Concerned about safety: first-time solo travel
Hi Leyla! Thanks for putting together this website and information! I am about to graduate undergrad and will be going to medical school in the summer. Before I go back to school for 4+ more years, I want to go on an eye-opening trip in a foreign place, maybe backpack across a country for a month or few weeks. The only problem is that I'm concerned for my safety. I just am worried that being a young woman makes me a huge target for theft or human trafficking. It makes me think of the movie Taken (idk if you've seen it but it's scary!). Anyway, I was wondering if you had any advice and if you would still recommend travelling alone even though I'm a young woman with no experience. Any advice would be appreciated!
My answer: Lauren, you have the best attitude of all - caution. Thinking everything is perfectly safe and wandering to the seven winds carelessly can be asking for trouble. So can cringing at every corner in fear. You're right in the middle, so a perfect candidate for safe solo travel!
I'd like to dispel a myth first if I could: solo travel for women is no more dangerous than group travel, travel with a companion, or staying at home, for that matter. Life is never a guarantee, and things happen, across the street or around the world. A few weeks ago I was boarding a flight in Washington DC of all places when I was felled by a serious gallbladder attack that required emergency surgery. Yet I've traveled around the world to some challenging places (Lebanon, Congo, Eritrea, Burma) and the worst I've ever faced is a toothache or a bad tummy. So travel in and of its own isn't going to cause anything.
Yes, traffic in Cairo is dangerous, and leery men may prey on unsuspecting women in many parts of the world. I hate to say this but this also happens at home. So... your best weapons are information and a healthy skepticism. Don't believe everything people say, especially if it sounds too good to be true. Don't automatically assume a young handsome gentleman IS one. Don't apply your own cultural rules to everyone you meet. Instead, do amazing research about the places you're going; find out about their culture, what's appropriate, what calls attention; do a bit of planning and check in regularly. You'll find all this advice in my section on safe travel so start by reading that carefully.
Then there's your choice of destination. If you're concerned about being on your own, go for some 'low-hanging fruit' - places where a lot of people travel and which are virtually set up for young backpackers. Europe would be my call for a first-timer, because things will be a lot more familiar to you. If you can afford it, Scandinavia or Switzerland are at least as safe as your own home (with of course the same exceptions you'd find back home). Southern Europe isn't unsafe but it's more of a challenge for a first-timer because of some of the cultural differences. Still, you could do a lot worse than wander around Rome or Barcelona for a few days on your way to visiting the rest of the country.
If you're looking for a more exotic venue, you could try Southeast Asia or Japan. I've found these areas to be exceedingly safe and welcoming, with enough character to really make me feel like I'm traveling but not necessarily in a scary way. For first-timers the more challenging parts of the world, in my opinion, would be Central/South America, parts of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Africa. All of them great places, but not necessarily my choice for a few weeks' travel the first time around.
Finally, if you're really concerned about going solo, try spending the first few nights in a popular hostel (I don't know if you're the party type but if not, make sure you read up on the hostels first to choose one that's more for sleeping than drinking!) It's hard NOT to meet fellow travelers in a hostel - you're all there for the same reason, after all! You'll probably find a travel partner for a few days and that might help ease your concerns.
Finally, I don't know if you've had a chance to look through some of my answers to other first-time soloers but if you haven't, please do check out my page on solo travel questions - you'll probably find more answers there!
Either way, my position has always been that if you use your common sense and set up some safeguards, you'll be in no more danger traveling solo than you would in a group or with a friend. Things do happen - but they happen wherever you are. Happy travels!
First time South America
I am a seasoned solo traveler but have never been to South America. I would like to visit Ecuador, Peru and Argentina - one month per country roughly.
I would like to know how safe it is for a single woman to travel in those countries, and what's a cheap and safe way to travel in those countries.
Do you think spending a month in each of those countries is a good amount of time considering I have limited time off?
Answer: You'd probably have to take the same basic precautions throughout the region. These countries are quite different from one another but you'll find a lot of similarities too. First, the obvious precautions:
- Don't walk around on your own at night. This is good advice in any city, but particularly in South America.
- There is a lot of petty theft, and a lot of it occurs on public transport, especially in large cities like Buenos Aires.
- Always bargain, unless you're in a city shop. At markets or at stalls, people will try to charge you a lot more because you're a tourist.
- Equally obvious: don't wear jewelry, don't carry a bag that's easy to steal and certainly don't carry anything valuable on your back.
