Last Updated on October 28, 2009 by Christine Kaaloa
This time, I’d like things to go better.
But I have two crucial myths sabotaging my challenge to Being a Female Solo Traveler.
And unless I find a way to deal with these fears, my plans are stillborn and I will not clear my GRRRL TRAVELER challenge hurdle.
Dealing with the fears of a first-time female solo traveler:
Myth #1: A Female Traveling Alone in a Developing Country is Unsafe.
There’s a tendency to see another countries and cultures as scary, because it’s foreign. In most minds, “foreign” means different and that generally, equates unsafe.
But it’s not difference that’s the problem. It’s cultural ignorance and a lack of information that creates problematic situations.
Research cultural safety tips for women.
If you have an idea of what’s ahead, you’ll be more prepared.
- As a traveler, you want to research the country’s etiquette, tips on travel safety and alerts to crimes prevalent to the place.
- As a solo woman, try to get an understanding of main cultural sensitivities, such as dress code, male-female social interactions and the attitude towards women.
Are there places a woman isn’t allowed or ways she isn’t supposed to act? Will you need to cover your shoulders, legs, hair or face when you’re in public or go to a temple?
Before traveling to Morocco with a girlfriend, I read up on safety tips for women.
I knew the Muslim faith was strict and conservative, regarding women and it was very sensitive, when it came to male-female interactions. As a tourist, would I be subject to cultural rules and scrutiny, even though I’m a western foreigner?
The answer to that question is absolutely.
Tourist or not, some societies can view something as slight as bare arms, as immodest as flashing your genitals. Western foreigners already have a reputation as being sexually casual, so by not dressing conservatively like Moroccan women (leaving my shoulders bare, exposing my legs, etc…), it would be a sign to Moroccan men, that I was unrespectable and sexually easy; and thus, they’d probably approach me in a way, they’d dare not try on Moroccan women.
Tip: The section at the back of most travel guidebooks, has travel warnings and guidelines that women need to be aware of, such as dress code, etc. Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forums are another source to check for more tips.
Choose a safe starter country.
Safety is a large priority in my mind.
It defines my comfort level with a country and the level of confidence I might have in dealing with problems and emergencies should they arise.
1. Take your dream list of countries
2. Select the countries which seem manageable to you.
A good starter country for me would probably Thailand or Costa Rica… They’re both, relatively safe developing countries, low in crime, with the exception of petty thefts, local scams, etc….
Japan or Korea …might be good countries to travel solo in, if I ventured to a first world country. Europe is western, so that might feel more familiar to me, even some places have pickpockets, gypsies and scams. A good solo starter country might be like Switzerland, Denmark or Ireland.
3. Check the travel warnings
Travel.state.gov is a good resource for checking out possible dangers of each country for U.S. travelers and it’s kept current. Minor crimes ranges from scams, petty theft and pick-pocketing. Usually, these are common everywhere. Major alerts like political unrest or violent crime are big red flags best avoided.
While initially I had wanted to backpack through Guatemala, it was not a good starter country for me. It’s propensity to violent crime, high poverty, bus hijacking (buses are its primary transportation) and its community’s tension towards women traveling alone (in lieu of recent child snatching cases)… did not inspire confidence I’d be safe as a female traveler. It was a country I’d need to build courage for.
4. Get feedback from friends and fellow travelers, who have been there
Ask friends for feedback/advice on your country, especially if they traveled there.
Also read travel blogs, reviews and travel forums for other travelers’ experiences.
Ideally, I want to hear encouraging things about a country’s safety, bearing in mind to also take all feedback with a grain of salt. While an online article recently listed Thailand as one of the Top 10 Most Dangerous Countries for Travelers, the enthusiastic personal accounts from friends/other female travelers about it being “travel-friendly” and safe was very reassuring.
5. Consider volunteer trips, training workshops and home stays.
Volunteer programs, home-stays, schooling and reputable NGO programs allow you to make a positive impact on a developing country. But they also give you support and guidance with your trip planning. The only downside is that some of these programs can get expensive. Voluntourism programs (as Christine of Almost Fearless likes to put it), the downside is- they are typically available to those who can afford a base sum of $1200+/week (flight not included).
