6 Tips For Women Travelling Alone - Part 1
The Wise Traveller presents Part 1 of our tips for the female solo traveller. Written by Gail Palethorpe one of our regular contributor, she has been travelling solo for many many years and she shares her experiences with these initial 6 tips.
I am not going to regurgitate the many pearls of wisdom for when you are traveling, as you can always read numerous tips on the many travel sites on-line.
Me, I have predominantly travelled as a "lone" female for years. I am still well and alive, and on this planet. So, this is totally focused on what I have learnt by trial and error, lots of errors I might add, on my solo female travel adventures.
Research your destination ad nauseam regarding its climate, customs, religions, accommodations, public and private transport, exchange rate, banking, and Internet access.
Be polite and learn at least how to say "hello" and "thank you" in the native tongue.
Keep with you (preferably in your bra as a bag can always get snatched) the address and contact telephone number of your country's embassy nearest to where you will be staying.
Photo copy your passport, travel insurance and itinerary and give one copy to a friend or relative. Scan (or even photograph them and upload them to your computer) a copy of all of these documents and email them to yourself. Put another copy in your suitcase, separate to the originals.
Do register with your government's traveller site so that your Embassy knows where you will be in case of an emergency of any sort whatsoever.
Do ensure that you have the correct visa for whatever country you are going to be visiting. For most countries, you can actually organise this on-line.
If you really are a weakling and have the time up your sleeve, take a self-defence class or depending on the length of your trip, take a short language course.
2. Travel Insurance
If a person cannot afford travel insurance then they should not be traveling. It is as simple as that. Ensure that you are covered for any sporting activity you may wish to indulge in and that you are covered for riding or being a passenger on a motorbike if in Asia. Above all, the provision for medical evacuation is a necessity.
As for that expensive camera that is too big to fit in your bag, hang onto it tightly and have separate cover for it.
In twenty years of travel I have had to use my travel insurance for:
• Handbag theft in Barcelona and it was the one time I let my guard down as I was with another person.
• Delayed luggage on a flight into Turin, Italy and another time flying into Prague, Czech Republic.
• I have been bitten by a dog in Chiang Mai, Thailand (a rabies hot spot) and I was covered for the subsequent expensive course of injections required to ensure I would not go rabid.
• I succumbed to dengue fever and had to have subsequent hospital visits.
• I have had a bowel infection and spent four nights in a hospital.
In short, I have had a combination of events, most of which were out of my control, which is why insurance is your best safeguard.
What To Pack
• Pack very lightly as you can always buy what you need.
• Don't take anything you don't want to lose.
• Pack minted tipped toothpicks for when you can't brush your teeth.
• Pack a whistle to be used to attract attention if needed
• Pack a torch with a bit of weight to it, it doubles as a weapon if need be.
• Take a large pack of tissues for multiple uses including as toilet paper.
• Take moisture wipes and hand sanitizer and use them.
• Sarongs are a travel essential, they double as a towel, scarf, skirt, or dress.
• Pack a heavy-duty padlock just in case your accommodation does not have a secure lock.
Luggage per se
• Buy luggage tags that have a flap to hide your name, address and telephone number.
• Take a photo of your luggage and email it to yourself.
• Keep luggage locked and two sets of keys in separate places.
• Always pack your own bag and then lock it straight away.
• Luggage on wheels saves the bother of trying to carry it.
• Buy a small waterproof bag with a neck or wrist strap for cash and a hotel key, and then you can even keep it with you when swimming.
• Upon arriving at your destination, go to a local grocery shop and make a small purchase, then carry this bag with your essentials in it, rather than a backpack advertising that you are a traveller.
You are not a courier; so do not carry anything for anyone, especially over a border.
• Prebook your first night's accommodation so that you have an instant crash pad.
• Never accept a room without an inside lock and secure windows, and avoid ground floor rooms.
• Ring housekeeping for service. Do not hang the "make up room" sign on your door, as this is a red light that you aren't in there.
• Ring your breakfast order or any food orders through to room service. If you hang a food order on the door, it is obvious that a single person occupies the room. Or, if you are a big eater, remember your imaginary friend and make it look like there are two of you in there.
• Hang the "do not disturb" sign on your door when you leave to go out and this will give the impression that you are in your room.
• Stay at Bed & Breakfasts rather than large impersonal hotels.
• Always carry a business card from where you are staying with their address on it and preferably in the local lingo.
• Only use legal taxi cars.
• If possible do not travel/walk alone at night.
• Do not arrive in an unknown city late at night without prearranged transport to your accommodation.
When on Public Transport
• If possible sit beside another female.
• Never catch a baby being thrown at you; chances are it is only a doll while someone else is busy picking your pockets.
• Don't tell everyone your life story, make one up if you want conversation, it is more fun that way.
• Ignore, ignore, ignore, you know you can. You do not have to respond to everyone that wants to start a conversation with you. Have a book and bury your nose in it and just "grunt" replies if need be.
• Getting touched up by the man behind you? Turn around and accuse him in a loud voice while pointing at him. He will quickly move away as he thinks you will not make a fuss.
