This is a blog post I have been toying with for a while. I was originally going to write about travelling solo but decided to focus on travelling solo as a woman. There are many people out there (sorry men!) that might ask why I would focus on a specific gender, but to tell you the truth, there is a difference.
This week was International Woman’s Day. I am not very vocal in regards to politics or hot topics over on my Instagram, I am a fairly lighthearted person with a love of history, so I focus on that instead. Oh yes, and one time I wrote something negative about Donald Trump and got told off a few times, it was then I took my political hat off and put it into a drawer under lock and key.
However, seeing as over 75% of my followers are women and of a similar age to me, I thought I would write a quick list of all the things I do, as a woman, to keep myself as safe as possible so I can enjoy my travels.
I am a big believer in solo travel, whether you are in a relationship or not, it is a great experience. I get people messaging me on the daily asking how I cope by myself, do I feel safe? Do I got out and eat alone? Do I ever socialise with anyone?
The first time in my life I realised men could be scary (not all men, I know) was when I was 10 years old practising for sports day on the school field. My all female class was approached by a middle-aged man, wearing nothing. That’s right, he was completely starkers. I am pretty sure this is the first time in my life I had seen the anatomy of an adult male, and what a way to be introduced to it. This man had broken into the school grounds through a hedge and thought it was a good idea to chase some ten-year-old girls and show us what his mother gave him. Gross. The police came and we were offered counselling. Luckily I found the whole thing amusing, immaturity saved me, as at that age it never crossed my mind it would have been motivated for sexual reasons.
There have sadly been many times since this I have felt intimidated, been touched inappropriately, hollered at, and seen a man naked without asking for it, all in public! Because of this, I tend to be on high alert a lot of the time, and this does affect the way I travel.
Chatting to Strangers
One of the reasons I like to travel alone is because I like peace and quiet, I am very happy in my own company. For this reason, I put my headphones in when using public transport as it helps me look unavailable. This isn’t for everyone, so if you are up for a conversation, smile at people and put those headphones away, a scowl won’t get you anywhere. I actually ended up having a fantastic conversation with a man on the Eurostar home from Brussels the other week. As soon as I removed my headphones to ask for a cup of tea, he started talking to me. See, the headphones really do work as a deterrent! Perhaps I am cutting myself off too much, but I tend I feel fairly vulnerable when I’m alone.
Another thing I tend to avoid is walking around after dark, but this is much easier said than done when it’s winter and the night is drawing in at 4 o’clock. I am a big believer in trusting your instinct, I plan my travel so that I arrive into a destination in the morning or early afternoon. It gives me a good few hours to suss a place out so I can make an informed decision on whether I am happy walking around in the dark or not. For example, after spending a day in Florence (a city that I love by the way!), I chose to go back to my hotel at 5 o’clock and not leave again, my gut told me not to go back out. However, when I travelled to Bruges and Amsterdam, I was more than happy to trot around in the evening and felt safe doing so. On days I choose to stay in at night, I will either eat at the hotel or order a takeaway to my room!
What To Wear
No matter where in the world I am travelling, I will take a bag that I can strap across me. This means no one can run up to me and snatch my bag out my hand or off my arm. Luckily for me (touch wood), I have never been mugged or even pickpocketed whilst abroad or at home, but I have met people along the way that have had their bags stolen. Whilst travelling through Asia, my husband and I met more than one person who had their bag stolen by people driving past on mopeds.
Also, be mindful of where you are travelling to and what jewellery you have on. The UK is a first world country so walking past someone with a diamond on their finger is not out of the ordinary. However, we are extremely fortunate to have been born into a country where that is normal, there are plenty of places in the world in which people are starving, living in poverty, and crime is their only way of getting by. My friend had her watch stolen in Rio de Janeiro without even realising. She didn’t feel a thing when a stranger used a knife to cut her watch off her wrist, he was long gone by the time she had processed what just happened.
On top of that, you need to be aware of the religion of the country or area you want to visit. You must respect other cultures, if you want to travel to the Middle East for example, it is polite to cover your knees and shoulders, if you are going to enter a mosque then cover your hair too. It’s not about being suppressed, it’s about respecting the country you are visiting. In many South-East Asian countries, you must remove your shoes before entering a temple, and cover your shoulders as you would in a Catholic Church. Make sure you check what clothes you will need before you travel.
