WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WOMEN TRAVELING ALONE?
Dear Ones —
A friend of this page asked me the other day if I would offer travel advice for women, and so I decided to re-post these thoughts, which I had put on Facebook last year (with a few updates and additions!) Hope it's helpful, and happy trails!
I myself have always had great experiences traveling alone. While there are certainly dangers, I have found that the same factors that make you vulnerable as a woman also make you powerful. What I mean to say is, a woman on her own does not telegraph a threat to anyone—which means that strangers all over the world will welcome you and trust you. They will let you into their houses. They will let you play with their babies. They will tell you their stories. They will give you a place to sleep. They will offer you assistance, food, directions, affection. I feel that, as a female traveler, I have had much more intimate experiences with new people than any man could ever have. Strangers know that I'm not going to hurt them, and so they open up to me. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything.
That said, do be careful—or at least alert. There are places in the world that I would not travel alone. There are places in my own country I would not travel alone, for that matter. A rule of thumb: If you don't see any women walking around alone (or at all) on the streets at night, you probably shouldn't be there either.
DRESS MODESTLY. I always wear long sleeves and loose clothing. It's more comfortable, for one thing, and saves me from sunburn. It also tends to attract less male attention. But most of all, in places in the world where modesty still reigns, dressing carefully will win you the favor of local women—whose good graces you will always need if you are traveling alone. If you're walking around in what looks to a nice Indonesian woman like underwear (tank top and shorts) she will be too embarrassed to interact with you. This will be a shame, because she could be a good friend to you. Try not to make people of either gender feel either aroused or embarrassed.
PACK LIGHTLY. I never travel with checked luggage…not anywhere, not for any amount of time. Carry-on only! Never bring more than you can comfortably carry. Being over-burdened makes you vulnerable in a thousand different ways. Stay light on your feet and you'll be safer and less conspicuous. Also, you don't really need all that you think you need. Really, you don't! Carry-on bags instead of checked bags will also be safer from people putting things in your luggage (drugs) or taking things out of your luggage (cameras) when you aren't looking.
EYE-MASK, EAR PLUGS, PJ's. Bring good ones. Sleep is the most important thing!
STAY SOMEWHERE FOR A WHILE. I have as much urgency as anyone to see the whole world, but i've always gotten more depth of experience out of staying in one place for a spell, rather than sleeping in a different city every night. Settle in. Learn where the grocery store is, and hang out at the park where the local moms bring their kids to play. Experience what it is actually like to be OF a place, not just passing through it.
DON'T ACT ENTITLED. I won't give any examples here. Just ask yourself constantly, "Am I acting entitled?" Then stop. Actually, this is kind of good advice for even when you aren't traveling.
BE READY TO HAVE YOUR LIFE CHANGED.
Liz (pictured here with a friendly water buffalo in Vietnam)