Friday, 17 April 2015

Solo Travel Can Be Dangerous

'Solo travel for women' can be dangerous...What should you do?

I have been mulling over the idea of writing about the dangers of solo travel, but I wasn’t sure if I had something valuable to share. I mean I have barely felt unsafe on my solo travels – I have had exceptionally good experiences as a solo traveller. Thus, it’s kind of hard for me to comprehend the horrifying news pieces that float around.

Take a look –

“Ms. Sierra, 33, had been touring alone in Turkey in January when she disappeared.” - David Martinez, via Associated Press (NYTimes)

“A businesswoman has claimed that she was sexually assaulted by a security guard who was escorting her to her room in a luxury hotel in Egypt.” – The Guardian UK news

“The 39-year-old woman was raped as she and her husband were camping in India's central state of Madhya Pradesh.” – NPR news

“A British woman was attacked in her hotel room in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, one of India’s most popular tourist destinations, by the hotel manager.” – Telegraph UK news

Whatever may be the case, this alarming article on New York Times really shook me! The only conclusion that I could draw after reading it was that bad things can happen to anybody anywhere. Such incidents have got nothing to do with travel or ‘solo travel’ per se. In fact, some incidents of sexual assault have occurred to women while they were with their male companions. So, you are not really “safe” even if you are accompanied by somebody.

But, I’d still like to warn women (including myself) about the dangers of solo travel. Yes, the world is a dangerous place. So, should you avoid travelling alone? Should you avoid travelling altogether? Nah, that’s no solution.    

You're free to go anywhere...but, take care of yourself.

So what should you be doing to stay safe while travelling alone?     

Be cautious.

There’s a fine line between ‘fear’ and ‘caution’. Some women totally avoid travelling alone out of fear, which I think is not right. If you are fearful about something, try to deal with it instead of avoiding it. On the contrary, there are women who are too reckless. They travel to far-flung places without much research and planning, trust strangers easily and get into trouble.

Be aware of your surroundings.

I believe a woman should always be aware of her surroundings – be it her home town or a foreign country. No matter where you are, just make sure that you look around and observe what kind of people are around you. Is someone looking at you, following you or doing anything that’s questionable? Get out of such dangerous situations!

Choose to stay at good places and take help from your hosts.

Don’t act too smart independent in a new place.   

You can travel solo wherever you want to, but take help from a reputed source. To begin with, let the official tourism board know that you are travelling in their city, state or country. Take their advice as to where to stay, how to commute, etc.

Don’t just stay in any random hotel. Read a lot of hotel reviews on tripadvisor and various travel blogs before you choose a place to stay. I’d personally recommend homestays over hotels for women solo travellers. The added benefit of staying in a homestay is that you can take your host’s help in exploring the place, which makes you feel really safe.

Learn to judge people. 

Well, the thumb rule is not to trust anybody. But, there is an exception to every rule. You can trust some people in some situations, but make sure you ‘trust with caution’. It’s all about your instinct, and women are believed to have a stronger sense of intuition than men. If you have even the faintest of doubt or discomfort about something, don’t get into it!

Leave the isolated places alone.

Avoid places like deserted forts, nightclubs, bars, etc.

The idea is not to invite trouble of any kind when you are alone. Sure, you can visit places like bars and clubs, a deserted fort or any place like that, but make sure you have people around you – now the question is what kind of people? Make sure you have ‘good’ people around you – people who appear normal and sensible (just like you).

Don’t get into any fights or arguments with anyone.

Be nice and polite with everybody that you have to deal with. Don’t lose your cool easily. Try to work out a problem with patience and wisdom. Well, I don’t intend to say that you should appear submissive or a ‘yes’ person. All I want to advice is that it’s better to be calm, reserved and temperate.

Ask for help, but don’t appear helpless.  

There’s a difference between ‘seeking help’ and ‘showing helplessness’. Don’t show your vulnerability to anybody. Be well-researched about your destination, plan things ahead, and inquire about things from multiple people. Ask questions in a manner that shows you are confident and you know what you are doing.

Be confident, assertive and composed.

Look into the eyes.  

Eye-contact can be an effective way of keeping nuisance at bay. If you sense someone is stalking you, tell that person (indicate with your assertive body language) that you are aware of what is happening and ready to deal with it. Most of the time, the alleged culprit would just chicken out and not bother you anymore.

Be safe.

When you are all alone in a hotel room, keep the door locked properly. Don’t entertain any untimely request or offer.

Lastly, always pass on the responsibility of your safety on people who you associate with – your cabby, hotel manager, staff or whoever you come in contact with. Talk to everybody and steer your conversations towards women’s safety issues.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY? Have you travelled alone? What are your top safety tips for women solo travellers?

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  1. This is a very helpful article, Renuka. Sometimes knowingly or unknowingly we women become aware of our surroundings when we travel alone and can apply our common sense to stay safe. But such inputs from an experienced solo traveler like you will help first timers understand whether they are on the right track or not. Thanks for the article. :)

    1. You're very welcome, Moon! Yes, all women have a sense of what's happening around them, and they should learn to stay safe. As you say, common sense is the key!

  2. Good tips here.... much of it just comes down to what we might term as "common sense", but it's easy to forget that we were once novices on the road too, and that such "common sense" takes time to develop. I employ much of these rules in my own city - and I'm a male!!

    We can also be overcautious. The media and society do a great job at scaring the hell out of us, especially female travellers, but men too. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, throw caution to the wind and remember to live a little! I remember watching a comedy programme once with a satirical news report. The newsreader said, with a completely straight face; "Tonight, proof that living can kill you. A recent study has shown that death mostly occurs to people who are living..." Jokes aside, I thought it was a great reflection on how we live our lives in the shadow of the media, and often curtail our living because of fear.

    1. Right! I personally hate the way media blows things out of proportion. I believe things are bad, but we can still live safely with a little bit of caution. I always try to spread the word about the 'goodness' that's there in the world. We need to talk about both - good and bad. My tips are just meant to guide women solo travelers to be able to have better travel experiences.

    2. Yep, absolutely agree - we need to see things for what they are.

  3. Great tips. I do think that when one bad thing happens in a country the media makes it seems as if the whole country is unsafe. Bad things happen in America, and people still visit America.

    1. Thanks Priya! Yes, media is responsible for creating myths about certain countries. I think every traveler should travel with an open mind and practice basic caution.

  4. It is definitely informative!


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