I've actually tried to write this a few times but it always ended up a ramble of travel stories, making me sound like some sort of combination of a tragic gap year student, jaded hippie and arrogant know-it-all. So this time - because hopefully I am none of those things! - I am just going to try and keep it simple.
15 things I have learned from travelling alone:
And yes, I have been alone as a woman and I'm still alive, and largely unscathed.
1. Hot drinks are some of my favourite things ever. Not just for the nourishing, reviving comfort they provide, but also the power they have to bring people together, raise spirits, and to bring meditative calm to a lone traveller.
2. Never refuse free food, or the opportunity to use a bathroom. Especially if it's an invitation to someone's house, but not if it's a late night invitation to a man's house.
3. Eat street food! It'll be the nicest you'll have. For inevitable tummy troubles, do not take Imodium unless you have an unavoidable long journey coming up or an overnight camel safari in the desert. The best thing is to rest and rehydrate. Try hot water, lime juice and sugar. Much nicer than dioralyte.
4. Bob Marley, and to a lesser extent, Pink Floyd, are universal. If you don't like them, don't travel. NO I'M JOKING. Sort of :D
5. Get a Swiss Army knife.
6. Have a boyfriend, real or imaginary, and drop him into conversation with any persistent prowling chatty men.
7. Dress appropriately. Never a big deal for men, but ladies, it's different for us.
It's annoying to accept when you have been raised with the attitude that if he can do it, I can do it (I have brothers) BUT IT'S IMPORTANT AND TRUE. We just can't do some stuff in some places. The number of times I have seen western ladies wearing leggings and a short strappy t-shirt makes me want to cry. Being groped in the street or having men stalk you or shout stuff at you or worse, is fuelled by the misunderstanding that white women are easy, and desirable. Don't make it worse. Cover up, for your own safety and for your traveller sisters everywhere.
8. Racism and gender inequality are daily life in many countries. I give thanks for being born in one of the more tolerant areas of the world, although the road to true equality is a long one. As a traveller you can show people, respectfully of course, that the barriers people create, for race, religion, or whatever, don't have to be there.
9. You can do with a lot less than you realise, and most people do with less even than that. You can push yourself, harder and further than you think, maybe even further than you should. Pain isn't always a challenge to be accepted and beaten...
10. Catch the dawn.
11. Take locals' advice.
12. Don't give to beggars, or children in the street. It creates a precedent. If you want to help, volunteer or give through a charity. Begging is a business in some places, don't feed that machine.
13. Try to avoid taxi drivers. They seem to be ALMOST universally bad tempered and out for a buck. There's probably a bus, or maybe just walk?
14. Learn the language! Local people will trust you and want to help you when they feel you've made an effort to understand and experience the culture.
15. Most importantly, trust your instincts and err on the side of caution if you are a woman.
These are things I have found, and sort of made into my golden rules for travelling. Of course, they are sure to be biased since most of my wanderings have been in Asia and specifically India where the culture is so offensively wonderful and extreme that it's a law unto itself, and the men are something else entirely. Also, I travel cheap and cheerful, some of my more notable scrapes are now well-versed travel stories, others are a bit too close for general discussion. Thus these rules are entirely subjective and my own views in entirety, I'm sure many people would disagree with lots of parts!
If you are thinking of taking the plunge GO FOR IT. Travelling alone is incredibly rewarding. It has made me more sociable, dissolving my fears of approaching random people, locals and other travellers, to make friends. It has been incredibly formative, shaping me into a (mostly) functional adult.
Most rewarding though, it has developed a hitherto dormant faculty of nouse. Whether it's mending flip flops, waking up in an Indian hospital or negotiating a way out of a gunpoint robbery, you learn that you can handle anything, and when you put your mind to it, you can get shit done, and that is invaluable, and profoundly liberating.