If you’re a woman heading out to explore the world alone, or even with a few girlfriends, you’re probably pretty streetwise and independent. You want to be known as a traveler, not as a female traveler. The truth is though, girls do sometimes face different travel challenges, so here are a few tips for first-time backpackers to help make life on the road run a little more smoothly. And most of them go for the guys as well!
1. Pack like a Man
So many times on the road I’ve seen girls struggling with rucksacks larger than they are. I’ve learned the hard way not to pack too much. The standard rule of thumb is to lay everything you need and take half of it away, but my advice is to pack like a man. One shirt can last a week, underwear can be washed in the shower and one pair of shoes will do for any occasion.
2. Take plenty of supplies
While cutting down on clothes is wise, skimping on feminine essentials would be foolish. If you’re planning on being away for months on end, you can’t really pack enough tampons to last, but if you’re traveling in developing countries, be aware that they’re tricky to find. If you take the contraceptive pill, make sure you’ve got enough to see you through your trip: it might be tough or impossible to get in some countries.
3. Don’t rely on local condoms
OK, so most of you won’t be setting out with the intention of getting amorous, but you never know what might happen and it never hurts to be prepared. A small stash of brand-name condoms from home is an essential item since local condoms in certain parts of the world can be less than reliable.
4. Dress like a local
Some people scoff at backpackers who don burkas or Punjabi suits, but often there’s a good reason for trying to dress locally. You don’t have to go the whole hog in wearing a traditional dress but whenever you get to a new country, take a look around and check out local ladies’ attire. Bearing too much flesh in conservative nations can attract unwanted attention and even if you don’t agree with local rules forcing women to cover up, you’ll probably be glad you followed suit.
5. Invent a husband
It’s surprising how differently people will treat you when they realize that you have a husband back home. Grab some cheap ring and a random photo (why not choose Joaquin Phoenix or Matthew McConaughey: off the beaten path no-one will know!) and talk about your husband back home. For added kudos, throw in a couple of kids as well.
6. Find a friend or two
If you set out alone the chances are high you won’t stay that way for long. Finding some travel buddies is a great way to boost your confidence when you start traveling and it stops you having to talk to yourself. And whenever you fancy a bit of “you time”, you can simply move on to another city and start again.
7. Don’t scrimp on accommodation
Traveling on a budget is one thing, but don’t settle for a hostel light on security just to save a couple of bucks. You don’t have to go five-star, but look at a few basics: are the dorms open to all? Are there any lockers? If you’re opting for a private room does the door lock properly? If you don’t get the answers you want to these questions, look elsewhere, it won’t seem such a bargain if your stuff gets stolen.
8. Go to festivals in a group
Even if you’re determined to travel alone, try to seek out fellow backpackers to attend festivals with. For a start, partying alone isn’t much fun and where there’s a party there’s usually alcohol; where there’s alcohol there’s a bunch of people who act like they normally wouldn’t. Hostel bars and guided tours are top spots for finding travel buddies.
9. Beware of danger spots
Whenever you get to a new city it’s not a bad idea to ask your hostel staff if there are any areas to avoid. It’s not being paranoid. I’ll bet there are parts of your hometown that you’re keen to keep away from, so don’t throw caution to the wind just because you’re on vacation.
10. Don’t start thinking everyone’s out to get you
The most important thing when you travel, regardless of gender, is to keep things in perspective. The majority of people in the world are good people and as soon as you start believing everyone’s a bad guy you’ll start to ruin your trip.