22 May 2009

Travel tips for single travelers, especially women

This blog grew out of an email exchange with a female friend about traveling alone.

Since writing this, I found these excellent sites on  Couchsurfin.org that sum things up pretty nicely in a general way here and in a more specific way Couchsurfing post & tips here.
Here is a lady talking about how to dress modestly in Muslim countries.
More tips on the Lonely Planet blog here

See this site for tips for solo women travelers in Africa.
and more general tips for women travelers: student travel tips for women.

This blog is a little higgledy piggledy, but I think it's better to get it all out than worry about nicieties...

Qu: Are Cambodia and Vietnam fine for single women ?

It's always better if you are travelling with a partner, but as a single girl you can travel pretty well in most Buddhist countries, some countries tend to hassle women travellers more.
But regardless wherever you travel as a single young woman: modest dress, no tank tops, no long bare arms, not mini skirts or short pants. If you look especially sexy be prepared for the attention. What is an acceptable level of 'sexyness' depends on the culture.
If in doubt, see what the local women your age do and copy them.

        For some reason a certain type of traveller acts as though they were totally free of ALL and EVERY restriction and commonsense. Like a dog out of a kennel they go nuts and behave stupidly.   That does not go down well, and is asking for trouble. If you want to do that & just cut lose: there ARE places to do it where the locals are used to it (For example: Kuta beach in Bali, certain places in BKK, etc...every country has them. )
However: I know you well enough to realize you don't want to go that way ;-)

Qu: Cambodia and Vietnam are developing countries..maybe somebody could grab my bags ?
Bag grabbing can happen in any country. Use commonsense. In your own country you don't usually leave your stuff lying around unattended do you ? 

As a traveller: be prepared: Your bag could disappear any time (stolen, lost, misplaced, etc..), so travel in such a way that if your bag is gone, only ONE day's worth of money and things are gone.Passport and big money is best NOT kept in a bag, but in your money belt.

Use three levels of security: Think about how someone who wants your money would think:
They would go for the most obvious and easy stuff first.

Your Wallet.

- so keep only a day's worth of money in your wallet. Always plan for the worst case: so that you could afford to lose your wallet - that means: don't keep credit cards in it unless you use them all the time. I'd recommend: don't use Credit cards at all, use cash. That is if you are a backpacker. If you are business traveller of course, use your cards.

If you try to catch a lizard, you will go for his tail right ?
Well a lizard will drop its tail and run away. The tail grows back over tiime. Your wallet is like the lizard's tail. Something you should be able to sacrifice in an emergency and still survive.

Your passport and money belt should be totally hidden.
A money belt that hangs around your neck, even it is under your shirt, is obvious.
It's like putting a sign on yourself: "Here is all my big stuff!"
It's obvious. A thief will know where to look and what to go for.
I saw a student get relieved of his 'around-the-neck-and-under-the-shirt' money belt just by crossing the road in Saigon. Two guys, on a motorbike, it happened before he even realized that he'd been done over. It was that professional.
         It is best to use a money belt that is down inside your pants in front of your lower abdomen. Use it as soon as you start your travel, in the plane.

Keep your passport always in the money belt, just the same as when we traveled in Laos together.
NEVER open the your money belt in public, go to the toilet or your hotel room to get stuff out of your belt.
Every day, in the morning, in the hotel room, get out the money for the day. Then keep your money belt out of sight, down your pants.
That applies to any country anywhere. No matter what country.

I talked about three levels of security: 
Here is the third one:
Decoys - if you want you can use decoys - multi-levels of security.
A money bag around your neck, worn under your shirt, can act very nicely as a decoy.
A decoy should only have less than 1 days worth of cash in it, and no cards or passport.
Remember it's a decoy, that means: this is what will get stolen first. A thief is supposed to think this is where ALL your stuff is. This is another lizard's tail. Sacrifice something and survive.

You should be able to afford losing your decoy without a big drama. But it should still have something worth stealing in it.

Anyone wanting to steal your money will usually go for the wallet or the decoy around your neck first.

A: Yes in Cambodia i 'm gonna be more careful, unlike how I behaved in Laos.
Yes Laos is safer,

A: I'm going to tell my friends
Don't scare them just say this is your standard way to travel.

Travelling with others
A: His classmate from MBA may join us one more girl from Peru they wanna see as many cities as possible...but I'm not sure I want to follow all of their itinerary.

That's why i prefer a solo trip..pack up- leave anytime i like...
sometimes when you travel with friends you want to have time for yourself and not have to worry about them. You want to go off on your own and do what you like.

Ya for me, i need personal space, I don't wanna smile /deal with ppl all the time on a trip...
In that case what you could do is tell them from the start: I will travel with you for X weeks, or X days, then I will go to this other place and we meet there again, or you go ahead and I meet you
- or you only travel half the time together or whatever
that 's better
- or you let them go for a few days

BUT the important thign is to make sure you tell them from the start, BEFORE YOU GO if you say it while you travel they will prob get upset.
You can make it so you have half the time alone,
- or you leave them a week before they go bakc and you do your own thing. etc etc.. up to your creativity :-)
but make it clear from the start.

