Having travelled a lot (never completely alone, but mostly with just girls), I’ve learnt a few things along the way that have really helped me to be better prepared for when I do visit a foreign country.
I’ve also spent lots of time abroad alone, having moved to a foreign country from my native England, and there’s some things that you just can’t be prepared for until you’ve experienced travelling alone! As a female, things become even more complex. Here are my top tips for handling travelling (whether solo or in a group)… as an adventurous woman!
1. Social media is your friend
Screw those that say updating your social media all the time is stupid. When you’re travelling (particularly alone) it’s things like this that can make the difference between you being found or not if something really bad happens. Keeping a digital footprint doesn’t need to be showing off about where you’re going or why. It can be as simple as an Instagram pic with a little update on where you’ve been or where you’re heading. Small things like this ensure people have some idea of where you’ve been, and where you might have gone next.
2. Be sensible with “love interests”
If you’re single it’s tempting to make the most of your time with a hot foreigner. Nothing wrong with that, but when it comes to going back to a stranger’s house you have to be extra careful.
I won’t say I’ve never taken a risk – trust me, I’ve done some crazy things in my time travelling – but when it comes to strangers I ALWAYS stick with my mates. No only that, I always know where my friends are.
3. Be careful with alcohol
Personally, I hardly ever drink alcohol (I might have a couple of glasses of wine at new year or a beer on a super hot day), but apart from that I’m pretty much always sober. Thanks to this I always know what’s going on.
But if you do drink alcohol maybe getting completely blackout drunk isn’t a good idea.
It’s awful that women are still targets when even slightly vulnerable (in fact, you don’t even have to be drunk to be a target) – and I’m never going to be someone who thinks or says that being drunk is a good excuse for someone to hurt or take advantage of you.
But just because it isn’t right doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, and to be honest, when I’m in an unfamiliar place I would rather minimise the risk of anything like this happening.
There is a beach in a part of Spain right next to the local clubs where at night time all types of criminals patrol it looking for foreigners to rob and assault.
My friend and I actually watched a drunk girl kissing a man on the beach get her bag stolen without her even noticing (and it was on the sand next to her!). We were too far away to help but we’ve seen with our own eyes how people wait in the shadows for the perfect opportunity to take what they want. Don’t be a victim!!
4. Make sure you can always be identified
ALWAYS keep some form of ID on you (it doesn’t have to be your passport). If something happens to you people will know who you are (especially if you accidentally get separated from friends or seriously injured).
Some countries. like the Netherlands, actually require foreigners to have ID on them ready to show to officials when asked. It’s pretty rare to be asked (unless you’re causing a public nuisance or are caught up in a crime) but if something does happen and a policemen or other official asks you for ID and you can’t prove who you are, you could face a fine or be liable to prosecution.
5. Know the country’s laws
Make sure you research the country you’re going to. I can’t stress this enough. Some people don’t do this and then complain when something goes wrong that they “didn’t know”. Well it’s your business to know.
You might not agree with the way a country does things (for example, the culture in Saudi Arabia is vastly different to that in the U.K.)… but when you’re in someone’s country you abide by their rules – for your own safety, at least. Don’t take unnecessary risks!
6. Stay calm
I’ve had times when I’ve really wanted to shout, times when I’ve gotten really angry – border control being really unfair or train conductors being super unhelpful… but be aggressive or inflammatory and you can expect to lose any will for them to co-operate with you. And then you’ll be stuck somewhere with people totally unwilling to help you. Stay calm for your own safety!
7. Beware of ‘helpful’ strangers
There are some things you face on a regular basis as a female that become even dodgier or more dangerous when abroad.
When you’re a girl travelling alone or with other girlfriends, suddenly lots of strange, random men in the street want to be your friend; they want to help you, take you places, give you directions, offer you a lift…
Some people like to ‘help’ lost tourists… some want to show you where the nearest ATM is… some offer to take a group picture with your expensive camera or your phone… people want to “just talk to you”… etc etc.
Let me just say this: a randomer in the street isn’t your friend.
I actually get this more from men than from women (in the street I mean), and it’s not because women are unwilling to help you or don’t want to be your friend.
It’s because the people who are genuine will try to help you in a much better context than randomly in the street. They are the people you can find in hostels, hotels, galleries, bars, events etc.
8. Use your common sense
If someone seems to be, or offers you something that is too good to be true… it probably is.
Of course not everyone has ill intentions. Some people are genuinely interested in being friends or showing you the sights. But you need to know the difference between a friendly person and someone with bad intentions.
This can only be learnt through life experience and trial and error. Don’t give your personal info away so easily and don’t rely on anyone you’ve just met.
9. Don’t look like a tourist
The less you look like a tourist the less you will be targeted in many countries (even though in some countries you’ll look like a tourist no matter what you do!).
For those countries you can disguise yourself in, here’s some tips : don’t wear your backpack on your front like you’re super worried about pick-pockets – it makes you look super-touristy, scared and therefore particularly vulnerable to being intimidated.
Don’t draw loads of attention to yourself and your accent by being drunk or super loud in public; don’t look super confused and lost in a place you don’t know, and for the love of god don’t have your head stuck in your phone instead of actually watching your environment.