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I have been traveling the world as a single woman for the many years. I have been to North Africa, Turkey, the Middle East, the Caribbean, the US and nearly every European country, always on my own and accumulating a wealth of experiences and insights along the way. I made mistakes and have leaned from them; honing safety skills and perfecting my accommodation choices as well as knowing what to pack and how to
fight travel fatigue and the occasional bout of loneliness. Dividing this article into sections, I want to share my experiences and, hopefully, help you to enjoy this particular form of travel as much as I do. Health permitting, I’ll be a single woman traveler for many years to come.
Pros and cons of traveling solo
Traveling the world on your own, being a woman or not, has one big advantage: total independence and freedom of choice. I am a person who is often given to spontaneous decisions. For instance, when I was in Barcelona recently, I wanted to go to Marseille next. I also fancied a sea journey, but, as I found out, there was no ferry to France. My eyes fell on a lovely, big, white ferry in port, which went to — Genoa! On the spot, I decided to go there instead, a choice which I have not regretted. Best of all, I didn’t have to ask anybody’s opinion or persuade anyone. It was just me and my bag. I can stay as long or short in a certain place as I like, talk to fellow travelers and even make friends. I don’t have to put up with bad moods of a travel companion or previously unknown phobias or even prejudices. In short: utter freedom.
But, to travel as a woman on your own you need a strong personality and tons of confidence. Nobody will help you with your luggage, your travel arrangements, finding your way, watch your back or cheer you up when you feel low. If you can’t cope with that, don’t do it.
I have to say, that in all the years of travel I have had only one bad experience and, with hindsight, even that could have been avoided. I have also found that many prejudices exist, if I had listened to all the well-meant advice not to go to certain places, I might as well have stayed at home. For me, single travel is the only way to go.
Safety when traveling solo
For a single woman traveler, being safe is the absolute priority. It’s a fact that we are more vulnerable than single male travelers or groups, physically as well as psychologically. The bad guys will think that a single woman is easier to cheat or to rob, so it’s up to us to prevent that from happening.
I never fail to point out how important it is to attend a self-defense course. Age is no obstacle, as long as you can lift an arm and a leg you can learn self-defense, which has very little to do with physical strength and a lot to do with a knowledge of physics and anatomy. You will be surprised to learn how much damage an elbow or a car key can do. Knowing how to defend yourself also boosts your self-confidence and, as our instructor pointed out the very first day: walk with confidence. If you look like a victim, you will become one. But, one course is not enough. You need to keep practicing; which, apart from everything else, is excellent exercise and keeps you flexible.
Otherwise, just stick to common sense. Be watchful without being paranoid, keep out of areas where even the local police wouldn’t go on their own, keep your distance if strangers approach you asking for directions or what the time is, don’t tell people your real name, your profession or where you live and, if need be, invent husbands or boyfriends who are waiting for you just around the corner.
Choosing hotels for the single traveler
Single woman travelers need single rooms and often, they either aren’t available or you get charged an arm and a leg if you use a double as a single. I have run the gamut from 5-star hotels to hostels, although I have never gone as low as a dorm. I don’t share sleeping accommodations and neither do I share cabins on boats or sleepers on trains. It’s not only a question of privacy but also of safety.
I have found that middle range hotels (in Europe between 50 to 100 Euros per night for a single) work best. They tend to be very accommodating too, often even protective of single women. They often offer free wifi, which many a 5-star hotel makes you pay for and will go out of their way to help you with advice, luggage, and many creature comforts. It’s the personal touch which is missing in the more expensive hotels.
Get Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is a must. Yes, most likely you won’t need it, and I sincerely hope you don’t, but there is nothing worse than getting sick and then having to worry about money on top of that. For a cost-effective option, check out SafetyWing. Their plans start at just $40/month.
Packing to travel hassle-free
This is a very important topic if you want to travel hassle-free. As a single woman you have to move your luggage on your own, and I have often found obstacles in the form of steep, narrow staircases and no elevator in the most unexpected places. Rule of thumb: don’t carry more than you can easily lift at least chest high. The more I travel, the more I learned that I need very little, even for an extended trip. For starters, I stick to a color scheme. For summer it’s cream and beige, for winter black and grey. A few colorful scarves will go a long way to prettying things up. I don’t do laundry either. When a piece gets too dirty, it goes in the bin to be replaced by a cheap item from the local market or department store. Underwear gets rinses out and that’s it. I do, however, not compromise on shoes and they are the heaviest items in my bag. Nothing is worse than not having trusted and comfortable footwear.
Unless you need a very special cosmetic product, don’t drag around heavy bottles. I have yet to find a country that doesn’t sell toothpaste and deodorant. And you get a nice travel experience in the bargain because browsing local markets is fun.
