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Travel for leisure will slowly come back as the pandemic recedes, and travelling solo as a woman is great fun, if you know how to do it right.
So…you’ve decided to travel solo. Congratulations!
Just knowing and wanting to travel alone is a big first step in making it happen. Having traveled to over 30 countries on my own, and taking into consideration that I am a woman of some moderate privilege – the following is a personally curated top 15 tips that you can follow to make your journey be safe and comfortable.
Book your hotel at a central/ popular location.
This is a bit of a double-edged sword. Getting a hotel in a central location means you’re always in the midst of crowds and activities and it’s safe even well into the nights. There is ALWAYS a crowd outside. And as a solo woman traveler I feel comfortable in a crowd. I always feel like if something untoward were to happen I can yell and scream and someone from the crowd will help me.
BUT the flip side of living in a central downtown area is that it can be noisy and loud. The key is to insist on getting a room that’s on an upper level and away from the main street, to avoid public and traffic sounds.
I always make sure to have my hotel send me a taxi and pick me up from the airport when I arrive at any new place. It saves so much hassle trying to figure out how to get to your hotel all by yourself in a brand-new city where you’re all alone. I also worry that when I get out of the airport and hail a taxi and ask questions about how to get to the hotel – I’m sending out signals that I’m traveling alone. Why risk that?
And the tourism industry has become so competitive that these days – getting a private taxi sent by the hotel is almost as affordable as a regular taxi and/or uber. Ladies…you cannot put a price on personal safety…so paying a little bit more is OK.
Try and book your ticket such that you arrive at your destination when it’s daytime outside.
I know…this can be tricky. I’ve found that many of the cheaper airplane tickets almost always depart at ungodly hours in the middle of the night AND arrive at some godforsaken hour of the day. But, to me, this is key. Since I travel solo…I go through airline departure and arrival times with a toothcomb until I find one that works for me.
As soon as I check-in to my hotel, I go for a quick walk around the area where it’s located. That way I know where I am. That’s key.
Make sure you ask folks at the hotel for any unsafe areas in and around the hotel. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the place that’s going to be your home for the next few days.
As soon as I check-in I make sure to put my passport and other important belongings inside the locker in my room.
Make sure you always, always change the default locker code (which is typically 0000 or 1234). There are usually clear instructions on how to change the key code. So do it. Do NOT ever use your birth year as the code. Every hotel will make a copy or scan your information page from your passport – which will have your birth year. So, have a four-digit number ready and memorized that’s NOT your or birth year.
While I do my due diligence and research cities and countries I visit, well before I travel there – I also, always, ask the hotel folks (at the reception) about safe and unsafe areas. As a solo traveler it’s important to be smart about your safety. And avoid going to unsafe areas completely.
Also, as much of a feminist as I am, I also respect local cultures. When I was in Istanbul and I wanted to visit the Blue Mosque – the hotel I stayed in apprised me of the dress code required (cover your shoulders and your legs) and I respected that. And I’ve said this before…act according to the country and culture you’re in. If it’s a conservative country…cover up. The idea is to try and blend in and NOT attract attention to yourself as a solo woman traveler.
There are multiple options.
In Bali…there are NO big tourist bus tours that show you around the island. You can either use public transport or go in private taxis. I preferred the latter. In a situation like that – ask your hotel to book you a private taxi. It’s ALWAYS better to use taxis provided by the hotel because the taxis and the drivers are well-rooted in the community and have typically been around for longer and generally respect your space and privacy as a solo woman traveler.
In other countries – I’ve preferred to take the 24-hour Hop-on Hop-off buses. I typically buy for 48 hours. While sight-seeing in these buses automatically makes it clear that you are tourist to the locals – it’s also the safest way to sightsee solo. There are always people with you. There are pre-recorded descriptions of locations in multiple languages, and you will find one of your choice. So, you can still look around, shoot the breeze with fellow travelers but also stick in a headphone and listen to descriptions as you hop-on or off different locations.
I buy the pass for 48 hours because the first day…I just take in ALL the sights and hop and hop off every single one of them. The next day when I go back I know more of the city and hop on and off wherever I want, and spend more time in places of my choice. It’s extremely convenient. And it’s safe. You can also do mini guided-tours in vans with six to eight tourists (those are popular in Europe and I did them a lot in Vienna, and also took day-trips to neighboring countries – I went to Slovakia and Hungary) or guided bus tours with 50-60 fellow travelers (I did multiple bus tours when I was in Iceland and Sweden). Again – this makes it very clear to the locals that you are a tourist BUT they’re safe.