Accidents happen, things get lost, so make sure you have a copy of all your important documents. During the day, store your passport in a secure place like a hotel safe. Make multiple photocopies of your ID, passport and travel documents that you can take out with you, or use if the unthinkable happens to the original documents.
It is also useful to keep important numbers stored in your phone, such as your country’s embassy number, local emergency number, and a contact for your travel insurance.
Learn Key Phrases
Coming from England, I don’t speak other languages very well. However, I would advise you to learn specific phrases, keep them stored in your phone if you don’t think you will remember them. These could be simple phrases such as ‘Where is the train station?’, or it could be more serious ones like ‘where is the nearest police station?’, or telling someone you are in trouble.
Opportunist criminals will be on the lookout for vulnerable women, keep confident. If you are approached by someone that is giving you the creeps, be firm, and try as hard as you can to tell them to go away in their own language.
Know Where You Are Going
Due to recent law changes, those living within the EU can use their phones in any EU country at no extra charge. This is fantastic but it is easy to forget when we leave the EU, data becomes expensive again. Make sure you load offline maps before you travel, that way you don’t need to rely on strangers or taxi drivers for directions. I feel much safer if I get into a foreign taxi and know exactly where I am going. I am not saying they will drive off, kill you, and dump your body if you don’t know where you are going, but they can take advantage of your naivety and either take you somewhere else or take you on a wild goose chase and charge you for it. Be aware of your surroundings and note down places you should be passing, so if you don’t recognise the route, you can speak up.
If you do get lost, go to a public area and walk into a restaurant or cafe and ask for directions, don’t just walk up to a stranger in the street. There are countries where people will take advantage of your lack of knowledge. I have heard horror stories, particularly in Marrakesh, in which women (and men) have been led down strange alleyways and then harassed for money in order to help them get back out again.
This is one major hurdle I had to overcome. I was embarrassed to go into a restaurant and ask for a table for one. I used to hide behind a book or my laptop so I could look busy. I genuinely believed all the waiters and waitresses assumed I had been stood up or had no friends, but let’s be real. They are doing their jobs and could not care less whether you are a table of 1 or a table of 25. I have actually had some great conversations about my travels to interested waiting staff.
Using Dating Apps
I understand that we all travel differently, and some like to travel alone whilst meeting people along the way. I know people who use dating apps like Tinder to meet up with local people, learn more about them, and enjoy dinner with someone else. If you want to do this, make sure you are meeting up in a public place. Sadly, there are women who have ended up on Tinder dates abroad, gone back to their hotel/home and not made it out alive. Recently there was a story in the media about a British girl backpacking through New Zealand. She ended up on a date with a guy that appeared very normal, tragically she did not make it out that hotel alive. That was not her fault, but it is a warning to all men and women that not everyone is who you think they are. Please exercise caution, no matter the temptation. Think about the information you are giving out too, there is no point in being cautious and meeting in a public place, to then let them know where you are staying and how you are getting back.
Chat to Hotel Staff
If I ever have an issue, the first people I go to is the hotel staff. It is important to also inform them you are travelling alone, tell them when you are leaving the hotel, where you plan on going, and when you plan on coming back. I would rather give this information to female staff than male. If you don’t come back to the hotel at the time you say, or at all, the staff will be able to contact emergency services on your behalf and give them as much useful information as possible.
Keep in Touch with Friends and Family
Every morning I am away, I will tell Alex my plan for the day. Similar to how I would tell hotel staff, this just means he will be able to sense when something is out of the ordinary, or if I go off the radar. Hopefully, none of this is necessary, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Reading through this you might think it is all a little extreme. However, I would rather be overcautious than under. I have never had anything horrific happen to me, but I have been groped (this seems to always happen on public transport), I have been purposefully intimidated by men who were angry that I did not accept their advances or show interest back, and I have felt generally unsafe on numerous occasions.
I enjoy my solo travel and I would encourage anyone else to try it. It is liberating and can really help build your confidence. You are your own boss and for that time you are away, you can pace yourself exactly how you like. For those who worry about me when I am away, please don’t. I enjoy it, I am happy, I like my own company, and I am very happy to get into bed at 7pm after a long day exploring and catch up on TV that Alex does not want to watch.