Ladies, have you ever toyed with the idea of solo travelling? Just you, a new world, and a sense of self-discovery? Here is a checklist of what you’ll need: a guidebook, toiletries, extra underwear, and your bitch face.
That’s right, you need to be a mean woman if you want to travel on your own. Being adventurous and having proverbial ‘balls’ is not enough.
No Miss Nice or Miss Trusting when you are in a foreign land alone. If you have been known to be an overly trusting person, stop that. If you are a helpless naïve, maybe solo travel isn’t for you.
Allow me to explain.
Unless you are travelling in one of the world’s safest cities, the sight of a single foreign woman will naturally garner plenty of attention from local men. Do not feel flattered, it is mostly unwanted and unsolicited.
In conservative countries like Sri Lanka or the Middle East, some men have the perception that foreign women are easy. They will ogle at the exotic female form before them, they will try to get lucky with you.
The harmless ones would try to stir a reaction out of you with a “Hi” or a “Where from?”, sometimes accompanied with a seedy smile. My personal favourite is when they play ‘Guess Her Nationality’. “China? Korea? Japan? Hong Kong?” Malaysia never makes it to the list.
The more daring ones would try to chat you up. They would walk up to you and start a conversation, some would even join you on your little walk. These men usually speak good English, are very friendly, and can be quite the charmer.
Before you get excited over your newfound friend, these are the men you want to be careful of.
The rule of thumb is to trust no one but your instincts. Always keep your guard up when an unknown man starts being friendly.
On my very first day in Amman, Jordan, a bespectacled man in his mid-30s said hello to me. He introduced himself as a professor from Cairo in town for a conference. He showed me his passport and swung a camera in his hands. As we started chatting, I asked this professor of hospitality and tourism about the tourism industry in Egypt, but he couldn’t answer me. Five minutes into the conversation he graciously offered me the extra bed in his hotel room for free. I politely said no. Mr. Professor simply smiled and kept the offer open for me if I changed my mind. The alarms in my head rang out loud but I didn’t know how to ditch him. I had stupidly agreed to walk to the Citadel together.
Mr. Professor was very peculiar, he stopped to get batteries for his camera and asked a few people for directions. I followed cautiously, slowly conceiving an escape plan in my head. Imagine the huge sigh of relief I felt when we arrived at the Citadel safely.
Things got interesting when we bought our entrance ticket: Mr. Professor’s fare was significantly cheaper than mine. When I curiously asked why, he said Egyptians get a cheaper ‘neighbour rate’. This made no sense. From my prior research of the country, I knew that tourist sites in Jordan only offer discounted entrance fees to locals. ‘Mr. Egyptian Professor’ was a big phony and his ticket stub proved it.
Once we entered the Citadel, I abandoned him without so much of a smile or a tata.
It was rude of me to leave him like that, but it might have been a move that saved me from his hotel room.
When you are travelling alone and faced with uncomfortable attention from strange men, this is what you need to do. Ignore them, scowl, cross your arms, walk away, say no, wear a fake wedding ring, make it clear in your tone and body language that you are not one to be messed with.
If a man asks if you are alone, lie that you have friends waiting. Tell him your boyfriend is sick in the hotel room or that you are on your way to meet your friends.
If a man deliberately seats beside you on an empty bus and that makes you feel uncomfortable, be thick-skinned and switch to a different seat.
More often than not, these curious men are just testing the waters. Acknowledging them, even with the slightest smile, gives them permission to tread further.
The rule of thumb is to trust no one but your instincts. Always keep your guard up when an unknown man starts being friendly. Be aware that he could be after your money or your body. That little voice inside your head will tell you whether he is safe to have a conversation with. If the little voice is muffled, put ‘bitch face’ as your default response.
That happened to me on one hot Egyptian afternoon. I was walking to the Luxor Temple when a young boy, about 19, walked up to me. He was a friendly chap who was very curious about universities in Malaysia. I answered him with as much aloofness as possible yet he remained positively chirpy. By the end of our conversation, he hailed the bus I needed to get on, told the bus driver where to drop me, paid for my bus fare, and enthusiastically waved me good bye with a big, sincere smile.
I had given this very nice guy the bitch face I saved for bad days and sleazy men. I was so mean to a person who did not deserve it. I had immediately generalised him as other men with wicked intentions when all he did was showed me sincere kindness and hospitality. Am I a bad person?
I carried this guilt with me for a little while until I came to a very important realisation. It dawned on me that my potent bitch face was not reserved for sleazy man, it was reserved for people I do not trust. When you are a lone girl in alien territory, that should mean everyone. I recognised that my safety is the most important thing, and I was just protecting myself. I shouldn’t feel like a bad person when I was merely guarding myself from any risk of being taken advantage of.
If there is one thing to take away from this article, it’s that you are not a bad person for taking care of yourself. We all grew up learning to be well-mannered and cultured, if being impolite goes against what your teachers taught you about being a woman, remember that your mom also taught you safety above everything else. In the case of solo travels, safety comes before manners.
My mom had always taught me to be nice, to always smile and say hello, to always be honest and friendly. But I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me putting on my bitch face when I’m out there with only my guidebook, toiletries, and extra underwear.
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