She: “So… I read that post of yours. The one where you shared travel tips.”
Me: “You did? That is great!”
She: “Those are generic tips but there’s nothing specific for women.”
She: “There is so much more women have to deal with when they travel. You should have written about that too”
Me: “Ummm… okay!”
This conversation between me and prefer-to-keep-unidentified acquaintance was a bit of an eye opener. I’d never thought about travel as being gender specific. And that was a mistake it seems! Because she made me realised that as a female solo traveller, there are certain steps I take to ensure a smooth run.
I strongly feel vulnerability is not specific to gender, age or region. A lone individual in a foreign country may be considered easy prey and rather than allow the fear of “What if!” inhibit our movement and the joy of travel, a few conscious measures could make the trip a memorable experience in the good way.
In ‘How to travel solo: Tips from an expert’, Varun gave us some pointers from his valuable experiences.
Time for me to list down some measures that I have adopted since I first travelled alone. While some of these pointers may seem very apparent, it’s always helpful to remember the obvious.
Do share your suggestions and experiences. Better informed is always a plus point.
- Travelling solo is a matter of individual choice, NOT a fashion statement. Don’t let anyone judge you for choosing to travel alone, or not.
- Unsure whether solo travel is your cup of tea? Baby steps! Start off with solo coffee/movie dates, move to solo day trips. These will help decide whether you like to spend time with yourself. When I first travelled to United Kingdom alone I would take day trips to places like Bath, Cheddar, Wells and Salisbury. Satisfied I would be happy travelling alone, the Scotland solo trip happened and how I loved it! Read about that week-long trip in Scotland: Why, When, How, Crushing on Edinburgh, Grit+Glamour+Culture = Glasgow and Winding through the Isle of Skye.
- Use technology to your advantage. Scan important documents like passport, insurance and other identity cards and save them in locked folders on Dropbox or in your email. They can be handy in times of emergency. I have even scanned my driving licence and saved it. You never know when you need something!
- Be accessible by phone. Arrange for an international SIM card if your local network is unable to support international roaming. Or pick up a local SIM card from the airport on arrival. Communication is easier if you have a phone handy. I always buy a prepaid Matrix SIM card when I travel. That I can connect with people whenever I need to makes me feel safe. Pick a good data pack to enable social media updates and better connectivity.
- Share your itinerary with family/friends. I leave a printout of my tickets and bookings with the parents and send the electronic versions to my sister. Touching base with them – even one-worded updates like ‘reached’ on our family’s Whatsapp group – keeps their worries under control. It is also akin to a digital trail that might be handy.
- Get that confident walk bang on when you are out and about. Don’t act touristy with a camera dangling around your neck, your eyes glued to the map in your hand or GPS on your phone. Lost? No worries. Just pop into a coffee shop, a mini mart or a tourist information centre and they will definitely help you. Ask a person in uniform. Acting dazed might attract unwanted attention.
- Walking tours are a boon – not only do you get a guided tour and meet some new people, you get acquainted with the layout of the destination. The tour guide will, in all probability, also mention areas you should avoid. Individuals manning the front desk of your chosen accommodation could also be a good resource for more information about things to do and not.
- Brought up in a liberal environment, the cultures and traditions of places you visit might be strange to you. But whether you accept them or not, do try to adhere to local customs. A bit of research goes a long way in making your stay comfortable.
- Learn about your own country, it’s a brilliant way to strike up conversation with the solo traveller sitting next to you. Ardent travellers are always curious about other places and if you belong to a place they are yet to visit, gear up to answer truckloads of queries. I cherish a conversation I had at The Elephant Room, Edinburgh, with a fellow female traveller. A native of Berlin and a school teacher, she was all the willing to talk about her city. We ended up sharing a fascinating conversation and are still in touch!
- Avoid travels after daylight. Reaching your destination before night falls will help you get bearings of your surrounding and you will not be a walking target as you drag the luggage to your accommodation.
- Your safety is paramount. So don’t be stingy about spending on safe places to stay and transport – public transport is very safe and convenient, but during the day. It may not be the best way to travel at night when the crowds have dwindled. Opt for taxis. And if you don’t have an option, then sit in a bus or train compartment that has at least a handful of people. Getting an idea about the public transport time is also a good idea – being stuck in Cheddar alone for more than an hour after I missed the bus is not an experience I want to repeat.
- If you enjoy your booze then you must drink! Imagine going to Scotland and not enjoying a pint of the local brew or downing some Scotch and gin. But but but… drink to enjoy and not to get drunk. Drunk dulls your perceptions. Period. And ALWAYS keep an eye on your drink. Over the years, I have developed the habit of lightly covering the mouth of my glass with my palm. It’s a handy trick and has helped some of my friends. Give it a shot.
- Do not forget to stock up on sanitary napkins/tampons and medicines, even if your ‘dates don’t match’. We have all experienced the sudden periods brought on by over exertion, stress or change of environment. You don’t want to be stressing over details like availability of the brand of your choice.
- Trust your instinct. I know it sounds vague but honestly, this ‘vague’ emotion is what will help keep you safe. If something/someone makes you uncomfortable, move away. You do NOT need to be polite to strangers. Don’t let your lessons in courtesy overpower your gut instincts.
- Take all advice – including this list of tips – with a pinch of salt. These tips are meant to make you much more aware of issues/situations that you MAY face when travelling alone. They are meant to empower you, not inhibit you.
Photos: Rapti Bhaumick