Is It Safe for Women to Travel Alone?
In this day and age, there are a lot of contradictions surrounding safety for women. One one hand, we modern women tend to be strong and savvy, and we like to think we can take care of ourselves. On the other hand, this is 2008, and the world is not a safe place for anyone, let alone for a single woman traveling on her own.
Or is it?
The truth is, in most parts of the world (especially in areas where tourism is thriving), it is no more dangerous for women than it is anywhere else. When I visit my family in the United States, I often feel less safe in my own home town than I do walking around the streets of Europe or the Middle East. Being close to home brings no guarantee of safety— no matter where you are, much of it comes down to making smart decisions, and doing your best not to put yourself in bad situations.
One of the main things to remember when traveling alone is that both excessive meekness and over-confidence can work against you. In America we are often told to walk strongly and not to appear frightened, which is sound advice, but when traveling abroad, don’t go over the top with self-assertion. In many parts of the world, an outwardly confident woman becomes a magnet for men who think she might be offering something else along with her strong personality. Conversely, as we all know, a woman who seems unsure or scared can easily become a target for a different kind of unwanted attention. The key is to strike a balance, to blend in with the other people and do your best not to stand out. Don’t be the terrified damsel, but don’t be the brazen center of attention, either. Just walk normally and enjoy your sightseeing, as if there were nothing at all abnormal about a woman traveling alone (because there isn’t!).
Also, do as the Romans do. Take note of where the locals go. If the concierge at the hotel tells you that local women would never feel safe alone in a certain part of town, chances are you won’t feel safe there, either. Do some light research and find out which areas of town are traveler-friendly and which ones are to be avoided. Don’t think that you’re missing out on anything by doing this— it stands to reason that you probably didn’t want to see anything in the crime-ridden parts of town, anyway. Stick to safer areas, or if you absolutely must see something in a dangerous neighborhood, have the hotel arrange for you to go with a tour group, or network with some people who want to see the same things.
Speaking of networking— it is essential when you’re on your own. Do your best to make friends at your hotel or hostel. Get to know your neighbors on either side of your room. Let people know when you’re going out, where you’re headed to, and when you expect to be back. If your neighbors invite you to come along with them to a monument or area you planned on seeing anyway, why not take advantage of that, or invite them to come along with you somewhere? Make sure you have the phone numbers of the hotel on you at all times in case you get lost or need a bail-out from a tricky situation. Often reception staff will keep a special eye on single female travelers, because of course they want everyone in their hotel to have a safe and happy time, both for the sake of the guests and for the reputation of the hotel.
It is important not to leave your brain at home. Many people think one of the privileges of being on vacation is that you don’t have to think, you can just relax and enjoy. But how enjoyable will it be when you find yourself leaving a club at 2:00 a.m. to discover you spent your last bit of money on that fifth fruity cocktail, and now you don’t have money for the cab ride back to the hotel? Especially after dark, it is essential to plan how much money you need to take with you, and exactly how you will return safely at the end of the night. Public transport can close down early in many cities, and you do not want to be stranded and walking the streets at night in your sexy party clothes. It’s also a good idea to consume alcohol only in moderation (if at all), especially if you’re not hanging out with your new friends from the hotel. Always keep an eye on your drink, and make sure it never leaves your sight. If you go to the bathroom, take your drink with you. It sounds silly, but it sure beats waking up in the morning in an unfamiliar place and realizing you’ve been drugged.
It is very possible and certainly enjoyable for a woman to see the world without the aid of a traveling companion. All it takes is the right amount of confidence (not too much!), a bit of intelligence, and some creative planning. Most of the common sense rules of safety apply abroad just the same as they do back home. The one additional thing to remember is to keep the number of your local embassy or consulate on hand just in case you do get in a situation where you need help. It’s only a precaution— if you play it safe, chances are everything will be fine. You’ll have a great time, and come back with wonderful souvenirs and memories.