In South America there's the added challenge of 'machismo' among men, where low-level harassment is all too common. A lot will depend on how well you blend in. If your clothes and demeanor scream 'tourist' you'll awaken greater attention. Remember, South American cities can be quite sophisticated and elegant so dress as you would in a city back home. If you speak some Spanish that will help. Although no one will mistake you for a native, you'll be more familiar and less exotic. I find I'm at a disadvantage in giving you advice because I speak Spanish, which makes things a lot easier for me, as I can snap back at men quite rudely if they bother me.
Taking every precaution of course - have you thought of couchsurfing? This is one part of the world where I'd try this option out because local knowledge provided by a knowledgeable hostess (or family) would be invaluable.
There's a great thread of South America warnings on BootsNAll. Read it with a grain of salt though - people will write about problems but won't often post to say everything was fine. If you take proper precautions you should be fine. I'd also look around the entire South America section, where you'll find good information. The other two places I'd check are the Thorn Tree and Virtual Tourist. I've also been exploring Localyte recently and it looks very promising.
In terms of your itinerary, I think a month in each country, give or take, is perfect. Two destinations you'll have to think about are the Galapagos in Ecuador (you should try to look into this before you go) and Patagonia/Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, where you should consider flying. The distances in Argentina are huge and bus trips are looooong, whereas taking buses within Peru and Ecuador is a bit more realistic.
You might consider getting an air pass for South America from one of several airlines, although the rise of cheaper airlines in the region is also worth investigating.
I hope this helped - it sounds like a wonderful and exciting trip!
African American woman solo travel to India?
I am an Afro-Carribbean woman who would like to travel India solo.
I grew up in an Indian village. I was also married to an Indian Caribbean man for seventeen years (he is deceased). What are your thoughts?
Answer: I can't put myself in the shoes of an African-American woman because I'm not one, but I did a fair amount of surfing as a result of your question because I have plenty of black readers who might well be interested in the same destination.
I found that there is an overwhelming belief that you will be safe in India - but not necessarily comfortable. You'll get plenty of stares, but then, what foreign woman doesn't in India? The staring is endemic and you'll hopefully get used to it or at least learn to ignore it.
India is nor more or less racist than other countries. I found a great discussion on racism in India on the India Mike website, where opinions on comfort zone and outright racism in India are divided. The entire thread is a fascinating peek at Indian society, and many of the contributors are themselves African-Americans who have lived or traveled in the country.
This thread in Yahoo Questions is pretty straightforward but also exemplifies some of the more common attitudes towards African-Americans. Bottom line, you'll probably be perfectly safe, and in some parts of the country, especially the South, you may not encounter any racism at all - though you will generate a lot of curiosity.
I took a look at the travel warnings issued by the US government and of course, they tend to be alarmist - government warnings seem to be designed to scare you away from travel! Here's what they said about women's travel in India: "U.S. citizens, particularly women, are cautioned not to travel alone in India. Western women, especially those of African descent, continue to report incidents of verbal and physical harassment by groups of men. Known locally as “Eve-teasing,” these incidents can be quite frightening. While India is generally safe for foreign visitors, according to the latest figures by Indian authorities, rape is the fastest growing crime in India. Among large cities, Delhi experienced the highest number of crimes against women. Although most victims have been local residents, recent sexual attacks against female visitors in tourist areas underline the fact that foreign women are also at risk and should exercise vigilance."
I just had another thought. Beth Whitman has written extensively about India, a book on women's travel there, in fact. She also wrote an article entitled Mother India for Women Travelers, which nicely sums up what you can expect as a woman visiting India.
That said, and having read through what I did, it would seem the greatest factor affecting your trip to India may not be that you're African-American, but that you're a woman. I haven't found anything that would dissuade me from going if I were in your shoes, but only you can assess your own comfort level. Hope to hear from you after your trip!
I am scared to travel solo... advice?
I am a 51-year-old veteran traveller. I have been backpacking in India, volunteer teaching - Europe, Morocco, road trips, budget travel, or 5 star - I am fine with it all. However I have always had someone to do it with. An ex, a lover, my mom - this summer for the very first time, I will be going to India solo and I am scared. I am scared not for my safety - I am scared to be alone for a month travelling. Who will I talk to? How will I meet people? What if I get lonely? What if I get bored? What if I need help?
On the one hand, I am excited - a whole month to do as I please, without considering anybody else's needs or desires - but on the other hand WHAT IF I HATE GOING ALONE??!! I am an administrator of a large high school, and my dream is to travel around the world when I retire in 4 years... this is my first foray into solo travel and I am afraid that if I hate it, my life-long dream will have to be revamped and rethought - and then what? Advice?
My Answer: Laura, yours is an incredibly common fear and you'd be amazed at the number of seasoned travelers who have never been out on their own. I don't want to minimize your fears at all but I have to be honest and say they are mostly unfounded.
