Safe Travels

Travel of any kind, whether with others or alone, can be one of life’s great pleasures.  It can also turn into a string of disasters.  Here are a few tips for avoiding troubles.

Planning

Do your research.  Know as much as you can about where you’re going and chose your lodgings well.  Almost every destination has some bad neighborhoods.  Remember the old adage about a deal looking too good.  One great resource is TripAdvisor which has traveler reviews of just about every accommodation on the planet.  Look at both positive and negative comments.  Don’t give up because of a couple of negative comments.  No place can please everyone.  Look at the nature of the negative comments and management responses.  A testy or defensive management response can be worse news than a detailed panning of a property.  At the same time, one or two tales of on any one area that are offset by many positive ones on the same topic may just represent the bad day any of us can have.  My general rule is to pay very careful to “terrible” and “poor” comments if they account for more than 10% of the total.

Follow the News

We’ve all seen usually quiet places explode into trouble.  Tianenmen Square.  The Arab Spring.  Watch out for strikes as well.  Not only can they turn violent, but they can put a real crimp in your travels even when peaceful.  I never did get to see da Vinci’s Last Supper.   My first visit to Rome had a distinctive aroma due to a garbageman strike. Those are minor compared to those who have been stuck in airports.  Not all places experiencing troubles should be avoided, but there may be a better time to go.  If you have the slightest concern, check the travel warnings on the US State Department’s website.

Leaving Home

There are several good simple steps for protecting your home while you’re away.  Leave a light or two on to make the place looked lived in.  Stop mail and newspaper delivery.  Have a neighbor keep an eye on your place.  Use caution in talking about your upcoming trip in public.  Avoid referring to your trip on social media before or during your travels.  Don’t forget to make arrangements for the care of your pets.

On the Road

Personal safety is probably one of the biggest concerns shared by women traveling alone.  Being in an unknown destination can easily make one nervous.  There are several ways to make your travels safer.

Avoid looking like a tourist or a good target.  Little things like walking around with your camera our can give you away.  Try to blend in.  A European friend once pointed out that Americans are the only nationality that wears white sneakers so avoid them.  Good walking shoes are a must anyway, even for a beach vacation.  Avoid wearing expensive jewelry.  Don’t flash your cash.  Carry only what you need for the day and leave the rest in a safe.  Speaking of safes, in-room safes are no guarantee of protection.  Leave irreplaceable valuables in the hotel’s safe.

Being alert is probably the biggest key to safety.  Stay aware of your surroundings.  That might sound like silly advice for someone traveling whose whole purpose is to enjoy their surroundings, but it’s just such engagement that can foul things up.  Be careful not to get so caught up in gazing at the pyramids that you miss the person moving in to grab your purse.

If in doubt, take a taxi.  Public transportation can be cheap and experiencing it can give a great insight to a culture.  There are times, such as being out at night or when traveling through a questionable area to get to that hidden gem of a church, when safety should trump savings.  In many places, taking a cab can be a great experience in itself.  Nobody knows a locality better than its taxi drivers and you can learn a lot from them.  London cabbies are known to be great characters and I always make it a point to take at least one taxi ride while there.

The right equipment can also make travel safer.  Several companies such as Magellan’s and Travelsmith sell purses that are slash-proof.  Some have RFID protection to keep people from obtaining the credit card information so accessible these days.  Clothing with inside pockets can keep wallets and documents safe.  Some recommend money pouches that can be kept around your waste under your clothes.  I’m not a big fan of those.  There’s nothing like having to reach inside your pants to buy a pack of gum.

None of these tips can guarantee that you won’t run into trouble, but following them certainly can’t hurt.  Have your own saftety tips?  We’d love to see them in our comments.

Make Your Own Story

One way to avoid feeling lonely when traveling is to create a story to tell or follow on your trip.  Both can add a lot of fun and can help you connect with others.  The story doesn’t have to be detailed or documented, but doing so can help keep your memories alive.  It’s something to add some pleasure and engagement with your trip.  It can also fill up time when you’re alone in your lodging at night.

Telling a story is easy when the trip is to trace your heritage.  Trace the family tree.  Make a map.  Use pictures to show connections.  Do photo comparisons between then and now.

Some stories slip up on you without being planned.  On a trip to France, I realized I kept stumbling on to places associated with Joan of Arc.   Keeping track of them made the trip more of an adventure and gave it a running joke.

