Tag Archives: safety

Tips for women travelling alone

Simon's Town, South Africa

Simon’s Town, South Africa

Hey ladies, thinking about travelling solo? First things first, just smile and pretend to agree with all the naysayers who say it’s way too dangerous to travel alone. Next, check out some tips below for women thinking about travelling alone. Trust me, after 3 trips in 1st and 3rd world countries, the boogeyman hiding under your bed is scarier than travelling alone.

  • Be smart! Can’t stress this enough people! Yes, we all want to have fun and enjoy everything that independent travel has to offer. But does that mean walking down a dark alley all by yourself in the middle of the night in a sketchy part of town? If you answered yes, please find the nearest adult and ask them to be your travel buddy.
  • Ask locals where the sketchy parts of town are and try to avoid those at night time if you’re alone.
  • Make friends with other travellers! Especially other solo women. On every one of my trips, I’ve made instant friendships with other females travelling alone (yes, there are more than one of us out there!) and ended up travelling for a bit with them. We understand each other and can even swap hilarious pick-up stories. Did you hear the one about the guy who mooned me on the back of a truck in South Africa and then promptly asked for my hand in marriage?
  • Go out in groups. Chat up your bunk mates and fellow travellers and see where they’re headed. Yes, it’s awkward at first to invite yourself but unless they’re part of a secret organization or undercover narcs, most travellers have the same motto, the more the merrier!
  • Be polite even if someone is nagging or bothering you. You will encounter a lot of touts trying to sell you things, would-be admirers, and expert cat callers (being Asian, I often get “konichiwa!” or “ni hao!”. I even got a “Fukushima!” once, mind you this was around the time of the Japanese earthquake in 2011). Instead of escalating the situation and telling them to f-off, just ignore them or smile and move along. I usually just get a laugh out of the crazy English sayings that people come up with!
  • Avoid telling complete strangers that you’re travelling alone, you’re single, or where you’re staying. We all want to make instant friendships and have the local experience, but if you just met this shady-looking guy on the street, volunteering to him a rundown of your relationship status and where he can find you naked in the shower later may not be the best idea.
  • Stay in accommodation that’s safe. Whether you’re staying at a grungy hostel or a quaint guest house, make sure that it’s safe and secure. This means that the doors lock and no one can climb into your room if you’re near the ground floor. It may not be as cheap as the $5 per night shack that’s a little easier on your budget, but your belongings and your safety are worth much, much more. If you are stuck at a seedy place for the night, make your own safety. Whether that’s pushing furniture against the door to keep it shut (which I had to do in Bali) or keeping your important belongings under your pillow (sleep sacs and money belts are great for this!), do whatever makes you feel safe and allows you to have a good night’s rest.
  • Avoid getting into sketchy transportation. We’ve all done it, gotten into the unmarked taxi/songthaew/matatu to save some $$$, but if you’re the only one in it and it’s midnight, maybe it’s a good idea to walk into the nearest classy-looking hotel and ask them to call you a taxi. A really good way is to arrange transportation through your hostel since they’re used to dealing with tourists. It may be a bit more expensive and they might rip you off, but at least you won’t get robbed. See, silver lining.

So that’s it, nothing mind-blowing, just common sense.  You may agree/disagree with this since I usually err on the side of caution but that doesn’t mean that I’m scared of everything or suspicious of everyone while travelling alone. I’m also not saying that following these tips will 100% guarantee you or your money back that you won’t get robbed: shit happens right? However, travelling is one the best ways to let your hair down and relax so don’t let the horror stories from home stop you from being that fierce, independent woman that you are (cue Destiny’s Child) and truly enjoy your adventure!

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Thinking about a solo backpacking mission?

Whenever I tell people that I’ve backpacked alone, the normal reaction is either “Good for you!” or “Are you crazy?!”. Travelling alone is not for everyone and it doesn’t mean that you’re more or less adventurous or selfish. It’s a matter of preference – similar to whether you like boxers or briefs, salad or fries as a side, or rom coms or blowup action movies (all the latter for me!). My first backpacking trip was with a travel buddy to Europe but after I felt comfortable with being new environments and gained some travel savvy-ness, I decided that my next trip would be a solo mission to South East Asia and this continued on my trip to Africa.

So here are some pros and cons with travelling alone. Some of my pros may be your cons so I suggest you make your own list and regardless or which way you go, you’ll end up having a great time as long as you open yourself up to experiencing new cultures and commit to having a memorable trip!

