Women Traveling Solo
The question posed to Jodi Ettenberg in this New York Times interview - "You’re a woman traveling alone. What precautions do you take?" - made me curious. What's your travel philosophy as a woman, traveling solo (or even in a group or as a couple?) Do you place some level of trust in the universe and go with your gut? Do you take precautions? And if so, what are they? Has your consideration of the risks of a trip ended in your decision not to go?
More examples women traveling solo: Vespa Vagabond (cross country road trip on a Vespa) and Kimberly Snyder, who "embarked on a three-year solo journey spanning over 50 countries and six continents". And there's the She Travels Solo section of Journeywoman. I'm sure there's other great examples out there... feel free to share them!
This is a question I think about a fair amount as I do travel quite a bit by myself. All by car and a lot of it is in farly remote areas. And I tend to stay in a lot of cheap hotels. Many of my friends think that I place way too much trust in the Universe, which is probably true. I am always traveling with several dogs, so that does offer some level of "built in" protection. Although how threatening can a 6 month old Samoyed look?
True story - I was in Phoenix, at a Motel 6. A number of the guests did seem a bit questionable. I was out walking 10 year old Icer and a couple puppies. The lights inthe parking lot were off and it was pretty dark. As often happens, a couple guys approached with the ususal comments... "Cool dogs!" What are they? How old? Are they friendly? Can we pet them?" To which I answered... "Thank you. Samoyeds. 10 and 6 months. Very friendly!! Sure, they love strangers." As soon as the words left my mouth I thought "How stupid am I???", so I quickly added, totally lying "The big guy is kind of protective of me." The big guy was at that very second sniffing aoround behind a bush totally ignoring everything, the puppies were straining at the leash for attention from the strangers. As they approached, Icer suddenly stopped his sniffing, came up beside me standing stiff as a board, AND STARTED GROWLING. In his entire life this dog had never growled at a person. The two guys gave the pups a quick pat and quickly retreated. So I do feel safe when my dogs are around....
I do lots of travelling for my job, almost all by car, and also to the middle of nowhere. I go to the same small towns often and have found that you really just have to be aware. I tend to stop at the same gas stations and restaurants along the way as well as stay in the same hotels. If you are familiar with your surroundings, then you will notice when something is not right. I am also sure to give a quick look around before getting out of the car. I will often make 2 trips into the hotel with any bags or luggage so that my arms aren't always full (hopefully making myself less of target). I think they key to travelling alone as a women is just to constantly be on alert and trust your instincts. Oh, and I carry pepper spray with me at all times. :)
A great trip starts with preparations at home, while we all know about pratice packing and fun Tom Bihn stuff to order, below are a couple of practical things to do before going to increase safety during travel.
Choose mid price hotel chains where you know there will be snacks available inside, a shuttle to pick you up at the airport and a reliable internet connection to plan the rest of your stay.
While attending a conference, if the hotel cheapest conference rates are still too high, get the closest mid-price chain hotel room you can afford.
Read the reviews of each hotel in many forums and rating sites. Beware of reviews artificially inflated by staff and owners.
Do your homework beforehand by finding out how safe the neighborhood around the hotel is, where the nearest restaurants, grocery stores, bus/metro stops are located.
At your destination, while outside in unfamiliar areas,
Congregate around other women.
In urban areas, coffee shops, bookstores, malls, indoor markets and department stores are good places to stop for a while if "something doesn't feel right", the weather is iffy, you are not sure about directions or you feel tired. Use that time to recharge your electronics and yourself by sampling a local treat or buy it to go and get your bearings.
Don't be afraid of being rude, what I mean is there no need to be nice, questions need not to be answered, somebody trying to get your attention need not to get it.
Always keep aware of your surrounding and be prepared to go somewhere safer even if that means taking a taxi instead of the cheap public transportation.
To that effect, add the TaxiMagic App to your smartphone and always carry cash in small bills equivalent to a couple of taxi trips to get you back to your temporary HQ.
Some fares might be more expensive than that and to that end, you need to bring 2 credit cards.
I know that thinking about expenses that might mess the budget is not pleasant.
But... your life is worth more than what ever it will cost to get you where you are going, safely.
This is a very important post on Jodi Ettenberg's blog, LegalNomads.com
On December 5, 2010 at 10:38 pm Sharon H Miro said:
If you are looking for a whistle, why not check out your local county Search & Rescue–every county has one, and some even use whistle drives as fund raisers. Search & Rescue units are ALL volunteer, and can survive only by donations.
I sometimes travel solo, mostly to places where there is good public transit. I've been inspired by Alice Steinbach
Amazon.com: Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman (9780812973600): Alice Steinbach: Books
and Lia Lane Sololady.com. (Love her story about the shoes on the cruise ship.) These gals remind me to just get out there and explore. Do your homework, be safe, but don't just stay home.
