Thursday, January 10, 2008

Seven top tips for solo women travellers

Travelling solo is one of the most extraordinary and rewarding experiences you'll ever have. But, it can also be quite daunting, and doing so as a woman often complicates matters even further.

From being groped walking through a park in Athens to being harassed by gun-toting border officials in Transdniestr and propositioned for sex in the Ukraine, I’m well aware of the pitfalls of travelling solo as a woman. Frustrating as it is, women continue to face more challenging situations when travelling than men do. But don’t let that stop you. Simply by taking a few precautions you can make your trip easier. So to help you out here are my seven top tips for women travellers.

1. Dress appropriately
Leave the revealing clothing at home! Clothing that is fashionable and appropriate for us to wear at home may project a provocative image in another culture. Some cultures find it an offensive or even enticement, for women to wear short skirts, shorts or even bathing suits. If you're unsure, take your cues from the local women who set the standard for what attire is acceptable. Also, you might want to consider wearing a wedding ring. While I haven't tried this yet myself (mind you, I'd often wished I had!), many woman travellers have found that a ring can quickly deflect unwanted attention.

2. Carry a personal safety device
Avoid walking around on deserted streets after dark – even if you are with a companion. If you can't, then carry a small flashlight or other personal safety device in your hand. Even a simple whistle may cause just enough of a distraction to give you a chance to escape an unpleasant situation.

3. Exude confidence
When travelling alone (or even with a group) act confident and adopt a no nonsense attitude. Walk with purpose and look like you know where you're going – even if you don't! That way, you'll be less of a target for hustlers who prey on disoriented tourists. Also try to avoid looking at maps while you're in the street. Study your route before hand, or find one of those wallet-sized maps which you can discreetly refer to if necessary.

4. Stick with a group
It is unlikely that you will be approached or harassed if you're in the company of other people. So try to sit or stand next to other women or family groups in restaurants, on trains or buses, and in other public places.

5. Watch your back
If you are being followed duck into a nearby shop and wait until the person has passed. If a situation of harassment escalates, making a scene can sometimes be effective as many societies place a high premium on respecting social norms. Learn to say the phrase, “Go away!” in the local language and use it firmly. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

6. Lose the handbag
Unless you want to impress the young fashionistas of Paris or Milan - lose the handbag. It is not uncommon for a would-be thief to cut the straps of a handbag and then disappear into a thick sea of bodies with all your valuables. The best way to avoid this is to wear a money belt. However, constantly reaching under your shirt for money draws attention to it and tends to defeat the purpose. So carry enough money in a small, easily accessible money pouch or purse that will cover all incidental daily expenses.

7. Use common sense
Using common sense is perhaps the single best tip for staying safe and having a good time while you're travelling alone. This includes the usual recommendations: don't walk around late at night, don't drink with strange men, don't ride in empty compartments on trains, and don't compromise safety to save a few bucks on a hotel or transportation.

The key is to maintain awareness while not becoming overly paranoid. After all, travelling is meant to be fun!

An edited version of this article is on MSN NZ Travel


Anonymous said...

Great article...especially the realization of talking more about people encounters....are there some countries that are more inviting of visitors than others? Also, is traveling with a group ultimately better that traveling alone....?

Aspirant world galavanter

Kim Wildman said...

Interestingly enough, the most welcoming country I have been to was Libya. Perhaps this is because they have so few tourists that I was a bit of a novelty. But it really was refreshing to have everyone I met so willing to help me out and show me around and not expect a thing, apart from a heart-felt thank you, in return. So my biggest bit of advice is that Westerner travellers really need to let go of preconceived ideas about other countries before venturing out into the world.

As to travelling with a group, it is always great to be able to share the experience with others. One of my loneliest moments was, after spending five weeks travelling solo around a country where I couldn’t speak the local language, stumbling across an amazing sight and turning around to tell someone about it and then realising that I was alone. On the other hand, I have also had some of my best experiences when I’ve been by myself, mostly because local people have been more willing to open up their hearts and homes to me. So don’t be put off travelling solo. A word of warning though, you do need to be careful with who you choose to travel with as your best friend may not be the best travel partner and you might find you need a new friend when you come home.