A great way to create a story is to bring something with you to photograph along the way.  Flat Stanley, the original photo bomber, has been around the world many times.  A friend takes his toy Gumby with him everywhere.  My favorite is to take some kind of inflatable toy and shoot it having my vacation.  This has special benefits.  You never have to worry about finding someone to take your picture somewhere.  You also attract attention and get to meet people.  The first time I did this, it surprised me how many people wanted to have their picture taken with my big, blow up cow.

elsie 3  elsie 2

In those days, the only way I had to document it was to put my prints on paper.  With today’s digital tools, it’s easy to create a photo book to tell your stories.  My personal favorite is the tool offered by Shutterfly.  You can even create a book for you iPad.  Photo books make a great way to share you photos and their story.

However you create or tell your story, whether it’s just for your own enjoyment or to share with others, I’m sure you’ll find it enjoyable.  I’m getting ready to pack an inflatable dolphin for my next trip.  If you’ve ever created a trip story, please share it with us.

San Diego – America’s Finest City

San Diego is one of the few places in the U.S. with good weather year round.  It also happens to be where I live so it seems like a good destination with which to start.  Locals like to call San Diego “America’s Finest City”.  Whether you agree or not, it certainly is near the top of the list.

Between tourist attractions like the world famous San Diego Zoo and it’s sister the San Diego Safari Park, beautiful beaches, mountains an easy drive away, sailing, whale watching, good food, Mexican culture, and classic hotels, there’s little you can’t do in San Diego.

As a water baby, sailing and whale watching are favorite activities of mine.  San Diego is great for both.

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Sailing is a year-round activity.  Crewed and uncrewed charters are available.  For a crewed sail around the bay and possibly out to the ocean, a great company is Sail San Diego.  They have very comfortable sailboats and experienced, friendly crews.  They are, though, rather pricey for a single passenger.  Other fun options are to go out on the Californian is a 19th century revenue cutter that’s part of the wonderful San Diego Maritime Museum or one of Next Level Sailing’s America’s Cup boats.  All have single tickets available at reasonable prices.

Big Blue

Big Blue

San Diego is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. From December through April, gray whales migrate through on their ways to and from their mating and birthing waters in Baja Mexico.  Year round, several kinds of dolphins fill the water.  In summer, the largest of the whales, the mighty blue whale, makes its appearances.  Unlike sailing, which can get expensive for the solo traveler and which carries its own risks, whale watching is relatively inexpensive and provides a great adventure from the safety of a good sized boat.  Watch for a post on recommended companies coming soon, but for now let me say that my favorite company is San Diego Whale Watch.

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No trip to San Diego would be complete without a visit to the world-famous San Diego Zoo or its sister facility, the San Diego Safari Park.  Both are state-of-the art facilities.  Check out their many special tours, some of which include up-close animal encounters.  At the Zoo, my favorite is Backstage Pass at which you can close to and be photographed with a wide variety of critters.  If you’re in San Diego in summer, both parks are open late, providing a safe environment for an evening stroll.

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Amid a wealth of choices, one hotel stands out as special and that the Hotel Del Coronado, known locally as The Del.  Away from the bustle of the city on the island of Coronado, this is where they filmed the classic movie “Some Like it Hot”.  The property is full of old world charm and has great food choices.

Nightlife in San Diego centers on the Gaslamp Quarter downtown.  Lots of restaurants and bars.  One of my favorites is Croce’s, owned by the widow of the late, great musician Jim Croce.  It offers a combination of great food, good music, and fantastic people watching.    Unfortunately, it looks like they’re going to be leaving the Gaslamp.  I’ll update this when they do.  The Gaslamp is one of those places where a woman alone should use caution.  While it is nowhere near as dangerous as parts of other large cities, it is still a crowded area and has lots of folks who are under the influence.

With a temperate climate year round, there is some variation in weather.  Winter can be a bit rainy.  Spring brings Gray May and June Gloom, periods when the coastal layer of clouds may last all day.

This now being home, it’s a place I’m frequently out and about in alone.  I’ve always felt welcomed.  San Diegans are a friendly lot and will gladly help with directions or chat with you in a bar.   Safer than many large cities,  watch your belongings and keep alert and you’ll be fine.

Whenever you come, you’re sure to have a great time!

Alone But Not

 

A view likely missed alone

A view likely missed alone

One of my favorite travel experiences happened in Florence after visiting an out-of-the way church up on a hill.  On exiting the church, I came across an elderly man who was trying to talk to a young woman who clearly did not speak any Italian or understand how to read hand gestures.  Despite my miserable Italian, I was able to translate and earned the gratitude of both sides.  When I asked the man for directions to my next stop, instead of pointing me to the right road, he took my arm and lead me down a hidden footpath.  Had he been a younger man, I would have been quite nervous.  His age and frailty made that a non-issue and the views were outstanding, much better than from the road.  At one point, he looked at the old cities walls and said, “Old walls are beautiful.  Old men are not.”  How wrong he was!