I travel solo a lot and moved myself from Maine to Arizona in 2006 (thankfully, I had help when I moved from there to Pennsylvania.) I also like traveling into New York City for the day by myself, etc. A lot of these tips are good ones.
I do my best to try and not act like a tourist, even when I am one. Wear your purse or bag (my go-to purse for three years now has been a small café bag) with the strap across your body. Don't wear it over one shoulder and especially do not dangle it in one hand. Keep the opening of the cafe bag turned toward your body, not away from it.
Be aware of your surroundings and try not to rely on your iPhone too much for directions, because that is a clear giveaway that you're a stranger alone. If you need to consult it for directions, duck inside a shop or a doorway. Walk with your head held high and somewhat briskly. Keep a hand on your purse/bag if you do want to slow down and look at something closer.
Keep money spread out - tuck a couple bills in your sock, in your bra, in your front pocket, etc. Some place it's damn hard for a thief to access. If you want to buy something from a street vendor, access money from a pocket and not your wallet.
And ironically, I was rude in San Francisco when this street hawker got up in my face and tried to make me buy his CD. I took a large step to my right, ordered him to back off and kept walking without looking back. He yelled, "Bitch!" at my back, but at least I was a safe bitch.
A lot of good suggestions here. I love the Journeywoman web site!! I always carry my purse, as small as possible, cross body with the flap/access next to me not to the outside. If its small enough to fit under my jacket even better. I think a good bit of saftey is being aware of what's going on around you and not being, well, stupid. Don't walk dark city streets at night. Take directions from a woman at the hotel front desk. Always act/walk like you know what you're doing and where you're going, even when hoplessly lost.
I've driven cross country alone, except for my three and half pound yorkie, four times. Each time I was hauling a 12 foot uhaul trailer. My job transfered me back an forth. It was, to say the least, an experience. No matter how hard I tried I got misplaced in St. Louis each and every time. I got the trailer tangled up in a parking lot once. A older gentleman offered to help back it out for me. It made me nervous but I made an (thank heaven correct) instant judgement about whether or not to accept assistance. He turned out to be just a nice guy that wanted to help. I think we all have a "sense" if something isn't right. I've learned to listen to how I "feel" if something's not right you'll know it.
I travel a lot for business, both domestically (in Australia) and internationally. Backpack & DQbunny's suggestions are great and are things I do regularly. I'd add two things:
- know how you'll get from the airport / train / bus station to the hotel (if there's no shuttle). I always have the hotel address printed out and have a map showing the route. A map of the local area around the hotel also helps. Looking at the hotel and surrounds on Google street view is very useful - helps me to know I'm in the right place!
- pack light. I travel with either the Western Flyer or a slightly larger (carry-on) backpack, and another small bag for 'quick access' to small amounts of cash, one credit card, and my phone. I try to keep my bags with me at all times, and not put them in a trunk of taxis or buses. It makes moving around much easier and means I can get off quickly if needed.
I've traveled alone to a few places, including a recent trip in Hungary where I was challenged with an unfamiliar language, and had to figure out the subway, buses and trains to get around. I always find I'm more nervous planning for a trip then once I actually arrive, and my first-day jitters ease.
A few times I had to be brusque in shrugging off offers of 'help' from Roma in the subway, and quickly learned not to make myself a target by studying the maps in public. But the same pretty much applies in my home city. It's taken me a while in life to learn that the best thing to do if I am in doubt is to break off a conversation and walk away without agonizing over whether or not I'm offending someone.
I wasn't shy about asking for directions if I got lost. People were incredibly helpful despite my marginal language skills.
I had access to wifi and an 11inch Macbook Air, so that I could plan the next day's excursions in the privacy of my room. I left the laptop in the safe during the day. If I was traveling to a less-safe area of the world, I might not have brought it.
I stayed in a small B&B rather than a hotel. It had an overall homey feel, I knew all the employees by the end of my visit, and they offered all sorts of assistance in planning.
I'd like to say I traveled light, but actually there's a lot of room for improvement there. However I did bring laundry supplies so I never had to hit a laundromat, and this make the week more pleasant. I ended up using one city as a home base, and taking daily excursions to other places. If I had less stuff I might have moved around more.
Yes, don't consult a street map in public! You may want to consult a small subway/public transit map in a large city -- many of the locals do that too. It's worthwhile to go to a cafe, preferably inside if possible, buy a drink, and consult your map there if you have to. Depending on where you travel, having instructions on your phone or iPod isn't too obvious, as long as you don't look at it every 5 seconds and you just look like you're looking for messages. Even then, use common sense and don't draw attention to yourself.
