A few weeks ago on the Today show, editors from Self magazine and Lonely Planet (LP, what happened?) gave some of the lamest “tips” for solo women travelers I have ever heard.

The gal from Self said, “Leave your itinerary with someone at home. Then check in with them at cybercafes along the way.” That’s it? That’s your advice?

So here are some detailed tips for solo women travelers (some for men, too) based on my own wacky trials and errors:

1. Go Alone, but don’t Stay Alone

According to Self, 85% of women polled want to meet people on their trip. And 63% are worried that they’ll be alone. Traveling alone doesn’t mean that you’ll be alone — quite the contrary. A solo woman traveler is likely to get more attention (oftentimes unwanted). But all smuttiness aside, you can use your solo-status to your advantage. Depending on where you are, people may be more willing to help you, host you, or invite you (just use your discretion! For example, families can be great to hang out with). Unless you’re traveling alone to focus on writing your novel or attend a silent meditation retreat, a little company will make things more fun. Follow the tips below, and you will meet some cool travel companions. The best part? You won’t be tied to their itinerary – you can go your own way anytime you please.

2. Don’t book a Hotel Room!

You will not meet anyone there! This applies to men, too. I met a guy who spent two weeks traveling alone in France and came back unhappy. I asked, “Why?” He said he was lonely. “Where did you stay?” “Bed and breakfasts,” he replied. No, no, and no. Book a hostel room. Here you will meet other solo travelers and find some company for dinner or great travel advice, a companion for a city tour, or a lifelong friend. If you encounter a creepy individual, other hostelers will usually look out for you. And there will be plenty of potential travel mates to choose from: you are bound to find someone you click with. Hostel personnel are also generally very helpful with things like buying bus tickets, finding a good grocery store or the best money-changing rates.

One of my most memorable outings was with three Mexicans and a French-Canadian who I met in Sofia, Bulgaria. I showed up at a hostel alone and they had become buddies on the train to Sofia. We spent the day touring the city together. Traveling with these new friends made it easier to meet local people. In this case, an older man who had played in the Soviet Orchestra. He told us all stories of the Communist days. I don’t think I would have struck up a conversation with him if I had been alone.

3. Blend In Part One: Safety in Numbers

When you do find yourself alone and perhaps wish you weren’t (like in a big train station or on a busy city street), you can “appear” like you’re with others.

Enjoy!

This is a little trick I use sometimes if I feel like I’m an easy target – walking alone down the street with my big backpack for example. I will find a small group of nice-looking, touristy people who I can “draft” or walk just behind.

To an observer I’m with a group (and therefore safer). And, if something really does happen

I am close enough to people to get their attention for help. Tricky, huh?

Once I was walking alone in Skopje, Macedonia (not  following this advice) and looking very touristy, distracted by taking photos with my big digital SLR camera. I was caught totally by surprise when two 10 or 12 year old boys accosted me, pawing at my hands and my bag. I immediately went up to the biggest, burliest guy I could find, and he scared them away for me. They came back, but I successfully fended them off myself with a well-placed slap on the arm  (I was ready this time!)

Some well-chosen travel partners are your #1 choice for safety. You can work things out together – such as reading a map, navigating a bus schedule, or asking the guy at the market for directions.

However, as a woman traveling alone, you must be ready and willing to do what may be considered abrupt, rude or bitchy. Go ahead and do what you have to, then let it go. You’re in another country. Nobody knows how you “should’ behave.

4. Blend In Part Two: Do as other Women Do

In terms of what women should wear, or how to behave, I just look around. Do I see women walking alone? If not, there is probably a reason. What are they wearing? High fashion, or covered head to toe? If both, you probably have some flexibility with what you wear. Do women walk with men? In groups? If all you see is small groups of women and children arm-in arm and no women walking alone, you’ll know to find a couple female buddies ASAP! This not only keeps you safer, but doesn’t challenge the local views of how women should behave. This is not your moment to rebel against the status quo: this is your time to learn and enjoy the culture and country and travel hassle-free and safely. Reflections on the culture and what is good or bad for women can happen apart from your safety precautions.

In Turkey, there were North American women who insisted on wearing low-cut shirts and walking alone to their destinations. But they suffered many more stalkers, grabbers, exhibitionists and other uncomfortable situations than I did! I chose to cover up and walk with others — as did most of the local women I observed.

5. Protecting your Belongings: the Shopping Bag Trick

EVERY single tourist I met who had visited Barcelona last year was pick-pocketed. I met two Australian women who had their passports stolen. Another guy had his entire backpack taken after an elaborate scheme. My nephew got his camera nicked and my cousin, her wallet. Nothing happened to me (unless you count my red cashmere scarf mysteriously disappearing from my neck). Why? I like to think it was the Shopping Bag Trick.

When I go out to tour the city, I leave all my important belongings in my room (or safety box). Even my passport (I guess this isn’t necessarily recommended – you can also use a money belt). I only put some money and a credit card in the front pocket of my jeans, the key to where I’m staying in another pocket, and I bring a white, plastic grocery bag to hold my guidebook, map, water, journal, sunglasses and even my small digital camera.

My philosophy is that everyone carries around a white plastic grocery bag; it doesn’t mark you as a tourist. And inside it was nothing very special if I were to have it stolen (except the camera, but I was willing to risk that).

I hope these tips help you, and if you have more I would love to see you post them here in the comments!!

Happy Travels!!

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