story & photos by Leslie Maze –
I love travelling solo. I like the freedom of making decisions without compromising. I can be an early bird and eat what, and when, I want. I can wander around taking photos from different angles, waiting until the people or traffic clear. I once travelled with a woman who became impatient with me and just kept walking, leaving me scrambling to find her.
I think being a solo female makes you more approachable. I’ve had great conversations with a curious local who wanted to practise their English, and ask how you like their city and country. If it starts to get uncomfortable or a prelude to a sales pitch for a shop or tour, it’s easy to say “gosh, I have to meet my friend.” A public space and vague details are good.
My first solo trip was in 1977 when I was 20. I had an amazing six months in Europe with a backpack, rail pass and a list of hostels.
After my retirement in 2016, I started with a month in Seville, Spain. I rented an apartment and loved shopping at the markets to supplement all the tapas and wine … and I still had two more months in Spain and Portugal. It was such a luxury after years of two- or three-week vacations from work.
Now I do two, three-month trips a year. I like to travel slow and have time to absorb an area. It is a nice feeling when you start to recognize your neighbourhood. It also minimizes the travel days when you need to find tickets and a location.
I did my best detective work in Sicily last year because different bus companies park on different streets. Some leave from the train station, but the one I’d seen a reference for online had a better time and drop-off location. The driver found an English speaker onboard to check that I was OK with it; he was very sweet.
Whenever I check with someone if I’m in the right spot for my bus or train, I usually get adopted and they make sure to point out when it arrives.
I like to travel light with a backpack – I can carry it on to planes, buses or trains without a problem. That’s a big part of being independent while travelling.
The word I hear most often when people hear I’m travelling solo without a tour group is “brave.” But I just try to identify what makes me uncomfortable and figure out what I’m going to do about it. Women already know what to do for safety when they are home, and if you look at the skills you have, you probably have a good start for travelling alone.
For travel there are a few good guidelines – don’t flash cash, your phone, expensive jewelry or too much skin in countries where it is not culturally appropriate. For physical safety I’m not usually out after dark unless it’s a busy public space, but fortunately in hot climates the streets are full of people of all ages as the sun sets and it cools off.
For me the biggest concern is financial safety. Not being able to get cash is frightening! The first day I landed in Sri Lanka, the airport ATM ate my client card, so I called my bank in Canada and they let me do cash withdrawals on my credit card without a cash advance charge.
I prefer to stay central so I can walk and not take public transit as often, limiting my exposure to pickpockets. Although in any crowded area, of course, it is good to be aware. Purses are easy for thieves to grab, so a small crossbody front pack is the best solution. I carry only a small amount of readily available cash, with more cash, a copy of my passport, a credit card and hotel name in a money belt. I keep a death grip on my phone pocket but I like to have it handy for photos. I also have three additional credit cards, kept in different spots, in case one gets compromised or stolen.
Now it’s planning time again for a trip to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan starting in April!
I’ve posted a “Travel Tips & Tech” blog at www.lesliemaze.com with details about what I use to make travel safe and smooth; hopefully these tips will help to make you confident to travel solo, too!