When traveling alone, one never has to be alone.  If you want to travel alone, but be assured of avoiding loneliness, there are several good choices with various degrees of private time and independence.

Group tours are probably the most obvious alternatives and have a wide range of intensity of togetherness.  Some keep you with a group most of the time.  While this can give a sense of security, it has downsides.  Just one bad apple can ruin the whole barrel.  Also, as part of a group, you may be less open to  opportunities to meet locals.  Specialty tours such as those focused on history or photography can be great choices as you already have something in common with your fellow travelers beyond just interest in the destination.  Eco tourism and volunteer programs can provide both this benefit and that of knowing you are doing good while having fun.

Some people don’t like cruises because they feel trapped on the boat.  How about being trapped on a boat with hundreds, if not thousands, of strangers.  If you’re outgoing, this can be a good deal of fun.  Many ships assign people to tables and, under the right circumstances, this can be the beginning of beautiful friendships.

Many B&Bs (bed and breakfast) foster interaction among both owners and guests.  This is one of the things I love about them (in addition to the prices).  I’ll have a separate post on the joys of B&Bs, but for now suffice it to say they’re a great way to get expert advice and swap stories.  In one case, people I met at one B&B turned up in a later part of my itinerary.  We already had a common bond which made the time together feel like being with old friends.  Owners of these properties tend to enjoy talking with people and sharing their local expertise.  Take the time to talk with them beyond just picking up your key.

Full service resorts, including those focused on honeymooners, may seem like an odd inclusion for this topic, but they can be great for those traveling alone.  Staff that are at all outgoing will enjoy having someone to talk to who isn’t completely wound up in their partner.  Classes and other activities keep you busy while bringing you into contact with others.  I’ll go into detail on a couple examples of this kind of place, Pueblo Bonita Pacifica in Cabo San Lucas and Lalati in Fiji, in later entries.

What ever form of travel you choose, the key is to keep an open heart and an open mind.  Be as outgoing you can and keep receptive to when others reach out to you.  Not only will you avoid loneliness, but your travel experiences will be greatly enriched.

Solo Friendly Destinations

Some places are more welcoming to women traveling alone than are others.  A few are down-right hostile.  For example, the last I heard Saudi Arabia does not let women travel there without their husband or father.  Even in generally benign or pleasant places, singles can find themselves shunted to the least desirable tables and tiny, single-bedded hotel rooms.  While most places generally treat single travelers well, here are a few I’ve found that are exceptionally welcoming.

New Orleans

Combine true southern hospitality with gratitude for the return of tourist dollars and you get one of the most welcoming cities in the US.  All travelers are treated well, but those who are alone are truly cared for. I once arrive to find that my luggage had been lost.  People kept wanting to take me home and feed me!  The city also has one of the best Convention and Tourism Bureaus anywhere.

Famous for it’s “Laissez les bons temp rouler” (let the good times roll) spirit, New Orleans has much more to recommend itself than congeniality.  The French Quarter is filled with great shops, jazz clubs, bars and restaurants.  The National Park Service has a great visitor’s center that in addition to having lots of information offers free walking tours of the waterfront.  A visit to the Garden District, easily accessible by the St. Charles Streetcar, will show you the more gentile side of New Orleans life.

New Orleans does have more than its share of poverty and this results in a fairly high crime rate.  Watch your belongings at all times.  Use extreme caution when out at night.

Enjoy all the city offers and come home knowing how to correctly say its name.

Toronto

All Canadian cities are very civilized, but Toronto is one of the friendliest cities I’ve ever visited.  Once a shopping mecca for US tourists when the conversion rate was favorable, it’s still a fun city where a single woman is more than merely accepted.

Toronto is foodie heaven.  Great food can be had both in fine dining restaurants and a variety of little ethnic eateries.  Don’t expect to be stuck in a corner near the restrooms here.  A woman traveling alone is more likely to find herself sitting by the window with an attentive, but not pushy, waiter.

Public transportation is exceptionally good in Toronto.  You won’t need to rent a car or pay for taxis.  The subway and buses can get you anywhere you want to go.

Australia

The land down under is truly a land of wonders.  You’ll soon find a full post on the country in the Destinations category.  My fondness of the country is too great, though, for just one post.

I went to Australia for the critters and fell in love with the people.  They are warm, welcoming, and proud of their country while admitting its faults.  They have a quirky sense of humor and you may find yourself part of the joke.  Go along for the ride and you’re sure to make friends.

One interesting thing about Australia is that your fellow travelers are as likely to be Aussies as any other nationality.  Since it is such a large continent and far from others, many Australians travel within their own country.  This has a double benefit.  First, you are get to meet more of the wonderful people of Oz, but you also get to pick their brains about their own travel experiences.  Many of those you meet can help you make the most of your visit.