Pros

  1. You can be selfish. Feel like sleeping in all day? Go ahead! Rather go hiking instead of checking out a museum? Who’s stopping you? Travelling alone lets you decide what you want to do, when you want to do it. You don’t have to compromise and whatever you want to accomplish on your trip is up to you. You don’t have to play with your friend the awkward mind game of “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” and ultimately, you are responsible for your decisions, whether good or bad.
  2. You’ll be more open to meeting new people. You don’t have a social crutch anymore. If you don’t want to eat alone, you’ll have to chat up that nice-looking Brit staying in your hostel. This is one of the main reasons why I travel alone. I get to meet other people like me and discover those instant best friends forever connections. Sure, there are times where you may just want to be alone, but you’ll find while travelling alone that if you make the first move and chat up your bunk mate or bus seat partner, almost everyone will be more than open to tell you all about their trip experience so far and where they’re headed next. After you get through the small talk chit chat, you may find that these people will become your trusted travel buddy or maybe just an interesting story to tell your friends back home. 
  3. Curious locals will want to talk to you. Once you pick pass the touts who are trying to sell you things or for the ladies, creepy guys that are picking you up, talking to locals is a great way to gain insights into the places you are visiting outside of the “tourist bubble”. This is especially true for solo female travellers. Locals will see you taking selfies and ask questions, maybe even have no shame asking very personal questions (“Are you married? Why aren’t you married?”). Just be nice, smile, answer whatever you feel comfortable with and ask them questions in return. This is the way I found out that certain Thai islands have a strong Rastafarian culture or that there’s a witch doctor in Tanzania who’s a pastor and can apparently cure heart diseases and diabetes.
  4. You will get preferential treatment. It may be a demoralizing situation but when you’re travelling alone, you will get special treatment from people who feel sorry for you. Hey, they can feel sorry for me all they want, I don’t mind as long as I get something out of it! In South Africa, it was the spacious front seat of a smelly, packed minibus, beside a friendly local driver, Rob, who told me all about his 7 kids and taught me phrases in Xhosa.

Cons

  1. Everything is divided by…1. The costs of your trip will be higher if you’re travelling alone simply because you can’t share the costs of  accommodation or taxi trips with anyone else. However, if you are good at #2 above (making friends), this will help bring down your costs. If you’re in an anti-social mood, look for shared accommodation in hostels or just take local transportation like everyone else to lower the drain on your wallet. 
  2. You’ll have to keep funny things to yourself until you can tell someone. Every time I meet someone new after being alone for awhile, I get a major case of verbal diarrhea. It’s just that I literally haven’t talked to anyone for awhile (talking to yourself doesn’t count, although you’ll start doing that after about 3 weeks of travelling alone. Don’t worry, it’s completely normal. Right?) and have seen/experienced so much that I just need to tell someone. Travelling alone means you won’t have someone to confirm with that yes, those are blatant abortion ads plastered on lamp posts in Durban or laugh with you over the random child that was tossed in your lap for an 11 hour minibus ride to Tofo. Keeping a journal helps remember and get some of those funny moments out on paper. I still laugh reading through my journals because it brings me back to those exact moments.
  3. You have to be more aware. Travelling solo means that you don’t have someone else looking out for you, this doesn’t mean that you should be yelling “back off!” to anyone who comes within 2 feet of you but you will need to be more cautious (especially women). I’ve experienced some shady situations (getting dropped off the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night or sleeping with my tiny Swiss Army knife under my pillow) but in the end, I’ve never been robbed or harmed while backpacking. This is because of a simple rule I made: I vowed never to put myself in any dangerous situation. This meant not going out by myself at night in a shady neighbourhood or getting so drunk at the bar that I couldn’t put myself to bed. Use your common sense, street smarts, buddy system, peripheral vision, instincts, whatever it takes to keep yourself safe.
  4. It gets lonely. Even after all my trips, I still get home sick around the 4 week mark. It’s just human nature to miss creature comforts – your family, friends, your bed, etc. This coupled with being alone will give even the most optimistic people the case of the Mondays. How to prepare for this is to tell yourself that it’s totally fine to feel lonely, and instead of having a pity party for one where you’re the guest of honour, it’s your trip and you can do whatever you want. So eat your feelings with that tub of ice cream on the beach but remember to look around and take in your beautiful surroundings because when you’re back home in your tiny cubicle at work, the place where you rather be is on that beach eating a tub of salty tear-infused ice cream.

Obviously, there are many other reasons that I haven’t included so feel free to post them below. For those who rather travel with a buddy, you can check out TravBuddy, FindMeetGo or search the Thorn Tree travel forums for travel companions. Whether you decide to take the “table for one” route or make it an extended group hang with your closest friends, your trip is what you make out of it so go out there, chat up your neighbour and try to learn as many swear words in different languages as possible (we all know those are the first words we learn so don’t even try to deny it)!

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How to safely travel without carrying around the drugstore

For many of us who take tylenol at the slightest hint of a headache, it may be hard to imagine traveling without the convenience of your neighbourhood drug store.  But when you’re running for a bus/train with a backpack weighing you down, you’ll be happy you were able to pare down your list to only the essentials.

