Tips for Traveling Solo as a Woman
By Julia Arlt
“My final advice is this: don’t ever let fear stop you from living the life you want to live.”
Traveling solo, especially as a woman, has a bit of a bad rep. Reactions from well-meaning family members have ranged from ‘go for it’, to horrified, to staging an intervention. And to an extent, I get it. I am a young woman and fully aware that global homicide and rape statistics do not work in my favor. The fact is, living as a woman in general presents certain risks that are largely alien to our fellow men, whether at home or on the other side of the world. For me the choice is as follows: a) I live cooped up in my comfort zone and never leave my front door, or b) Doing my best to mitigate risk, I accept that nowhere in the world is entirely safe, and go do the things I love to do anyway. If you’re thinking about traveling solo, here are my five tips for you.
Do your research
I can’t overstate this. Make sure you’ve booked your accommodation in advance, you’ve checked the reviews, and you know exactly how to get there. I always check into female-only dorms in hostels. Make sure your papers are in order. Make sure you have the right travel insurance. Make sure you know about the culture of the place you are going. Check out your government’s foreign travel advice. If there are warnings, heed them. Check the laws of the country you are going to.
2. Dress appropriately
As a woman, in a lot of countries you have to follow certain rules. If you want to enter a church in a Catholic country, you will have to cover your knees and shoulders. You should take your shoes off when entering a Buddhist temple and never touch a Buddhist monk. It’s a good idea to cover your head in a lot of the Middle East. I get it, I’m a feminist too, and I also fervently wish that all people could be respected as people regardless of what we looked like. But if dressing immodestly is seen as a lack of respect in the country that you are visiting then you will have to expect that people will react with the same disrespect that they perceive. My advice? Draw as little attention to yourself as possible. Try to blend in. I have worn a fake wedding ring in the past, worn a head-scarf and I actually really like long billowing skirts and dresses.
3. Use Your Common Sense
My mother always told me never to walk alone after dark. Always look like you know exactly where you are going. If you need to check directions, walk into a shop and check them discreetly. Always wear your bag across your body and keep a hand on it. Always give over your money rather than your safety. Don’t get drunk. Don’t get in a car with someone’s who’s drunk. Don’t get into a stranger’s car. Always know your way back to where you’re staying. Don’t trust people too quickly. Keep your possessions locked. Check that your taxi is legitimate. That advice is just as relevant at home as it is abroad.
4. Have fun
This is your time to really explore. You get to do whatever you want to do. So, make sure you have some planned activities to tick off of your bucket list. But also, give yourself time to be flexible, to wander on your own, hang out in a coffee shop, or get to know the people in your hostel. Bring something you love doing with you. I always have good book and my sketchbook with me to relax and do something familiar when I’m far away from home. For you it might be your camera, an audiobook, your guitar (I have a friend who busked her way around Europe), your knitting, your journal, whatever it is that helps you bring a bit of home with you.
Traveling solo is scary sometimes. And it’s hard sometimes. I was in Barcelona the day the terror attack in Las Ramblas happened. I grew up in Nice , and went to the 14th of July fireworks every year that I lived there. My Dad’s side of the family all live in Bavaria. I’ve been to Brussels, to London, to Paris, to Strasbourg, they’ve all had terror attacks. I’ve had strange men follow me around, even waiting for me outside of shops. I’ve been wheel-chaired out of airplanes because I’ve been so sick on flights. I’ve slept in airports when my hotel reservation fell through. But I’ve also run barefoot on the beaches of Essaouira. I’ve made friends from Hong Kong to Buenos Aires and everywhere in between. I’ve visited the Alhambra, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China. Traveling solo has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life. I’ve been able to go where I wanted to go, do what I’ve wanted to do, without having to wait around for someone to give me permission.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, yes, there is a tiny possibility that things could go wrong. That you get sick, that your plane crashes, that someone steals your passport. There’s also the possibility that you will drown in your bath at home, die in a car crash going to work, or get shot at your local mall. Nowhere is completely safe. So why not take the chance to have the time of your life, meet incredible people, and learn lessons that will change you into a more empathetic, courageous and open-eyed person. My final advice is this: go and dare to do the things you’d love to do and don’t ever let fear stop you from living the life you want to live.
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