The Babbel Guide To Solo Female/LGBTQ Travel: Speaking From Experience
This is part 2 of The Babbel Guide To Solo Female/LGBTQ Travel. Here’s part 1 and part 3.
What are your top tips for solo travelers?
Have a confident mindset! It’s easy — especially when you’re first traveling solo — to feel like you can’t do it, that it’s too hard. And sometimes friends or family will also tell you that you shouldn’t do it. But believe that you can, and that each time you’ll feel better about it, and quickly learn to love it.
Know yourself well — know how much interaction you need with other people to feel happy and structure your travel to get it. This might mean staying in a dorm room at a hostel, or joining a walking tour with other sightseers, or taking a class. Meeting other travelers and locals means that solo travel will never be lonely.
Plan ahead for safety … it’s worth doing a bit of research to find out if a destination might be a risky place to walk around at night, for example, and then plan to stay in [an] accommodation that’s really central or easy to reach without a long walk. — Amanda Kendle
From 2012 to 2013, I visited 15 countries around the world looking explicitly for queer artist and activist communities. For me, it was important to learn about the variety of ways in which people abroad organized as queer artists and activists. In visiting these places, I looked at the culture primarily through a queer lens but I knew that wasn’t the only way I could experience a country. It’s important therefore to be cognizant of how our intentions play out in our daily lives abroad.
I tend to be very forthright about my queerness when I’m abroad. Usually the responses I get are positive or neutral. But I realized this could possibly be because as a foreigner I was exempt from the local rules. Therefore, I like to gauge where pushing the boundaries will result in a productive conversation and where I really don’t need to come out. — Miyuki Baker, via this post
Number one, listen to your intuition — but don’t listen to fear! It is not yet the norm for women to travel solo, although things are changing! People may try to discourage you or tell you how unsafe it is, but if you’ve thoroughly researched and picked a good destination, then you have to just go for it!
Planning ahead is key. I would start by reading a few female travel blogs. You could even start with mine! Research destinations where women have already gone solo like Iceland or France, and build up your itinerary from there.
Make sure you’re well-equipped. Have a working SIM card so you can reach someone in case of emergency, and enough cash in the destination’s currency so you don’t find yourself desperate at an ATM at night or in a shady place. Also make sure you bring essentials like feminine products and whatever will make you feel more comfortable while traveling. — Francesca Murray (@onegrloneworld)
The more you push yourself to do things that scare you, the better your experience becomes.
If men are staring at you, don’t shy or look away. Stare them directly in the eye and give them a friendly hello (preferably in their language).
Get all the information you can about the safety of the area — and any other tips — from the place you are staying (and have the address and phone number written down). — Jessica O’Reilly
Mixed-gender dorms at hostels are not only cheaper than gender-segregated dorms, but they give trans travelers, especially those of us who travel solo, a degree of safety and comfort because everyone is welcome in them regardless of gender. Pay a tad more to get one with an ensuite bathroom, and you eliminate the need to go into gendered spaces at your lodging, which can often be a safety concern for trans folks.
Know the laws — if any — that specifically apply to trans people for the place you’re traveling. In some parts of the world, this may mean outright criminalization of trans folks. In other areas, it may mean strict regulations on hormones, and in other areas, you may be completely protected. Don’t let these laws stop you from going, but being aware can help you plan accordingly and decide if it’s worth the risks. I’ve traveled to a few places were it is criminalized to be trans, and those places have ended up being some of my favorite countries. But it was always carefully planned.
If your gender presentation doesn’t match your legal documents, have an explanation prepared in case it ever comes up at a border crossing or airport security (and it has happened to me, more than I would like). But being prepared can make it so much easier. And it doesn’t have to be a blatant explanation where you come out to total strangers in a foreign country as trans. My documents still say female, but I’m often read as a man, so when it’s become an issue for me in the past, I just make a joke about how I got a bad haircut that makes me look like a boy. Generally it makes people laugh, and then it becomes a non-issue. — Taylan Stulting
Give a copy of your itinerary to your friends/family and let someone at home know if you change anything. Trust your intuition, and if you feel uncomfortable in any situation, get yourself out of it where possible. Always keep a copy of your passport with you in a separate place to your actual passport, in case of theft or damage. You can even just email a photo of your passport to yourself so that you always have it stored somewhere. — Tara Povey
Though of course it depends on how you plan on traveling and how you would like to be read, it’s good for trans travelers, especially those who plan on spending time in queer and trans spaces, to know how to communicate their [pronouns] and ask for others’ gender pronouns in the local language. This can also be useful for dealing with authorities.
I’d advise solo queer travelers to do research on the place they plan on visiting from a local’s perspective, not just asking other queer tourists where the spots are, because you might just be surrounded by tourists instead of getting to know the local queer scene. Anything from gay bars to organizations can lead you in the right direction. — Bani Amor
(Photo credit: Neha Gautam Photography)
Be confident. Trust your instinct. Be well-researched and planned for your destination. Keep in touch with your people back home. — Renuka Walter
What’s a memorable mistake you made when you were first starting out?
