Bad things can happen when you travel. Bad things can also happen at home. Let’s be honest: you can minimize risks, but there is no guarantee that anywhere in the world will be 100% safe. You can get hit by a bus when you walk out of your own front door. Should fear stop you from travelling? No. But it is a good idea to understand the possible risks of visiting any country, or doing any activity; and to take precautions.
So here, a few tips for your solo trip:
Be Aware, But Not Afraid.
Be cautious, but not paranoid. When you are aware of your surroundings, you walk around with confidence, you notice what goes on around you, but you do not look afraid – you are less likely to be harassed if you look confident and if you act like you know where you’re going. Staying aware of your surroundings means noticing anything odd (like that dodgy guy who has been walking a few steps behind you for half an hour, for example). Being cautious means avoiding taking unnecessary risks, walking away from possibly dangerous situations, trusting your instinct when you meet someone you are not quite sure about – but don’t be so paranoid you cannot enjoy your time. Some people are great, some people are not so great, and most of us have a gut instinct about people and situations. We just have to listen to that gut instinct and take it seriously. If a person feels “wrong”, leave. If a situation feels weird, leave. If the cheap hotel you booked for the night feels unsafe, find another place to stay.
Use Common Sense
Would you walk around drunk and half-naked in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar neighbourhood in your home country or home city? No? Then don’t do it in a country or city you have just arrived in. Ideally we could all walk around drunk whenever and wherever we want to, wearing whatever we want to, at any time of the day or night. Unfortunately the world does not work like that.
Don’t go swimming naked in moonlight on a beach in Goa, however romantic that sounds. Don’t accept drinks from random strangers. Make sure you have safe transport back to your hotel if you have to be out late. Don’t tell people you’ve just met in a bar that you’re travelling alone, and don’t proceed to give them the address to your hotel if you’ve just told them you’re on your own! When I travel alone, I don’t usually go out in the evening much. If I do, I go with people I trust. I tend to get back to the hotel quite early, have an early dinner and not venture out to the city too late, especially if I don’t know the city well.
Keep in Touch
If you’re heading out on your own for a daytrip or even a longer trip, let someone you trust know where you have gone and when to expect you back. Tell someone in your hotel, for example. Even if you like the freedom of doing stuff alone (I do, and I generally avoid travelling in a group or going sightseeing with lots of other people) it is a good idea to let someone know about your travel plans and any side trips you’re doing on your own.
When I first started travelling, my family and friends got postcards (which usually arrived weeks after I had posted them) and the occasional phone call. Today staying in touch with people back home is easier than ever. Most of you update your facebook profiles regularly when you travel, or keep family and friends up to date by email. If you are going somewhere where you think you will not be able to send regular emails, and if your friends are used to regular emails, tell them you will be out of touch for a certain time. Tell them also approximately when to expect to hear from you again.
Pay Attention to What You Wear
Here I go again, talking about dress code, but this is hugely important. In many parts of the world women simply do not show as much bare skin as women in, for example, Western European countries. Ideally you could wear whatever you want and do whatever you want without getting into trouble, but in many parts of the world wearing too little does, unfortunately, increase the risk of sexual harassment. Look at what local women are wearing and use that as a guideline. When visiting temples and other religious/spiritual sites, or when going to official environments such as a police station or an embassy for your visa application, dress appropriately.
Do Your Research Before Going
Read about your destination, including the bits in your guidebook that talk about do’s and don’ts. Understand the basics of the local culture and read also about women’s status in that culture – not only to stay safe but to understand your destination better. Learn a few words of the local language. And remember that in many countries you cannot trust the police or other authorities the same way you might trust them at home. Corruption is common around the world, but in some countries it is more visible than in others.
Book Your Hotel Room
for at least the first night, so you have a place to go to when you arrive and you don’t have to run around a new city looking for a room when you’re tired and jetlagged anyway. I often splash out a bit on the first couple of night’s accommodation and look around for other options when I have slept in a comfortable and safe bed, showered and had a nice breakfast. Try to arrive in a new city before dark. If your flight arrives in the middle of the night, ask your hotel for airport pick-up or use pre-paid taxi services and airport taxis. If you arrive in a new country at night and have not booked a place to stay, it may be better to wait at the airport for a few hours before heading out.
I read some nonsense recently…
After the backlash against solo women travellers, some people apparently said that us women bloggers make it sound like the world is scary when we publish safety tips for women travellers. That’s one of the most stupid things I’ve heard for a while. Bad things happen to both men and women, but there are some bad things that happen mainly to women, and it would be idiotic to NOT speak about them and to NOT give out safety tips.
If you read my last post, well, let me quote Amnesty USA again:
“around the world at least one woman in every three has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Every year, violence in the home and the community devastates the lives of millions of women. Gender-based violence kills and disables as many women between the ages of 15 and 44 as cancer, and its toll on women’s health surpasses that of traffic accidents and malaria combined.”
So, whether at home, or out in your own city, or travelling in your own country, or backpacking on the other side of the world, women in all parts of the world are victims of violence. Now, most of the time the greatest risk of violence is from someone she knows, and this includes rape cases. We need to address the actual problem: violence against women, which is a global problem. Meanwhile, however, I want to encourage women to travel, but I also want to encourage women to stay safe when they travel.