There are so many places in Asia and Europe where pickpockets are a real problem. Losing your wallets and phones is a very common thing. I typically keep my money and credit cards inside a cloth purse which I then pin inside my handbag. Since my handbags are crossbody handbags and have a longer sling I make sure I tuck the bag part tightly under one of my arms. It’s not always doable or practical…but just be careful and be aware that the slightest carelessness on your part and you’ll lose your belongings.
This is controversial since many travel bloggers tell you NOT to wear headphones when traveling solo. They always recommend not using headphones and listening to a podcast or music, because you must pay attention to what’s in front of you.
And that’s a fair point. But for me…I find that the best way to be sharp vis-à-vis my surroundings AND tune out unwanted attention as a solo woman traveler is to shove headphones inside my ears.
But the trick is, I do NOT listen to anything. I use the headphones as a dummy. That way…no one bothers me BUT I am very aware of what’s happening around me. This may not always be necessary but keep it as an option.
Unless you’re part of a package that will drop you off irrespective of how late it gets in the evenings…my advice is that you should return from wherever you are by 6.30 – 7 pm. That’s what I do.
As much as I love going out and dancing, when I travel alone…I prefer to be safe than sorry. I don’t trust anyone. I may have had the best time with my tourist groups…but I will NOT go out with them at night. I have fun but I get back to my hotel latest by 7p and call it a night. Yes. This means there are many cities where I haven’t been to the choicest of restaurants for dinner or had cocktails at the most happening bars. BUT…I’m still here writing about my travels. I figure that’s a good exchange! The only times I will go out later in the evenings are if I have friends or work colleagues in the area and I have company, and who will drop me off at the hotel however late it gets.
I NEVER EVER carry my passport when I’m out sight-seeing. Instead, I scan photos of my passport and also carry photocopies of the same with me when I’m out. The original stays safely locked inside the safe in my hotel room.
The idea is to have your passport details with you in case you need them to prove your identity. Also make copies of your full itinerary with details of your flights and hotel bookings. You may never need them. But you just might.
Do NOT keep all your money in the same place or with you at all times. I split them into three parts. One part stays inside the room locker. The other inside my suitcase which I always keep LOCKED. The third is with me when I’m out, sightseeing.
You may wonder why I carry cash in a world that’s all about credit cards. But, no. I’ve learned the very hard way that that there are still SO MANY countries that don’t accept credit cards as much as you think they will. It’s mind-boggling the number of countries that still do NOT accept international credit cards. So, carry cash. But be safe.
I have NO ethics whatsoever when it comes to protecting myself. And if that means that I create an imaginary husband because the Vietnamese taxi driver is talking my ear off about ‘where is your family’ or Turkish men flirt obsessively, I do what needs to be done to take care of the situation I am in. If that means creating an imaginary partner to get them off my back – I do it.
Over the years I’ve created (some real, some not) multiple boyfriends, husbands, fiancés, children and each time with a different backstory for each one of them! Good times!
I always carry my hotel phone numbers, email IDs, phone numbers of any local associates or friends or colleagues, phones numbers of my family – all readily available and saved on my phone.
I’m also petrified of losing my phone or having it stolen. So, I print a hardcopy of the same and tuck it inside my handbag. You never know when you may need those details.
Make sure someone knows your itinerary and schedule on a daily basis. For me – that’s my parents. I check in with them every single day of my travels. You should do the same. That way – if something happens – there’s always someone who is aware of your travel arrangements. Some hotels will accept a copy of your itinerary at the front desk if you request them so they know where you are.
Finally – this is extremely controversial BUT this is personal to me. I have NO burning desire to give a day-by-day update of my travels on social media. Neither am I a social media influencer (not so far…but please pray for me to become one!) …so, I never post hour-by-hour updates of where I am at any given point of time.
I take photos and videos of every single place I go to and then sort them and catalog them at the end of the day. But I post said pictures only after I’ve finished my travels and have returned home. Posting as it happens tells people where you are at all times (and is unsafe) and, most importantly, it also tells people where you are NOT (also unsafe).
Hope these tips help you with your solo travels, ladies! HAPPY TRAVELING!
First published here.
Image source: a still from the Marathi film Muramba
Hi...I'm Roopa. I'm also a messy optimist! I'm an academic-cum-artist. I'm a writer, filmmaker and professor of creative writing. Academically, I've a Double Masters and a Phd read more...
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