Just do the next thing–that’s always my advice when it comes to taking an adventure. Whether it is moving across the country, interviewing for a new job, or starting a relationship: just do the next thing. It’s also my mantra for traveling. Singleness is not going to stop me from seeing the world (the only thing that may do that is my bank account). It boggles my mind that some women are afraid to travel on their own. Single or married, hear me when I say: you are plenty capable. Still, in this crazy world, though it may not be fair (it isn’t), as women, there are some things we can do to not only be safe but to feel safe. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve gleaned in my adventures and travels. Some have been passed down to me. Others I learned the hard way, like I learn a lot of things.
Traveling, especially alone, even as a girl, is an exciting prospect, not a scary one. St. Augustine said: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” I don’t know about you, but I want to read the whole book. So here are my seven tips for girls traveling alone.
1. Plan to Look Like a Native.
Nothing says tourist (or “Someone-To-Be-Taken-Advantage-Of”) like a huge map in front of your face. Not only does this make it impossible for you to be aware of your surroundings (which is always a must) but it makes you a target. The same goes for the map on your iPhone; if your eyes are on google maps, you can’t keep track of your surroundings. Meanwhile, while you’re distracted, other people may be noticing you and your lack of awareness.
Before you leave your hotel or your new apartment in your new city, either have a plan or key everything in your phone. Have some idea of the route you are going to take and the streets you need to be looking for as you strut down the street. That way, you can casually glance down while walking like you’re on a mission. Remember, you know exactly where you’re going and how you’re getting there (even if you don’t!) so no one should mess with you. If you do need to reorientate yourself (believe me, I have to all the time) stop in a café or shop so you can study your map or phone at your leisure.
This can also affect the way you dress. For example, when my family from Chicago came to visit me during winter in San Francisco, they asked what the whether would be like. Coming out of the Polar Vortex, they were ready to wear flip flops but people who live in San Francisco do consider it winter and would never wear flip flops. The same was true on one of my travels to Rome in the wintertime. To me, 55 degrees felt glorious and I didn’t need a coat. But I wore a trench and a scarf because…do as the Romans do.
2. Carry It All without Breaking a Sweat.
This lesson I learned the hard way, no matter how many people told me. Sure, I can roll a fifty pound suitcase behind me through the airport. But what about when I land in Paris? Can I carry it up the metro steps that come from the middle of the earth on an incredibly steep incline? I certainly cannot, especially when I am randomly and unexpectedly ill for several hours on the plane ride earlier (another story for another day).
I’ll qualify this tip one step further: the less you know a place or what it will be like upon your arrival and the commute to where you will be staying, the less you should carry. If I flew into Rome, somewhere I know very well, I would have known exactly where I needed to go, how far I needed to carry a suitcase, and how many flights of stairs I needed to climb (and that’s if everything goes according to plan).
What about when you have to go to the bathroom? Be sure that everything you have can fit in a lovely stall with you (while you’re at it, hang everything on the hook but your roller bag(s) so someone doesn’t grab anything in the gap between the floor and the bathroom door).
Just think about the millions of things you may have to do on your own. Hungry at the airport? There is no one to watch your stuff. You have to cart all your bags. Crossing the street in a strange city? You’re carrying everything. Bathroom break? Yup.
3. Leave Your Diamonds at Home.
Yes, I lost a pearl earring in a Roman mall one time. I still feel guilt about it as I type this. This tip is mostly so you don’t have to worry, not because I picture some nefarious man with a knife demanding you give him your wedding ring. Still, if that were to happen, how great would it be to give him a paste ring instead?
4. Wear your Don’t Mess with Me Mask.
Yes, that’s right. You have no reason to smile or go out of your way to be friendly with people. Dopey grins are for affable tourists. Your job while walking down the street is to appear capable and strong, especially as a woman. You are on a mission and you know exactly where you are going.
How you carry yourself goes a long way. Studies have shown that people can even be targeted based on body language. As they say on every reality show, you are not here to make friends (unless you are making friends while traveling which is a whole other article). Meanwhile, I don’t know how you have time to smile at people when you are busy being super vigilant of your surroundings in this new locale.
Once an old man offered to help me carry luggage. I gently argued with him in both of our languages before we agreed to carry it together. I never took my hand off the bag but I did need help. Sometimes, you need to bend rules in order to get up the stairs with your luggage. But you better believe my grip was tight. In that case, I of course thanked him and gave him a smile. I think it was my green face from my air sickness on the plane that had him take pity on me.
5. Choose Comfort Over Fashion.
I know. This is a hard one to swallow. When travel goes exactly as planned and you’re swept from first class into a black car to your hotel (who are you and where do you work?), maybe heels work. But I never could have known how many connecting trains I would have to take once landing in Paris to meet up with my friend (and I never would have worn skinny jeans if I knew I would be ill on the plane). There are so many contingencies and things that go unplanned when traveling–at least be comfortable. But comfort does not have to mean ugly. Consider flats and some type of pant that you can breathe in. I always want a hair tie available and a scarf in case I catch a chill.
I don’t recommend gym shoes; they scream tourist. But sometimes medical conditions or other issues come first. If you are alone and you can find a comfortable flat or boot instead of a gym shoe do it. And for goodness sake, just forget the heels until you truly get the lay of the land (if at all…cobble stones can be hard to navigate).
6. Be Safe, Never Sorry.
Have you see the movie Taken? I wanted to throttle those girls when, upon arriving in Europe, they happily told someone they just met exactly where they were staying. They may as well have drawn him a map and given him a key to get inside too (for the record, this does not mean I think they should have been sold into human trafficking).
Please just be smart. Even though we are taught, especially as women, that we have to be nice, it’s better to be skeptical of others when you’re traveling alone, especially abroad. I didn’t even trust that sweet old Parisian man!
If something feels off in you gut, listen. If someone wants to know where you’re staying, don’t tell them (even if it is another female). One time, a man asked to use my cell phone. I’m sure he was a nice guy but there was plenty of other people for him to ask so I kindly made a joke of what he could already tell: “Would you mind asking someone else? I’ve got to be careful–a girl on her own and all!” The vast majority of people will respect that. If they don’t, that’s a red flag.
7. When All Else Fails: Pretend You Know What You’re Doing.
The thing is, traveling on your own does not need to be a scary thing. It can be a liberating and thrilling experience. If done right, you never quite return the person you were before. There is something amazing about that. Still, there will be moments where you have no clue where to go, who to ask for help, or what to do. If you’re in public, you’ve got to keep your game face on, your purse across your body, hand on the zipper, your eyes like laser beams across the cobble stoned streets or the dirt roads (or wherever you may be). Know that feeling lost is part of the adventure, just don’t let it show where you may be vulnerable. On a personal note, I wish I could tell you how many of those lump-in-my-throat-moments have turned into life defining memories.
How do you feel about traveling on your own? Any tips I missed?
Don’t let fear hold you back. Be an adventurer!