I love to travel and have ventured out alone many times. On my travels, it was apparent that thousands of women travel to various destinations around the world on their own, and do so successfully. Some may cringe at the thought of traveling to Europe solo, and granted bad things have happened to some, but it begins with common sense, good judgment, caution, your wits and being well prepared.
There is nothing more liberating than traveling to a foreign country. The self-reliance, confidence, and girl power that comes from such an experience is exhilarating. On the other hand, there is nothing more foreboding than landing in an unfamiliar country where you don’t speak the language or know their culture. A deluge of paralyzing thoughts and questions will rush through your head; WHAT am I doing here? Will I be safe? Will I meet nice people? Will I be robbed? What if I get in an accident? and the list continues.
The truth is, being a solo traveler means that you and you alone are responsible for yourself and your belongings. No one’s got your back. But one cannot embrace adventure while harboring fear. If you travel with the energy of fear, you’ll just attract bad people and situations. To land on different soil is to welcome new experiences, new cultures, new people, new food, and new memories, but with street-smart flair.
To avoid any unsettled feelings and trepidation about traveling solo, you need to plan ahead and get all your ducks in a row before you head out in the wild blue yonder. Here are a few basic travel tips.
Consider every aspect of your itinerary, like:
•which countries will you be traveling to
•how much currency will you be carrying
•where you’ll pick a SIM card
•where to buy a bus and train pass
•will you stay in hostels, Zimmer Frei’s, or hotels
•will you be walking or catching a connection at night
•which sights do you want to see
•are you sightseeing alone or with a tour guide
•and dozens of more points to ponder reflectively on where you’re going
This is not Kansas Dorothy!
Theft and harassment are two big concerns for women. In the US, assaults are common and they can get violent, but in Europe, you’ll rarely if ever, hear of violence. Even so, you’ll want to be alert and aware of your surroundings. Use your gut instincts and trust your innate spidey senses to judge whether a situation feels right. Always put yourself in a position where you’re likely to have control of the conditions, and you’ll have a safer, smoother, more enjoyable trip.
Be Street Savvy
I can’t say this enough, ‘Be Prepared.’ Have with you the needed maps, guidebooks, phrasebooks and enough cash so you don’t have to rely on anyone for help. Every European city I’ve been to has a tourist office where you can get maps, directions, and information on lodging, restaurants, shopping, markets, transportation and sights to visit.
Walk intentionally with your head up and look like you know where you’re going. Your gait and how your carry yourself shows just how confident you are or are not. If you happen to get lost or end up in an iffy neighborhood, ask another woman or a family for help. Or go into a restaurant or shop and ask for assistance. I got lost once and went into a gas station to ask for help, but no one would help me. So be aware that not all vendors are kind and helpful. Don’t panic though. In another village, I was unable to locate the tourism office, but a police officer showed me the way. If all else fails, the police will always assist you.
Bear in mind that if you’re not fluent in their language, resign yourself to the fact that you won’t always know what’s going on, but there’s no need to get uptight. That being said, many people abroad know English, and they won’t mind translating for you.
Also it very important to mention that if you need to get money from a cash machine, so do during the day when there are a lot of people around, and not in the evening.
Firstly and importantly, stay in contact with family and friends back home. Let them know your detailed itinerary and if you’re on schedule. They’ll have peace of mind and you’ll feel connected. They’re lots of wifi cafe’s that you can use free of charge or you may consider using a communications app while traveling.
If you’re taking a bus or train to your next destination, consider checking it out before your departure time. Get a sense of where things are and what services they offer. If you leave late at night, either hang out as long as you can at your lodgings or seek out busy Internet cafés where they’re open for long hours.
If traveling by train, avoid sleeping in an empty compartment at all costs. You’ll feel a lot safer sharing a compartment with a family or other women. You may also want to consider renting a couchette for overnight traveling. You can opt to stay in a compartment that you can lock and is monitored by an attendant for just a small fee. It’s safer and you can sleep with the knowledge that no one is going to steal your belongings.
Don’t be too casual with your personal belongings. It’s easy to get relaxed in your environment and leave your camera out or a bag unzipped, potentially exposing you as a target. Being leery about your surroundings should extend beyond your property.
Don’t be afraid to meet people and talk to them. Most people are more than willing to share information about their country and customs. Reach out and be friendly, but do so in public surroundings like streetside cafes.
Dress modestly and conservatively to minimize any unwanted attention. Observe what the local residents are wearing and emulate them. For younger women, even a plain outfit with sensible shoes may still draw unwanted attention. If going out for an evening, try to sit with a family or a large group.
Be aware that in some countries that making eye contact or smiling is considered an invitation. If you’re being bothered by someone, don’t worry about being overly polite. Use body language, facial expressions and say the word NO very firmly and loudly in their language. This is usually all it takes. It’s important to set your boundaries for your own protection. I would also suggest you carry a safety whistle; it would startle any would-be assailant.
Don’t over consume alcohol. Having one glass of wine socially is fine, but never allow yourself to be pressured into drinking more than you want. It impairs your judgment and inhibits your behavior. You don’t want your senses dulled where you drop your guard. It could lead to a regretful or embarrassing situation. Plus, never leave your drink unattended, it opens the opportunity for someone to slip a substance into your beverage.
Don’t be afraid to lie unreservedly. Don a wedding ring and carry a picture of your husband – whether either are real or fake. There’s no need to tell men or anyone for that matter that you’re traveling alone, or whether you’re actually married or single. You’re traveling with your husband, and he’s waiting for you at the hotel. Say he’s a professional bodybuilder or a cop for psychological reasons. This reminds me of one incident I had when I was in Frankfurt, Germany. I was taking a casual stroll around a peaceful park about a block from my hotel when a guy on a bike rode up. He chatted a lot and wanted to know way too much, so I told him that I’m only here to pick up my husband who was being released from prison after serving time for murder. Maybe a bit unnerving, but it’s the best I could come up with off the top of my head. Anyway, he rode off.
Other Things to Consider
*Avoid walking alone at night, especially in areas where there are less traffic and people.
*Carry a rubber doorstop to wedge from the inside of your room at night.
*Be vague about where you’re staying, some may ask and interfere with your stay.
*If you need help, reach out to the local embassy.
Traveling abroad is wonderful and rewarding. I’ve made many friends, learned a lot about their country and I’ve taken copious pictures that will fondly remind me of my travel experiences. But, the unexpected and unforeseen will inevitably surface on every trip, so it’s best to be as prepared as much as you can be for any scenario. Happy travels.