Traveling alone as a lady
By Ed Ghost, Contributor
I don’t think I’ve ever spent a full year of my life in Calgary, despite being born and raised here. The travel bug is real, and before COVID-19, my form of self-care often looked like spontaneously hopping in my car without a real plan or destination. The best part is going as far as your wheels will take you until real-world responsibilities beckon you back.
In the last two years, I have driven alone to and from Toronto, Vancouver, Florida and everywhere in between. In 2019, I found myself constantly taking road trips to B.C. whenever I had a few days to myself.
The reality, however, is that this self-care method means that I can’t always coax my adventure buddies into coming with me. What do you mean you have jobs, children and rent to pay?
The older I get, and the more I travel solo, it becomes more apparent that travelling alone as a woman versus in a group or with a man present are very different experiences. Whether those experiences are positive or not is partly dependent on the measures that one takes to protect herself. Don’t get me wrong — I think everyone should take a trip alone somewhere. You really learn about yourself and it’s a wonderful test of self-fortitude and independence, but you have to be aware of the dangers that come with it.
Perhaps it’s because I grew up feral and punk, but my motto has always been, “Two feet and a heartbeat,” when it comes to only needing myself. (But, let’s not forget my car, debit card and cellphone — I’ve become more diet-punk and comfortable as time has passed.) The more unaccompanied trips I take, however, the bigger that list grows.
I’d like to share some things I’ve learned throughout the years so you can get out into the world, be armed with a little extra knowledge and not have to fumble your way through it like I did — when it’s safe to travel again, that is.
Did you know that most hotels have protocols in place to ensure added safety to lone female travellers? When booking a hotel, they always track the number of guests staying, and if you’re making a booking over the phone, you can inquire as to what they do to ensure that solo women are provided with enhanced security.
What they may offer is a hotel room that isn’t at ground level so that no one can come from the outside and a room that isn’t in a corner of the hallway. Bedroom doors should also have a peek-hole. If you have a car, try your best to park in a well-lit spot. Some hotels will also provide an employee to accompany you to your car at night should you request it. Front desk staff should also know not to read your room number aloud and instead just point to it on your card. Try to avoid shared accommodations such as hostels and private room rentals.
Give people you trust your itinerary and let them know when you’re planning to stop for a break — especially if you’re driving. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget when you’re tired and on the road for long periods of time.
If you expect to take a break in four hours, take 30 extra seconds of texting to let someone know when you’re leaving and where you intend to stop next. That way, if something happens and no one hears from you, they can get a better idea of where exactly to look should you get a flat tire with no cellphone service.
Side note: Learn basic emergency car maintenance like changing a tire if you like long drives on quiet roads and consider getting a roadside assistance membership. Before you go anywhere, make sure you are stocked up, and download your GPS map so that it still works offline.
Wear a plain wedding ring whether or not you are married. Additionally, leave the flashy bling for a night out on the town at home — you don’t want anyone to assume there’s more where that came from, especially if you’re obviously foreign. A simple ring is a good social buffer to keep creeps at bay and suggests to people that you aren’t travelling alone.
Whenever possible, don’t use payments that require giving personal information — such as credit cards requiring ID — when you’re passing through a spot. If you’re at a rural gas station, always try to pay with debit or cash so you don’t tip anyone off that you’re far from home. While you’re at it, make sure you always park somewhere close to the entrance and exit of the place you’re going to, especially if it’s not a place with a lot of people around.
Whenever I use roadside rest areas, I leave my car running (with the doors locked) and I park right beside the entrance of the building. I don’t use those bathrooms after dark.
Do a little research about your intended destination and stops. Are you going to a big city or a small town? Do you already have your accommodations booked? If you don’t, what are your plans if you can’t find a place to stay?
Are there any weather-related or travel restrictions that you should know about? Are there people you know who live there? What do you want to do when you get there? What’s the crime rate — is it a place known as being unsafe for women?
You’d be surprised at the amount of destinations that aren’t recommended to travel to when you’re alone. A little bit of foresight can go a long way, especially if you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before. You don’t want to come off as lost or underprepared. Having some insight into where you’re going can save you a lot of grief, especially if you’re travelling cross-country. For instance, I learned that armadillos carry leprosy and can transfer it to humans — which was very important for me to learn because I saw many in Florida and one of my goals initially was to pet one.
Make a list of local emergency numbers that are easily accessible or download an app, like Trip Whistle, which has that information readily available, as well as options to share your location with law enforcement. Nothing sucks more than being somewhere unfamiliar and facing a possible emergency.
When the adrenaline starts pumping it’s hard to make important snap decisions, and being prepared will absolutely make a bad situation more bearable.
Most of these suggestions are common sense, and of course, depending on your method of travel and destination of choice, there are many more things to take into consideration. Travel isn’t meant to be stressful. It’s meant to be fun and freeing so you can open your eyes to the world around you, in a way that perhaps you hadn’t seen before.
Like I said above, I cannot recommend solo travel enough. You deserve to treat yourself to it at least once. Just trust your gut, know that you have people at home that have your back and remember contingency only helps you land on your feet because the world is an unpredictable place — but that’s half the fun.