(This post has been written by Stephanie Vandenberg, an Australian traveler and freelance writer after a conversation with Jin. )
Learn local culture and customs
Although you will inevitably stand out, try to blend in where you can. Check what the local women and girls are wearing. If you notice they are wearing skirts below their knees and their shoulders are covered, it can be wise to do the same. Depending on the area, it may simply show that you are being respectful of local traditions by dressing in a similar way to others. If in doubt, listen to locals when they offer advice on what you should wear. Dressing modestly in conservative countries can be a good idea.
Observe and take note of local behaviors
Watch what people do. If you notice that men and women appear to be separated in daily life, there may be a cultural reason. It makes sense to mirror how people behave. If women tend to congregate together, away from the men, then do as they do. In cases like this, if you need to talk to others, approach someone who is the same gender as yourself first.
Don’t be too friendly
On the one hand, meeting people while traveling can be an eye opening experience. But always be weary when you initially meet others. This is especially important when interacting with men. Keep your distance physically and stand apart from people. Body language can be easily misunderstood. Culturally, there may be body language customs you don’t understand. Of course we don’t want to discourage you from meeting new and interesting people. We’ve both met wonderfully kind and interesting people on our travels. But you certainly want to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings or difficult situations.
Trust your gut feeling
When you don’t feel comfortable, trust your gut instinct. If you feel uneasy about anything, do your best to remove yourself from that situation or place. There’s always a reason why we might feel uncertain. Overall, our combined experience tells us that your gut feeling is usually right.
Saying No the right way
It is not unheard of that upon meeting a man while traveling they might make an unwanted and seemingly hasty suggestion. If your response is No, say it with a neutral face and stance. Don’t smile and don’t say it with an angry expression either. It’s important that your answer is clear, leaving no chance for misunderstandings or misinterpretations. Essentially, you don’t want to leave people feeling rejected or embarrassed and to ensure you’re in a safe place and situation.
Don’t show fear
When you start feeling scared in a situation, it’s important to maintain a poker face. By showing fear you may give an attacker the impression that they have power over you. You don’t want to appear weak or vulnerable. It may lead to them thinking they can do whatever they want. Feeling panicked doesn’t help you think straight and nor does it help you make smart decisions. When you’re faced with an uncomfortable situation, remain calm, hide any fear you may be feeling and try to get away from that situation. To read more about a tricky situation Jin has found herself in, here is a story you can check out.
Have a plan
For some women, knowing basic self-defense can be enough to give them a sense of ease when traveling alone. It can feel empowering to know what you need to do if you are ever attacked or find yourself in an unsafe situation. Have a plan in mind ahead of time. You don’t need to have official training in self-defense. There are some simple, yet effective ways to protect yourself. Some strategies could include poking the eyes of an attacker, kicking them in the groin or throwing sand in their eyes. Of course these are moves to use as a last resort in self-defense. Although you don’t want to worry yourself unnecessarily, it can be a good idea to think about what you will do in certain situations. Sometimes by simply having a plan, you may feel you can relax knowing what to do if anything happens where you need to defend yourself.
Use common sense
Sometimes common sense is not so common. But we can get better with making judgments as we become more experienced travelers. Think carefully about what you’re doing and the decisions you’re making. And if you know you’ll be exhausted after a day of traveling, plan ahead as much as you can. Reassess as you go along and change things as you see fit.
Empowerment through travel
In the end, it is important for women to feel empowered by traveling. We can experience a sense of freedom when we get out and see this amazing world alone. We don’t want to be too afraid to get out there. And if we wait for others to come with us we may never go! It’s essential that we remain aware of our surroundings and feel comfortable wherever we roam.
A final word from Jin
I wanted to make this post specifically for women who are solo travelers. My thinking was that solo male travelers might not search “Is this country safe for a solo male traveler?” But it’s important to note that while I have cycled the world, traveling around six continents, I have met solo male travelers who have told me they were sexually harassed while on the road. Unfortunately, this can happen to anyone. This post is intended not only for women but for travelers of any gender. I hope all of you travel safely. There is a wonderful world out there to explore!
What’s your experience as a solo female traveler? Where have you felt safe? We would love to hear from you.
About the Author, Stephanie Vandenberg
Happy to have traveled to many parts of the world, Stephanie now resides with her husband in Canada. She writes for those who are currently on the road and for those who wish they could be. You can find her work here.