I’ve been reading a lot recently about solo female travel. In a perfect world, it would not be referred to as FEMALE travel (images of horrible pink taxis and gift-wrapped tampons on hotel pillows come to mind). Ideally, everything would just be ‘travel’. But it ain’t. A lot of things I’ve read lately dedicated to this topic – blogs, posts in social communities, etc – seem to be mainly about dicks. Helpful in some cases, yes, but come on ladies, we’re better than that. So I decided to compile my own list of solo travel tips I’ve picked up along the way. These should come in handy when travelling as a human person regardless of gender, but they are, in my view anyway, especially useful for anyone identifying as female.
PLAN PLAN PLAN YOUR SHIT (AND HAVE BACKUPS)
Flights, accommodation, which sock you hide your emergency cash in – plan everything down to the letter and have exit/backup strategies if things go awry. Of course this applies to anyone, but the fact is that as women, we are seen as more vulnerable in many scenarios (don’t thank me, thank history). Protecting yourself/planning ahead is extra important. If you have a bad feeling about a place, don’t stay there. If you don’t feel comfortable with a plan or activity, don’t do it. A friend of a friend recently found herself temporarily homeless on her first visit to a European city because her host, whom she’d found of a popular homestay site, made uncomfortable advances towards her and she had to get out of there for her own safety. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this happening (and yes I’m aware it can happen to men too but this isn’t the point of the article, calm down lads). So make sure you’re aware of the risks and have plans in place.
RESEARCH LOCAL CULTURE, ESPECIALLY DRESS
When I was in Marrakech a few years ago I remember a group of British female tourists, all decked out in the classic Brit abroad uniform of not-very-much-clothing. I’m not one to judge people based on dress – wear what makes you comfortable and happy – but I remember the catcalls, stares and occasionally abusive slogans hurled at them by some of the local men. ‘Literally all these guys are staring at us,’ one of them remarked proudly, while I resisted the urge to backhand her across the head. YES, I wanted to shout, IT’S BECAUSE THEY ARE EFFING HORRIFIED. In a conservative country where modest dress is typically observed by both genders due to religion, it doesn’t matter that we should all wear whatever we want and love our bodies and get our tits out, etc. If you haven’t researched local culture and go out dressed like a Geordie Shore extra, you might find some pretty negative repercussions. Not to mention it’s a little disrespectful to ignore the customs of your destination. This is not me calling for everyone to conform to modest dress if that’s not your thing. It’s not me bashing modest dress either. This is me telling everyone to do their homework before they travel and show some respect for their surroundings. If you can tell someone on your bus to ‘speak English’ at home, you can put on an effing pair of long pants, cover the tetas and mind your business.
WHEN DATING, USUAL RULES APPLY, BUT AMPLIFIED
Meeting in a public place, having an exit strategy if you feel uncomfortable, remembering you don’t owe them anything, etc – these rules should apply anywhere in terms of dating. If you’re in a new place, however, proceed with extra caution. Again, the local culture rules apply here – respect your date’s culture and understand that the rules of courtship (lol) may be very different to back home. Have a polite exit strategy if you’re not feeling it (I usually text a friend to call me and say the cat died. I don’t have a cat). If you’re genuinely not sure what the deal is with the dating scene where you are, ask your date how things typically go. Don’t feel pressured to do anything you’re uncomfortable with. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, USE A CONDOM/DENTAL DAM OK THANKS BYE.
DONT FALL INTO WHAT I CALL THE GUIRI FLYTRAP
One of my favourite writers, the legendary Belle de Jour, made an observation in one of her books which has always resonated with me. While on holiday, she noted the behaviour of the British tourists and the susceptibility of the young women in particular to handsome (or sometimes actually, not that handsome) locals. This was not necessarily due to their overall allure, but more to do with the fact that ‘you’re a British girl on holiday, and British girls are easy,’. Unfair assessment, granted. But remember as a foreigner, there’s a certain amount of ‘fresh meat’ vibes which you give off (or ‘bone me’ vibes if your country has an unfortunate reputation abroad, hey fellow Brits). Don’t deny it, you’d be feeling the same type of way in your home environment if you met an attractive foreigner. Don’t fall into the flytrap – that hot bartender is not going to come and visit you in Barnsley when the holiday’s over. He’s going to come after about three minutes and then disappear, leaving you with sand in terrible places and the distinct feeling that the pull out method wasn’t the best shout.
CARRY A WEAPON
I’m only semi-joking here. While it might be hard to smuggle your Kalashnikov through customs, when you’re travelling alone, it’s worth having something to defend yourself in a worst-case scenario. Luckily for me, my parents sent me to self defence classes from a young age and I also played rugby union for four years. I’m ‘ard. Nevertheless, when I’m walking alone at night, especially in a new place, I have my keys in my hand. Pepper spray, keys, a rock – hell, if it’s legal where you are, get your hands on a taser – it sounds extreme, but it’s absolutely worth it to carry something with you. I AM NOT RECOMMENDING CARRYING A KITCHEN KNIFE WHEREVER YOU GO CALM DOWN. I’m recommending something which is not illegal and will not get you thrown in jail, rather something that could double as a defence method if required. I will never forget chasing a man down the road with a very large key (which in the dark, he thought was a knife), after he tried to grab my ass on my first visit to Barcelona.
DON’T EXPECT THINGS TO BE THE SAME AS AT HOME
In other news, water is wet. Obvious, but it has to be said. This one harks back to local culture but it’s more of a general awareness thing. Of course, we’d all love to live in a world where everyone is treated equally regardless of gender, race, sexuality, religion, or feelings towards Nickelback. Unfortunately, as we all know, this is not the case and it’s important to be aware of that wherever you go. Things might not be the same as they are at home. They might be better! But if they’re not, stay knowledgable. It may not be 1950 any more but you’re still a lone female traveller and that, unfortunately, means you have to stay vigilant.
ACCEPT THE BRIT ABROAD REPUTATION
This one applies to fellow Brits only of course. Unfortunately, we have a bad reputation abroad. Remember this, accept it and act accordingly. This applies to the lads as well, but it’s important to note for everyone. Avoid wearing anything with the British flag, don’t ask for ketchup ANYWHERE and try not to say ‘OII OIIIII’ at any point during your travels.
I intended this to be as inclusive as possible – this applies to anyone who identifies as female. Non-binary folks reading this, I hope this is also useful for you guys too.
Not boys though. We don’t care about you guys.