you have felt unsafe or threatened and what you did in that situation?

I like to Couchsurf and have met some amazing people through the website. However, I just learned a really important lesson. While I was in Athens I booked a hostel that I planned to sleep in but was looking to meet some locals to show me around on Couchsurfing. I put up a post on the Athens message board to see if any locals or other travelers might be there the same time as me and we could explore the city together. I got several replies from all men. One guy asked if I wanted to have a threesome with his girlfriend. Ummm... no! Another guy kept telling me my hostel was in an extremely dangerous part of Athens and I should stay with him. My hostel was in one of the safest parts of Athens. After those messages I deleted my message on the board. Lesson learned!

Find more of her at:

Twitter: @wanderinglobsta
Facebook: /diariesofawanderinglobster

So for all you adventurous girls and women: listen to your instincts, stay alert, research, and consider all risks. This world is not always fair and courteous to us. But by no means should you allow this to scare you or keep you from traveling. So be courageous, too.
Safe Travels!