I forgot how mcu i spend per day in Laos. I guess the same for Camb + Viet? about max $US20/day inc. accommodation, food, sightseeing...(2008).
Sounds about right, ask around.
  • You spend more if you travel bus, etc... extra... if you travel fast and move fast you spend even more. 
  • Travel slowly & generally you spend less, all other things being even.
Qu: how long to look at a city ? My friends want to do one day per city. 
Sounds really fast.
My preference is 3+ days per city. But be flexible, it's meant to be fun not hard work. If you want a trip that is a mad race to tick off cities and places that is fine, just make sure the others are also into that and like the pace.

Make sure you buy travel insurance. Get the insurance that is cheap and doesn't have all the frills and small crap.
You only want insurance for the big stuff, hospital etc... small stuff you can cope yourself with. Lost clothing and all the usual stuff is not worth insuring in my experience. Too much hassle to get reimbursed. You want insurance just for major medical stuff, for things that cost 1000's of dollars.
        I get basic travel insurance by AAMI Australia (In Australia) - if I get similar travel insurance from the Travel Agent's recommended companies I pay about double (10 days in SEAsia ~ $70 with AAMI, but with travel agents: ~$130, --- in 2009). Travel agent insurance has all the bells and whistles of course. More buttons  than a video remote control :-)
And those agents are great at scaring you shitless with totally unlikely things.... but of course it COULD happen ... anything COULD happen...!

Getting out of 'tourist' mode
Join an internet community like couchsurfing.com, have a look at the site, and use it to meet expats and people who live in the cities you visit. Unless you want to be purely tourist.
yes that's good idea..
Out of tourist mode you see more, and you get out of travel.
In your case you have not yet got sick of being a tourist yet... ha ha ha so enjoy that stage until you feel you want to REALLY find out how life in that place is like.
I've just written a small article on how to get out of tourist mode here

Clothes, dress, and the message it gives out to all around you:
Another thing about getting out tourist mode: dress in such a way that the local people think you are living and working there (i.e. an expat), travelling around for holiday.
        In Thailand I know I've hit the right dress level when local people ask me: "where do you work ? how long you been working in Thailand ?"- then I know I've dressed the correct way :-)
- Then I know I don't run around with clothes that scream "TOURIST !!!!! ....come and get me... I'm a TOURIST!!!"
I mean this is really up to you. IF you don't mind that, then dress like a TOURIST. Read the travel tips for women in Couchsurf.com

oh i c..intersting ..not asking more Q for those who don't dress up...

Qu: s/times some local people may take advantage if they know a single girl come here alone...
Yes, good point: there is something to think about, and that is:
Your story - the story you tell others who you never met before:
when you travel as a solo traveller: this is are the best rules I have found (for girls and for guys as well)
1)"Travelling alone?" (subtext: Is anyone going to back you up ? Will anyone miss you ? Are you defenceless ? )
Never say you travel alone.
NEVER admit it. Always say you have a friend at the hotel waiting for you, or you are visiting a local friend, and they could not come with you today, or could not come with you this week.
read my story about travel in Morocco
In Morocco I had not story. I thought I didn't need one. I found out the hard way that even a guy, NEEDS a good story sometimes. 

ya that's what i learned after the Bintang trip...
If you say you are alone then if someone has some bad plans they know that noone is protecting you and they have only ONE person to deal with. Not a good idea. I learnt that one in Morocco. I got pretty good with my story. Had it down neat and very convincing. I even started to believe my own bullshit.

Good :D  you learnt it neh ?
As a girl: NEVER say you are single and alone, it brings out all the weird guys and they stick to you.
Always say your b/f is at the hotel, sick with bad food etc... whatever
- or you are meeting him tonight.
- make it convincing, know the story BEFORE you have to say it. Practice your acting skills.

See this Africa site for tips for solo women travelers: 

Couchsurfing has a page on solo travel here.

2)Taxi driver: "first time ?" (subtext: does this guy have any idea, any clue about the country?)
Traveller: "yes, first time" (subtext: I know nothing, I'm ripe for the plucking, please take advantage of me.)

NEVER SAY it is your FIRST time, even if it is.
If it really IS your first time: then its best to say it is your second time.
If the person is surprised you don't know much about the country and its your second time then say that you were with your b/f a year ago, or with your family, or you visited a diff part of the country etc...
That makes you (a little) less vulnerable (we hope).

ya coz in da motel in Bintang da receptionist asked me if i were alone, I said 'Yes..' in that night i relaized i shouldn't be too honest . ( touchwood) if he were a bad guy and could come in my room in low season, when almost nobody else lives there... in fact i didn't have to be honest for the motel staff coz my room definitely is for more than 1 person...
So yes i agree so...i was less alert about these as i travelled to Japan....

