As a traveling woman of the 21st century who identifies as a feminist, I hate to say that I have learned it is still very much “a man’s world” out there. While traveling alone, I’ve realized the importance of being cognizant of this and acting accordingly.
Before I left the states I never wanted to believe men still rule most of the world on a societal level. I never wanted to acknowledge that it would be much safer to travel alone if I were a man. My perspective is one from a place with (mostly) very equal rights and I didn’t realize how different the rest of the world can be in regards to how women are treated. Every place is a new learning experience that broadens my horizons. I have adapted, and strengthened, because of it.
With that adaptation to my surroundings and strengthened independence there are a few things I’ve learned along the way that I want to pass on. (And if nothing else, “Mom: this one’s for you. I’m out here and I’m being safe, so don’t worry!”)
- Blend in and be respectful of local customs. If you’re in a country where the women dress more conservatively, follow suit! Or risk experiencing a massive level of awkwardness. Men, and women, will stare at you like a pariah. You will stick out like a sore thumb- something you never want to do while traveling alone.
- Slum it up. Want to know the fastest way to attract a pickpocketer? Dress in your nice clothes and carry your favorite handbag. (Admittedly, I do really miss my handbags and nice clothes back home, but that’s another story.) Traveling, especially long term, isn’t supposed to be glamorous. Dress down. Slum it up and enjoy the time saved on getting ready.
- Keep your chin up. Always. Not feeling confident about the situation/place you’re passing through? Fake it till you make it baby! That’s my motto and it’s gotten me through 13 countries in the last 4.5 months. This mentality will not only help you from point A to point B, it will help you build confidence in yourself.
- Block it out (or pretend to). Wear headphones. When I’ve been in places like Istanbul or Barcelona, where the catcalling and harassment on the streets is bad, I learned quickly to only walk around alone with my headphones in to block it all out. Sometimes I didn’t even have music playing and I’d just pretend I didn’t hear the outside noise. I found this was the best mechanism after days of harassment that was really starting to get to me.
- Find someone to follow close behind. Crowded streets can be very stressful and dangerous. It’s important to not stick out as being alone. I once latched onto a large local man in Turkey, following him very closely from behind as we made our way through the crowded Taksim street. When I walked alone I was harassed, but when I made it seem I was a part of this random man’s family walking ahead of me, I was left alone.
- Drink smart. Take a drink from the bartender only! A nice man wants to buy you a drink? Great! Walk with him to the bar. You never know who is who on the road. You’re alone and vulnerable- you may as well have a “target” sign on your forehead- so drinking has to be done with some level of intelligence.
- Trust your inner compass. Always listen to that quiet (or sometimes loud) voice inside telling you what or what not to do. Your instincts are more powerful than you think!
Travel is the greatest gift I’ve ever given myself and I highly encourage all women (and men) to jump out of their comfort zones and into a foreign country. What you gain from solo travel, especially as a woman, is a kick ass attitude and higher confidence levels. You learn that you can tackle anything and can always hold your own- even in sticky situations. Put one foot in front of the other and always keep moving.
Trust me, it’s so worth it.