Solo Travel Confessions

by Gray Cargill on April 27, 2010

Confessional

What I am about to say may shock you:  I quite often don’t practice what I preach when it comes to solo travel safety.  There is a lot of sound advice about safety for solo women that is commonly-held and repeated among travelers (including me!).  Most of it, I adhere to.  For instance, I make sure I pick a hotel in a safe neighborhood. I stick to well-traveled tourist areas (especially at night) and do not go to private places with strangers.  I keep my valuables locked up in my room safe or tucked out of sight. I stay sober and am constantly vigilant about what’s going on around me. I am super paranoid about anyone invading my personal space.

But there are some things that I  have  not yet found it necessary to do.  This may be because of the destinations I choose.  So far, I haven’t gone anywhere that has felt particularly unsafe to me.  So what are those solo female safety tips I don’t follow?

wedding ring

I don’t wear a fake wedding band to discourage men from hitting on me when I travel. I keep seeing this bit of advice being doled out on the Internet like it’s something you absolutely have to do to stay safe when you travel.  I’m not spending a couple of hundred bucks on  a fake wedding band, when I can just as easily discourage men with my best “fuck off” facial expression, which happens to be free. But then, I haven’t traveled to regions where men are particular aggressive about that sort of thing, and I’m not a cute young twenty-something any more.

I’ve never lied about my bodybuilder boyfriend being “back in the hotel room” to make people think I’m not traveling alone. Why? Because I’m a lousy liar and they’d see right through me anyway!  So why bother?  I don’t want people’s first impression of me to be that I’m a liar.

Which is why I also sometimes commit the cardinal sin of solo travelers: I tell people I’m traveling alone. I’ve never gotten into a conversation with someone I can’t trust with that information, because I steer clear of anyone who feels “wrong” to me.  It’s not like I’m running around screaming in the streets “I’m traveling alone! Mug me!” I just don’t see any reason to keep it a secret that I’m traveling alone if someone asks.

If someone I’ve struck up a friendly conversation with asks me, I tell them where I’m staying. Why not?  It’s not like I’m camping out in the woods alone.  There are always plenty of staff around, if not security.  So what the hell is a stranger going to do about it if they know where I’m staying?  I’m not giving them the key to my room and an open invitation to visit me there.  The only people who usually ask me where I’m staying are other tourists, and it’s because they want to compare hotels.  I’ve never had a stalker when I traveled, and if I did, I’d call the authorities.

When I go to a bar by myself, I don’t feel the need to latch onto a group to make it look like I’m not alone. But I also choose my nightspots carefully.  I wouldn’t hang out at a dive bar by myself.  I know if anyone in the bar pays undue attention to me, I can always turn to the staff for backup.  And I’m not walking home from that bar at night in the dark by myself, I’m taking a cab.

I don’t call home every day or tell my family my itinerary beyond my flight and hotel information. Okay, this is the one I probably ought to start doing, since accidents can happen to anyone at any time.  I could be hit by a car and lying in a ditch and they wouldn’t know until they realized I never came home from vacation, by which time, I’d be dead.  (Then again, I could also die at the beginning of a weekend when I have no social plans and no one would know until I didn’t show up for work on Monday morning.  Such is the life of a single woman who lives alone.)

So there, those are my confessions.  Do you respect me less now?  Do you think I’m being too cavalier about these things?  Are there any commonly-held travel safety practices that you don’t adhere to?  Come on, ‘fess up.  It’s good for the soul.

Disclaimer: I am not recommending that anyone follow my example regarding the behaviors above.  Everyone has to decide for herself what to do and not do to ensure safety.

Photo credit:  Confessional by emilio labrador, Wedding Ring by jdn.

Interested in long-term solo travel, but not sure where to start? You can now buy The Art of Solo Travel: A Girl’s Guide by Stephanie Lee, which contains all the basic information you need to get started on your long-term solo journey. Read my review of the book here.

Dana December 31, 2010 at 9:55 am

Good article, but couldn’t read th last part coz im going to get ready for new year celebration, keep it up dude !!!!

SoloFriendly May 6, 2010 at 10:43 am

Agreed. Not that those things don't exist, but not everyone “out to get you”. Most people are pretty decent, I've found.

SoloFriendly May 6, 2010 at 10:38 am

Thanks, Nancie!

Nancie (Ladyexpat) May 6, 2010 at 6:44 am

I'm pretty much with you on this one. Good article.

(I gave you a stumble :))

Gypsy Chick May 5, 2010 at 5:47 pm

I did end up buying a cheap silver wedding ring for Morocco and the Middle East and it helped. Arabs respect marriage greatly although the men are just flirty there, but not aggressive. The hard part was trying to talk about a make-belief husband (also a horrible liar). And I did have a stalker in Turkey, stupidly told him where I was staying and he kept showing up, leaving me love letters. Ugh. The hotel owner gave me a great lecture for my stupidity…oops…thanks Dad :) I've been more careful about that since.
I think the best tool is instinct. You pay attention to whats happening around you, thats why you've had no problems.
Great post, shows women that are scared to travel alone that the world is not full of dark alleys full of men waiting to get you addicted to heroin and sold into a Russian prostitution ring!

SoloFriendly May 3, 2010 at 11:06 am

Thanks for the advice, Sara.

clarkesara May 3, 2010 at 2:47 am

I feel like there's a line between saying you're married and wearing a wedding ring. In India, which is “one of those countries”, I would generally tell inquisitive locals that I was married. I had a back story which I would repeat (and didn't only use it in rough situations), so it gradually started to feel more natural. However, since Indians don't wear wedding rings and many have never heard of the custom, there was really no point in taking it as far as wearing a ring.

