Travel alone as a woman is an affirming and empowering thing to do, but it’s important to keep yourself safe. Photo / Getty Images
Doing some homework before you set off can ease the way, writes Ewan McDonald
In our last column, we offered some advice for a single, retired senior who wanted to travel but felt nervous about the idea of striking out on his own. We’ll continue that theme today.
Probably the most important section of today’s column, particularly as you’re not as young as you once were. Although travelling alone is a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and take on new experiences, you need to keep your wits about you.
Think ahead. What do I do with my stuff if I need to use the airport bathroom? If you’re on a tour, no problem. If you’re in transit on your own, could be an issue. Tip: most airports have “ambassador” or customer-help programmes, like Auckland Airport’s famously friendly bluecoats.
It’s a bummer but you will need to be aware of the wiles and guiles of pickpockets and scammers. Hat-tip to Southern Cross Travel Insurance for their comprehensive guide at scti.co.nz/travel-advice/outsmart-pickpockets.
You’re going to want that selfie in front of the Taj Mahal or Buckingham Palace – but do you want to hand your phone or camera to a stranger? At Buckingham Palace, you probably could ask a policeman. Maybe look out for another solo traveller and arrange a swap with them.
Going out for a drink or a meal – meeting the locals or even with your fellow group members – is one of the best parts of a trip. But, you know your limits. Stick to them. In fact, stick to one or more cocktails or wines less than your limits. Some savvy travellers keep a tally on their hand or napkin.
I’ve a number of women friends who travel on their own, or with tours. Their first article of advice to other women is unanimously: Do it! But act as you would at home – don’t accept drinks or unwanted invitations from strangers, don’t talk to someone you don’t want to. Some employ that old trick of wearing a fake wedding ring – it works most of the time, they tell me, but they leave most of their genuine jewellery at home.
Several apps have been designed to keep travellers safe by connecting them with local emergency services, with family back home, or providing information about local issues – an unexpected riot just after an election in a foreign capital, say. Check out Red Panic Button, TripWhistle and bSure. Tourlina is targeted at women, allowing them to team up with people who are verified by the platform to make travel safer and perhaps new friendships. Those with medical conditions should look into ICE.
How you break the news to your kids that you’re dipping into their inheritance to pay for a six-month Harley-Davidson ride around all 50 states, is over to you. But don’t leave home without knowing how you’ll contact them if something does go belly-up.
If you’ve bought a new phone because it’s got a better camera for your holiday videos, make sure you know how to use it to call your daughter, and – if you’re on a tour – that the guide knows who to phone.
While we’re talking about tech, be open to the many tools available now that weren’t around when you hitch-hiked from London to Katmandu in the 70s, sending an aerogramme to Mum and Dad once a month or so.
Use Google Street View to take a look around a neighbourhood area before booking a hotel or Airbnb. If you’re going somewhere you don’t speak the language, download a language app like Duolingo and get studying. Knowing a few words of Turkish will make the trip more fun and you can interact with locals over a glass of çay. On the road, Google Translate and Microsoft Translator will ensure you know what you’re ordering from the menu.
This, hand on heart. This gig has meant that I’ve done a lot of travelling on my own. It can be tiring, and sometimes lonely. The good thing is that you’ll come home with memories and a huge sense of achievement.
Challenge yourself. When you’re travelling alone, you are likely to meet fellow travellers whether it’s on tours, on flights or wandering around a city or a museum. If you’re not the most social person – my hand is up on this, too – that can be confronting. Swallow hard, make the effort – and you might just have met a lifelong friend.
And while you’re away, take the last five minutes of every day to recap and reward yourself, however you choose to do so. You’ve earned it.