By Donna Manz
While I travel “solo,” which is very often and primarily internationally, I never travel alone.
I love the company of like-minded women travelers and I demand security when I travel. Usually, though, I book as a “solo” traveler while still looking out for my interests.
After family, my great passion is travel. My first trip abroad was a three-week Europe vacation with my mom and a local group of mothers and daughters. I was 16 years old. That trip inspired a life-long journey of exploration and foreign cultures. I evolved from tourist to traveler to immerser and, ultimately, to travel advisor which, pretty much, merges my travel objectives.
Leaving hubby – a former “air-warrior”– at home does not deter me from new adventures. I revel in touring, particularly internationally. Viewing spectacular vistas, charmed by magnificent local architecture, meeting friendly locals, and eating new foods, engages my senses. I have learned that very little stops women traveling solo.
Admittedly, my own perspectives, concerns, and personal experiences, color my planning process for myself and for others.
As a travel advisor I book a lot of “girlfriend getaways,” mother/daughter special occasion trips, and solo women trips as well as my own travel. I apply my experience-born parameters to their vacations.
Women Traveling Solo: Remember STAR
Before I began arranging travel professionally, I came up with what I thought was a “cutesy” acronym for my personal travel plans – STAR. I did not expect STAR to become part of my standard planning process.
STAR stands for Safety and Security; Touring and Transportation; Activities; and Resources. It is my checklist for myself AND clients. My travel objectives, my interests, come first; STAR simply supports my agenda.
A woman traveler should first clarify to herself what it is she wants to do on a specific trip. Consider what your interests are, and what your lifestyle is. Do you enjoy art and museums? Are you a shopper? Love concerts? Do breathtaking scenery and landscapes enthrall you? Do you prefer the diversions of a cosmopolitan city or quaint medieval towns?
Once you have focused on your agenda, consider the safest and most seamless way to enjoy those activities you set your sights on.
Resources for Women Travelers
Your resources – hotel, tour guide, and travel adviser – all look out for your interests. Women traveling should take advantage of their services for fun, activity enhancement, and security. For example, use their services and spend an extra few dollars for skip-the-line tickets or sold-out theatre tickets.
Keep your globally-enabled smartphone on with no active cellular activity. WiFi is as dominant world-wide as it is in the U.S. and your phone becomes your map, your GPS, your city guide, and, most importantly for women travelers, your link to home. Mobile phone providers promote international-travel plans for use of cellular data.
Use ATMs Only inside A Bank
About seven years ago, our personal checking account was wiped out completely over a two-week span. We discovered what happened only after check payments bounced.
The reason: I had used a stand-alone ATM across from Kensington Palace the day before parting for home (I always bring home local currency for next trip). Since that debacle, I now use only ATMs located inside bank lobbies. It’s advice all women travelers, and men, as well, should heed.
Lobby ATMs are checked for skimming devices a couple of times a day, and the lobbies are, typically, open only when the bank is open. A lobby ATM is more secure than an outside ATM, particularly, a stand-alone cash machine.
Travel With Like-minded Women Travelers
A comprehensive tool with an undeserved bad rap is group travel. From the seven-day/six country model of yore, group travel has evolved into opportunities that focus on “authentic” experiences to niche segments such as food/wine, biking/hiking, adventure, and luxury-driven, semi-independent or escorted. They’re a boon to women travelers.
Additionally, for women traveling solo groups offer a secure environment in which to make new friends and to transfer from destination to destination seamlessly.
Group travel may be arranged through published tours (reputable tour operators), affinity groups (garden/wine/alumni clubs), and river ships.
When traveling “independently” with a friend or relative, I stay in small-ish properties centrally located in tourist areas rather than in residential areas. Tourist districts tend to have greater foot traffic by other tourists into the evening as well as a more visible police presence. At boutique-like hotels, the doorman, concierge, and front desk become familiar with their guests.
I rely on the resources of front-of-the-house hotel staff. Lobby personnel, typically, look out for their guests. Always say “hello” to your doorman or concierge. On trips I have taken with my sister or friends, the doorman has advised which areas to avoid, especially in the evening, or what subway stations are in quieter locations.
Think About Weight
Let’s talk about “weight” – not yours but the weight of your luggage (wheeled, I hope) and your carry-on/carry-about bags.
Airlines have trained travelers to check only one bag at no charge. As a result, many women travelers have resorted to a single gigantic suitcase rather than two smaller manageable ones. Unless you are strong enough to pull a heavy suitcase over curbs and cobblestoned streets, don’t do it. Know the pre-packed weight of your luggage; many companies offer lightweight hard-side and a few offer fold-flat fabric bags. I love my flexible fabric bags for travel.
My airport/in-flight travel handbag is a marvel. It is a large, multi-compartment, lightweight zipper-topped shoulder bag holding travel docs, meds, and credit cards. It is my “personal” bag on aircraft. My official carry-on holds a change of clothes (should my checked bag not make it) as well as personal items. When I reach my destination, however, I use a small cross-body bag, holding just my glasses, credit cards, cash, tissues, and phone.
Women Traveling About a City
I’m a walker. I like to breathe in the rhythm of local life as I pass. I read plaques, peer into shop windows, peruse menus, and note new attractions.
Riding in underground transportation, you miss the sights, sounds, and aromas of your destination. If you must take underground rail, make sure you are using the stations busiest with tourists in the evening.
When I feel uncomfortable out alone, I taxi to my destination. I can still enjoy the vignettes of local life while ensconced in my protective bubble.
If your budget allows, book private drivers or small-group tailored tours rather than renting a car in an unfamiliar place. Local drivers speak the language, know their regions and destinations well.
I have taken a late-night trolley from Amsterdam’s tourist heart to my hotel in an area abundant with bicyclists; I have strolled through London’s West End after the theatre; I have gotten lost – repeatedly – with rivership-mates in Venice and Frankfurt. I thrilled to a “retro” sidecar tour in Paris. I take my own advice, though: well-lit centrally-located hotels and pathways, the resources of hospitality professionals, and group participation whenever it benefits me.
As a women traveling solo I know I am not invincible and I try to be prudent with my touring plans. Travel empowers and enriches women’s lives.