6. Research transportation options in the country
Is the main form of transportation, hitching a bull-cart or catching an old local bus along unpaved roads? With transportation, you want reliability, frequency and connections. You don’t want to be standing at a lonely bus stop for hours.
Ideally, a good starter country would have safe transportation options that allow you to get around with ease. However with developing countries, often I’m looking at just one (two if I’m lucky) form of transportation to get me around.
With Guatemala, public buses and tourist vans were the primary means of wheels. Considering the prevalent problem with bus hijackings, my fear factor said it might be like playing Russian Roulette. That’s too stressful to me.
Thailand’s transportation system however, offered it all! There was always more than one way to get to someplace and thus, in a pinch, there was less of a chance I’d get screwed or scammed.
7. Take a tour or book several day tours
I’m not a big ” tour” person, but tour packages offer “a safe formula”. They skirt you to sights quickly with the help of a guide and help you to efficiently check off your sightseeing checklist. As a result, they afford you more time to enjoy the rest of your days at a slower pace and free you up so you can seek out more cultural interactions. Another perk – you can meet fellow travelers on tours.
For me, Thailand’s plethora of easy-going budget day tours offered flexibility for my itinerary.
Myth #2: I’m Not Ready to Buy that Ticket.
Booking your ticket will be the biggest obstacle to hurdle in your travel fears.
Up until this point, you’re just planning and dreaming. As you near the purchase of your flight ticket, an endless string of “What If,” scenarios may arise to create a huge bottleneck of self-doubt. The ‘what if’s ‘ will create excuses for your trip to not happen.
1. Determine the length of your vacation
How long is too much?
It’s like asking yourself how long you can tolerate possible pain. How much time you allot yourself for a vacation, depends on how confident and comfortable you’ll feel, handling your solo-ness in a foreign country.
I was tempted to book a vacation of three weeks to a month, because I’m a slow traveler and I don’t like to feel rushed. But then the fear arose:
What if I hate being there and things go wrong??
In most cases, your worst fears won’t ever come to fruition. But if it did, then you’d probably like a decent exit time.
I cut my trip short to two and a half weeks, with an optional extension if I found it manageable.
2. Just Do It and deal with the logistics later.
Men can sometimes be great examples of healthy risk-taking.
Their simple thinking is
“Should a problem arise, I will find a way to deal with it!“
What if I am stranded or encounter theft? …What if I get sick and no one is around?… What if there aren’t any western toilets?…
The questions can continue for eternity and take you further away from the reality of the situation. ‘What if’s keep you in the hypothetical future. In many cases, the worst won’t happen and if it does, then you’ll deal with it, just as you deal with the problems that arise in impromptu life .
What you can do beforehand, is learn to trust yourself. Recognize that you can deal with problems when and if they arise. Trust yourself, close your eyes and take the LEAP!
3. Trust your instinct.
When there is a will to survive, you WILL find a way to do so.
We survive . We do it every day. Just think of all the emergencies and problems you handle on a daily basis….
- Your boss calls a last-minute deadline on a project you just started, so you pull an overnighter and modify your idea for efficiency.
- You get your menstrual period when you’re at a party, so you run to the bathroom and grab a wad of tissues as a temporary pad.
- You see an accident on the street and you automatically whip out your phone to dial 911…
We know how to act on the spot and often, without the need for thought. We react out of instinct and instinctually, we know, we’ll solve the problem at hand.
Okay, so now let’s book that flight!
• GRRRL TRAVELER’s Challenge #1: Being a Solo Traveler
• Solo Travel for Women: How to Hurdle your Fears of Traveling Alone
• The Crash Course Lessons of a First-time Solo Traveler in India
• India Tour Agency scams and How to Get Out of One (aka How I Became a Solo Traveler)
• The Good, the Bad & the Inevitable of a Beginner Solo Traveler