First, you don't have to be alone! Ever! Just don't stay in an impersonal hotel. Try looking into budget hostel accommodation and choose a hostel where you'll find plenty of mature travelers (not in age, but who may have other goals than to party all night). It's easy to connect with fellow travelers for the next leg of your journey, for a few hours, a day or a week. If you'd rather, join couch surfing or another similar hospitality group so that you go straight to someone's house as soon as you get to your destination.
Second, you could find someone to travel with part of the way. Some of the best travel forums have listings for travel companions, or check my page on female travel companions for groups that do this (I've heard good things about 5W, which I link to on that page). You'll find plenty of other links to explore.
Third, your chances of not meeting anyone or having no one to talk to are extremely low. You'll not only meet people where you're staying, but just your travels. People are curious. They'll want to know about you. You can easily strike up conversations with people - not for a deep purpose, but just to connect. Learning simple things like "your food is delicious" and "I love your country" will help you connect for a moment or two.
Fourth, organize yourself so that keeping in touch with people back home - friends, family, colleagues - is easy. Use your iPhone or iPad to stay in touch. Find an Internet cafe. Use the phone. Email back and forth. Skype. Chat. These days there are countless ways to stay in touch. Make a schedule for the first few days of your trip so that you're in touch with someone back home once a day. I suspect you may not need this crutch for more than a couple of days at most.
Finally - if the unlikely happens and you DO hate solo travel - what of it? What is the worst that could happen? Finding travel partners with whom to travel along the way? You don't have to give up your travel dream at all. You may just amend it a tiny bit by taking advantage of the many ways to meet people I've outlined above.
We all go through moments of loneliness on the road - but they always pass. It's a bit of homesickness when things get too different. I've found the opposite of loneliness - it's so easy to meet people when you travel that finding 'alone time' becomes a challenge. Laura, you probably just have the jitters as your trip nears. Take a deep breath and get on that plane - you will be amazed at how fine you'll be!
How safe is Thailand, with recent demonstrations in 2010?
by Teresa Lim
(Falls Church, VA 20043)
We are arriving at the port of Laem Chabang, Thailand two hours from Bangkok. We have contacted private tours with local operators, 6 of us will be traveling in a van instead of the cruise ship bus. The traffic is supposed to be very crowded.
How safe are we in getting back to the ship on time, which arrives at 7 AM and depart at 7 PM of same date, April 23/2011. Should we use the cruise ship shore excursions to be on safe side and also for getting back to the ship on time by 6 PM?
Answer: Hi Teresa, You're asking several questions I can't possibly answer, and a few I can. The title of question, about Thailand's safety, is simple. Thailand is relatively safe. I say relatively because you can never guarantee anything, but Bangkok these days is calm. That doesn't mean political dissatisfaction, still a major issue, has disappeared, not at all. It just means that for the time being, the government is back in control. The only place I'd still avoid is the southernmost part of the country, but you're not going there anyway.
Because things can change in an instant, If I were you I'd keep up with the travel advisories posted by the US government (travel.state.gov) since you're from the States. For the time being, there are no particular travel advisories for Thailand, but there is a warning:
"U.S. citizens traveling to Thailand should therefore exercise caution, especially in locations where Westerners congregate." So be very aware of your surroundings in crowded public places like bars, churches, discos and other attractions foreigners visit. And, keep checking because things can change quickly. There have been a few isolated terrorist acts in and around Bangkok in recent months but my many friends who live there say life goes on pretty much as usual.
On the issue of traffic, well, Bangkok traffic is legendary. Yes, you can definitely get stuck in traffic and miss your cruise. It's you and your luck. It seems to me you'd be better off using the cruise line's transportation. If they're late and you miss your cruise, you might be better protected. I suspect they won't accept any liability if you use your own transportation, so check with them first. Not to mention you'll be at the height of rush hour traffic on a Saturday...
As for what to pack on a cruise… I'm afraid that's far from my area of expertise - I'm a backpacker! I do have a great travel packing list, which is more for independent travelers but check it out. You'll probably get all sorts of good ideas from it!
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How safe is it to travel solo to Istanbul, Turkey?
(New York, NY, USA)
I have read a mixed bag of opinions about traveling through Istanbul, Turkey alone as a woman. As is the case with any place, some are very pleasant stories or women travelers, others are nightmares. This is my first time traveling alone. I have been to other countries in the Middle East and Muslim World but always with a companion.
Any thoughts/ suggestions?
Answer: I'm in the 'do it' camp. I've been to Istanbul several times on my own, and to the Mediterranean, and have met with nothing but hospitality and courtesy.