I carry my laptop with me, but never in its case. The reason being that I don’t want to attract anybody’s attention to the fact that I have a laptop which might be worth stealing. Apart from my small roll on, I carry a travel shoulder bag, which looks more like a beach bag. In it is my laptop and charger, a wallet with ready change and no more, cell phone, sanitary wipes, a hairbrush and lip gloss.
When I leave my hotel room I never leave my laptop open on the desk. It goes locked into my suitcase, there is no point in tempting the maids.
Getting around on your own
This topic has also to do with safety. As soon as I get to a new destination, I get a map and study it carefully. I never consult a map in the street. If I am lost, I sit in a café and orient myself or I ask passers-by for directions.
My one and, so far, only, bad experience happened in Naples, Italy where my bag was snatched by a guy on a motorbike. I wasn’t actually carrying a bag, it was just a little plastic carrier bag with my wallet and camera, wrapped around my wrist, but.. even so. Luckily, the plastic snapped immediately, so I wasn’t hurt and the financial loss was minimal.
Lesson learned: dispense with purses and bags altogether. I always carry serious money, a credit card and a copy of my passport in a small money bag around my neck hidden under my clothes. An outside money belt is too obvious and can be cut before you notice it. Another rule of thumb: carry everything of value in or under your clothes and just a small wallet with a ready change in your hand. Your camera is another matter, you want to use it and have it ready at all times, so there is not much you can do to protect it from theft. Upload your pictures to your laptop on a daily basis, so if the camera gets snatched you will at least not lose all your pictures.
I like to use public transport, which, on the down-side is a beloved venue for pickpockets. So, watch out who sits or stands next to you and immediately check your belongings if someone bumps into you.
Taxi drivers the world over love single woman travelers because they think we are easy to cheat. Ask in your hotel about fares and companies you can trust. Otherwise, make sure the taxi has a running meter (although I have encountered manipulated running meters in Athens) and don’t agree on a price unless you know exactly what it should be.
Blend in with the locals
We do not want to attract undue attention. We want to wander around and enjoy what we see, undisturbed and at our leisure. This is best achieved by blending in and becoming as ‘local’ as possible. It does however not mean wearing a sari in India or a kimono in Japan which would achieve just the opposite. Avoid plunging necklines, stilettos and shorts. Do not wear bikini tops outside the beach. Cover up even if you are not in a Muslim country. It’s a misconception that the less you wear in a hot country the less you will perspire. A flowing, long sleeved shirt and ankle length skirt allows what little air there is to flow and will keep you cool and comfortable as well as decent. A sun hat is much better than the popular baseball cap which will stamp ‘tourist’ all over you from miles away. Learn some basic phrases in the local language and you will be appreciated, which comes in very handy if you need assistance. Observe how the locals behave and do the same. If women sit in a separate section of the bus than men, so do you. If food is eaten using your fingers, do the same. And, except in the privacy of your hotel, if you must, stay away from alcohol. A single woman traveler needs to be alert at all times and being tipsy does not help.
Solo traveler beauty tips
We want to see the world, but we also want to look nice. Local beauty treatments and massages are a wonderful way to experience a part of the culture. In addition, I have my eyebrows, lips and eyeliner tattooed. It costs a bundle and hurts a lot, but it lasts for years and has the invaluable advantage that I look good even after a 20 hour flight or bus trip. All that’s needed is a few strokes of blusher and lip-gloss and I’m ready to roll. Whether you tan easily or not, don’t forget to apply sun blocker. Long air travel dehydrates, so make sure you apply moisturizer regularly and drink plenty of water. When traveling, I wear prescription glasses rather than contacts. They tend to get sticky during longer flights and the cleaning material and replacements aren’t always easy to get.
Dealing with travel fatigue and loneliness
As I already mentioned, one of the drawbacks of traveling on your own is that there is nobody to comfort you when you had a mishap, feel lonely or simply suffer from a bout of travel fatigue, all of which will happen at some time. It’s up to you to pull yourself out of the funk.
What to do? Pick up the phone and call a friend or family. Or socialize for a bit on FB or twitter. Most importantly, don’t feel bad if you are sitting in the middle of one of the most desirable destinations in the world and all you want to do is crawl into bed and cry. Allow yourself a respite, go out, sit in a café and watch the world go by; go shopping or window shopping, count your blessings, learn to laugh at yourself and in no time, your low will pass and you are ready to travel again.
I love my solo travel life; I hope you’ll try it!
Written by and photos by Inka Piegsa-Quishotte for EuropeUpClose.com