There has been quite a movement on travel blogs and Twitter in recent weeks for solo (female) travel and how irrational the stereotype is that it’s not safe for people (particularly women) to travel alone. This came up again recently because of the woman who was killed in Turkey while traveling by herself. While tragic, her death is not indicative of a problem with solo travel (many people get killed in their neighborhoods and homes as well).
Quite a few good posts of come from this, but I read one in particular that resonated with me, because my parents have similar fears when I travel (solo and not). It’s hard to overcome worrying parents (and friends) but I’ve started trying to break through to them by having them realize that I’m smart about traveling – most travelers are in fact. They know what they should and should not do while they’re traveling. Because in some ways it’s not that different from what you would do at home.
Let me illustrate this with a story. Growing up, my mom on various occasions tried to put the fear of god into me about Mexico. “Don’t ever go to Mexico,” she said. “I got robbed on my first day in Mexico!”
Sounds pretty bad, right? But after many years of this, when I was in college and planning a possible trip to Mexico with my then-boyfriend who was from Mexico (which sadly never happened), I finally heard the full story, not just the scare tactics story. Turns out, she got robbed because she got on the bus her first day, sat down, took out her money, and started counting it. Sensing an opportunity, of course somebody took it.
My response to learning this was, of course, incredulous. You stigmatized Mexico for decades because you did something stupid? I wouldn’t count my money on the bus (or metro, or in the middle of the street, you get the idea) at home in DC. My mom grudgingly admitted that this was true. At the time my mom went to Mexico for the summer, she had lived in the same city her entire life, so she hadn’t had much travel experience at all. However, I think I have more street sense than that. And I think what people like my mother fail to realize is that people who are prone to travel have a strong sense of the world and by and large aren’t going to count their money on the bus.
In general, the same rules you would follow in a city at home apply when you’re traveling. Here are a few points on what most seasoned travelers already know, and perhaps people new to travel haven’t thought about.
- Don’t count your money on the bus. While I’m not a proponent of money belts (they seem a little extreme to me), I do make sure to not carry much cash, sometimes in multiple places separate from my wallet. Also, leave any extra credit cards or other important things behind before you leave the country (for example, I know my Discover card doesn’t work abroad, so I always take it out of my wallet before I embark on a trip). Try to give people as few opportunities to steal from you as possible.
- Don’t go off with strangers. Again, you most likely wouldn’t do this at home, so you aren’t likely to do it when you’re traveling. I never saw the Taken movies, but for some reason my parents did (I guess they wanted to freak themselves out more than they already were). As soon as they started describing the plot, I stopped them – clearly the girls shouldn’t have gone off by themselves with a stranger, and I would never do that. However, I do have a friend who travels constantly, and has sometimes broken this rule with nothing happening to her. While in Croatia, her and her friend meant some locals and they went on a week-long camping trip together and had a great time. I personally wouldn’t put myself in that situation and risk something bad happening in a country where I don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language, but it worked out for her.
- Don’t make yourself conspicuous. Sometimes this is hard, of course, if for example, you may be the only blue-eyed blond on a street in India, but you can do things to minimize your conspicuousness. Whether I’m walking around a city at home or abroad, I try to look (as much as possible) like I know where I’m going. If you look like a lost tourist, that’s when people may try to take advantage of you. I always carry a map with me in case I need it, but I study it before I leave the hotel, so I’m not standing on a street corner looking at a map and pointing out the fact that I’m a lost tourist. I also think part of not being conspicuous is respecting the culture you’re in by talking with the locals and tailoring your behavior to the situation as necessary (for example, Americans stereotypically can be very loud, but this may be disrespectful in other cultures or settings). I think the people around you can sense that you’re there to learn about their culture rather than to gawk at it.
What other basic tips would you give your fellow travelers? What would you say to doubters of solo travel?