Here’s a surprise: two-thirds of today’s independent travellers are women – and half of them are going it alone. So there’s nothing to challenge the globetrotting girl on the go – especially once you’ve taken on board our straightforward tips for successful solo travel…
Do your research
First off, get hold of a guidebook designed for independent spirits, because that will list the hotels, hostels and hangouts where single travellers tend to gather. We’re talking Lonely Planet rather than Berlitz; Rough Guide rather than Blue Guide.
If you plan on being in one destination for more than a week or two, cultivate some contacts before you travel. Several websites aim to “match up” solo travellers for pre-trip advice or hosting, including www.womenwelcomewomen.org.uk and www.hermail.net. You could choose to do a volunteering stint in your chosen destination, a cookery class, language school or social group that matches your profession. These can all give you a head start finding travelling partners if you think you might want some company. Websites such as www.journeywoman.com and www.transitionsabroad.com are also packed with networking ideas.
When in Rome…
Gen up on the cultural norms of your chosen destination, especially on how women dress and interact. Aim to blend in – that way you’ll make friends rather than attract attention.
It’s not just the Middle East and parts of Asia where women dress more conservatively: Africans and South Americans also tend to frown on the display of too much bare flesh. Favour muted colours, get yourself a low-maintenance hairstyle, and go easy on the bling. Dress up your travelling clothes with a scarf rather than ostentatious jewellery – though a simple ring can come in handy, especially if you wear it on the third finger of your left hand!
A nice idea is to get some “business cards” printed before you go with your name and email address, to hand out to all the new friends you’ll meet along the way.
Carrying as little as possible is not only more practical, it is safer too. You’ll be quicker on your feet with a single backpack – maybe choose a model that has built-in wheels – than if you’re trying to keep tabs on several bags. Clothes are better rolled than folded – less space, fewer wrinkles – and clothes pegs and a stretch of line can be handy for laundering on the move. Take travel-size toiletries and refill as you go.
For protection against pickpockets, invest in a cotton money-belt or neck pouch for your money, cards and passport, then stash some lose change in a small bag, so you’ve something to hand if you need it. You can also buy bags with slash-proof panels and straps, for extra security against opportunistic thieves.
Digs and dinners
It’s fine to be footloose, but always book your first night’s accommodation before you arrive at your next destination. This way you’ve got a base from the word go, and there’s no danger you’ll be wandering around in a late-night panic, looking for digs. Choose lodgings in a buzzy neighbourhood to avoid lonely late-night walks home, and punch the hotel’s number into your cellphone for a speedy emergency contact.
Try to avoid big, impersonal hotels. In smaller guesthouses, the staff will look out for you, and there’s more chance you’ll get talking to fellow travellers over breakfast. The same goes for restaurants: look for family-friendly places, perhaps with communal tables that encourage mingling.
On the street, make like a local: walk purposefully and be confident and no-nonsense in your dealings with people. If you need to check the map, duck into a shop or café before you do so. If you’re worried about bag-snatchers, you could even buy something from a local grocery shop and pop your camera and guidebook into the plastic bag you’re given. Hey presto… you look like a local!
In airports and stations, keep your belongings in front of you, and make a beeline for other women or families, so you appear less isolated. Only take cabs from a registered rank – and if you’re worried, ask someone from your hotel to walk you to the car. Be extra cautious when accepting a drink from strangers, and keep an eye on the time: a crowded market can quickly morph into a deserted backstreet after nightfall.
Meeting and greeting
With all those other solo women on the road, you’re unlikely to lack for travelling partners. Even so, when you meet someone new, always plan to rendezvous in a neutral venue, preferably a busy one; and until you’re very confident about your new friend, never divulge your hotel room number, or your travel plans for the days ahead.
In some cultures, men can read the wrong signals from a casual chat with a single female. Keep things formal at first, and involve several people in your conversation. And if you should get into a scrape – if you fear you’re being followed, harassed or worse – never be shy to make a show of yourself. Ask for help from whoever is in earshot: yell, scream, whatever it takes. A bit of public embarrassment will generally warn off sleazy types – and it’s not going to kill you. Failing that, you’d be amazed how much damage a carefully placed umbrella can do!
Are you planning on travelling in 2010? If so we’d love to hear where you’re going and what you have planned – just leave your comments below.
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