Fears and Solutions for Solitary Women Travelers
In my travels, I have come across single women around the world who say, “I’d like to travel, but I don’t have anyone to go with.” Having traveled alone, I asked what was stopping them. What I found was a mixture of fears and concerns:
Amanda Heckart from California shared, “My biggest fear is looking like a tourist because it seems to lend itself to safety issues. Will I get mugged because I look like I don’t belong? If I get lost, will I be able to find someone approachable for help? Do I have adequate resources or access to resources if I need them?” In my experience, blending in is helpful, but not required. Looking like a backpacker, for example, does not make you a target, as long as you travel modestly, without jewelry and name brand everything. Backpackers in general travel with little money or valuable belongings, therefore, pose no threat in this role. Don’t wear diamonds, or other expensive jewelry or watches. Also, be careful about flashing iPhones, iPads, or other expensive electronics. In certain countries, those devices, if stolen, could feed a family for a year. Don’t tempt them.
Fake it ‘till you make it
If you are in a big city or high crime region, looking like you know what you are doing can help make you a hard target. For example, if you are lost, walk as if you aren’t, taking in each sign and landmark. Then, when there is a public servant, or someone that you feel is approachable, ask which direction your desired destination is. In most regions I have visited, it’s okay to get confused. If you are lost, it’s no big deal. There have always been people who have been helpful re-directing me. More often than not, the train or bus map is simple and no help is needed. Only in areas that seem a bit rough, or have moderate crime do I put on a hard face and walk with purpose.
Work Smarter, Not Harder: Know Your Resources
There are always a variety of resources to help guide you. Train and bus schedules, travel guidebooks, transportation apps, and online resources (i.e.Europe train guide). One of the first things I do in a new country is buy a SIM card (called chips in many areas). All you need is an unlocked GSM phone that operates in the correct bandwidth. Go to www.phonearena.com and enter your phone into the search engine to see which bandwidth your phone supports, then look up which bandwidths are used in the country desired. Once I have a SIM card, the Google Maps app will track me, providing me the peace of mind that I can always figure out where I am. Also, it’s handy to have the ability to make arrangements with hotels in-country.
Another huge resource is travel groups. If you’re uninterested in shouldering all of the responsibilities: reservations, transportation, managing language barriers, and choosing things to do, then sign up for a group travel experience. You will make friends, and experience a stress-free way of travel. Niche group travel is a billion dollar industry because it works. You can find an experience that suits you, such as: adventure travel, wine and food tours, family-centered travel, gay and lesbian travel, singles groups, and so on!
Knowing your resources are important from the very conception of your travel plans. For example, if you’re a gay individual, research gay and lesbian travel in the country that you are considering. There are still numerous countries around the world that can jail, or kill you, for being gay. Research how safe a country is by reading current events and referencing the American Citizens Services (ACS) site. The site will provide a back group on safety and security, embassy and consulate information, visa information, anticipated threats to US citizens, and even immunization requirements.
Jennifer Lane, from Tennessee, stated that her biggest fear would be “Losing my passport and contact information for people back home.” It does happen, on occasion, that people loose their passport. It is a huge inconvenience, but not a danger. You simply need to proceed to the nearest embassy or consulate and apply for a rushed replacement passport. Always have your contact information and copies of your identification in more than one place. Copy your passport, drivers license, insurance card, and credit cards, and place a copy of each in your checked bag and your carryon. That way, if your luggage is lost, you will still have copies. Leave a copy of each with a loved one in your home country. Make sure that you have your contact information saved on a cloud site, like dropbox.com, so that you can access it from any computer around the world.
Turning Fears into Strengths
Marta Nguyen-Lopez and Michelle Cook Jones expressed concerns of abduction, kidnapping, or other sexual assault. In my experience, this is the most common fear among women. There is a way around it. Face the fear rationally. When would you be most concerned about sexual assault? Most would answer, late at night. Therefore, take care when you choose to venture out after dark. Retire early and start your days earlier. Or, if you are a night owl, join couchsurfing.org, and connect with other solo travelers in groups. Hire a cab door to door. Kachina Victoria, from New York, suggested taking a self defense course, so that you are more equipped to handle yourself. In addition, research weapons laws to see if it is permitted to carry pepper spray or a similar substance to provide added security. If your fear is bus terminals, then hire shuttle vans to deliver you door to door. As you travel, and successfully progress from points A to B, you will find that these fears will absolve. Soon, buses won’t be scary, and you will no longer look over your shoulder. Each of these solutions is designed, to not only protect, but to provide peace of mind. I’m now married, but I’ve never had an issue traveling as a single woman. After each trip, I returned stronger, more empowered than ever!
There are thousands of countries in this world to see. If, after researching a country, you are left feeling unsettled or nervous, then move onto another one. Read blogs of recent women travelers to your desired country. Find a place that offers the natural assets, activities, and culture that you are comfortable or curious about. Remember, travel is a way to stretch yourself, but you are in control of how extreme you want to make the experience. Traveling from the United States to Cancun is very different from traveling to India. Vinicio Field, from California, currently living in Asia, states, “The local laws against women could be a fear in certain places in the Middle East and South East Asia.” Make sure you research what you are in for before you purchase your ticket. While travel, in and of itself, will take you outside of your comfort zone, make sure that you don’t bite off more than you can chew on your first few trips.
Erica Lagler-Ferrez worries, “I would’t have the comfort of a companion to share the memories with.” I can’t argue, that experiences feel more real when they are shared with someone that you care about. The beauty of social media is that we can share our experiences with people around the world. On countless occasions, I have entered a cafe to find a European or American on their smart devices Skyping with loved ones. They catch them up on their experiences of the last day or two and show them the panoramic “now” via live feed. With Facebook, Instagram, Skype, Travel Blogs, and Twitter we essentially are not alone. While you can’t wrap your arms around another and breathe in the view together (unless you meet someone that you are keen on), social media provides a nice way to share the experience. Create a travel blog for yourself and others. This way, all of your friends can follow your travels. Practically speaking, you won’t be able to keep up with your entire network. Those that don’t receive the elaborate Skype updates can follow via your travel blog. Additionally, at the end of your adventures, you will have a record of your experiences to pass on to future generations.
Traveling affords a way, unmatched, to learn about the world and yourself. You have a choice to live in fear, or accomplish your dreams. Work smarter not harder, know your resources, fake it ‘till you make it, choose best, and stay connected! I can’t wait to hear about your adventures.
Shannon Enete is the author of Becoming an Expat: Costa Rica.