Other than the risks involved with driving on the left side of the road, Australia is about as safe as it gets.  As anywhere, one needs to use caution when out alone at night.  Even then, though, it’s much safer than in most destinations.

Restaurant staff are generally very friendly, especially to single travelers.  In several restaurants, waiters sat down to chat with me.  This wasn’t the kind of flirtation one might experience elsewhere.  This was just friendly talk and hospitality.  The one form of discrimination a woman traveling alone might experience is being denied a choice outdoor table by being told they are for larger parties only.  Depending on your mood and personality, you may or may not choose to challenge this.  If you do decide to, just the mention of discrimination should be enough to get you seated.

Fiji

There is no more welcoming culture than Fijian.  It is built into the country’s DNA.  Everyone is treated well, singles, couples, kids, and groups.  Whereas staff at fine resorts can be expected to know your name, those at any resort in Fiji also expect you to know theirs so you can ask for help.

Much tourism in Fiji is based on resorts, from tiny establishments on outer islands to large ones on the main island of Viti Levu and everything in between.  One never needs to leave the resort or its care to enjoy all that Fiji has to offer.  Even visits to local villages are likely to be led by one of the family.  Most offer diving (scuba and/or snorkeling) and hiking.  Most resorts include meals and many activities, so you don’t even need to worry about where to eat or spending extra money to have fun.

One activity you’re likely to be invited to join in on is drinking kava.  Kava is a drink common in the south Pacific under many names.  It is slightly intoxicating.  Small doses are rather relaxing.  Higher consumption levels can make you rather drunk and leave you with a bit of a hangover.  Drinking kava is part of sharing with the people of Fiji and comes with a bit of a ritual.  Although the drink is somewhat bitter, it is a sweet experience not to be missed.  Don’t worry about having a chance to try it.  You will be offered kava in many places, including some gift shops.

Fijians are just beginning to learn about tipping and that can lead to some clumsiness.  Resort staff, who are not supposed to be individually tipped may hint at how welcome a gift would be.  Store personnel who would not be tipped elsewhere may ask for a few dollars for their help.  Never allow yourself to feel pressured by these requests, but do feel free to tip for exceptional service.

This list is far from comprehensive.  I’d love to hear where you’ve been that you think would be a great place for women on the road alone.

The “Why’s” of Traveling Alone

Sometimes the friend you make has four legs.

Sometimes the friend you make has four legs.

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” Stephen King

Why travel alone?  The quick answer is because you can.  Many women say they would love to travel, but are afraid to do it alone.  Even for those of you not willing to challenge that fear there are good solutions such as cruises or group tour.  For those braver souls willing to follow in my footsteps, you will find many benefits to exploring the world on your own.

  1. No regrets – I’ve heard many women say, “I’d love to travel, but I don’t want to go alone.”  It’s completely natural to be afraid of the unknown.  At the same time, it’s sad to live life with regrets.  Traveling alone is nowhere as scary as you think.  For the most timid, there are great choices like group tours and cruises.  Some even cater to solo travelers.  Many will arrange for a roommate to allow you to avoid single supplements.  For those who want more control of their experiences, heading out on your own can ensure you don’t regret missing that experience that is important to you, but not on anyone else’s itinerary.
  2. No restrictions – Have you ever traveled with someone with whom your interests differ?  Ever felt you had to compromise what you want to do for their choices?  Sometimes this is worth it.  Costs are lower for shared rooms.  Few like dining alone.  When you travel alone though, you choose the exact destinations and timing you want.  Restaurant choices are all your own.  You can follow your own pace and vary it at will.  Eat, sleep, rest, and explore when you want based on your own personal clock.  For example, I like to visit lots of historic sites and museums.  Others get tired of those and want to lounge around.  Why should I give up what I want or force someone else to have a vacation that is less than what they would have liked?
  3. No need to be alone – It’s easy to travel alone and never be lonely.  Some of the best travel experiences I’ve had include people I’ve met on the road.  Sometimes it’s a local who shares a special spot that isn’t in the guide books or who exposes me to parts of their culture I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.  Sometimes it’s swapping stories and tips with fellow travelers.  Many times it’s a waiter or waitress who sits down with me to chat.  In all these cases, I both have company and new learning opportunities.  If you can be even the slightest bit outgoing, good people will come to you.

There are more reasons to travel alone that will be covered in future posts.  I’ll also be posting some companies that make solo travel easier.  Stay tuned!

A New Road

Welcome to Alone on the Road, the guide for women traveling on their own.  In this case, guide has two meanings.  The first is in terms of a guide book sharing my experiences and recommendations.  The other is tips for enhancing the pleasure and safety of your explorations as a woman traveling alone.