I was on Facebook earlier (okay, I am on Facebook everyday - shoot me). Someone posted a question to Elizabeth Gilbert, asking for travel advice. I liked her reply, although, the question is: can you really just travel with carry-on luggage only? Really? I feel like a pack-horse now.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WOMEN TRAVELING ALONE?
Dear Ones —
This question popped up on the wall again this week, and I thought I should reprint this little essay I wrote about it on Facebook last year. And if you all have your own thoughts and advice on the matter, do yo you mind sharing?
I myself have always had great experiences traveling alone. While there are certainly dangers, I have found that the same factors that make you vulnerable as a woman also make you powerful. What I mean to say is, a woman on her own does not telegraph a threat to anyone—which means that strangers all over the world will welcome you and trust you. They will let you into their houses. They will let you play with their babies. They will tell you their stories. They will give you a place to sleep. They will offer you assistance, food, directions, affection. I feel that, as a female traveler, I have had much more intimate experiences with new people than any man could ever have. They know I'm not going to hurt them, and so they open up to me. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything.
That said, do be careful—or at least alert. There are places in the world I would not travel alone. There are places in my own state I would not travel alone, for that matter. If you don't see any local women walking around the streets at night, you probably shouldn't be walking there either. Other tips:
DRESS MODESTLY. I keep this rule just about everywhere I go in the world that isn't Miami. In developing countries or more conservative countries, I am especially careful to wear long sleeves and loose clothing. It's more comfortable, for one thing. (Less sunburn!) It also tends to attract less male attention. But most of all, in places in the world where modesty still reigns, dressing carefully will win you the favor of local women—whose good graces you will always need. If you're walking around in what looks to a nice Indonesian woman like underwear (tank top and shorts) she will be too embarrassed to interact with you. Try not to make people of either gender feel either aroused or embarrassed.
PACK LIGHTLY. I never travel with checked luggage...not anywhere, not for any amount of time. Carry-on only. Never bring more than you can comfortably carry. Being over-burdened makes you vulnerable in a thousand different ways. Stay light on your feet and you'll be safer and less conspicuous. Also, you don't really need it. Really, you don't! If you’re traveling from place to place and living among strangers, nobody will notice that you wore the same shirt today as yesterday. You will also be safer from people putting things in your luggage (drugs) or taking things out of your luggage (cameras) when you aren't looking.
EYE-MASK, EAR PLUGS, PJ's, SLIPPERS. Bring good ones. Sleep is the most important thing.
DON'T BE AFRAID TO LOOK STUPID. Try to speak some of the local language, even if it makes you sound like an idiot. People (except waiters in Paris) will usually be charmed, not appalled. Eat things you wouldn't normally eat. Ask questions. It's OK if you don't know what's going on — the whole point of being a visitor is not to know what's going on, and to be unafraid to learn. Good manners and friendliness trump sophistication any day. You can always apologize for mistakes later.
DON'T ACT ENTITLED. I won't give any examples here. Just ask yourself constantly, "Am I acting entitled?" Then stop. Actually, this is kind of good advice for even when you aren't traveling.
BE READY TO HAVE YOUR LIFE CHANGED.