I’m often asked what it’s like to travel on my own to foreign cities where English isn’t the lingua franca; I just have one word for it – liberating. I’ll try not to romanticize the idea for you because it certainly isn’t an Eat, Pray, Love situation where you book your one-way ticket to spiritual and emotional fulfillment but rather a way to understand who you truly are as an independent woman (or maybe not). Travelling alone isn’t for everyone but I am a strong believer that every woman should try at some stage in her life; after all, you never know until you try right? Think of it as vegemite.
I’ve done enough solo trips now to say that I’m fairly comfortable to pack up my things at a moments notice and jet off to a far away land where people drive on opposite sides of the road and make fun of my accent. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had these experiences and feel I need to share some of my stories with you all. If you are thinking of taking the plunge and travelling solo here are some of my tips to young girls and women out there on how to stay safe, be smart and above all else – have fun.
Tip 1: Check-In on Social Media
Mother dearest always tells me that seeing an Instagram post or Snapchat story pop up on her feed indicates to her that I’m still alive and causing mischief. Never underestimate the power of social media or technology because it’s the most efficient way to keep you connected to your loved ones. You may be in search for a digital detox but taking just five minutes each day to let somebody know what your plans are ensures that your red pin doesn’t just mysteriously drop off Google maps. After all, we don’t all have dads like Liam Neeson. Though I do think my dad bears uncanny resemblance to Jackie Chan… here’s hoping.
Tip 2: Scan All Important Documents
Let’s face it – in between rushing from your hotel to the airport through peak hour traffic and then battling the queues to check-in for your flight only to realize that your passport isn’t where you left it – it happens to all of us. Having a photocopy of all your documents and a digital scan can make your life a lot easier when you need to replace your travel documents.
Whenever you find that you need to rent a vehicle or anything of high value; some questionable operators may ask to hold some form of your identity and under no circumstance should you leave any of your original documents with them but having a photocopy quickly becomes a happy compromise.
True Story – on a trip to Phuket with my ex-husband, we tried to rent scooters from a local vendor who insisted that we needed to leave our passports with him and that it was common practice. We tried to explain to him that we had provided photocopies to another vendor only a few days ago but they refused. I did a little research and then found out in the news that one of the passports used by a passenger on the missing MH370 flight was found to have been traced to one reported stolen by an Italian man who’d left it at a motorbike shop in Phuket. Identity theft is so common and we shouldn’t make it easy for them.
Tip 3: Always Buy Travel Insurance
This is not limited to just female travellers and I don’t know how some people travel without it. Spending $100-$250 now buys the peace of mind you need in the event that your brand new camera gets stolen, you fall incredibly ill from bad fried chicken served by a street vendor or you get bitten by a monkey and require a $6,000 rabies shot. Sh*t happens and you want to be as prepared as you can be for when it does.
Tip 4: Trust Your Gut
…Not to digest the questionable burrito you got from the corner shop but to sense when something doesn’t feel right then kindly decline or walk away from the situation. Listen to that built-in radar more commonly known as women’s intuition.
Tip 5: Have a Reliable Service Provider
Having cell service when you’re lost in the middle of no where can be so useful when you need a map, a translator, the police or all of the above (let’s hope not the latter).
Tip 6: Travel with the Essentials & Dress Appropriately
There are a few things I never leave the house/hotel without – my phone, my portable charger (because having a flat battery is the last thing anyone wants), always pack a pair of comfortable sneakers, a whistle (I’ll elaborate why below) and bring a diary to record key memories and details that you don’t want to forget at each stop! Dressing appropriately is also incredibly important because you don’t want to have a figurative neon sign above your head that screams I’m a foreigner. Don’t dress provocatively as it invites unwanted attention and of course observe what the locals are wearing and follow suit.
True Story – my mother use to hang a whistle around my neck as a child whenever she took me to the park and was told to blow on it if anyone bullied me or tried to take me somewhere away from the playground. Little did I know that this is still something I would advise until today for women to have handy in case someone has wandering hands.
Tip 7: Avoid Carrying Bags with No Zips
Every major city that’s worth seeing will have pickpockets so don’t make it easy for them and have open bags where anyone can just reach in. Always make sure to carry your bag towards the front in crowds and never keep anything of value in your back pockets. Always have small change handy on your person and keep large bills hidden or in the safe at the hotel.
Tip 8: Be Nice. Be Confident.
Good things come to those who smile and I’ve met so many lovely people on my travels because I gave them a friendly smile. Be confident in everything you do even when you have no idea where you are because those of the shady nature sense vulnerability and prey on this.
Tip 9: Have a Fictional Prince Charming ‘On Call’
To deter unwanted advances from men I generally have a fictional ‘boyfriend’ (in my case, my prince charming isn’t so fictional anymore) invented – complete with name, career and our future plans to make kidlets together. Some women wear fake wedding bands too but I personally enjoyed inventing new characters each city I went to… there was Lorenzo from Italy… and Javier from Spain…
Tip 10: Plan Ahead
Try to plan at least the first three days of your trip so that you’re not stressed right from the get go; trying to find accommodation late at night or trying to lock in a tour when you only have a short time in a city but nothing is available – these can be avoided with a little preparation. Read about experiences that others have had and any known scams of the areas so that you can take precautions.
Last but not least – remember, who run the world? Girls.
What are your tips?