Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The hitchhiker’s guide to travelling solo

Solo travel often invites mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension. However, with a list of dos and don’ts, paired with a safety net of which destinations to visit, you’re all set.

Safety rules
Like art, safety is largely subjective. Its magnitude depends on numerable factors, such as the political situation of the country you’re visiting or the religious conventions that tourists are expected adhere to. So don’t go dancing on the streets at night or wear a bikini to a park! A city or country that may seem unsafe to you, may seem safe to another. However, it still remains an area of concern, especially for women. It’s best to be one’s own guardian at all times.

• Carry a pepper spray as a precautionary measure.
• Since you will be travelling alone, it’s advisable to inform family or friends of your whereabouts regularly.
• Read up all you can on the destination you’re visiting so that you are aware of what to expect there.
• Avoid staying at nondescript hotels or hotels that are located at secluded spots. You can also opt for homestays, as you will be staying with a family who is well versed with the city.
• With regard to the city you’re in, carry all important phone numbers with you at all times, so as to have easy access to local facilities if needed.
• Follow basic rules that you would abide by in your own country. For example, don’t walk around on empty streets at night.

Cultural awareness
Every country follows different customs, thoughts and views, and in order to enjoy their traditions, you must know about them, or else you may end up unknowingly stirring sentiments. Your awareness will not only prove helpful to you while navigating the place, but it will also aid you to bond with the locals thereby opening the window to their lives. More so, there are basics about every country that you must learn about. For example, in India women wearing skimpy clothing invites unnecessary attention from the men; whereas men in a country like Bangkok are more open-minded in this respect and don’t resort to wolf whistles or catcalling unlike in India.

Do your research
Grabbing your backpack and stepping onto the next train that comes by may sound like an exciting proposition. It could even be one of the best trips you have. But, doing your research about the destination is very crucial if you plan to go the solitary way. Acquiring accurate knowledge is the mark of a great traveller. Okay, I just made that up. Still, it holds true. Read up all you can find online or in books about the destination you want to visit. Talking to friends or friends of friends who have been to that destination are also great sources of information. There are several travel-related websites, forums and personal blogs online that provide first-hand experiences giving you valuable insights on what to expect from a certain place.

Find like-minded people or groups
Okay, since you set out alone I know that you surely enjoy your own company. But you’re going to get bored at some point, right? Oh well, take my word for it then. Making new friends comprises the fun part of a memorable journey. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to go on the typical bus tours with a varied mix of people you may not even like. Every city has its share of adventure enthusiasts’ clubs or a biker’s club, so you can find like-minded people or groups to hang out with in the city you’re visiting.

To go or not to go
Leyla Giray, owner of the website Women on the Road, lists down places she’s known to be the safest and some that drew her towards caution. This list can't guarantee your safety, it does however point you towards places many Leyla and women travellers across the world consider as safe as possible.

Safest destinations:
• Northern Europe (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden)
• Some Western European countries (Malta, Monaco, Switzerland, small towns in most countries)
• Canada and USA (unsafe in parts)
• Australia and New Zealand (unsafe in parts)
• Cuba (one of the safest countries)
• Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and China
• India and Bhutan
• Bahrain
• Panama

Least safe or most daunting destination:
• Any region at war or in conflict, such as Afghanistan, Darfur or Iraq—no ifs or buts, just stay away.
• Countries facing a natural disaster - Aceh in Indonesia right after the tsunami, Bangladesh during floods
• Burundi, Central Africa, the Niger River Delta, Zimbabwe
• Sudan, Somalia
• Large African mega-cities like Lagos, Nairobi, Johannesburg
• Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Yemen
• Pakistan
• North Korea

“Most cities, though, are as safe as you make them! Remember that pickpockets live everywhere, as do overly affectionate men. Take basic precautions, such as avoiding walking alone at night, and always keep your valuables in a safe place.” - Leyla Giray.

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