This week, REI hosted a free seminar titled, “Women Traveling Solo”. Sounds great, right? Free, one of my favorite discussion topics, and, well, free. I had to check it out.
Anyone volunteering their time to host a structured conversation that educates and supports women traveling alone, should be applauded. However, I believe that if women are going to get off their butts to hear some tips, they should be given the information they can’t find from a Google search or guidebook browsing.
Here are the truth-seeking tips I’d really want first time and experienced, solo, female travelers to always consider. And if you think I’m still missing great points, you’re right. Let’s get honest. Join the conversation.
TRAVEL INSURANCE This has been mentioned so many times, I’m sorry to include it. But the fact that it was not mentioned in the seminar I attended was pretty scary. In case you missed it, I had a little accident in Lima, Peru that ended up in surgery. Do your research, find what fits your peace of mind and finances, and then buy. It’s essential.
ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE TIMES While traveling, you’re often picking and choosing between cities, buses, trains, planes…you name it. One thing that needs to be considered with equal weight to price is timing.
It’s wonderful when you find yourself with a travel buddy, but that doesn’t always happen. If you’re looking at a big price difference while deciding ‘how to get there’, keep in mind what it is really going to be like arriving into an unknown place in pitch darkness. It’s often hard enough trusting a taxi driver, let alone one at nighttime. If you’re like me, you don’t want to pay that much. Taking public transportation or walking a few blocks from the terminal or station usually goes a long way in budget saving. Arrive at midnight or 4am? You better believe I’m taking the expensive, safe cab. Additionally, know where you are and consider the potential protests, bus breakdowns, or tree-blocked roads when you’re factoring in arrival times. Inconveniences happen a lot in budget travel.
CAT CALLING It’s a hot topic here in the States. Who cares? Is it really that bad that someone’s calling you pretty? Can’t we just feel flattered?
As women traveling alone, it doesn’t make a difference in a foreign place if you’re Beauty Queen Barbie, or Plain Jane. You don’t look like the local ladies, and thus you’re a target. Perhaps I would feel differently if there was a guarantee that every man who whistled, slurped or whispered a sexual invitation at me was never going to reach out and touch me, or worse. It’s likely that then I wouldn’t feel as strongly about this subject. But that guarantee doesn’t exist, and so we walk the streets on higher alert than any of us ever wants. It’s hard to enjoy a touristy walk exploring a new place when you’re on watch for the individual or group of men that won’t let you go by in peace.
Some of you may still be asking, “So what?”
“So, what” is that it is a harassing invasion of our space. “So what” is that it can be emotionally exhausting. I’ve had to change the path I’m taking, stop walking and wait for them to be far enough ahead that they finally forget that I’m there, and consistently bite my tongue.
Maybe you’ve seen the viral video of one woman walking the streets of her every day routine? I have thought about the reactions people would have if I had recorded the same as I walked around the streets of South America. What I can tell you about it is it put the fear and word we hate to think about at the forefront of my mind far too often: rape.
There’s no avoiding this issue, and it’s one you’ll likely find yourself running into more than you expect. Common sense is far too often found to be uncommon. Use it when you travel to stay as safe as you can control.
STOP BEING NICE It sounds ridiculous, but this was probably one of the hardest lessons I had to learn. I believe that it is especially true of a vast number of Americans that we are raised to be too nice to strangers.
We’re made a little bit uncomfortable, but we don’t say anything. I wish they wouldn’t sit so close or put their hand on me so often, but I don’t want to be rude.
If someone appearing to be friendly approaches me, whatever may be the reason, I have a hard time getting myself out of it.
This same thought pattern is what led me to saying yes instead of NO when someone asked to share a taxi with me when I was alone at night. I was lucky that situation didn’t turn into a Law & Order episode, but I found myself with a stalker. Three months later after no communication, that person confronted me in my hostel. He snuck in, found me, and went through a bipolar-like, aggressive speech that left me frozen. Like I said before, nothing worse came of it, but I could have prevented it by being assertive from the start.
Still traveling months later, I found myself on a night bus sitting across from a chatty man and lucky enough to have the seat next to me empty. He invited himself to sit with me. At first, I allowed it because once again, I didn’t want to be rude. The only thing that mattered though was how I was feeling, and I felt uncomfortable. After about 15 minutes I asked him politely to return to his own seat. That was the end of our friendly conversation, but I was proud of myself for resolving what was unlikely to be a “bad” situation, but one that I did not feel 100% comfortable in.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIKE EATING ALONE Some advice given to women interested in solo travel is to test it out. Go out for dinner alone! See if you like it. Maybe that’ll help you decide. I completely disagree with this theory.
You do not have to be an introvert, enjoy eating alone, or for that matter enjoy doing anything more than reading alone to enjoy solo travel.
Having done it, I stand by the belief that solo travel is the most social form of travel. With one friend, you find it easier to do everything with them instead of searching out someone new. With two friends, you’re set! Who needs anyone else?
As one, there were undoubtedly times when I just didn’t click with anyone I was meeting. Lonely happens. But also as one, I was adopted by couples, found it easy to integrate myself into a group, and realized that it’s really not weird at all to just say “hi” to someone else. Plus, it was that or stay lonely feeling bad for myself. It’s not a bad thing to be pushed outside of your comfort zone. The friends you naturally acquire from around the world will be an enormous, often lifelong reward.
WHAT TO BRING An open, positive attitude. Now I am certain that is the cheesiest thing I have ever written without allowing myself to immediately delete. You can check the weather reports and read endless books and blogs that advise you on all the clothes and gadgets perfect for your trip. Don’t forget good shoes and extra underwear and you’ll be ok.
Wherever you’re going, realize that the people you’re about to meet share a lot of the same worries and excitement. You’re not going to meet new people by sitting in the corner poking around on your Smartphone. I wish. I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work. The best advice I can give is to enter a room with the same expression you have when you’re walking into a party reception. Don’t waste time by sitting by the magazines. Find someone enjoying their beer at the bar, or the small group laughing and talking. Now, suck it up and introduce yourself. It’s a hostel, not your typical, cliquey American bar. Feel free to let me know if I’m wrong, but I feel confident I can promise you that’s all it takes. Confidence is a souvenir you’ll be leaving with you can’t plan on bringing home with you.