Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tips for women traveling alone abroad or at home

Flickr Photo/Susana Fernandez

I have traveled alone a number of times over the years -- from school in Saskatchewan to home in Ontario or as far away as Mexico. I can remember a few worrisome hours when a blizzard threatened to ground all flights leaving me stuck in the Winnipeg Airport on Christmas Eve. Another time a flight to Acapulco was greeted by soldiers carrying machine guns lining the airport runway. I thought we landed in a war zone but apparently it was all standard security procedures for the big convention of diplomats that happened to be going on at the time. Other than that I never had a problem but then I was coached by my mother. She was a frequent flyer and passed along a few tips before I made my first trip. Things that she learned while traveling alone like: where to stash your cash in case you lose your purse or luggage – which was always likely; how to be cheerful when engaged in conversation without revealing any personal information; and a list of emergency phone numbers in case there’s a problem such as the Canadian embassy or consul in Mexico.

Nowadays more than ever – women are willing to travel alone to see the world.
In fact a recent survey by Small Luxury Hotels of the World found that between 2011 and 2012 there was a 53 percent increase in demand for rooms by women traveling alone. The London Mail also reported that some hotels have taken steps to make their accommodations more appealing to women traveling on their own, for business, school or pleasure, with features such as women-only floors.

Despite the trend many women still worry that such solitary excursions carry too many risks, making them a target for thieves, kidnappers and other criminals. However, Barbara Foster, a veteran globetrotter and author of a new book, “The Confessions of a Librarian: A Memoir of Loves” said there is no reason to let your fears keep you from the adventures you can experience. “Sure, there are risky places and bad types out there,” said Foster, in statement released to the press. “But with the right precautions, women can travel solo with confidence, visiting the places and meeting the people they always dreamed of and returning home with wonderful stories and memories.”
Her tips come from years of traveling across the country and around the world with stops in Istanbul, Bombay, Buenos Aires, Jerusalem and other locales.
“As an adventurer, Foster is something of a contradiction,” says her publicist. “She describes herself as a librarian who has difficulty reading flight schedules and suspects a haggling merchant in an Arab bazaar would view her as easy pickings. He would be mistaken.”
Yes, she’s spent a professional lifetime in academia and co-authored books on such esoteric subjects as Tibetan Buddhism but she’s also worldly and offers the following tips for traveling boldly while staying safe:

Do not stray from too far from the main drag or tourist area. “Simply put, some places just aren’t worth the risk. So avoid ‘no go’ neighborhoods, cities and countries,” Foster said. If you feel compelled to go to the Middle East choose a place known to be safer than others such as Israel. India can be dangerous and Foster said she was nearly kidnapped there, saved only by the intervention of a librarian friend. Still she said, “the country offers a once in a lifetime experience.”


Try to learn the language or at the very least know a few important phrases. Where is the bus stop? Where is the hospital? How much does it cost? Understanding what people are saying is also important in case there’s a problem and what people are saying has to do with potential dangers.

Have those local phone numbers handy as I said and make a connection with friendly contacts. “Make yourself known not only to the U.S. embassy or consul but also to people in your field,” Foster said. When she was traveling Foster said she wrote articles about the libraries that she visited – giving everyone a heads up as to her whereabouts both at home and abroad. She said her fellow librarians were a protective group.
Flickr/Adam Kerfoot-Roberts
Foster also recommends dressing wisely, paying attention to manners and watching what you spend. Basically you do not want to draw attention to yourself. Wearing wild clothes in a country where women dress conservatively shows a sign of disrespect. In her book, Foster recounts a visit to Istanbul where she watched horror-struck as two Turkish men slapped a young British woman for wearing a miniskirt on the street. You might also remember the freedoms enjoyed by Americans are not enjoyed everywhere so use caution when wearing T-shirts that might be cool at home but offensive in another country.

As my mother told me and as Foster also recommends, carry money and identification in a safe place on you rather than in a purse or suitcase. Foster recommends a pouch under your shirt. One of my favorite spring jackets had a zipper pocket on the inside – which served me well as did my tall soccer socks.

Lastly if you’re going to travel alone stick close to home said Foster. “You will miss many of the world’s must-see places but if the thought of traveling abroad holds too much stress for you it might be better to travel only in the U.S.”

A man walking his dog in New Orleans/Flickr/Jeff Turner

Two of Fosters favorite must-see places at home are New York and New Orleans. “Both are great places to explore,” Foster said.