Japan is very safe  but always use the same rules.
Travel alone is a different story. I feel very different travelling alone than when I have company. Read the links I sent you, they are good.

To get some perspective: What are other risks in life ? such as the risks of death by accident in other ways ?
This site from Oxford has some clear and down to earth information here.
It even gives some very commonsense advice on general lifestyle and healthy living here.

Send me your stories at: HeikoRudolph AT yahoo.com

Appendix: more links and articles below:
A safe way to carry cash - couchsurfing discussion:

See this site for tips for solo women travelers in Africa: 

and more general tips for women travelers:

A site for solo women travellers http://www.women-on-the-road.com/

Shoulder holster


Lonely planets take on things:

Some ideas of the solo traveller:
If you arrive in a new place and you don’t meet anyone straightaway – don’t panic! here are some tips .... be creative, adventure is not programmable.... .

NYTimes has a nice article of travel tips as well:
thanks for reproduction:

May 31, 2009  New York Times
Op-Ed Columnist

Cum Laude in Evading Bandits

One of the great failures of American universities is that they are far too parochial, rarely exposing students to worlds beyond our borders.
If colleges provide credit for dozing through an introductory Spanish class, why not give credit for a “gap year” in a Bolivian village? If students can learn about microfinance while sitting comatose in 9 a.m. lectures, couldn’t they learn more by volunteering with a lender in a Bangladesh slum?
So with summer starting, it’s up to students themselves to self-educate by setting off on their own. I hold my “win a trip” contest precisely to encourage such trips — I’m just back from visiting five West African countries with a University of South Carolina student. Yet when I encourage students’ wanderlust, questions invariably arise: Will I be safe? How do I avoid robbers and malaria?
In response, here are 15 tips for traveling to even the roughest of countries — and back:

1. Carry a “decoy wallet,” so that if you are robbed by bandits with large guns, you have something to hand over. I keep $40 in my decoy wallet, along with an old library card and frequent-flier card. (But don’t begrudge the wallet: when my travel buddy was pickpocketed in Peru, we tried to jump the pickpocket, who turned out to be backed by an entire gang ... )

2. Carry cash and your passport where no robber will find it. Assuming that few bandits read this column, I’ll disclose that I carry mine in a pouch that loops onto my belt and tucks under my trousers.

3. Carry a tiny ski lock with a six-foot retractable wire. Use it to lock your backpack to a hotel bed when you’re out, or to the rack of a train car.

4. At night, set a chair against your hotel door so that it will tip over and crash if someone slips in at 4 a.m. And lift the sheet to look for bloodstains on the mattress — meaning bed bugs.

5. When it gets dark, always carry a headlamp in your pocket. I learned that from a friend whose hotel in Damascus lost power. He lacked a light but was able to feel his way up the stairs in the dark, find his room and walk in. A couple of final gropes, and he discovered it wasn’t his room after all. Unfortunately, it was occupied.

6. If you’re a woman held up in an isolated area, stick out your stomach, pat it and signal that you’re pregnant. You might also invest in a cheap wedding band, for imaginary husbands deflect unwanted suitors.

7. Be wary of accepting drinks from anyone. Robbers sometimes use a date rape drug to knock out their victims — in bars, in trains, in homes. If presented with pre-poured drinks, switch them with your host, cheerfully explaining: “This is an American good luck ritual!”

8. Buy a secondhand local cell phone for $20, outfit it with a local SIM card and keep it in your pocket.

9. When you arrive in a new city, don’t take an airport taxi unless you know it is safe. If you do take a cab, choose a scrawny driver and lock ALL the doors — thieves may pull open the doors at a red light and run off with a bag.

10. Don’t wear a nice watch, for that suggests a fat wallet and also makes a target. I learned that lesson on my first trip to the Philippines: a robber with a machete had just encountered a Japanese businessman with a Rolex — who now, alas, has only one hand.

11. Look out for fake cops or crooked ones. If a policeman tries to arrest you, demand to see some ID and use your cell phone to contact a friend.

12. If you are held up by bandits with large guns, shake hands respectfully with each of your persecutors. It’s very important to be polite to people who might kill you. Surprisingly often, child soldiers and other bandits will reciprocate your fake friendliness and settle for some cash rather than everything you possess. I’ve even had thugs warmly exchange addresses with me, after robbing me.

13. Remember that the scariest people aren’t warlords, but drivers. In buses I sometimes use my pack as an airbag; after one crash I was the only passenger not hospitalized.

14. If terrorists finger you, break out singing “O Canada”!

15. Finally, don’t be so cautious that you miss the magic of escaping your comfort zone and mingling with local people and staying in their homes. The risks are minimal compared with the wonders of spending time in a small village. So take a gap year, or volunteer in a village or a slum. And even if everything goes wrong and you are robbed and catch malaria, shrug it off — those are precisely the kinds of authentic interactions with local cultures that, in retrospect, enrich a journey and life itself.

A reply from  Couchsurfing is here:


Aswan, Egypt, Tombs of the Nobles