by Harriet Lewis
When I was 20 years old, I bought an Army surplus backpack and went off with three girlfriends to tour Europe. The backpack wasn’t very large—but I used valuable real estate to carry two rolls of toilet paper, because I had been told that the toilet paper in Europe was horrible.
I also brought a book about “Europe on $5 a day,” because I only had $500 to last me from June until the end of August. I slept in cars, I slept in bars, I slept in hostels—and it was just an amazing experience.
I haven’t stopped traveling since then, and have been to more than 100 countries—some with my girlfriends, some with my husband and family, and some on my own. It’s an out-and-out addiction; I’m ready to go any place, any time.
In addition to learning that I no longer have to carry my own toilet paper in Europe (though I certainly continue to do so in Asia!), I’ve gathered hundreds of invaluable tips about travel since that fateful first journey, both from my own adventures and from the thousands of women who travel with Grand Circle Corporation—the family of travel companies that my husband, Alan, and I have owned since 1985.
In fact, more than 70% of our travelers are women—and many of them travel solo. Some do so as a matter of choice: it can be extremely liberating to not have to worry about another person when you’re traveling, no matter how much you love your husband, girlfriends, children, etc.
Others, however, travel solo because for some reason or another, they find themselves faced with a choice: Go by yourself, or don’t go at all. I’ve faced this choice many times in my life, and it’s probably not surprising that I always say, “GO.”
Still, I realize that women traveling solo face unique challenges—whether it’s your first journey alone or your tenth. So these are some of the travel tips I share most often … and never fail to subscribe to myself.
Trust Your Female Intuition and Divert Potential Muggers
If you’re not feeling safe, or you feel something funny—for any reason—don’t take chances. You can deter potential assailants by attracting unwanted attention. For example, point to someone nearby, wave excitedly, shouting greetings as if you know them, and run over to them. You can explain the situation, or keep waving and run into a store or building. Put aside your embarrassment and don’t hesitate to cry, shout, yell, or generally cause a commotion. And if you’re going into an area you’re unsure of, wear a whistle around your neck.
Wear a Wedding Ring—Whether You’re Married or Not
In many countries, married women are more readily accepted—and respected—than women who are not. You’ll find that a cheap gold band on your ring finger may help you fend off Romeos. If you are married but don’t want to risk losing a precious memento, substitute your ring with an inexpensive one.
Safeguard Your Hotel Room
If the desk clerk calls out your room number, request to change rooms. You don’t want publicity about where you’re staying. Even if it might be a bit noisier, ask for a room within two doors of an elevator, and have your room key in your hand when you step off the elevator. Don’t accept a room on an L-shaped corridor off the main hallway. You’re much safer with more foot traffic going by. Jamming your door from the inside with a small, rubber doorstop (less than a dollar at your local hardware store) can deter unwelcome visitors looking for an easy way in. And make sure your windows are locked—especially if you have a balcony.
Best Seat In the House? The Bar
If you feel self-conscious dining alone in a restaurant, take a bar seat and order your meal there. The bartender will usually try to make you feel at home, strike up a conversation, and often engage others at the counter to join in.