Not to mention that even if I were married, I wouldn't wear a wedding ring because I don't believe in them (politically, I mean; I believe they exist.) – which makes the idea seem double weird to me.

For what it's worth, a very firm no-nonsense “My husband is waiting for me at the hotel” was always enough to dissuade any sketchy attention I got in India.

SoloFriendly May 2, 2010 at 6:03 pm

See, this is what I think: It's all so situational.

grrrltraveler May 2, 2010 at 1:27 am

For me it depends on where I'm going and the situation; but for the most part, I've broken all those rules as well. It's trusting your gut and knowing when someone is sincere and asking a question for the simple fact they are being friendly. I'm not going to be a Q&A nazi in those regards, but if I got a Q from a swarthy looking guy who didn't look quite right, I might monitor a bit and casually switch my thumb ring over to a mock wedding ring. Also I'm ethnic and dark-haired so in some cases I might have that working for me as a non-target.

SoloFriendly April 30, 2010 at 1:50 am

Hi, Lauren! Where on earth did you get a $10 fake wedding band? Have you ever heard the expression “Be prepared for the worst but expect the best?” I think that often applies to solo travel. It's nice to have some strategies in your back pocket in case you need them, but hopefully, you won't.

laurenkmcleod April 30, 2010 at 12:52 am

Great post Gray. On my trip to Africa I took a fake wedding band (cheapo $10 one!) because I'd read ALL over the internet that I would be harassed by men, especially in Egypt where I was heading for half of the trip. And ok I'm not a solo traveller, but I'm very tall and have long blonde hair, so I thought I'd have a target on my back.
However, I never used the ring once. Sure there were verbal confrontations, but nothing where I felt that I was unsafe.

I'm glad that I took it (just in case) but as you say, the people that I met and had good conversations with, were those that I felt comfortable around. You can usually tell from the get-go if someone is just interested in talking to you or interested in something else more sinister. However you do need to be on guard for surprises.

SoloFriendly April 29, 2010 at 10:49 am

Agreed, Alouise. We should always trust our instincts.

SoloFriendly April 29, 2010 at 10:43 am

Thanks, Brooke. It took me a while to figure out what FTU was (Female Travel Underground)! :-)

brookevstheworld April 29, 2010 at 6:27 am

Linked your post up on #FTU facebook page ;)

Alouise April 29, 2010 at 5:41 am

I've never really been in a country where they recommend wearing a wedding ring or having a fake boyfriend. I'm like you, I'm a terrible liar, especially if I'm asked directly about something. I think in any case trusting your gut is always the best way to go.

SoloFriendly April 29, 2010 at 2:34 am

Wow, thanks for the input Brooke. I've heard stories like yours before, and I've always suspected they took places in countries I don't even want to visit, let alone have visited. You're also a cute young 20-something who is going to be more of a magnet for that type of man than I am at 40-something. I think doing your research on a culture ahead of time is always in order, just so you know what you need to do to be safe. So far, I've chosen places to travel to where I knew I'd feel comfortable being…me. But I will also admit that if I ever DID experience something along the lines of what you did, I'd probably start implementing some of those little white lies myself.

brookevstheworld April 29, 2010 at 2:16 am

Dude I just wrote a post for someone that's about to go live that says to do all the things you don't do.

Seriously, I have found myself in some REALLY creepy situations just because men found out I wasn't married. Surrounded by 10+ Kazakh border guards that seemed to swarm after the question of whether or not I was married taught me right then and there that I would never allow myself to be put in that situation again. EVER.

Then again, it is mainly that type of culture where I would sport the wedding ring from now on… not everywhere bc not everywhere has the same values and customs when it comes to available and not available women.

When going to the bar, I just make sure to not drink too much. I'm there to meet people anyways and have fun, and that can be done without getting hammered.

I don't respect you less for your confession here – to each their own. The solo female traveler rules are just guidelines to help YOU feel more comfortable while traveling. In some situations, they just might make you safer as well, but the world is just too crazy to be able say what's right and wrong. For me, I know any time I am in Central Asia, or Turkey, or places like that – I am wearing a damn ring and I am a proud wife because it just might help convince people to leave me the freak alone :)

SoloFriendly April 28, 2010 at 2:21 am

Glad to know it's not just me, Pam! Our instincts are probably our most useful security measure (so long as they're working properly!).

SpunkyGirl Monologues April 27, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Awesome post. I don't do all of those things either. I've been known to ask random men where my hostel is and follow them down darkish streets to get there. I also go to bars alone. I use my gut instinct.

SoloFriendly April 27, 2010 at 9:01 pm

True enough about the fine line between safety and paranoia. I think I've crossed over to both sides from time to time.

SoloFriendly April 27, 2010 at 9:00 pm

EXACTLY, Candice! LOL.

Candice April 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm

I do a lot of the same, and have never once felt threatened. Besides, doesn't the wedding ring limit your chances of finding a cute man? ;)

Stephanie April 27, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Thanks Gray! I have a feeling that a lot of “safety tips” are designed to make you FEEL safer even if they don't actually make you any safer.

It's a fine line we solo travelers have to walk between being safe and being paranoid. I also don't think there are any rules that you have to follow- just do what makes sense to you and trust your instincts.

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