That said, it helps to leave some attitudes behind. For example, however secular, Turkey remains a Muslim country and in areas not heavily frequented by tourists, people tend to be conservative, so please be aware of that.
Equally true is the risk of terrorism and unrest - but it's a risk you'll take whether you're traveling solo, in a couple or in a group. It's true that there have been plenty of threats, and terrorist action has taken place. But that's also true for a number of traditionally 'safe' destinations, such as London or Paris at certain times, or Madrid more recently.
Compared to some other neighbors in the region, Turkey would appear a good bet. I would also avoid the East/Southeast regions and Kurdish areas, as well as places that are really off the beaten track in rural areas, unless you speak some Turkish.
For additional information on travel safety in Turkey, you could try the following sites:
Safe Travel in Turkey
Women Travelers in Turkey
Lonely Planet Thorn Tree
If Istanbul is where you plan to be, then take the same precautions you would in any large, cosmopolitan city. I was there on my own a few months ago, and I walked around all over town at night, alone, and the biggest danger I faced was the wild traffic while trying to cross busy streets. Have a great trip!
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How do I stay in touch and stay safe alone in Ecuador?
by Cara Lee
(Yakima, WA, USA)
Galapagos Penguins. Photo: Scott Ableman, Flickr CC
I will be traveling to Ecuador alone in February for a month. After one four night stay in Quito, I will be traveling without an itinerary. How do I stay safe while doing so? I would like someone to know where I am, and/or where and when I should be somewhere, just in case. I will check in with the US Embassy when I arrive, but after that? I am 63, white, fit, and used to being alone. I want to minimize the risks, however. My Spanish is pretty good.
For example: I horseback ride and pack in the mountains here is Washington state alone. I always leave a note on my kitchen counter about where I am going and when I expect to be back. My neighbor then knows (he will see that the horse, rig and dog are gone) where to start the search. I have a cell phone but I am often out of service; sometimes on purpose.
Thank you for your input.
Answer: This sounds like such a fantastic trip, and a month is just about right to see Ecuador properly. It's not a small country, but it's not too huge to visit either. The fact that you speak Spanish is an undeniable plus, because you'll be better able to gauge situations and intentions.
My first advice is relatively basic, and would apply to most countries in South America (and many other places, for that matter): beware of pickpockets (they're often children), especially in cities like Quito and Guayaquil; don't walk around town alone at night; don't hike or visit isolated areas by yourself; don't wear anything that makes you look like you have money - jewelry, for example. So - sensible travel safety advice, which I'm sure you already know, but it's good to be reminded.
By and large Ecuador is safe, and its cities are no more or less safe than cities elsewhere. Most crime is petty, snatch and grab, so keeping your valuables out of harm's way will be your best protection.
To stay safe, you should do what you do at home: let someone know where you're going, if you're headed off to somewhere remote. You can notify staff or newfound friends as you leave the hostel, or simply send a text message home to someone, promising to check in at a given hour (be generous here, because if the bus breaks down along the way you don't want the embassy to be alerted to a missing person while you're sitting by the side of the road gazing at the starry night...) This requires a cellphone - is yours GSM? If so, make sure you have international roaming but keep your phone OFF unless you're sending a text - or you'll be in for a surprise when the bill gets in.
Another option, one I've used in South America before, is to buy a cheap cell (I paid $9 for my cell in Panama for example) and use prepaid cards from one of the networks. Your hotel or hostel should be able to fill you in, as will any good guidebook.
Or just use one of the country's many Internet cafes to stay in touch. They usually have Skype or other net-to-phone systems, and that'll be cheaper than using your own phone. Just know that broadband isn't universal by any means, so calls or emails can take an eternity. And they're much more common in cities than in rural areas although increasingly you'll be able to find a lone computer terminal sitting at the back of a shop somewhere in most places.
A few more suggestions or tips... I'd be careful on buses because they're often an opportunity for people with impure intentions. If your bag is out of sight it's an easy target so keep your important things with you. Also Ecuadorian buses do run into trouble - the older ones aren't maintained properly, and driving can be haphazard (I'm being kind), especially if it rains as roads can get washed out. So choose your bus company carefully.
Another piece of advice is to stay away from the border with Colombia. It's full of armed personnel, and is used by guerillas and drug traffickers. It's not the kind of neighborhood you'd want to visit.
In case you haven't done so yet have a read of some of the safety advice on this site: start with the page on Safe Travel for Women and fan out from there.
Finally, to really get a taste of Ecuador, try some of the expat or local blogs or sites, like Life in Ecuador, BobNRox in Ecuador, or Cotacachi Living, to name a few. Don't hesitate to write to the authors and ask questions. People who live abroad often understand the anxieties of travelers and may well be willing to help by answering local questions.