• Need I say this one? Never hitchhike or accept lifts from strangers, even if they offer you boiled lollies!
When Hiring a Car
• Always travel with doors locked.
• Never let the petrol get below half full.
• Have a mobile phone or local one with the number of the car hire agency already put in it, just in case you break down.
• Duh... don’t pick up hitchhikers or offer "new" friends a lift.
• If your car gets "bumped" by another vehicle - do not get out, ring the hire company and get them to call the police and stay in your vehicle with doors locked.
6: Be a pseudo local:
- become a chameleon - no one knows who you are, so you can be who ever you want.
Choose your wardrobe carefully as you don't want to appear as a blond bombshell in a tight red dress when every other woman is wearing full head to toe black burqa. You will get stared at and spat on.
Essentially it is a case of "when in Rome, do as the Romans do", which is blend in with the women around you.
Roaming around Europe, ramp it up as much as you want and look like you belong in that fancy cafe or that top end clothing boutique.
Whereas in Asia, buy some cheap local clothing, which is what I normally do. Go for muted colors and loose designs, especially for comfort in tropical climates. Do an "Isadora Duncan" and wear a headscarf, just don't get strangled by it. A scarf and big dark sunglasses can hide a lot of facial features, especially if you are a redheaded blue-eyed Anglo Saxon in the wild hills of northern Vietnam.
Never pack or wear expensive jewelry and don't wear flashy fake jewelry, as sometimes it can be mistaken for being the real thing. I never wear any, other than maybe a local bracelet or necklace of no value whatsoever.
I know "runners" or "sandshoes" are the most comfortable for walking long distances when sight seeing, but the truth of the matter is that nothing will stamp you as a tourist more than this footwear, especially if you are in a European city. Men can get away with it, but women, you are waving a red flag that you do not belong. Alternatives would be flat shoes such as "ballet" style shoes, or if your arches won't withstand these, then wear some stylish walking boots.
Asia is easy, thongs, flip flops, sandals and more thongs...........or bare feet when it is safe to do so. Also, do not wear shoes into a home or a place of worship in Asia; all shoes are left at the front door. Another reason not to pack your scrumptious Manolo Blahniks, they might walk off of their own accord. So it is definitely the land of slip on footwear, unless you want your rear in the air as you do up an anklet strap.
Ladies, please take note that stilettos and open floorboards which is the common flooring at beach clubs, do not mix. I have seen many a woman walk "out" of her gorgeous high heels as the heel has been caught between the floorboards. By the time you manage to pull the shoe out, the leather on that amazing heel is ruined. Best shoe for clubbing in is a slip on wedge as high as you like. I always wear my thongs, carrying my wedges to put on when I arrive, as the roads or footpaths are a minefield of cracks and crevices. Torn ankle ligaments or a broken ankle is not on my bucket list of things to achieve. On this note, take a plastic bag to put your thongs in once you arrive and make sure your handbag is big enough to hold them.
Habits - not of the nasty kind
Once you are over the jetlag, create your own morning rituals so that you do not "waste" your holiday time. I always scout out the best cafe for coffee and make this my first morning destination. I preferably look for somewhere off the tourist track and where expatriates appear to congregate. If no expats, go where the locals go. Make an effort to talk to the staff, as they are a great source of local information. This is when you can spread a map out or read a guidebook and plan your day. If you are in an expat environment, I have found that they love to share their knowledge with you.
When I was in Mandalay in Myanmar I made a point of having what can only be called "the worst coffee in the world" sitting on a kiddie's plastic chair in a humpy on the side of the road by the river each morning. I was always the only farang, but the locals loved me for it. The minute I began to interact with the kids who were fascinated with me, their mothers joined in. I shared many hilarious moments with them as we attempted to communicate in pigeon English. I managed to replace my homely ritual of coffee with the girls, to coffee with the "natives".
Be observant and read the body language of the people around you. This is one habit that you should foster, as it is exactly what muggers or potential scammers do.
Trust your gut instincts if you feel in any way threatened. If someone is being overtly friendly, it may be for a reason and not a pleasant one for you.
Habitually keep in mind the boy's saying of "spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch" and ensure that you always collect all of your belongings wherever you may have been sitting, especially if in a taxi or on a bus.
- women are good at telling little fibs
If you are asked what you do for a living and you are unsure of the person asking, make up an occupation that carries some weight behind it. Such as a judo instructor or a policewoman. If the person enquiring had any devious reason for doing so, he may think twice at such an answer.
Wear a fake wedding ring and it might make a man think twice about approaching you. But this ploy I have found, does not always work in your favour.
Make up an imaginary friend that you are travelling with, you know like the ones you had as a child. Your friend could be off having a haircut or back at the hotel sleeping.
If you want to get rid of someone talking to you on the street, walk in to the nearest hotel and pretend it is where you are staying. Once inside ask the receptionist to call you a taxi.
Want to read more? Click here for Part 2 of A Solo Females Travel Bible