Recently I had the opportunity to do a segment on a local talk show called Let’s Talk Live! to discuss traveling solo! I was so excited, and it prompted me to write this post for women in particular who want to travel solo, but are maybe a little unsure about just going for it.
This is not a comprehensive guide; these are just some tips and tricks I’ve learned as a Southern lady traveling solo, safely and happily seeing the world!
- Be self-aware. The world is a wonderful place, but be smart and keep your guard up. Use your common sense and keep your visible valuables to a minimum when you travel. Use a purse that zips completely closed. Leave your nice jewelry at home. Basically act like a lady but think like a thief!
- Dress Conservatively. Do a little research on what’s acceptable for women to wear in the country you’re visiting. This is not an opportunity to exercise your women’s rights unless that country is exceptionally accepting of women. Many European countries are very progressive where women are concerned, but many Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern countries are less so. You can never go wrong with conservative clothes and even a scarf for extra coverage when necessary–like entering a religious site such as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul or the Taj Mahal in India.
This is what I had to wear in the Islamic Center in DC. Most Islamic houses of worship that I’ve been to provide coverings for women, but it’s always wise to bring your own. (The green scarf is mine!)
- Remember that you’re a visitor. It is someone else’s beautiful country that you’ll be staying in for a few days or weeks. Learn some of their customs before you go, and that will go a long way toward endearing yourself to the locals. People in most countries are delighted to hear someone attempting to speak their language. “Thank you” is the word I use most, no matter what language I’m trying to speak, and that’s the one word I try to learn no matter what! Be respectful of the people in the country you’re visiting and of their historic landmarks.
- Remember that many people in most popular tourist countries understand English, especially in big cities or touristy areas. So never EVER say something bad about a country or its people assuming the native people can’t understand you. They probably can.
This is my friend Bianca. She is Swiss. She fluently speaks more languages than there are continents, and she understands more languages than she speaks fluently.
- Learn to read a map! Just Google how to read a map if you seriously don’t know the basics. No one else has to know! It’s better to learn it before you go than stand in the middle of a sidewalk trying to figure it out on the spot.
- Don’t drink. This is a hard and fast rule with me. Even if you like to have a drink back home, and even if you know your limit, it’s much better to err on the side of caution with this one. You do not want to be traveling alone, think you can have one more, and then get lost going back to where you’re staying. I’ve heard lots of bad travel stories that started with, “Well I was just having a cocktail…,” but I’ve never heard a bad story that started, “Well, I had water with my supper and then went back to my hotel to put my pictures online.”
I went on a free walking tour in Warsaw, Poland, and we stopped into a bar to learn about Polish culture. The bar was open just for this afternoon tour; their real business hours started later in the day. The guide told us it was incredibly rude to say no when someone offers you a drink. The only exceptions are if you’re pregnant, or you don’t drink for religious reasons. So what did I do when it came to my turn? I said no because I don’t drink for religious reasons. Honestly, I don’t like to offend people, and my faith does not actually prevent me from ever having a drink, but I was not going to be having my first drink in a strange bar in a new country with people I’d known less than an hour! I was never going to see those people again, so I didn’t worry about it, even though the others gave me strange looks!
And even though I didn’t have a drink, I still got to see Poland’s Little Mermaid!
- Don’t ignore your gut. Women, we have intuition if we are willing to listen to it! If something just doesn’t seem right, it’s probably not. You are always better safe than sorry, literally every time.
- Don’t look like a tourist. Sometimes you can’t help it–when I travel to Asia or the middle east, my skin color and eyes just give me away! But if you try to blend yourself into the culture in other ways, you could be mistaken for a transplanted local. Act like you know where you’re going, dress like the locals, learn a few words in the local language, and please, keep your map and guidebook in your bag! Before you leave your hostel or hotel, study your guide book, figure out how to get to your first couple of sites, and then you can look at your guidebook when you go to the bath room or safely inside a restaurant. Unless you are truly lost, looking at your guidebook on the sidewalk will make you a target to any pickpockets within sight.
- Don’t be scared! For one thing, thieves, like animals, can sense fear. Don’t give them anything to work with. For another thing, fear will stop you from doing fun things! When I lived in Japan teaching English, I took a train up to Nagoya (Japan’s fourth largest city) on a day off. But I was so scared of getting lost and not finding my way back to the train station, I just stayed inside all day! There was a mall down there with miles and miles of stores and restaurants, but I don’t like shopping, so that was kind of a bust for me. But the next time I worked up the guts to go up to Nagoya, I decided I was going to explore. And it was awesome! I ate at some great places, walked to the Nagoya Jo (Nagoya Castle), and learned a lot about imperial Japan at a museum there. I could do it–and you can, too!
A rainy walk in Nagoya took me to the beautiful Nagoya Jo!
- Don’t forget to keep in touch. Your family, spouse, or friends back home will probably be a little (or a lot) worried about you traveling alone in a foreign country. So just make sure you stay in contact, at least once a day. E-mail, Facebook, and other social media are just about everywhere today, so make sure you take a few minutes to send off an “I’m having a great time!” sort of message.
What are some of your concerns about traveling alone as a woman? Or concerns you may have for your wife, mother, or daughter?