If you take normal precautions, you should be fine in Ecuador. It's a spectacular country of huge diversity and a favorite of most travelers who visit. And once you're back, please come and share some of your adventures with other readers - we'd love to know how your trip went!
A safe walk around the world
I'm planning on walking around the world someday (couldn't afford it now) and I'm a little worried about the scarcity of hostels and water supplies (especially in Asia and India). Do you think it's possible to plan a relatively safe walking route around the world that would take about 2 years to accomplish? (I walk fast :D ) Or do you think it's a totally crazy idea?
Also should I consider getting a gun or a pepper spray in certain countries? I'm tall and strong, training martial arts, but we're talking here about a lot of time spent on the road. What do you think?
My Answer: That's not a crazy idea at all - in fact it's something I would love to do myself even though the time isn't exactly right for me. How exciting! A good place to start your reading and research would be my page travel on foot - you'll find a few resources there. On that page I mention Ffyona Campbell - Amazon sells her book The Whole Story: a Walk Around the World in which she tells about her trip - and comes clean about hitchhiking a short stretch because she was pregnant.
If I were walking really long distance, the first thing I'd probably think about is preparation. This would be a good time to find out how to prepare for a long distance hike. You'll find plenty of other pointers online.
The next step for me would be an itinerary - you may decide to walk on roads or paths or to follow some of the world's premier hiking trails, in which case this list of long distance footpaths would be useful. I'd also make sure I posted in the best travel forums to get the latest and most reliable advice.
Of course you'll have challenges of a bureaucratic kind - like getting the right visas. Many are valid only for a few months after you get them and if you're walking, you might not get to the country in time so of course planning will be essential - make sure there's an embassy for your next country in each country you visit. Of course I can't stress enough the importance of safe travel. In fact I'd recommend the book Travel Safety by Craig Martin of Indie Travel Media, a long-term traveler who makes a lot of sense.
You might also want to think about whether you want to walk for a cause. If you do you might get sponsorship or you could join an existing program - be inspired by having a look at the global walk for breast cancer or sites such as Avon Foundation.
And finally, you may want to read about others who have walked around the world, in one way or another… here are two posts but you'll find plenty more if you search: The first verified walk around the earth and Seriously slow - 6 travelers who walked around the world
I'm sure all Women on the Road would love to hear more about your trip as you think about it, begin to plan it, and even start it! Please don't forget to come back to our Facebook page to chat with the rest of us, and even better, come by and share your travel stories whenever the spirit moves you!
PS. About the pepper spray… first, you'll have trouble crossing a number of borders with that so if you bring any, use the small containers that look like pens. Second, the only use I've ever found for it is aggressive stray dogs. It's the last thing I would use on a person because I believe it could cause more problems than it would solve.
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How should I carry my money when I travel?
by Cassie Correga
Those money belts are too bulky and make me look like a camel with a hump - there must be something more comfortable out there for us girls!!
You must be thinking of those 'banana belts' that you wear outside your clothes! Of course they're lumpy, whether you wear them on the back or on the front. In fact, in my opinion they're a bit too conspicuous - they signal to the world that everything you own of value is sitting in that nice little pouch...
I've traveled for years with a slim, flat travel money belt, which I wear under my clothes and close to my body. It took a few days of getting used to but once I was, I never really felt it again.
The advantage is that no one can really see you've got one on, so your money is relatively safe.
Certain manufacturers of women's travel clothing, like Tilley's in Canada, for example, have wonderful trousers with hidden pockets. These work well too, but only to carry the necessary cash for your daily needs. This saves you from having to dip into your money belt during the day.
If the belt option just doesn't work for you, you could also try a leg or neck wallet. I'm not sold on the leg wallet but I do find the neck wallet a good alternative. It hangs around your neck but is worn inside your clothes - there's little point in wearing it outside, since it's easy to grab and run.
There are other alternatives, like the ankle stash or bra pouch, but I haven't yet found any that are comfortable enough.
Being blonde and female in Costa Rica
I am going to Costa Rica to travel and go to school for three months....I have been hearing horror stories about being blonde in this country. How do I deal with all the men coming on so strong?
Answer: Since you don't say where in Costa Rica you're going, I'll have to be quite general. You'll hear similar horror stories from many Latin and Middle Eastern countries, wherever you are not the norm. Blonde is also equated with 'attractiveness' or 'permissiveness' so in countries where men take more liberties with women you will stand out.
You have a number of choices. You can do your best to ignore whatever is coming your way, which is the best option, especially if we're talking about harassment of a verbal kind. But if it ratchets up a notch, you may have to get a little drastic. Just remember, you won't change men's behavior - this is about making YOU feel better and stay safer. For example, being forthright or reacting visibly in some countries will only encourage more attention because men will feel they've at least caught your eye.
