Single? Female? Traveler? Advice


Solo Travel Tips for the Female Traveler

Solo travel used to sound like something that only the most adventurous women could do. After my most recent trip, I have learned that almost anyone can do it if they feel up to it. It is exhausting and liberating. Terrifying and uplifting. Challenging and surprisingly easy. I learned more about myself in one week than I did in four years of college, actually, in all my years of education. And while solo travel can be fantastic, it can also be awfully scary. You just need to go into the situation with a positive mind and a few tricks up your sleeve.  These following tips are the tricks that I learned from my first trip.

Disclaimer: by no means am I an expert in traveling by yourself. What I do know is what worked for me at a particular time and location. The purpose of this is to share what I think worked and hopefully others will be able to use these strategies for similar situations.
Fake David, Florence
  •  Have a backup plan: sometimes things don’t work out, especially in Italy. They strike just as much as the French! This means that if you planned on taking the train at a certain day or time, you may want a backup plan in case you miss it, there are any problems, or there is a strike. Getting off the plane I had two ways of getting to the train station, just in case one was not working. Knowing that you have two plans makes the stress of a situation less stressful because you will not be stranded. Maybe you booked a hotel you are not too sure of. Look at others in the area that you could go to in case something didn’t work out with that hotel. Maybe you forgot to confirm, maybe it is too dirty, maybe they are trying to scam you. Whatever the reason, knowing the potential of the area will ease some of that woe. This was something that I wish I had thought of in Rome.
  •  Know your surroundings: are you in a dark alley? Are you in a heavily populated area? Is there someone following you? All of these are things that us solo female travelers must constantly be aware of. Even though the world has made some improvements on how they treat women, the truth is that we are still an easier target than men. But this should not stop us from traveling. Sorry to be the pessimist, but this is all over the world, even in your native country. But what makes us more comfortable in our native country is that we understand the culture and what specifically to be aware of. Abroad, it is harder to understand what to look for just because some things get lost in translation. So just think critically. Think about if you feel safe and if you are aware. In Italy, it seems that just being alert and aware is good enough and not much else is needed. Another reason why it is good to know your surroundings is that by paying attention to buildings and landmarks, you can easily make your way back if you are lost. In my case I had a bad map, which made me confused, so I just learned to look for landmarks to find my way back home.
Victorio Emmanuelle II, Rome

