Travelling solo in Chile last October
The most frequently asked question I get is how I afford to travel, which I answered in this post. The second? My tips for solo female travel.
I reluctantly did my first solo trip in 2007 to Zacatecas, Mexico. I had just moved to Monterrey, Mexico to start a new teaching job the month before, and was already anxious to begin exploring the rest of the country. Zacatecas, a five hour bus journey away, was the perfect weekend trip and a great opportunity to get myself better acquainted with my querido Mexico. After searching for a travel partner and coming up empty-handed, I did something I never imagined I would do: I booked a ticket… For one. Gulp!
Above: On my first solo trip in 2007 in Zacatecas, Mexico
I was concerned… About my safety. About how I would occupy my time and itinerary sans travel companion(s). About how I would possibly look like a “loser” for travelling alone.
But guess what? The trip went amazingly well. I met people. I saw cool stuff. And most importantly, I realized that I could travel on my own. No longer a slave to others’ schedules, finances, and indecision about just whether they wanted to travel with me or not, what’s followed since are a slew of solo journeys that have taken me to the literal and figurative hot spots of Central and South America, through Europe, and down to Australia.
Solo trip to Iceland in 2010
I have learned that I enjoy travelling by myself, and that, more importantly, I am confident travelling by myself- I never compromise my safety. What’s more, you are not a “loser”for rolling solo; quite the contrary in fact!
Being able to travel alone signals a certain self-assuredness in oneself; a desire do to more and see more on one’s own terms. Travelling solo is freeing and helps you to become more aware, both of yourself and of your surroundings.
Here are my 9 tips for solo travel if you’re a girl.
Above: solo in Sydney, Australia in 2010; below: solo in Dublin, Ireland in 2009
1. Be prepared.
A well-prepared itinerary helps me feel secure and keeps me occupied. I do a lot of research and planning before I get on the bus/plane/train. At the very least, as a female travelling alone, you should book your first night of accomodation before your arrival at your destination. Heck, plan your whole first one or two days!
2. Look purposeful/confident and keep boredom at bay.
Being prepared and knowing where you’re going helps immensely with this. Don’t show your ignorance, fear, and vulnerability while on the road- it may encourage unwanted attention and invite others to take advantage of you. Try not to idle on the sidewalk looking lost; instead approach someone who looks knowledgeable right away and confidently ask where you need to go. Bring a book to restaurants so you’re not staring off into oblivion, uncomfortably waiting for your food to come.
3. Do the walking tours/excursions.
Kill two birds with one stone: learn about your destination and battle loneliness at the same time. Walking tours are a great way to orient yourself, as well as meet other adventure-seekers discovering the same place as yourself. I met to see Riverdance with a some Australians I met on a walking tour of Dublin. I went to eat kebabs with folks I met on the free walking tour in Budapest and had fish and chips with an American couple I met on the walking tour in Edinburgh. In the Chilean desert, I booked three days of excursions with a local operator and spending the three days touring with the same group of travellers. In all cases, strangers, became friends, at least for a little while.
My tour group in Chile’s Atacama Desert
4. Stay in hostels and don’t be afraid to talk to strangers.
Most hostels have common rooms and host community building events. I’ve met tons of people in my hostel who I’ve shared precious moments with abroad. If sharing a room with strangers creeps you out, you can always stay in a private room- many hostels have them. Prefer to stay in a hotel? No problem. Many hostels post events on their websites, and you don’t necessarily have to be a guest to attend. Don’t miss out on a prime opportunity to meet other travellers!
New friends made on my solo trip to Cozumel and Tulum, Mexico in early 2008
5. Remain inconspicuous. Don’t dress provocatively.
Yes, I know we should be able to dress any way we want. Yes, I know that no state of undress provides a valid excuse to get harassed. But let’s get real: dressing a certain way in certain places will net you attention, some of which may be negative. I like short shorts more than anyone, but I don’t enjoy catcalls or having unsavoury people touch/follow me because three-quarters of my legs are on display. I like to remain as “below the radar”as possible when I travel, and try to blend in with the locals as much as I can. This makes my trip much more enjoyable. I thus try to conform, at least with my clothing, to cultural norms, and dress conservatively in countries (and/or tourist sites) where it is expected.
Trying to look the part at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, Thailand
6. Ward off negative attention: don’t engage.
Sometimes negative attention, in particular from males, cannot be helped. My simple rule is to not engage: I ignore, I deflect, I keep it moving. I don’t respond to taunts or negativity. I remove myself quickly from situations where I am a target.
7. Always have an emergency contact number at hand, and let people at home know your whereabouts.
I suffered an extreme bout of food poisoning last September while by myself in Guatemala, and couldn’t leave my hotel room for 36 hours. Stupidly, I couldn’t even contact my boyfriend (who was at home in Germany) at the time, as I didn’t have his phone number memorized and was too sick to go to the internet cafe to look up the number online. A simple but good idea would be to take a few index cards and write down all pertinent contact information that can be used by yourself and/or others in case tragedy strikes. Keep them on your person and distribute in case of emergency.
8. Partner with other female travellers, they have your best interests at heart.
Who better to understand your plight, your fears, and your concerns than another female travelling on her own? I seek out those like myself before and during my travels, both to get the skinny on what its like to go it alone as a female in certain places, as well as to potentially buddy up on day trips and the like once I’m there. A few summers ago while travelling solo around Eastern Europe, I made friends with an American on our severely delayed train from Vienna, Austria to Krakow, Poland. By the time we got off the train, we were fast friends, and we shared our travel experiences over dinner. Our conversation about what it’s like to travel as a girl was probably one of the most enlightening I’d had all that year, and we were shocked at how much our travel styles complimented each other.
New friend made on solo trip to Poland in 2008
Other girls can give you the mundane, yet important information you need, i.e. where to find feminine hygiene products in your foreign land!
9. Let your hair down and enjoy!
This goes without saying. Live in the moment. Embrace the experience. Act every bit the fun, fearless, female traveller you are. And learn to relish in the luxury- the beauty- of your own company.