Travel

Safe, Solo, and Female: How to Book a Room of One’s Own and Have the Best Trip of Your Life

Solo Female Travel - Woman Sittingby Jessica Monk

It’s a cliché but traveling alone really does help you rediscover the self that’s buried under the layers of dust.

It’s the new year and your sights are set on higher goals. You’re ready to begin afresh and discard your old habits, sort your socks into pairs, and find the nearest Boot Camp, Spinning or Cross-Fit class.

I’ll stop right there and fall into step with the rest of you.

You’re probably praying that the bad weather doesn’t end so that you don’t have to leave the house.

Some kind relative just bought you a set of fluffy socks and you’re wearing them until such time as you can no longer ignore the sock-apocalypse. You’re convinced that Netflix is getting an uncanny handle on your personality, so you’re throwing in a decoy movie every now and again to keep them off the trail of the critically acclaimed indie chick flicks.

But even if you’re looking to the New Year with trepidation, there are things you can do without leaving the house or even getting out of your chair. I’m referring to browsing the internet constructively. This may seem like a contradiction in terms, but if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, Solo Female Travel - Woman in Marketplacelike traveling the world, some casual browsing could give you the courage to get going.

At the Solo Travel for Women event at Arts at the Armory in Somerville, hosted by Go-Girl Travel Network and presented by Maureen White, the atmosphere was enthusiastic but practical. Girls in the audience contributed anecdotes about their own experiences as well as handy advice. Collectively, the group put together a neat little ring binder of tips and tricks, and nobody was wearing rose-colored glasses. A lot can go wrong out there on the trail, and the safety section of the talk was appropriately detailed, with lively exchange between Maureen, a seasoned traveler, and the ladies in the audience.

At long last there is a conversation being had involving people who are ‘coming out’ as introverted travelers

When people confessed to what they’d been longing to do, surprisingly it often boiled down to the freedom NOT to do. Simply sitting on a park bench with a book, placing yourself in a beautiful place and allowing yourself to exist, eating when you’re hungry, going to bed when you’re tired… Traveling with a companion can be fun, but everyone’s rhythms are different and there are times when it might be good for the soul to avoid traveler’s gripe – that infamous tetchiness that can strike in a tedious museum or stressful market with a fellow traveling companion. It’s a cliché, but traveling alone really does help you rediscover the self that’s buried under the layers of dust.

For Maureen, traveling alone was “a skill that I needed to keep practicing and practicing and get my feet wet.” But if being a solo female traveler is ultimately about taking the plunge, there are ways to make that cold water feel a little less harsh. Here are a few tips to keep you safe and help you research the best trips of your life.

Safety

  • One obvious piece of gear that most travelers take for granted is the backpack. But, as Maureen points out, the US is one of the only places in the world where backpacks are commonplace. If you want to wear a label that says “tourist,” a backpack will single you out in ways you don’t necessarily want to deal with.
  • If you’re not sure where you’re going, avoid being one of those tourists who stands stock-still in the middle of a public thoroughfare checking out a map. It might be a little bit more discreet to duck into a store to get your bearings.
  • And when you’re in a strange neighborhood, look for the presence of women and children. Local women and children will congregate in spaces that are safe for them. Don’t be shy about asking local women which places are safest to go.
  • This may seem like a radical step, but Maureen advises not paying in advance for a hotel, or to pay for one night only. That way if the hotel is somewhere you don’t feel secure you can leave immediately for somewhere safer and lose as little as possible. Other tips for arrival include planning your trip so you don’t arrive in a new place in the middle of the night.
  • Little purchases can come in handy: Maureen mentions a device that stops doors being opened from the outside in case you find yourself in a hotel room with unsecure locks.
  • It goes without saying that you should photocopy your documents and keep them in multiple places. You should also make sure that your loved ones at least have a rough idea of where you are at any given time.
  • Technology can be a savior or a curse. Sometimes it might pay to buy a local phone, rather than carrying around a conspicuous flashy smartphone. On the other hand, you can now download non 3G maps that have GPS, so your phone can be a handy map as well as a communication device.

Research

It’s difficult to know where to start with planning your own trip. Will you be your own tour guide and plan your trip down to the last detail? Are you more of an extrovert traveler who prefers to structure a trip through a work exchange or communal arrangement? Or do you prefer to just pick a destination and take a leap of faith?

  • At long last there is a conversation being had involving people who are ‘coming out’ as introverted travelers. A common misconception is that an adventurous person who likes traveling has to be an outgoing extrovert, but traveling solo bucks that assumption. Google “introvert traveler” and you’ll find many voices talking about this topic.
  • Having said that, it’s good to know where to seek out people when you feel like being social, and one clever recommendation from the group was to check out Expat Groups on Facebook or buy Expat newspapers which tell you what events are going on in the city you’re visiting.
  • For safety, solidarity, and tips, Go-Girl network are expanding and have a big network of women in Brazil you can meet for a coffee so you can get a feel for your destination.
  • For some inspirational reading, Maureen recommends The Female Nomad by Rita Goldman Gellman. Then of course there’s an LT favorite: Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.
  • If you’re planning your own trip in Europe, one audience member recommended checking out Sandemans, who offer free, tip-only tours throughout Europe.
  • Then there are the more official channels like the State Department Travel Advisory. It may be worth it to register with the US Embassy in the country you’re visiting, if you’re traveling somewhere less than safe.
  • It’s also worth pointing out that meeting with other female travelers is one of the most fruitful ways of getting information. Maureen’s experience and guidance made this a productive discussion, but many of the tips were provided by the women in the audience.

Even if it’s just on an internet forum, go to the fount of collective wisdom and seek your guide! Solo travelers may be alone on the trail, but with so many others choosing to do the same, you’ll always be in good company.