Solo female travel can seem nerve-wracking at first and I can completely understand it. Differing perceptions of women around the globe, and media debate as to where is and isn’t safe for a woman travelling alone can make even the most confident of women feel uncertain but I am a strong believer of the sentiment that provided you take the necessary precautions for your safety, you will be safe anywhere.
I’ve travelled all over the world by myself, including travel to regions which are “non conventional” or not typically recommended for a woman alone (Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, etc). Obviously I don’t go hurtling myself into dangerous situations but here are some of the rules that I always travel by, and which I think will help you travel more confidently, and responsibly too.
Respect the local customs
I know it sounds like common sense, but you wouldn’t believe the amount of people that ignore this. If the local customs or dress code dictates that you should do certain things (for example, cover your hair or dress conservatively) then please ensure that you do so. Not only does this show that you respect the citizens of the country which you are travelling in, it also aides you in not attracting negative attention to yourself, and thus highlighting the fact that you are alone.
Be prepared for catcalls and unwanted advances
I’m not going to tell you that you need to wear a burlap sack and dress as unattractively as possible. As above, respect the customs and ensure that you are dressed appropriately but acknowledge the fact that unwanted male advances and attention are still a very likely possibility, especially in regions where you look completely different to the locals, or where a woman alone is not considered ‘normal’.
The best way to handle such instances, in my opinion is to just continue on as you are and act as though you haven’t noticed any leers and whistles. If someone continues to harass or pester you, then head into a local business and notify a local of your concern.
Trust your gut
If someone seems overly friendly, someone’s offered to give you a lift and you’re unsure, go with your gut instinct -some things just aren’t worth the risk.
Research ahead of arrival
As exotic as it seems to just spontaneously fly off somewhere at the drop of a hat, it exposes you to additional costs and a schedule where you’re not making the most of your time. I don’t believe in organising everything down to a T but at the same time have an idea of what you want to see and do, organise at least your first night’s accommodation and be aware of anything that has to be booked in advance. This will save you from a world of unnecessary stress.
Carry the address of where you are staying in the local language
This is a good one if you’re worried about getting lost or getting back. I always carry a business card of the hotel/hostel or have my hosts write it down. Thankfully I’ve never needed it but you need to think worst case scenario – what if you get really lost? You can just show the address to a cab driver. This is especially helpful if you are in places where English is not commonly spoken (hello Japan!).
Don’t be afraid to assert yourself
You know those odd people that approach you and start conversations on the train? You can get a lot of those travelling, especially local men that act concerned and want to help you find x, y, whatever. Don’t be afraid to say no, or remove yourself from the situation. Us British people especially just beat around the bush a lot of the time. In some countries and cultures, smiling and making small talk with local men is almost considered an invitation.
Walk with confidence
You could be an expat well versed in the local area for all they know or you could have a big burly 6ft rugby player boyfriend meeting you soon. Act confident in what you are doing and where you are going and people will be less likely to bother you.
Choose your hosts carefully
Platforms such as Couchsurfing and Airbnb are a great way to travel, however there are a lot of opportunist guys on these sites. Be careful. You can read my guide on staying with locals here. I would recommend staying with females or couples, and ensuring that you choose hosts with good past reviews.
Arrive at your destination in the day
Everything is more stressful at night – from a safety perspective for one thing, you don’t want to be dragging your suitcase around empty streets while lost. But also from a coordinating perspective – with your host/hostel and with local transport – a late arrival can limit you in getting trains and local public transport and then lead to more costs if you end up having to get a cab.
Develop a thick skin
The cat calls, stares and difference of opinion can get to some people. Accept it for what it is – a difference of opinion from people who have been bought up with different belief systems. Acknowledge differences and move on from them rather than dwelling or taking anything personally. These people will have forgotten about it in a day and so should you.
Carry a photocopy of your passport at all times
In some countries it is a requirement to always have your passport with you. Penalties for not doing so can be as extreme as imprisonment. So what if you were to lose it? A scan kept in your suitcase will help for the worst case scenario if you have to seek help or go to an embassy.
Always ensure you have an amount of cash with you
This should also be common sense, but again, don’t solely depend on your cards. My bank blocked my accounts for suspicious activity when I was in Japan after months of travelling around with no problem. You don’t want to put yourself in the situation where you have no cash. In some countries, U.S. Dollars can be used and come in handy.
Learn a few words of the local language
Don’t underestimate how useful it is to say a few words of the local language – even just being able to point a map and say “excuse me ? ” the locals will appreciate you trying and of course it helps you too if you can communicate on even a tiny level, rather than miming everything like Charlie Chaplin in a silent film.
Let people at home have an idea of where you are via social media
You don’t need to be checking in on facebook at every individual place you travel to but having your friends and family know that you are in X Town in Thailand rather than just generally knowing you’re somewhere in Thailand is helpful should you need help or drop off the radar for a few days,
Carry emergency contact details
I would hope that you wouldn’t need these, but I believe that it is always better to be safe than sorry, and have everything considered for the ‘worst case’ scenario. Jot down the local emergency contact number, and ensure that you have the address and contact details of your country’s embassy just in case.
Don’t let safety worries put a dampener on any trips you’re considering. Most are incident free as long as you keep your wits about you. Travel leads to great friendship and life experiences and most people are kind and helpful on the road. There’s a reason so many of us backpack alone!
I hope that you find these safety tips for solo female travellers useful! If you have any other concerns, or perhaps additional pieces of advice that you would like to add to this then please let me know in the comments below!
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