Consortium for International Education & Multicultural Studies
Women Traveling Solo
Women face some unique challenges and rewards when traveling solo. You have more opportunities for great travel experiences than do group travelers, couples, or single men. You will meet women and men, in this country and abroad, much more easily than can a man. Thanks to the trust people generally feel toward women, you may have greater access toward intercultural relationships. It is certainly no more dangerous to travel than it is to stay home. Don't let your lack of knowledge become paranoia. If you're going to be paranoid, you may as well stay home.
Double standards exist for females and males in most societies - and these will be more evident in more traditional societies and smaller towns. While this never implies compromising ones morals, it may entail behavioral changes. "Unaccompanied ladies are not seen in certain public places or on the street after 9:00 P.M." may translate into "solo women seen in those places are not 'ladies,' hence, forfeit the respect and protection given to ladies by that society." To avoid hassles and awkward situations, you may wish to avoid certain areas when unaccompanied, use cabs to go places after certain hours, and make every attempt to not go out alone.
Learn as much as you can about the culture, and make an attempt to understand the status of women and the social customs of the country. For you, mastering the language is especially important.
The piece of advice most given by personal security guards and defensive training instructors is "Trust Your Instincts." If a man starts talking to you and you feel irritated or uncomfortable with him, don't let him attach himself to you for even a minute. Don't feel apologetic - be firm and self-assured. Either ignore him or, if necessary, look him straight in the eye, without smiling or apologizing and say loudly, clearly, and firmly that you do not wish to talk with him any more and you'd like him to leave you alone (say it in English if you have to).
If you meet men who you instinctively feel you can trust, proceed slowly and don't hesitate to discuss intercultural differences. This will give you additional insights into the foreign culture (nuances of verbal and body language) and also enlighten him as to where you are coming from. This is especially important in more traditional societies. As always, find out as much as possible about him and try to verify that information through friends and staff at the school.
As in your own country, you may find that some women are warm and interested in you, your trip, and your life back in America - particularly your marital status and how many children you have. Conversation with these women may revolve around these subjects, or possibly cooking or crafts. Other times you'll meet women who are highly educated, extremely articulate, and self-possessed, who will challenge you with questions about your own country.
Your appearance is especially important when traveling alone, particularly if you want to avoid being hassled. Be aware of cultural norms. In some places the rules are not explicit, but women dressed in tight jeans and t-shirts experience more problems. Dressing with dignity is essential. A solution might be to dress more conservatively when traveling intercity and let your good sense and powers of observation guide you after your arrival at the foreign center.