  • Trust your gut: someone once told me “if you have a doubt, then don’t.” To this day I use that as my guiding force. If you don’t like the street that you are on, then find another large, more crowded one. If you don’t like the look someone is giving you, leave the situation, preferably where others can see you. If you think someone is following you, go into a shop. A little retail therapy can’t be bad! The point is if you have a bad feeling, then it is ok to listen to it. I am not the biggest fan of taking chances. Although sometimes they can be good.
  • Try something new: part of the point of the solo travel is to experience new things, right? Well do one thing that scares you, or one thing that you normally wouldn’t do at home. For me that was taking an elevator to the top of Il Victoriano in Rome. I know, sounds pathetic that taking an elevator was my risk of choice, but they really do scare me. Especially when they are made of glass and go that high! But I have no regrets for the few moments of sweaty palms and shortness of breath because I was rewarded with the most beautiful panoramic view of Rome. I should try new things more often! I think the thing that was most rewarding was that I did it by myself. No one was there to hold my hand or talk me through it. I had to force myself to rely on myself, which was a good experience for me.
  • Know the language: this helps tremendously. Obviously if you are fluent in the language, then you should have no problems communicating. But in most cases you are not fluent which means that you somehow will need to get over the language barrier. If you can’t be fluent in the language, which is a reality for most of us, then learn key words and phrases. Know your right from your left, please and thank you, how to ask for directions, and key words relating to finances, such as hotels or transportation. This will help you be in the loop when things get lost in translation and to feel more comfortable in the city. It helps you meet more people and prevent you from falling for a scam. And generally, people respect those who make more of an effort to communicate in their language than those that expect others to speak their language.
  • Learn the map: getting lost sucks. Getting lost alone is worse! In words of my grandma, “we’re just on an adventure.” But when that adventure starts to run over an hour, I tend to be done with it. So learn the map. Get to know large street names that you can use to navigate your way back. And for those of you as stubborn as I am, asking for directions will be hard on your pride, but it may actually get you out of the rut. Learning the map is also good because walking around staring at a map means that you are missing seeing the city. Sometimes you need to stop looking down at the map and look up at the skyline, or even what is right in front of you. You see and experience so much more of the city when you are looking around. It also makes you more aware and less distracted so you will avoid getting robbed because you can see what is around you rather than what is on a piece of paper. So whether you take public transportation, write the directions down on your hand, or memorizing everything, this will help you be safe and experience as much as you can.
    The Duomo, Florence
  • Have some knowledge of the culture: did you know that giving the thumbs up sign is offensive in some cultures? And the “A-Okay” sign is really offensive in others? Well as language is different, so are certain gestures. Now going into most parts of Western Europe, you won’t have a complete culture shock although you may notice a few differences. In Southern Europe, many countries have a period in the afternoon when things close for naptime. Entering a town of a Sunday in some areas may appear deserted. Sometimes women are expected to dress a certain way, and sometimes men are included in that dress. The point is, know where you are going. Whether it is something such as naptime, or as making sure your legs and shoulders are covered, it is good to know ahead of time so that you can make arrangement ahead of time or have a backup plan. I remember waiting in line for Duomo in Florence one summer and my cousin was not allowed in because her shorts were too short. Know where you are expected to be covered up. Know when things may be closed. I didn’t take that into consideration in my most recent trip to Italy and missed out on the Galileo museum. The point is to know what to expect so that you are not missing out anything or accidentally telling someone to go away in a very, very rude way.
  • Be respectful: this goes along with knowing the culture, but also with just being a good person. We always hear about foreigners making fun of Americans because they are considered rude and selfish. Well sadly sometimes this stereotype comes true. But by being respectful you can prove them wrong. Don’t litter, don’t cut into lines, don’t fight with everyone because you don’t like things are run, and always use your manners, even if you don’t speak the language. A littler kindness goes a long way. Think about, how hard is it to be mean to someone that is being genuinely nice to you. Really hard! By being respectful you ease your experience, disprove the stereotype, and get to experience the people, the culture, and the country a lot better by being open and nice.
  • Ask for directions: this is where I should be following my own advice. I have to say I asked for directions only once in my week, but it was one more time than I normally do, so I guess I am improving! But instead of wandering around that city lost for over an hour, it is good to just stop and ask for directions. If you are a solo female traveler, think about who you are asking for directions from. If you would mind them following you back to your hotel, then don’t ask that person. Go into a store and ask them or ask a family. Generally they are your safest bet. Asking for directions is not a sign of weakness, which is something that I need to get through my thick skull. Asking for directions saves time and you get to meet more people that way. If they shrug you off, just find someone else. There are always very nice people, somewhere, that are willing to help.
  • Talk to your hotel: your hotel is run by locals who actually know the area. They know the best and the worst places, so ask them for advice. Ask them what they think is important to see, or what places they like to go to for food. They know all the secrets of the city that the guidebooks won’t share with you. They will also know which parts you probably shouldn’t wander around in after dark. Their advice will help you live like the locals and really experience the culture rather than just the tourist culture.
The Colosseum, Rome

  • Know that big cities are similar: this means that every large city you go to will have great places and bad places. Knowing that there are parts that you should avoid does not mean it is a dangerous city. Every city has its own dangers but you just need to be aware of them. While the cultures may be different, all cities fall under the same patterns. There are financial districts where the wealth is, the expensive homes area, the medium homes area, the least expensive homes area, and the area by the train station. In every city each area has its own version of these districts. So when thinking about the dangers of a city, just know that is no more dangerous than New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.
  • Be confident: if you hide in your hotel room the entire trip, you are not going to like it. Walk the streets like you know what you are doing. Sit down at a restaurant alone and just be happy to be there. See the sites and appreciate them. Being confident is both hard and easy. It means that you have to be comfortable with yourself. You only have you to rely on and keep yourself company. If you are confident and content with yourself, you will most likely be able to enjoy the culture and opportunity a lot more because it generally makes you more open. If you are scared it will be what you focus on. So take a deep breathe, embrace your qualities, and admire you travels.
  • Smile: a smile goes a long way. It shows gratitude, happiness, and confidence. Apparently there are studies that show that by continuing to smile, people actually become happier. Smiling will make you happier and those around you happier. And how often do you really regret smiling?
Ok so maybe these tips can be applied to anyone travel in some cases, but hopefully they can help make the difference between an ok trip and a great trip or encourage those who are on the fence of traveling by themselves.

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