The traditional idea of a holiday often goes hand-in-hand with company – whether it be a one-off reunion with the fam, a loved-up weekend with your other half, or a let’s-forget-we’ve-got-responsibilities festivale with your besties.
However, more and more these days, travellers are choosing to go it alone and the past few years have well and truly seen the spirited rise of the globetrotting wander woman. Awesome!
Apart from the fact that women may cop an extraordinary amount of blatant sexism and harassment while travelling alone. Unfortunately, some of the attitudinal stuff that exists is woven into the innate fabric of our lives as women, so until that changes, you’ll need to continue to make those possibly life-saving micro-decisions about your own safety (just like you would at home).
Before you go
Take a copy of all your important documents, like your passport, visa, insurance policy, itinerary and credit cards and either upload them to a locked file hosting service that you (and a trusted contact) can access from any computer or stick with old-fashioned hard copies, and keep one in your luggage and give one to someone back home.
Register your trip details with DFAT (and get updates on FB, Twitter or via their app), keep emergency numbers like your next of kin and your travel insurer in your wallet and schedule a regular check-in (via Skype or WhatsApp) with the flatmate or fam. If you can afford it, pack your mobile as well and buy a couple of international phone cards for emergencies.
Schedule a health check-up with your local GP (including booking in any jabs you’ll need) at least six weeks before you go, be aware of any lurgies that might be lurking at your destination and pack a decent First Aid kit that will help you handle all manner of travel maladies, from Bali Belly to a surprise holiday romance.
Buy decent luggage (it should be slash-proof and water resistant at least), pack as subtlety as you can (nothing screams ‘rob me’ like a fake Louis Vuitton wheelaboard) and for god’s sake, make sure you secure it well, don’t leave it unattended at the airport and never, ever carry anything into or out of another country for somebody else.
Research (and ideally, book) your accommodation before you go. Sites like TripAdvisor, Oyster and Hostelz often give the low down on both the site and the neighbourhood, and if you’re Airbnb-ing it, reviewer’s profiles should give you a pretty good heads up.
Smaller businesses can often mean more familiarity (especially when you get to first name basis) and hostels on well-trafficked streets, with restaurants and late-night retailers are your best bet. If you’re still concerned, ask a female employee (or fellow traveller) for advice on getting around and take note of where NOT to go.
When checking in, make sure your details are kept private, ask for multiple keys (and store them in separate spots) and if staying in hotel accommodation, request a room away from emergency exits and any renovation work (which offers easy access for thieves). When you venture out, leave the Do Not Disturb sign on the door and the TV on, and if ordering room service, make sure the menu is authentic and never allude to the fact that you’re alone.
At airports, keep an eye on your valuables (especially when going through security) and if travelling overnight, take your travel bag with you when you pop off to the loo. Once you’ve arrived, take public transport to your accommodation or book a licensed cab. If you’re a little nervous about it, note the vehicle’s license plate number, give the driver hand written directions to save any miscommunication and track the cab’s route via Google Maps.
If travelling by train, try not to fall asleep, sit close to the front and with other women, and don’t travel at night alone if you can help it. And if you’re cruising round town in a hire car (lucky you!), keep your valuables (and touristy paraphernalia like guide books) out of sight, make sure the petrol tank’s always full and try not to stop for a pee at an under-lit trucker stop in the middle of nowhere.
Prefer to walk your way around a city? Then dress like a local or at least a long-time, dressed down expat, avoid wearing bling (except for possibly a wedding ring which is a great deterrent) and if you must ask for directions, approach families with angelic looking children.
Keep credit cards and currency in separate spots (some on you and some hidden in your luggage), and familiarise yourself with the currency so you’re not dragging out a wad of bills every time you go to pay for something. Hide your emergency stash in a money belt, secret pocket or tampon packet (who’s going to look there?), don’t change currency on the street unless you want to be severely ripped off and take care when using ATM’s.
If your card’s with a global brand, you’ll be able to withdraw money worldwide and many companies also include replacement services and 24-hour assist lines that will get you out of a tight spot if you need. You should also consider a pre-paid card that acts like a debit card, which will ensure you don’t return from your trip with a bill that will take you years to pay off.
Remain attentive and assertive, be aware of your surroundings at all times (trying to negotiate your way back to your hostel, alone, at night, after a few too many drinkies is not a good idea) and don’t feel guilty about saying no to anything.
Trust your instincts when accepting help, tune into that alter ego if you have to (“my boyfriend’s just at the bar”) and if things go a bit pear shaped, always have a back up plan.
It’s also wise to leave a communication trail behind you, whether it’s a quick photo upload or a simple check-in on social media and if things do go awry, contact local police, family, friends, your tour operator, airline, travel agent, bank, employer and/or your travel insurance provider.
If you’re still facing serious difficulties, DFAT’s Consular Emergency Centre provides 24-hour assistance to Australians and can be contacted on +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas.
And lastly, embrace this time in your life. It’s not all doom and gloom, you just have to be a little smart about the way you travel. And there are heaps of other little travelettes out there just like you who have a wealth of advice on how to get the most out of your trip. So, hook up girlfriend!