Here are some basics you should heed:
- Do your research. "Horror stories" isn't very scientific. Exactly where did the incidents happen? Are they isolated or common? Did they happen during the day or night? On a bus, on the road, on the street? Knowing what the dangers are will help you avoid the major pitfalls.
- You can't change being blonde (unless you decide to dye your hair, which some women do, but that is a bit drastic) but you can downplay your 'visitor' status. By looking as little like a tourist as you can, you may pass as someone who lives there (a little more status) and a little less as someone who's just passing through. You will still look foreign, nothing you can do about that - but you might fit in a bit better.
- It's rarer to see young women alone in Central America so where possible, go places with others. A woman alone, especially blonde, is a clear foreigner and 'fair game'.
- Costa Rican safety standards are falling and petty crime is an increasingly serious problem. Violent crime is also occurring more frequently and this is a major concern. Crime may not yet be at the level of nearby countries like Guatemala but caution is indeed needed.
Whether in Costa Rica or elsewhere, much will depend on your common sense when it comes to travel safety and all the usual rules apply: avoid dark places, dress conservatively, don't go out on your own if you can avoid it, and certainly not at night, don't accept to go anywhere with someone you've just met.
South America solo
I am planning a six weeks trip around Ecuador and the Galapagos with possibility of a shorter visit to Nicaragua and Guatemala. I traveled and lived in Europe and the Middle East alone before, but this coming trip to South America next month is my real solo longer trip if you know what I mean. The more I read about these countries, the more I am convinced it is time to pack my bag and head there, but still not too sure about safety in those places for a solo woman traveler. Any tips? And maybe advise on how to find a woman travel partner on the road for a while esp. in Ecuador where I will be spending longer time? Thanks much!
My Answer: If you've traveled solo in Europe and the Middle East, you should be able to cope with Latin America. The Galapagos are part of a well-trodden travelers' path, but the rest of Ecuador, Nicaragua and Guatemala require a bit more caution - there is some major crime but more widespread are the petty theft and other annoyances, especially those linked to how men relate to women in the region.
The unfortunate reality is that crime in Ecuador is on the rise so I'd be cautious in all usual places - flagging down taxis on the street, ATMs when withdrawing money, tourist areas where there are crowds, and bars and other places where you might meet single men. Fear, no - caution yes. Nicaragua, too, has its share of petty and violent crime. The greatest caution I'd exercise would be in Guatemala, where violent crime and gang violence are a little too common for my taste.
If you're trying to line up a travel partner before you go, have a quick read of my page on female travel companions for a start. You should also have a look at the reply I posted to Chris about her first time in South America. And finally, if you stick to the backpacker path as you travel, you should have no problem finding travel companions with whom to share part of your trip.
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How safe is couchsurfing in Istanbul?
by Jelise Camilleri
(Hampton in Arden )
Four months into my travels and going well! I have a tour booked for ANZAC day in Turkey and I would love to stay a couple of days longer! I really want to couch surf and meet some locals. I posted an open request for Istanbul and received an overwhelming response which was great!
However family have asked me not to Couchsurf as they believe it is too dangerous for me to do so on my own.
Could you please give me some tips?
My answer: I completely understand your parents' concerns but I don't believe couchsurfing is any more dangerous than staying in a hostel.
If you're in a hostel and meet local people and go back to their place, no one will even know where you are. 99% of the time it will be fine but just once, it might not be. Yet as a traveler you're bound to meet people and get out there and mingle - but they could be up to no good and you wouldn't know the difference. At least with couchsurfing or similar outfits you're easier to track. You should give your parents a copy of the email exchanges you have with potential hosts so that 1) they know how and where to reach you and 2) being 'older and wiser' they'll be better positioned to sniff out some danger signs you might miss.
Here are a bunch of things you can do to ensure you're as safe as you can be:
1) Choose your hosts carefully: staying with a single guy or a party group could well worry them - I get that - and it should worry you too. But you could stay with a woman or a couple with a family, most of whom see couchsurfing as a way to get to know people from other countries and maybe sit and chat a bit about their respective countries and cultures. Rather than your 'open request' approach, YOU do the searching and the approaching. Stay in control.
2) Check how many references they have and how good and varied these are. If someone has 1-2 great reviews it could just be their own friends posting. But if there are a bunch, there's every chance that is a good host/ess.
3) Couchsurfing also has two additional safety levels. According to the couchsurfing safety page, if a host has been vouched for, it means other couchsurfers trust them. And if they've been verified, it means their name and address have been checked. Unfortunately the system isn't foolproof, and the organization itself doesn't really help if something goes wrong but for an extra safety level, post in the forums and get advice from other couchsurfers there.
