I started solo traveling in the summer of 2015. While the past couple years are only the beginning of my backpacking journey, I’ve been back and forth between China and Canada a good dozen times growing up. The initial years were filled with sobs and weariness, but moving about slowly became second nature.
So, it always surprises me when people ask me the same two questions.
Do you get lonely?
Is it safe?
But now I realize that I have long been accustomed to different settings and thus have unconsciously adopted a range of safety precautions- even defense mechanisms that keep me alive and running during some more adventurous trips.
To really dive into the nitty-gritty of female solo traveling does open up a much discussed, yet still questioned movement. Below, I will get into common questions, concerns, and tips for my fellow lady friends. Of course, some bits are applicable to all travelers regardless of gender.
Do you get Lonely?
There isn’t a straightforward answer to this question. When you are far from family and friends in a foreign city, it is a given that you may feel a bit of a heartache for some familiar company.
But truth be told, the amount of times I’ve felt fulfilled by a sight or a conversation with a stranger far outnumbers those periods of isolation.
Instead, you will meet a handful of people on the road who are willing to do things together. There are so many solo travelers out there looking to socialize with new people, it’s truly entertaining! Truth is, when you travel within a group, you tend to stick with the same people. Solo traveling gives you the best chance to meet your best friend/ partner/ soul mate. And if you don’t click, no strings attached. There will be another host/ traveler who wants to go visit the Big Ben at midnight on January the 4th, etc.
In addition, there are tons of travel meetups all around the world, e.g: Couchsurfing meetups. There are also a ton of female only travel groups on Facebook and other social media forums. Just post and viola, you have a new support group in the city.
Even if this doesn’t happen, solo traveling will truly put you into perspective. The freedom to appreciate your surroundings to your hearts’ desire is the humblest feeling. The whole experience will give you such fulfillment, on top of a strength and resilience unattainable elsewhere. To sum it up- my loneliness (if any) usually stems from unfamiliarity. But even this feeling is subordinated to my excitement and awe of the new place.
Is it safe?
I want to be completely honest and say that I’ve been in several unsafe situations. Blame it on my rashness but I really don’t make the smartest of decisions. However, there were several situations that were circumcisional as well. But since I am still alive and healthy, I guess I am doing something right.. even if it is largely luck!
I always back up my documents. Whether it be an extra print out of the flight ticket or hostel reservation, have it in a file folder in your most secure luggage. When moving to a new country, I generally have several printouts of my passport, driver’s license, visa and passport-sized head shots. These are needed to attain sim cards and other services in cities.
Of course, have these files in hard-copies as well as digital copies. Mail them to your family or friend to prevent the hassles in the case of an emergency.
Give your family a heads-up of your itinerary. Whether it be the arrival date or hostel address, let someone know your whereabouts on a regular basis. I tend to gain a friend in one location before moving onto the next. In case of emergencies, local contacts, and police support are much more useful than calling my family from some 3000 km away.
Travel insurance!! I can’t stress how important it is to get travel insurance beforehand and have their emergency contact number on you wherever you go. They saved me a good $7000 when I had an accident in Paris.
2. Blending in. (But not too much)
This is common sense for most, but being familiar with local customs is really important when it comes down to safety. Whether it be simple words or their wearables- respecting a countries’ culture will gain respect for you. Yet, it is also important to note that as foreigners, we do have some privileges while traveling. When I encounter situations where the whole ‘blending in’ situation isn’t working in my favor, I start speaking in English-and walking away. No need for a confrontation if it can be avoided!
3. The Resting Bitch Face + Smile
Another skill I’ve adopted is the ‘resting bitch face’. RBF basically means a facial expression that unintentionally appears angry, annoyed, or irritated. This may sound horrendous to some, but the most important thing when tackling a foreign street- especially in countries , where men tend to stare, is to appear confident. You may be completely lost, but don’t show it. Get into a store, sit down, drink some tea, ask the owner or consult your GPS, then get on with your day.
Yes! Smiles are just as important when getting others to help you out. But this also varies with country and custom. In some countries, smiling at men may initiate unwanted attention.
Always have a few separate places for your money. I generally have one of those under-the-shirt money pouches for larger bills and my passport. In my bag, I’d carry smaller change for purchases.
5. The Wedding Ring
As women in the West, we have a freedom many don’t experience in their customs. Traveling alone may bring about questions regarding a woman’s societal status. So, when needed, I’d wear a wedding band and say that I am meeting my husband in a few days. It may sound tedious to some, but it does earn us some autonomy and respect when navigating through cultures vastly different from our own.
6. Public Transportation and Accommodations
Ask to sit next to a woman on the bus/train if you’d like. Many are willing to lend a hand to foreigners. For longer journeys, I always ask if I can sit beside the bus driver if there is a free seat up front. I’d also tell them to give me a heads-up when we reach my stop, which generally comprises of me pointing at myself and repeating the destination a couple times like an idiot. I rarely take cabs when traveling. But when needed, do have a general understanding of how much the trip may cost. Ask the receptionist or your Couchsurfing host– even google online! I’d much prefer blablacar in Europe, uber or rickshaws in India.
Ask the hostel staff for a recommendation on restaurants, areas to avoid, and other general information. They usually know tons of stories travelers have endured. Hostels also provide maps and various flyers. I often ask the receptionist to pencil in the route I needed to take from the hostel to different points of interest. Remember to keep the address of the hostel with you at all times!
Trust your gut
If you are not comfortable, walk away. You are not obligated to answer a cat call or continue a dreadful conversation. If you feel that you are being rude, smile and say sorry. But be firm with your decision- no means no.
Lastly, if someone really wants to take your money or belongings, give it to them. Most won’t attempt to hurt you.
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