Brittany making friends with loracets in Madagascar. Image courtesy of Brittany Fair.
This month I’m featuring guest blogger Brittany Fair. Brittany is off traveling Europe with her boyfriend before starting her PhD in Neuroscience. (Yeah, she’s pretty badass). Below are her words of wisdom on planning a solo travel adventure as a very small, but very feisty, single lady.
In B’s words…
Traveling solo as a single lady has been one of my most requested blog topics, as, up until recently, I have always traveled the world solo.
As a 5’2” white woman in my twenties, I am not the most intimidating human out there. However, I think traveling alone safely, whether female or male, relies on four crucial ingredients:
- Planning ahead
- Making good judgments
- A little bit of luck
1. Plan ahead when possible.
When it is an option, make reservations with a well-reviewed hostel, AirBnB, or a couchsurfing host that you trust BEFORE meeting them.
Never attempt to surf with someone if you have reservations about it.
Gut feelings exist for a reason.
Make sure to really read people’s profiles and the reviews others have left for them. I, personally, would never book with someone who didn’t have any reviews — even if their profile picture looked like my grandma.
The one time I found myself in a sticky house situation was in a remote part of Costa Rica. I had arrived later in the day than expected, the sun was going down, and I hadn’t made a reservation. All of the “good” hostels were booked, so I was forced to a hostel up the road that had no other guests.
If there is no one else in a hostel, there’s a reason.
I awoke to a man watching me sleep from outside my room. I felt my privacy had been completely violated and was on the first boat back to a village I could trust.
That situation could have been avoided had I booked in advance at a well-reviewed accommodation.
Another little trick: Always have a solid backup plan.
While traveling alone through Central America, I always knew that I could rely on a good friend and her family living in Panama City. Their existence was my home base in case there was ever an emergency.
Just having SOMEONE in the vicinity (Central America, in this case), can make you feel so much more calm and collected.
2. Make good judgments.
Judge people, and fast. It will make or break your trip.
Whenever I first arrive at a hostel while traveling solo, I take out my book and sit. I’m not necessarily reading, but observing people’s behavior. Who’s talking about partying? Who’s talking about hooking up? Who’s talking about going on hikes? That last category of people is who I’m going to be friends with.
I also stick by a personal rule: One drink is fine, but I only drink more than that if I’m with close friends. While traveling around and staying at hostels? Yes, this means one drink only.
I do this for a few reasons, but the two main ones are:
- To stay aware of my surroundings and the people, and
- To not make myself appear vulnerable.
You cannot avoid all bad situations, but remaining sober cannot hurt when it comes to protecting yourself.
3. Have confidence.
This means in both yourself and others. You’ve set out on an adventure, so enjoy it!
Be aware, but do not stress and worry about what could happen. If you make good judgments and are selective about the people you choose to spend your time with, there is less to fret about.
Also, this may seem silly to state, but it’s okay to trust other people (men included, as long as they are in no way threatening/creepy). Actually bonding with other people who are traveling generally takes a bit of trust and can lead to whole new adventures!
4. Don’t discount a little bit of luck!
Shit happens. You simply cannot plan for everything. Sometimes sketchy or uncomfortable situations arise, and it is how you handle them that can make or break an experience.
Things to Always Know:
- The local emergency phone number
- How to communicate emergencies in the local language (Most phrasebooks include this.)
- The location of the nearest hospital.
- The location of the nearest bus/taxi depot.
- A way to contact home — via wifi, cell phone, satellite phone, etc. Just something.
This post is meant to in no way to be a concrete method to avoid danger, but rather it is to be used as a guide for preparing your own safe travel. My last little piece of advice for any new or solo traveler looking to be as safe as possible is to avoid cities. More people means more people — both good and bad. Plus, cities can be hard to manage — too many variables. Staying in small towns will also allow you a glimpse at the people, as well as the place.