(Updated Feb 2018)
Travelling on my own is something I’ve been doing since 2008 and I find it to be liberating and exciting. But one must be savvy when going it alone as a woman. Personal safety is everything. Over the past decade I’ve gleaned a few useful tips that have helped me avoid unpleasant situations that can dampen and ruin an entire trip. These are my security markers that I hope will be useful to any kindred soloists out there. Go forth, toute seule and with confidence!
Do your destination homework
Forewarned is forearmed. Do your homework before you jet into a new destination so you’re au fait with what to expect and adequately prepared for the first (often inevitable) local hustle. Don’t be thinking it won’t happen to you. Congested hot spots, famous landmarks and self service ticket booths at metro stations is where pickpockets and scam artists are particularly adept. Even seasoned travellers have been known to be duped in the most embarrassingly obvious ways, so do some research before your toes touch terra firma and if all goes to plan and you’ve your wits about you, you’ll avoid becoming a statistic.
Appropriate accessories are key. Sensible, roomy bags that close properly are crucial for keeping sticky fingers out and your possessions in. That zip-less Louis Vuitton tote may look fabulous nestled in the crook of your arm but it’s an open invitation to thieves with deft digits! A well sized bag that can comfortably hold your gadgets and DSLR without dislocating your shoulder, is the way to go. Personally I love my Chapel backpack although style icon Ines de la Fressage says, in her fabulous style bible Parisian Chic, that backpacks are only good for grade schoolers. Nonsense. Backpacks are practical and perfect for things like bicycle, segway, walking and hiking tours. You’re hands free too which makes everything so much easier. Sling bags are an option as well, slung with the zipper towards the front of your body.
Sol at a bar
Bar culture is big and top end or not, women on their own will attract attention. I always select reputable, stylish bars, like Harry’s in Paris and the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo. If unsure, Yelp is a fab source app for food and drink options. A good way to assess a bar is to wait a while before ordering, scope out the crowd and then make a decision to stay or leave. Bars offer a great way to meet new people who can give stellar advice about the city or area but if I’m not in the mood for chit chat there are a number of ways I can send a “laissez moi” message: be ‘very busy’ on my mobile, wear my wedding ring (some of my unmarried girlfriends also put a ring on it), avoid making direct eye contact. Oh, and when it comes to consumption, know when enough is enough so your mind is clear when you need to order an Uber, and always, always know exactly where your drink is!
Apps not Maps
In that event of a “where am I?’ moment, don’t panic and whip out a map. Firstly, city maps, once opened up, tend to be the same size of a small mat, and your ‘undercover tourist’ cover is blown in one swift unfolding. Google Maps is the shizz for finding that missed turn, and please, if you’re going to be lost, do it with aplomb. Strut with fake confidence, stop for a glass of wine somewhere, check your route on your phone, get your bearings, and if all else fails, just ask. Except in Venice, where directions consist of a series of boisterous arm waves and gestures that are well intentioned but more often than not mean absolutely nothing 🙂 The upside is that while you’re a-wandering, you’re sure to stumble upon delightful little eateries, lanes and places that are off the tourist track.
Talking of phones, make sure yours is a smart one, like you. Before you leave the hotel, ensure it is fully charged, your battery pack too, which you must always have on you. Take a plug and international adaptor along as well, for good measure. Selfies are increasingly seen as being a tad lame, so when in need of proof that were actually there, scan the crowd and ask a decent looking person to snap you somewhere fabulous. You wouldn’t want a stranger absconding with your iPhone 7+. I trust Japanese tourists because A) they’re always willing and friendly and B) know how to take great pics. And take care not to get too absorbed on your mobile, for any number of reasons, worst of which would be walking into a pole or falling into a canal.
Buy a local simcard at the airport and buy a decent WiFi package so you are never without data. The better the package, the less the likelihood of a WiFi fail. Pakages are usually very affordable and and connectivity is faster than SA and you’ll find most places have complimentary Wifi anyway. Keep your own number as well-way easier that way.
ATMs and Transport
Avoid drawing cash on the street, rather go into a bank- it’s safer and the charges are pretty much the same. Always have cash on hand for a cab, in those cities where Uber isn’t operational or is having a drama with local taxi operators, which is the case in more places than you’d think, like London, Barcelona, Texas, Italy and Denmark. Uber has also faced suspensions in Finland, France, Spain and the Netherlands. If you’re aware of these bans, make sure you have plan B which for me is generally a share-ride from the airport when I arrive. Talking of getting from A-Z, the subway/metro is always a simple and convenient way to go, is easy to navigate and a really well priced way of getting around. Trams are also great and run efficiently and frequently especially in cities like Zurich and Lisbon. At night, I tend to use a reputable cab service (ask your hotel concierge or AirbnB host to recommend one). Getting lost after dark is no laughing matter.
And while we all like to be on our A style game, there’s no need to be too flashy if travelling solo. Leave the sparkly carats back home. Respect local traditions and protocols too before stepping into shrines, mosques and temples – don’t wear shorts or mini-skirts and cover your head and your bare shoulders. There are very strict rules in place these days. Carry a long scarf and sarong at all times if in a Muslim country, just in case you’re in a 40 degree heat wave and can’t face wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt in lieu of one such visit. And if you’re a blonde and in Turkey or Egypt, wear a cap and tuck in those tendrils. Trust me on this one.
Don’t overshare your personal info with strangers. Be friendly but don’t give your surname or hand over a biz card randomly and do not divulge your hotel address. We all know that you can be tracked via social media faster than Usain bolting out a starting block, and unless someone wants to personally hand deliver a pair of Louboutins to your suite, keep your info to yourself.
Emergencies and personal valuables
Have a copy of your passport on you at all times plus the hotel/Airbnb host and embassy numbers and addresses. Leave all valuables in the hotel room safe and keep your suitcase locked – ‘housekeeping’ may decide to rifle through your goods and G-d forbid someone decides that those two-tone Prada brogues belong in their future.
Manners maketh the (wo)man
Always be nice to the ladies and gents at hotel reception. They’ll give you the lowdown on the best local hangouts where you won’t have to sell a kidney to have an espresso. And talking of hospitality, go for a more upmarket hotel (like Jules et Jim in Paris) as they are typically in safe, smart areas. An added bonus is that the thread count is always higher, the bathrooms divine and you’ll just be so much happier. And please, leave your hotel or Airbnb room or apartment in a neat condition. Pick up your towels- housekeeping will feel the respect they deserve.
Travel smartly and you’ll travel safely. I wish you a blissful solo experience.
PS- please do email me – firstname.lastname@example.org – if you’re ever in a tizz. I mean that sincerely and will assist where I can. On the interwebs I’m @allisonfoat on Twitter and @capetown_diva on Instagram and Cape Town Diva on Facebook.
Until next time,