As female travellers we’re told to watch our purses, hold our drinks to our chests, and basically never talk to anyone ever because they’ll probably kill you.
While being safe should always be a priority, you shouldn’t play it so safe that you don’t get to enjoy all your destination has to offer – or never leave home at all.
Here are some tips that can help you take on the exciting opportunities of solo travel without putting yourself in harm’s way.
SIZE DOES MATTER
At least when it comes to accommodation, anyway. Hostels are a solo traveller’s haven, as they offer semi-communal living with people from all over the world.
While standards can vary, many are very safe and often offer female-only dorms, enabling you to meet other like-minded ladies. And no matter how shy you may be, walking into a shared bedroom with four other strangers will force you to socialize.
When I entered my dorm room on my first day in Sydney and saw a lovely Swedish girl in nothing but her underwear, I had no choice but to loosen up… and wonder if I was being filmed.
KISS – KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID
We all want to avoid being a tourist cliché, but there is something to be said for staying in the centre of town, close to public transportation and/or major attractions.
Have you ever been in a new place, hopped in a taxi, and had to give directions to where you’re staying? Well, it can be pretty tough when you don’t even know where you are.
If you’re staying near a major landmark or in a well-known hostel, someone will always be able to guide you back, and it’ll be easier for you to get your bearings.
FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT
Both at home and abroad, unwanted sexual advances are annoying. However, most men can be easily detoured if you are polite (but not too friendly), and direct.
If you really get desperate, I suggest creating a fake boyfriend. When I’m in a situation where I can’t leave quickly and the guy won’t let up, I just tell him I have a boyfriend who wouldn’t appreciate me going out with anyone else.
Usually he’ll leave when you seem to be taken, or at least get bored when you go on and on about your “great guy”.
For the record, my fake boyfriend’s name is Michael and he’s very jealous and controlling, but I love him. He’s also joining me on my trip in a week, but couldn’t come yet because he’s a doctor and has to take care of his patients.
TABLE FOR ONE
For some people, sitting in a restaurant alone can be terrifying, primarily because you think everyone’s staring at the “loner girl”. This is not true!
Breakfast and lunch are often the easiest times to eat out alone, as there are many solo diners at this time. Many restaurants are also cheaper earlier in the day, enabling you to save money while trying great new cuisine.
I always carry a book or a magazine with me, so that I can focus on something as I eat. If you didn’t leave room in your rucksack for books, pick up a local newspaper.
You’ll keep busy and learn a bit about current events and local issues, which will make you a delightful dinner companion when you make a new friend.
DON’T DRESS TO IMPRESS
In many places there are codes of conduct and dress for women in various public venues, and it would be wise to read up on them before your trip.
Not only will you adapt more easily, but you will also be displaying a respect for the culture in which you have chosen to partake.
Scarves are an excellent accessory, allowing you to wrap your shoulders and hair when entering a sacred place or simply cover your head
in the rain.
ACCESSORIZING IS KEY
Losing travel documents sucks. But nothing can kill the buzz of a good time like clutching your bag for fear of losing everything that verifies your identity.
I carry a small knit purse that has been with me from New York City to New South Walesbecause it fits snugly under a shirt and can’t be snatched.
This has enabled me to enjoy countless nights of dancing without keeping my eye on my zipper. It’s also way more attractive than one of those money belts that my mother wears – and we all know that’s what really matters.
You should always have two forms of ID, and only carry one of them when going out and about.
GET A LAY OF THE LAND
When I arrived in Australia, I settled in Sydney because I knew people there and was scared of being alone.
I arrived with a master plan: Find an apartment. Find a job. Meet Bindi the Jungle Girl when she was visiting Sydney.
I’d had my mind set on living in Sydney, but didn’t actually know if I’d like it – after all, I’d never been there before.
Apartments turned out to be expensive, temp agencies weren’t hiring, and Bindi wasn’t returning my calls. It wasn’t until the end of my holiday that I visited Melbourne, Darwin, andNew Zealand.
I fell in love with Melbourne’s creative scene, and I also learned that Darwin had more available jobs than they had crocodiles.
For those in it for a longer haul, I’d advise starting your working holiday with some travelling. You’ll meet tonnes of people (avoiding that lonely feeling), and visit different areas before settling down, helping you get to know the entire region and not just the big city you flew into.
Bars and clubs can be dangerous for women, whether you’re a local or a visitor. If you really enjoy going out at night, choose a hostel with a bar on site – you can meet people without straying too far, and if your group decides to head elsewhere, you have newfound friends.
Regardless of where you party, be sure to keep your beverage with you, and if someone you don’t know offers to shout, go with them when they order (you can feign indecision or offer to help carry glasses if you don’t want to seem rude).
Sure, I left my hometown of New York City because of some outstanding warrants. But that doesn’t mean my friends don’t wonder about my whereabouts, and my mom doesn’t want constant updates.
When travelling alone, it’s good to fill people back home in on what you’re doing, at the very least for safety reasons. While you may not have everything planned out, forwarding your itinerary, flight information, and/or the contact information for a few pre-booked hostels means that someone will know what you’re up to and when to expect you back.
If you veer off course suddenly – or if your phone dies while hiking a glacier – no one will think you’re dead in a ditch.
LET YOUR GUARD DOWN
This bit of advice may seem silly after all this talk of precautions and tricks to stay safe. However, the most important thing you can do when travelling on your own is to take everything in.
You’ll be amazed by the generosity of people who will offer to help you. I’ve made great friends who were also on the same tour as I was, and developed friendships born out of a shared love of adventure.
I’ve also met locals who noticed I was taking notes or overheard my accent, and started chatting.
If you spend your whole trip eyeing people suspiciously, not only will you meet no one, but you won’t relax long enough to make the most of your journey.
Whether it’s just a week-long trip up the coast or a six-month tour around the whole country, there’s no doubt you’ll be different – and a bit wiser – by the end of it.