Not being prepared for illness! For example, I moved to Japan to teach English in the middle of the Japanese summer, and the day after I arrived, having a spare day before work started, I went out exploring in Nara. It was extremely hot and humid, I’d come from winter, I couldn’t figure out how to buy a bottle of water (the Japanese stores were confusing me utterly) and I ended up with heatstroke — not fun at all. And a few months later I ended up with an infected root canal and really struggled to find good pain killers ahead of getting to an English-speaking dentist. Those kind of moments when you’re traveling can be scary! I’m much better organized about this these days. — Amanda Kendle
I didn’t plan enough! I went to Portugal solo about five years ago, before the big tourism boom, and I assumed everyone would be able to speak English. That wasn’t the case, and I found myself lost in a residential neighborhood without a working phone or WiFi. I also didn’t know the language or have a phrasebook on me. People were kind and did their best to get me on the right bus back into town, but that could have been avoided if I had been better prepared. Even picking up a few key phrases or learning the numbers would have helped! — Francesca Murray
Letting nerves and unfair suspicion stop me from interacting with locals and keeping me inside when I should have been exploring. Also, booking all my flights ahead of time, so I was stuck in an annoying itinerary, making it difficult to adjust plans after I met people traveling. — Jessica O’Reilly
A memorable mistake would easily be taking taxis/Uber when I was by myself because they are typically SO expensive if you aren’t splitting it with someone. There are some circumstances where they are relatively cheap and there isn’t a good public transport option (a recent trip to Moscow proved to be one such case when I was going to/from the airport: Uber was only about 100 rubles more than the train, and much more convenient). But when I first started traveling, I would often just feel safer taking taxis and would burn through my daily budget before I got to actually do or see anything, which I now regret. It took me a while to realize that just doing research to become familiar with public transportation (and become aware of any potential scams/safety concerns for that specific area) made me feel just as safe as taking a taxi, saved me loads of money, and often forced me to become familiar with the language if there weren’t English translations on the subways or buses. — Taylan Stulting
I used a backpack (suitcase for me all the way now) and packed way too many clothes. I threw the clothes away as I went so I had space for the things/souvenirs I bought on the road. My back used to hurt if I had my backpack on for more than 5 minutes. It’s just not the right style for me, as I have back problems as it is. I remember a group of people were taking FOREVER to check in at the airport and I was queueing behind them, cursing their names as my shoulders were being slowly sawed off by the straps of my backpack. — Tara Povey
The only mistake I remember making as a solo traveler was setting out for the airport in the wee hours of the morning. My cabby lost his way, stopped the cab and pulled down the window glass to ask directions from complete strangers! It was scary! — Renuka Walter
Do you have any language-related anecdotes or advice?
When I first was in Bratislava, Slovakia, I went to a small hot dog stand several days running. I couldn’t speak any Slovak so I held up one finger to gesture that I wanted one hot dog. Each time, they gave me two. Luckily they were kind of small, but still! It took me ages to realise that when counting on their fingers, Slovaks would start with their thumb, followed by the pointer finger, so they assumed my one pointer finger included my thumb and I was asking for two!! — Amanda Kendle
When it comes to languages, I’ve learned that the more exaggerated and silly you feel, the closer you are to the correct pronunciation. There were several times when I started learning French and traveling where I would ask for something without making much effort with my accent, and would get a blank stare. Once I tried again in my most exaggerated French, it suddenly clicked, and they understood what I was saying! — Francesca Murray
It was the first time since arriving in Afghanistan that I was going somewhere without a trusted chaperone, something everyone forced me to promise I wouldn’t do. The guard from the apartment I was staying in escorted me to the car carrying an assault rifle. Speaking Farsi, he prompted the exchange of sharp laughter with my driver and indiscreetly nodded towards me before closing the door. With the noises from the street sealed off, I started to become uncomfortably aware of the guy behind the wheel who smelled of cologne and stale tobacco. Thinking back to the stories of taxi drivers kidnapping and selling foreigners to the Taliban, I was suddenly consumed with a dizziness of guns, bombs, war and cautions against complacency. Every single travel warning struck me at once and as the car started moving I accelerated into panic. “Stop the car!” I exploded. The driver didn’t speak a word of English, but I guess “scared shitless” is universal. He pulled over and looked at me completely baffled, an expression I barely caught because I was already bolting back to the refuge of my accommodation. I went inside sheepishly to my host, who wasn’t impressed. I then had a phone call come through from the man who had invited me for lunch and had sent his driver to get me. I was so embarrassed and realised how stupid I had been. Luckily, the driver was still waiting for me downstairs. I sucked up my subconscious prejudice and got back in the car and went for a delightful lunch with a bunch of Afghan men I’d recently met. — Jessica O’Reilly
I’m a vegetarian, and I really struggled in Hong Kong because a lot of the restaurants said that they were “vegetarian,” but when I looked at the menu, they had just put the word “vegetarian” in front of dishes full of meat. I guess they must have a different word for it, or it means something different over there, but whatever the reason, we had a very different understanding of the same word. I should probably have tried to learn some Cantonese before I went out there. I ended up heading around the corner to a Pizza Hut where I knew I was guaranteed something veggie-friendly. Normally I always learn the basics of the local language before I go anywhere. But Hong Kong was a last-minute decision, so I didn’t get the chance. I really hate not knowing the local language. Honestly, if I could have one superpower it would be to be able to speak and understand every language. — Tara Povey
Ah! I remember I had just landed in Cochin, Kerala, and I was feeling nauseated. I asked the cabby to stop so that I could puke, but he didn’t know my language, and I didn’t know what he was [saying]! I guess it’s important to learn a few words of the destination you are visiting. — Renuka Walter
Need some handy phrases before you go? Learn how to ask about cab safety, negotiate consent and ask for someone’s gender pronouns in 9 different languages.