This goes without saying, but when I first started traveling at the age of 18, I was at the mercy of the world. I had zero confidence as I walked around, and I was always in fear of what could happen. I felt like a walking target. A big no-no is to show how unsure you are about where you are or what you're doing. If you're standing alone on the side of the street looking at a map, it shows whatever man who is nearby that you're "in need" and it's a perfect opportunity for them to strike up conversation and grab you under their wing. If ever I do have to look at directions blatantly in public and a man approaches me, I'll say, "I'm good, thanks", and walk away. Find a café to figure things out, or do so in advance. Once you can act confident as though you live there, you risk less issues arising of a man approaching you.
It's better to be over prepared than under prepared when you're traveling alone as a woman. It doesn't matter if you're traveling to Switzerland or Somalia, knowing how to defend yourself in case a situation should arise is the smart thing to do. As safe as it is to travel alone as a woman, I found myself in a couple situations where I felt that I might have had to use my Krav Maga skills in order to defend myself. I mentally brushed up on my moves in preparation for this. Thankfully, I never did have to use them, but being knowledgeable as a woman as to not just run away from a threat, but physically fight your way out of one, could be the difference between a life or death situation. Prior to Expedition 196, I reached my Level II certification from Krav Maga Worldwide. If it's not Krav Maga, something like Jujitsu would work too. But I do not recommend "Women's Self-Defense" courses. I've attended several of those in the past and all they taught me was to kick in the groin and run away. It's better to invest in practical defense skills that you'll have with you for life, such as Krav.
Being aware of your surroundings at all times is important whether or not you're a man or woman or whether or not you're traveling solo. But when you're traveling alone in particular, it can be easy to be on your guard when you're alone, but when you meet someone or a group of people, it's easy to let that all go. Just because you're with others whom you might even call your friends, doesn't mean you should think you're safe and protected. Always watch your bag, always have eyes in the back of your head. I keep my valuables in either a pouch under my shirt, or in my sports bra. I never keep them in my backpack (even my external hard drives I keep in my pouch!), and if I do, I place a lock on the zipper and carry it in front of my chest if I'm in a crowded area. Don't lose your guard.
We sometimes underestimate the power of travel insurance. When it comes to traveling alone, if you get sick, it's on you to cure yourself even if that means vomiting on your way to a pharmacy for some medication... but what if you don't speak the language? The last thing you want to do is feel helpless when you're ill. Travel insurance comes in handy not only if you're sick, but miss a flight, too. AIG was my travel insurance provider, they have a wonderful international plan. When I was ill in Papua New Guinea thinking I had Malaria, they were able to direct me to the nearest pharmacy and help me every step of the way. There are plenty of travel insurance agencies out there, invest in one to ensure safe travels.
Let us not forget that the world is indeed a kind place, and much more trusting than we think! Sometimes, we can scare ourselves out of going somewhere alone as women due to stories on the media, but you really have to think of statistics. What are the chances of you getting into trouble traveling alone as a woman as opposed to getting in a car accident on the way to work. I'll tell you, slim to none. It's rare that something terrible will happen to a woman traveling alone abroad, and when it does, it's highlighted in the media and everyone knows about it. At the end of the day, it's important to trust in the kindness of humanity and trust your intuition as well.
Knowing what is a right situation to be in and what is a wrong one is important, but sometimes it's hard to know. When I travel alone and find myself in sticky situations where it could either be okay or not, I think that if I had only had someone there with me to help me make the right decision, I'd be so much better off. As a woman, it can be difficult to decipher between a man who wants to take advantage of you and a man who wants to genuinely help. Notice signs of aggression or unusual attachment. If, after you say you would not like their help, they continue to persuade you, that's a warning sign. If, however, you say no and they walk away, you know it's fine. If you do want their help after all, it doesn't hurt to go back up to them and ask (as embarrassing as you might feel), the worst they can say is no. By the way, this should go without saying: never give out your hotel/hostel address or future whereabouts, just to be safe.
The whole reason you decide to take off on an adventure alone is to feel the euphoria of solo travel, right? To challenge yourself, discover new things about yourself, grow and become more independent. Part of this is embracing your fears head on, and most of us have more than one fear, let's be honest. I like to think of it like this; imagine fear as being an ember to you inner fire that lights up your existence, each ember fuels your inner fire, so use fear as fuel to light your inner fire. You don't necessarily have to overcome them, but realize they're there and embrace them head on in order to evolve and experience the things you desire.
Let's not forget, ladies... enjoy yourself! You own your life, and no one else, and you're here on this planet to live the most fulfilled and fruitful life possible. Only you have the ability to change your situation, embrace new ones, discover things about yourself, and craft the best life that you can. Travel opens doors and truly allows you to learn about this planet you are blessed to be living in. At the end of the day, after you prepare yourself as much as possible for a successful journey, let go and welcome new experiences.
A quick note that I find important to discuss is eye contact between men and women around the world. Generally speaking, when a woman makes eye contact with a man, it's shown as a sign of connection, flirtation, or whatever you may call it. I've learned to always keep my eyes straight ahead, even at home in the states, because I don't have the time nor care for being stared back at by a man. I used to get so angry that I would constantly be gawked at and whistled at by males of all ages, from aged 6 (yes, believe it... in Costa Rica) to 85. But then I realized that if I did't even look at them in the first place, had my sunglasses on and headphones in, that I could find peace. If you can imagine that you're the only person walking those streets or eating at that restaurant or working out in the gym and pretend as though no one's around you; look straight ahead (but of course, be aware), then you will feel less stress being stared at by men. Some women like this, but I personally hate it and find it immensely degrading.