4) Choose your location carefully. Living out in an isolated area with no transportation of your own is not as safe as being right next to four bus lines.
To look at all sides of the story, see what others have to say about couchsurfing safety:
In closing, I've made two very good friends through couchsurfing and I'd do it again, no problem. But not carelessly, and not without research and contingency plans. Nothing is 100% safe, but there are a lot of ways to put the odds on your side.
Traveling solo to Egypt: any thoughts?
I am going to Egypt alone in January for six weeks in the midst of its electoral craziness, largely because you helped convince me I could. Are you interested in blogs? There is so little current info on Egypt. I'm SO winging it! Any suggestions?
My answer: I'm happy to hear you're forging ahead with your trip, and I trust you're also taking all the precautions that are necessary for such a trip! I certainly do encourage women to travel solo and off the beaten path, but I equally advise them to get all the information they need first. I don't think 'winging it' in a place like Egypt right now is wise. Travel, yes, but do your research first.
One woman who has been to Egypt recently and is blogging about it is Solo Female Traveler. Get in touch with her and see what she advises. She was there recently in the heat of the revolution so she should be able to share some wisdom with you. Gray Cargill at Solo Friendly is also a good bet.
I'm assuming you've also tried to check things out with fellow travelers through travel forums like BootsNAll and Thorn Tree, or others like Fodors and Trip Advisor but the two I mentioned are large and active and a great place to start.
Three other good sources of information come to mind. The first is the hospitality circuit - groups like couchsurfing have large social networks - you don't have to stay with anyone but finding a contact through these groups could be a godsend if you need intelligence on the ground. The second group I'd recommend is made up of expats - more particularly Expat Women. Look for expat women living in Cairo or Alexandria and get in touch with them. The third network I'd recommend is Journeywoman's Her Mail network. I'm sure there's someone in Egypt so yet another good way to get information on the ground.
If you get the latest and best information on the ground, you should be all set!
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Any advice for solo travel in Romania?
Reformed Church in Sibiu. Photo: Camil Ghircoias
I am 25 years old and in a few months time I will be venturing off on the trip of a life time! I'll be WWOOfing and back/flashpacking all over Europe. My first stop will be Romania (likely in or around Transylvania) and then ending with the UK. Do you have any saftey advice or other tips for solo travel/wwoofing in Romania?
Thank you so much for you time. This site is great!
Answer: Well done, Eartha, for starting in a less traveled destination, and thanks for your nice words. Romania is among the safer countries, actually, especially away from Bucharest.
In Bucharest you'll have to keep your wits about you as you would in any large city but then, why spend much time there? It's the least interesting part of the country. Still, watch out for pickpockets and purse-snatchers, especially on public transport and in crowded areas like markets or change offices. To be on the safe side make sure you take the standard safety precautions - keep copies of your important papers, don't carry all your money around, wear a money belt, don't get drunk in strange places… you know.
Make sure you have travel health insurance and beware of stray dogs - a few years ago they were plentiful. They might not be now but if you run into any don't pet, however cute the pooch. You have no idea where that dog came from, and rabies still do exist in Romania.
The only other safety factor I'd mention are the roads - Romania isn't as modern as some countries and in rural areas you're as likely to run into a horse cart as you are an automobile. Since they don't go the same speed this could be a safety concern. Actually, some of the roads are pretty bad so you won't be going very quickly… Take the train instead when you can (although they can get awfully crowded).
I'm afraid I can't really help you with advice on WWOOFing in Romania but Romanians are friendly and the countryside is beautiful - it's a good combination if you're thinking of spending time on a farm. I did a quick Search on Google for WWOOF Romania and there were dozens of entries worth reading. You'll be able to connect with others who have been there before.
All I can say is that you'll be fine traveling solo in Romania. The men can be charming but harassment is rare. Just be aware of your surroundings and enjoy yourself - you will!
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Too shy to travel?
I'm not really going to travel solo, but it feels that way for me. I'm joining a group travel to Egypt with an Egyptologist as our guide.
I'm really looking forward to it (big ancient Egypt fan and we'll visit all monuments and all), but since I'm the only ancient Egypt lover in my family and friends circle, I'm going "alone" (within the group).
The thing I'm not very good at, is getting in touch with other people on a journey.
I mean, probably a lot of people will have subscribed to the journey together or with their family you know? They have each other. And I'm there alone. And I'm shy and timid and maybe a little afraid of people I don't know and fear that I'll feel alone despite the fact that I'm traveling with a group. A lot of the hotels will have breakfast and dinner, so we'll eat as a group, but there are also nights when you have to acquire your own dinner and I really don't want to do that alone...
