I’ve spoken briefly about solo travel before, but I haven’t talked about solo female travel. It’s a little bit different for us girls.
I would never want to discourage a fellow traveler from finding her bearings on the road: solo female travel is probably the most inspiring thing I’ve ever done. But it can be nerve-racking as a woman to journey alone. I mean, I still get nervous. To help combat those nerves, I follow the Three Golden Rules of solo female travel. Now, I know that there are a lot of guidelines to follow as a solo female traveler: don’t draw attention to yourself, don’t go out after dark, be alert, etc., but in my opinion, the Three Golden Rules cover all your bases.
Rule 1: What they don’t know, can’t hurt you
Once, while visiting a castle and the attached museum in Assisi, I was detained by a member of the staff. He blocked the exit with his body and began pelting me with questions. Now in general Italy is a very safe place, but this man made me uneasy. He asked if I was in Assisi by myself for the day, which I was. Instead, though, I said that I was meeting a friend for lunch and really needed to be going.
You can do that, by the way. Lie. There’s no rule stating that just because you are traveling solo you must announce it to everyone who asks. Thinking you have somewhere to be and someone who will miss you if you don’t arrive might be enough to stave off ill-intentions.
Part of the joy of solo travel is meeting new people, chatting with them, and broadening your perspectives. Be careful not to overshare. This isn’t true of everywhere you go, but in Italy at least the men are very solicitous. During my day and weekend trips, I was asked numerous times where I was staying. After a couple of times mentioning that I was studying in the nearby town of Perugia, I learned not to give that information away anymore. “Oh, I should come into town and we can get drinks together,” “Oh, what part of the city do you live in, I go to Perugia often,” “Let’s party together, Americana!” While I’m sure none of these men were up to anything nefarious, it’s easier to just circumvent the question altogether. A simple, “Just traveling through the area with friends” usually does the trick.
And, hopefully, this goes without saying, never give out the address of where you’re staying.
Rule 2: F*ck Politeness
Here’s the thing: being polite is great. You can accomplish a lot with a kind word and it just feels nice to treat others with respect. Bearing that in mind, it is never worth compromising your safety for the sake of being polite.
Sue Anne, a dear friend of mine that I met while in Perugia, taught me the value of this. One day we were eating lunch outside and a man selling bracelets or sunglasses or something came up to our table. This is common in Italy and they are relentless. I told the man that we weren’t interested and turned back to my food. He continued to push his wares in front of us, taking Sue by the wrist. She exploded up out of her chair and shouted – in perfect Italian – that we said no and he needed to leave.
Now, this might not seem like a scenario of life or death and maybe, just maybe, Sue overreacted? Well, here’s the thing that I learned from Sue Anne. When you are a woman traveling alone, you must draw a line in the sand. Acting timid and letting people bully you, even into something as harmless as buying a bracelet, is the kind of behavior that predators look for. Be confident and don’t stand for any BS.
Rule 3: Trust Your Gut
There’s this little thing called intuition, and when you travel, it’s on high alert. Listen to it. I have done some crazy stuff on my adventures: got drunk with strangers on a bar crawl in Rome, walked around Milan alone at midnight to get a hamburger, and convinced a tour van driver to give me a lift to the train station during his lunch break (I mistakenly assumed he was a shuttle service). But even though all of those things had the potential to turn out poorly, I never had that niggling feeling in my gut telling me that I should be worried.
I’ve had that feeling before. Like when that man in Assisi cornered me in the empty museum. And I got the hell out of there.
Solo Female Travel… pretty simple, right?
Don’t overshare, be confident and unafraid to offend, and most importantly, listen to your instincts!