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Like it or not, women have to take special precautions while traveling alone.
After six months of backpacking solo in Africa, I’ve got a few ideas about how we can make the most of solo exploration — and stay safe along the way.
If you’re about to embark on a solo trip or are thinking about traveling alone (Go! Go!), here are nine tips to make your trek the best it can be:
1. Befriend local women. Whether you’re in the market, on a bush taxi or sleeping in a hostel, make friends with the women who live there. Women around the globe have a sort of informal pact; we all watch out for each other. Even if you’ve only exchanged a smile with the woman sitting next to you, she’ll go out of her way to protect you if necessary. This rule becomes even more important if you feel like you’re in danger; seek out the closest woman and stick to her like glue.
2. Book a bed for the first night. After Day 1, I avoid making reservations whenever possible, to fully enjoy traveling by the seat of my pants. But for your first night, book a place to sleep in advance — preferably before you leave home. This will give you peace of mind, help you get over the first-day-of-travel jitters, and give you a goal and destination when you arrive in-country.
3. Only bring what you can easily carry. It’s always a good idea to keep your backpack light, but this becomes even more important when you’re traveling alone, simply because you don’t have anyone to help you. Traveling light could even be seen as a safety measure, because you can move more quickly away from danger (or pesky men who want to marry you) when you have less to carry. Make sure you have a free hand even when you’re carrying all your luggage, so you can shoo away those men or grab a pineapple for the road. With that in mind…
4. Carry food. Nothing heavy; granola or crackers will do it. This will keep you from venturing out in the dark by yourself at night when you’re hungry. It will also help you save money! I like to carry a plastic bowl and spoon (more versatile than a fork), plus a Swiss army knife. In Africa, I often bought a pineapple or cucumber — or even, once in Madagascar, a watermelon — and eat it over several days. (No, I didn’t carry the watermelon; I bought it when I knew I’d be staying in one place for a while.)
5. Also carry a book. Books are fabulous dinner companions. With a read you can pull out any time, you’re more likely to enjoy your solitude and less likely to feel lonely. Books are also great conversation starters. But don’t fill your backpack with books — they’re heavy and take up valuable space. Instead, carry just one or two, and keep your eye out for opportunities to swap with other travelers. Some hostels even have a designated book swap, allowing travelers to take a book and leave a book. And boy does it feel good when you find an awesome read on one of those shelves. (And now there’s the e-book! That should make it easier to carry more than one book at a time — so long as you’ve got a power outlet to recharge.)
6. Expect to pay more than couples. Single rooms are usually nearly the cost of a double, which can be incredibly frustrating. It’s what I call the “single tax.” In some instances, you’re going to pay more traveling alone than you would with a partner. Know this from the beginning to avoid letting that single tax ruin your travel mojo. With that in mind…
7. Look for roommates. Or someone who can split with you the cost of a car or a guide. Buddying up, whether for accommodation or transportation or any other expenses, will help you reduce the cost of your trip. It may also help you feel safer, and it’s nice to have someone to lean on if you get sick.
8. Consider wearing a (fake) wedding ring. Don’t wear an expensive ring; it might get stolen. But having a band you can wave in the face of those pesky men is excellent proof that you’re married and unavailable. I didn’t wear a ring during my trip to Africa, solely because I’m too proud of being an independent, single woman — and I ended up regretting it. A ring would have helped me avoid quite a few wannabe suitors.
9. Make an effort to be friendly. Traveling solo is a fabulous time to reflect, but don’t overlook the chance to broaden your social network by reaching out to other travelers, as well as locals. Ironically, we tend to meet more people and forge more friendships when traveling alone. That’s because if we don’t make the effort to talk to strangers, we’ll have no one to hang out with but ourselves. It takes a little extra effort to put yourself out there, but opening up those lines of communication is well worth it.
Have you traveled alone? If so, I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.
And if you’re looking for more travel tips, try these: