Thursday, September 2, 2010

5 Tips For Women Traveling Alone

5 tips for women traveling solo
Taking a selfie, before it was cool, at Parc de la Cuitadella during a solo trip to Barcelona in 2008

Travel is one of the few things you spend money on that makes you richer. It's a shame to limit your travel with friends and loved one. While there's incredible joy of experiencing a city or travel experience with a partner, traveling solo opens up an entirely new world. 

Antoni Gaudi, Solo Travel
La Perdera, Barcelona

The great thing about going it alone is that you can do absolutely whatever you want.  Want to sleep till noon and have a theme-park dinner at 10pm in the Tivoli Gardens?  No problem.  Plan to spend all day on the Mediterranean Sea?  You can.  Want to sit at that cafe right off the Seine River and people watch in Paris for two hours, you can and no one will complain.  There is no one to tell you can't.  It's the ultimate freedom.

You also meet the most fascinating people.  I had dinner with the actual Pep, of Barcelona's famed Cal Pep restaurant one night.  He was busy but spent time with during dinner at his magnificent restaurant explaining the dishes in broken English while I mangled my responses in terrible Spanish.    

 From Balcony at Les Ombres

I've lived in Guam, vacationed in Tel Aviv, run a half marathon in Jerusalem and jetted to Barcelona and Paris all solo. I've also spent way too much time on the road for work by myself. There are safety precautions every women traveling solo should consider. Here are five top tips for your next adventure.  While these are primarily focused on international travel, these tips work for any destination. 

5 Travel Tips For Women Traveling Solo

Keep Your Purse Close and CLOSED
When strolling solo through Barcelona's Gothic Quarter or gawking at the Eiffel Tower, you'll be alone in a sea of people.  First and foremost, keep your purse closed and tucked securely under your arm.  I don't bring a big backpack, for many reasons, but from a safety perspective, it's impractical.  A pickpocket or thief can grab something out of one of those zipper pockets even if it's securely closed with safety pin or other attachment.  I carry a nice mid-size crossbody bag, nothing too big or too small, and keep it closed at all times. Barrington Gifts Stadium Crossbody bag or GiGi New York's Madison Crossbody are great for touring a city.

Don't Carry Your Entire Wallet 
Tallin, Estonia

Bring a small cardholder to hold your essentials: one credit card, ID and some local currency. I usually don't exchange currency prior to departure.  I have an international ATM card that charges significantly less fees and commissions when changing money so I generally get local currency through an ATM. I also use a credit card that doesn't charge international exchange fees which, again, saves money. 

With your small card case, if you do have the unfortunate luck of getting something stolen lifted, at least not everything is gone. Carry just one card and some cash for the day. 

Don't Wear a Ton of Jewelry

When traveling overseas or traveling solo, wear the less expensive jewelry.  I have a great big shell ring, some silver pieces and beaded necklaces that I bring.  None of the good stones or really nice watches.  With a lot of sparkles on your hands or ears, you will stick out like a sore thumb and in a bad way.  You will attract attention of potential pickpockets, gypsies or others who might think you a good candidate to rob, attack or do something even worse.  Don't do it.  It's just not worth it.

RELATED: Chic travel jewelry

Old City, Jerusalem, Israel
Old City, Jerusalem

Dress Appropriately
I learned this the hard way.  I was walking through Jerusalem's Old City and got terribly lost.  I was wearing an outfit that, honestly, was pretty conservative for me: a long-sleeved knit top, denim skirt and closed-toe shoes.  Having my legs exposed as I was unknowingly walking towards the Muslim Quarter was the mistake of a lifetime.  I had men sneering at me and hurling words I didn't understand.  It took a sweet 12-year-old boy to clue me in. 

"You must stop," he said.

"I'm just trying to get out of here," I replied.

"No," he responds.  "You are not Muslim.  That is the Muslim Quarter.  You are not allowed."

Light bulb moment.  Message understood.

Walking back to my hotel, I got more awful comments thrown my way by a variety of men.  It was really one of the most uncomfortable experiences I've ever had.  The rest of the trip, it was jeans and long-sleeved shirts.

Take a moment to understand the cultural expectations of the city you're visiting. If it is expected that women cover their shoulders, legs and face, you should comply. If you want to make a statement, don't visit the city or the site. You made the choice to go there, wear the appropriate clothing and there shouldn't be an issue.

RELATED: Ritz Carlton Tel Aviv Review

Don't Let Them Know You're Solo
Part of the fun of traveling solo is that you meet a variety of people and end up chatting with some lovely folks.  Some, though, not so lovely.  Don't let them know you're alone.  If some inquiring mind asks you why you're eating alone, or hiking by yourself, just say you're visiting your dad or that your brother is back at the hotel.  My father actually lives in Israel and spent a few days of my time there with me.  He didn't have the stamina to run around with me all day, so I would be alone most of the time.  The "dad at the hotel line" worked quite a bit for me when dealing with those guys. 

RELATED: Brown Beach House Tel Aviv Review

What About You? 
Are you a solo traveler? Is there a place you're dying to visit by yourself? I would love to explore Rome solo. Have a question about visiting a city solo? Email me.