I’ve always loved solo travel. Exploring with friends is a delight as well but going away on my own is something I’ve been doing since 2008, for various reasons, and I find it to be just as liberating and exciting. But one must be savvy when going it alone as a woman. Safety is everything. I’ve gleaned a few useful tips that have stood me in good stead and that I hope will be useful to any kindred soloists out there. Nothing worse than being a diva of any age, toute seule and in a fluster, right?
Safety & security
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) hustle. Each city has its own set of scams, no matter how first-world or sophisticated it may be. Some scams are as old as the hills, others newer, and all are verkakte. Don’t be thinking it won’t happen to you – if you drop your guard, it may well, especially if you’re in a new destination and in popular tourist hot spots or in crowded trains and markets where pickpockets are particularly successful. Even seasoned travellers have been known to be suckered 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.
Bags and camera
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 darling but it’s an open invitation to thieves with deft digits! A well sized bag that can comfortably hold an iPad and DSLR without dislocating your shoulder, is the way to go. Personally I love a stylish backpack although style icon Ines de la Fressage is tres quelle horreur about that, saying in her fabulous style bible Parisian Chic that backpacks are only good for grade schoolers. Nonsense. Backpacks, well styled and chic of course, are practical and perfect for things like bicycle tours, walking the Camino, or exploring the ruins of the Acropolis. Satchel bags work beautifully too, slung with the zipper towards the front of your body mes amies.
For some women, like moi, going solo to a bar is intimidating and generally I prefer not to unless it’s inside my hotel or nearby within walking distance and has a sterling reputation. Like Harry’s in Paris. Whatever the case, there are a few deterrents I employ that seem to prevent unwanted attention: I always wear my wedding ring and some of my unmarried girlfriends do the same; I also avoid making direct eye contact as some may misconstrue that as a sign to sidle up and make tedious and inane chit chat. Oh, and always open your own bottle of craft beer or, if someone is pouring you a glass of wine or mixing you a drink, ask that they do in front of you, or simply order at the counter and keep an eye.
Apps not Maps and getting lost
In that moment when you’re like “where am I even?’, 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 unfold. 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 so well intentioned but more often than can quite confusing. The upside is that while you’re a-wandering, you’re sure to stumble upon delightful little piazzas and osteria that you’d normally not find. The Floating City is one of the finest in which to get lost.
Gadgets & Pics of You
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 adaptor along as well, for good measure. Selfies, at my age, are 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 at the Trevi Fountain or wherever. 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 of falling into the drink somewhere!
Buy a local simcard and spend a bit more to ensure you get a decent WiFi package so you are never without data, which is cheap as chips and fast in most places in Europe and the USA. There is simply no excuse these days for a WiFi fail. ALERT: never buy a simcard from Exactta Mobile kiosk inside Rome’s Fiumicino Airport- it’s a scam that operates there freely for some inexplicable reason.
ATMs and Transport
Never draw cash on the street, rather go into a bank- it’s safer and the charges are pretty much the same. Have cash on hand for a cab, in those cities where Uber isn’t operational and/or having a drama with local taxi operators, which is the case in more places than you’d think, like London, Barcelona, Austin in 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 is great in most cities, 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 to recommend one) or Uber. Getting lost after dark is no laughing matter.
Jewellery & Protocol
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 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 bare shoulders. There are very strict rules in place these days. Carry a long scarf and sarong at all times 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 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 and your embassy number and address. 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 folk, go for a more upmarket hotel (like Jules et Jim in Paris) as they are typically in good, safe areas. An added bonus is that the thread count is always higher and you’ll 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