That shyness can't probably be overcome in a week or so, but I was wondering if you might have some tips for me (and I still have time until November).
Or perhaps there are even some sort of courses you can do to overcome timidity? (I'm just guessing here.)
Well, any tips you can give will be very much appreciated and thank you so much for your beautiful website and the time you take to answer all of our questions.
Answer: I wish I could help you with your shyness - but I can't. What I can do is share a few experiences and a bit of information that might make your travels easier.
First, I'd stop focusing on your shyness and the people around you - and begin focusing on Egypt. You're all going on this tour because you're fascinated by Egyptian civilization - not because you want to meet one another and spend time together. Even if you are going without friends or family, you already have plenty in common with the other travelers: Egypt itself. So you won't be lacking for conversation. Believe me - people travel to see places, but also to meet new people. They can talk to one another at home. Of course there will always be one or two who prefer to stick to themselves, but they're more the exception than the rule.
Now, the eating out alone issue. It doesn't have much to do with shyness - most women (and many men) are daunted by the thought of eating out solo. In fact I've received so many questions about this issue that I wrote a page on solo dining for that very reason. I used to hate dining alone - until I developed some coping mechanisms that at least allowed me to get through a meal without hyperventilating. Now, it doesn't bother me at all, but that took a lot of work and it didn't happen overnight.
Finally, one tip that works for me when I'm a bit overwhelmed is to just 'pretend' and act as if the situation is different. I know it sounds odd but sometimes, if you take a certain action, your thoughts will fall into place rather than the other way around. So - why not give it a try?
One last word: a relatively avant-garde technique people use to get rid of phobias, fears and negative emotional baggage is something called Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT. There's plenty about it on the web - just Google it. I have no idea whether it can help but again, you have nothing to lose.
As for me, I think you'll have an extraordinary trip to Egypt!
If you can, try to stop worrying about it and think about the wonderful and extraordinary experience of seeing Ancient Egypt first-hand. And please do come back and share your experiences with us!
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Travelling in Morocco!
by Jelise Camilleri
I want to go to Morocco in June, every one tells me not to go alone, but I'm running out of options to do so otherwise and I don't want to fork out extra for a tour.
I'm a little nervous about the prospect of going alone though. I've been to Turkey, I imagine the cultures to be relatively similar, I received a lot of unwanted male attention there, even though my boyfriend at the time was with me. This coupled with what others have said lead me to think perhaps it's not such a good idea.
So I wanted to ask what you thought? Would you do this?
Also do you know any good websites to find out travellers visiting the country around the same time?
Thanks Leyla, you've been a great help on my trip!
My answer: Hi Jelise, I'm glad I could be of help. Morocco is changing and isn't quite as safe as it used to be - but it's still perfectly fine. And yes, women on their own will get more than their fair share of attention. I've always traveled on my own in Morocco and I would see no reason to change that - but I do speak French and that helps.
The best way to avoid some of that unwanted male attention is to dress conservatively. Leave the abayas and veils for Saudi Arabia but try not to show too much skin in town: cover shoulders and knees and you'll be fine. Skin is fine on the beach, by the way. You may find this difficult to accept but you'll receive respect in proportion to your modesty.
I would also recommend you leave your Western friendliness and approachability behind when it comes to men. What you consider is a noncommittal or polite smile could be interpreted as a major come-on with some - the problem is you won't know on the spot and when you do it may be too late. The best way to deal with men who approach you is absolutely clear: ignore them. I know you may think it rude but you are in another culture and this is how local women deal with men in the street.
That said, Morocco is a world away from some of the more conservative Arab states; it's pretty much as Western as you'll find.
I would apply the usual security precautions about not going anywhere isolated or unfamiliar by yourself, making sure there are plenty of people - especially women - when you take public transport, and staying away from places that are clearly male preserves. If you want to go out at night, try to team up with someone at your guest house or hostel and if there's no one, then go out early and look for family-type restaurants in well-lit areas.
If you're looking for a travel buddy, try looking through some of the organizations that specialize in matching travelers up.
And remember - there is no such thing as a safety guarantee. You can travel the world safely for decades yet run into trouble right on your doorstep.
Enjoy Morocco - it's one of my favorite countries and I haven't been in a while...
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Traveling alone in Japan
I'm a 20 year old girl from India and I'm planning to spend two weeks in Japan alone but my parents are worried that I'll get mugged and raped the moment I step off the plane. I've assured them that it's gonna be alright but they're still not convinced. Just to be clear, is it safe for me to travel to Japan by myself?