Gee I look at my phone constantly for directions when I'm in home territory! ( I have NO sense of direction AT ALL!)
Hi all! I'm Jodi, the Legal Nomads person Darcy mentioned at the beginning of the thread. I tend to travel primarily in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and South America, so my tips are more geared toward solo travel in those regions. I always keep a doorstop (in case anyone is coming into the room), a safety whistle (gotten me out of being chased by a pack of monkeys in Burma and got attention when stranded on a boat later on in the same country) and a headlamp (never know when the power will go out).
In South America/Central America, I often carry a mugger's wallet as well.
Another great solo female site: A Little Adrift
When I travel alone by car, which I do quite a bit, I'm afraid I'm a bit obsessive about only staying at certain motel chains, even if it does cost me more. One of the key things I look for is rooms that only open onto interior hallways: no direct access outside via a door or sliding window. (I once had to stop at a very iffy Days Inn because I was driving through a gale and the interstate was flooding. The door opened right onto the parking lot, and the locks didn't look too strong, so I pushed a heavy chair against it when I went to sleep that night.)
Originally Posted by WhiteStar
I don't travel with my dogs as often as you do, Whitestar, but they do make me feel safer, too, even though they also attract attention. Especially the time I was driving with my parents' 170-pound Landseer Newfoundland. Truckers kept coming up to me at rest stops to ask about Jonesy, so I lied and said he was aggressive. (In reality, he was a big teddy bear.)
I do think our dogs have a sense of who's okay and who's not, just like your Icer. Once at my home a man came to the screen door to ask for a handout; very, very unusual in the small rural town where I live. He was quite insistent about it, wanting both money and food, acting strange and changing his story constantly. I had a seven-year-old son in the house with me at the time, and I was starting to get nervous. Whether she was responding to that, or to the man, my Saint Bernard, Shiloh, started to growl and growl though the door and wouldn't stop, even when I reprimanded her. Then she completely disobeyed me and burst through the door and chased the man out of the yard. I kept calling for her to come back, but she ignored me. She stood on the sidewalk, just at the edge of our property line, and glowered at the man, who was now across the street. Every time he tried to come back, she started growling and barking at him again, in effect keeping him at bay and out of our yard. And she refused to come back into the house until my husband came home about twenty minutes later. We found out later when talking to the sheriff that the man was a drug addict who had just been released from jail that day on a burglary charge. Needless to say, we rewarded Shiloh for being disobedient that day!
I do too, even at home! I'm constantly thankful for Google maps, and it's a struggle when I travel overseas and can't use my iPhone without incurring expensive data charges.
Originally Posted by WhiteStar
The only time I got into (mild) trouble in Europe was in approaching a large map on a subway wall, in a heavily touristed area. The guy that started to approach me was obviously stationed there, waiting for tourists so he could offer unsolicited help and ask for some money. I found it annoying, so I walked away. After that I got my own map to carry, and no one bothered me, even if I opened it on the street, which I had to do occasionally. If I had felt less safe maybe I would have been more discrete; I guess it really depends where you are.
I'm enjoying reading these tips -- some of you are far more widely traveled than me. I will have to read the Burmese monkey story...
Hello everyone. It looks like there are a lot of smart people travelling solo on this board. Most of my truly adventurous solo traveling was pre-computer or cell phone. and it would not have helped me anyway (bicycled Canadian Rockies from Jasper to Banff alone; solo hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail). My solo travels now are more business related. I agree with everything offered here with an extra vote for being aware of your surroundings (situational awareness) being important, a flashlight and whistle are valuable and I do like the idea of a doorstop if travelling in places where door locks may be lacking.
About all I can think to add is that I do not stay on the first floor of a hotel (or the second floor if the exterior walls are easily scaled, and I make sure I pick the taxi I get into and that it 'looks' reputable. I try to blend in with my surroundings (don't over or under dress) and don't look outwardly confused or distracted. I don't mean act like superwoman here, I mean don't act like an easy hit. Finally, listen to your 'gut', or instincts, if your instincts tells you there is danger keep moving.
Entertaining story: I travelled overseas recently and was sitting alone at a hotel bar when a gentleman came and asked me if I would like to join his group at a table. I politely said no, finished my beer and paid my bill. The whole time something was nagging me in the back of my head. I realized this was the leader I had met once brielfly and his team; which I (and they) had travelled to meet at this location and work with over the next few days on a local project. oops. I did not know they were staying at the same hotel and with the exception of meeting this fellow once and briefly; I did not know anyone on his team. So, I walked over and introduced myself and apologized for being distant and there was no harm done. There would have been no harm done had I not had this epiphany either. Better safe than sorry.
My two cents - Lonestar6