The list below are some of the necessities for any backpacking trip but by no means is this list complete, so please consult your doctor.

  • Tylenol/Advil/whatever pain killer you fancy
  • Dukoral – traveler’s diarrhea vaccine, take in advance and keep in the fridge, get from doctor.
  • Hydrocortisone cream – good for mosquito bites and other random rashes, get over the counter.
  • Bandaids – can be used as tape too!
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Cipro(floxacin) – antibacterial for severe traveler’s diarrhea, get from doctor.  Never used it before but good to know it’s there.
  • Wet wipes/naps – clean wounds, dirty hands, bird poop (been pooped on by birds 7 times and counting so it does happen!)
  • Malaria pills – must-have if going to malaria affected regions.  Can get from doctor.
  • Over the counter antacid & anti-diarrhea – to avoid the dreaded ring of fire
  • Anti-nausea medicine  (Gravol) – good for bumpy bus rides, rough boat trips
  • Any other drugs you’re already taking (i.e. birth control pills, allergy medicine, etc)

To be on the safe side, do a bit of research before you leave to see how readily available medicine will be at the places you’ll be visiting.  For example, pharmacies in Thai cities can give you almost anything without a prescription.

In the end, stress causes most illnesses so as long as you stay relaxed and fully embrace the experience, a calm day in bed or at the beach with a good book will be all the medicine you need!

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Maldives: great place to lose your wallet

Kurumba Resort, Vihamanafushi, Republic of Maldives

So the start of my trip has been very interesting to say the least. I didn’t notice how taxing travel was until I realized that we left Toronto on Sunday afternoon and didn’t arrive at our destination until Tuesday morning. Minus the time difference and we’ve been traveling for around 30 hours. But I must say, it’s been worth it!

For those short attention-spanned people like me, here’s a brief recap of the last 30 hours:

  • finally packed all my stuff into my backpack, it’s 18kg. I’m going to develop back muscles I never even knew I had!
  • last goodbye to parents and friends in Toronto and also, goodbye to instant connectivity through internet, cellphone, bbm etc. Mom and Dad, thank you for not freaking out!
  • Amsterdam airport: security is very particular here. They do all the security stuff at each gate and have special security people (employed by G4S or as we know them by in Toronto, our building concierge). These security people pull everyone aside at these podiums and ask all these questions that I found odd. For example, they questioned how Mike and I knew each other at least 3 times and how we were going to get around on our trip. It didn’t help that Mike and I had no idea what our itinerary is going to look like or how we were actually going to get around.
  • Mumbai airport: very friendly and personalized service. We had this lady take us around everywhere – maybe because we looked super disoriented from being sleep deprived. She even questioned where we were going when we left the gate – Mike had to get KFC which not too surprisingly, tasted the same as in Toronto.
  • Mumbai to Colombo to Maldives: they love fresh cold towels here and now, as do I. So refreshing and clean!

Finally landed in Maldives and automatically, it felt so baller! We were ushered to this private yacht (and when I say yacht, it’s because I’ve never seen such a nice boat in my life!) and were automatically given bottles of water and again, fresh cold towels! They even let me drive the boat which now, looking back may not have been the wisest choice considering how sleep deprived and practically inebriated from excitement I was. We sped along to Kurumba resort which is on one of the North Male atolls (i.e. islands) called Vihamanafushi and was pleasantly greeted by a hostess who showed us the resort grounds which spans the island.

Mike and I freshened up and walked around the island and I couldn’t stop smiling. We saw schools of fish and water snakes just by walking along the beach. Our beach villa is so baller that we had to hide the instant noodles we brought along in the cupboard out of shame. Then, panic struck when I realized I had lost my wallet somewhere between the Mumbai airport KFC and here. Which brings me to my next piece of advice for anyone traveling:

  1. Keep your most important stuff in a money belt at all times. Thankfully, my passport was in my money belt so I can still leave the country. Although, they’ll have to drag me off this island when it comes time to leave.
  2. Separate out your money. I only had a couple of USD in my wallet and the rest was safely tucked away in a money belt.
  3. Get a second debit card and keep that with your most valued-valuables in your money belt.
  4. Take photocopies of all your important cards and documents. I was easily able to call MBNA (for credit card) and CIBC (for debit card) to cancel my cards. MBNA is even FedEx-ing me a card to the Maldives before we set off for India!

Maldives is probably the best place to lose your wallet since everything is connected (internet, phone etc) and the staff at Kurumba have been super helpful.

After the panic wore off, we took a nap before dinner which ended being a 13 hour coma! After a 30 hour trip across the world, it’s just what we needed so today, we are fully refreshed and ready to…lay on the beach and do nothing!

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