In my last post, I talked about the stuff I’ve learned to do before leaving for a sightseeing trip abroad. This time, I’ll talk about what to do once you actually get to your destination.
Majority of the times I’ve traveled, I was alone, and as a girl, I knew I had to be a little more careful than if I were with a group or if I were a guy. So what I’ll be sharing below will be a little skewed towards safety and making sure that you don’t end up like Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken. Of course, some of them will still be applicable if you were a guy (I’m not really sure how many guys read my blog) or if you were traveling with a group.
- Know your area: I guess you could do some of this before your trip as well (again, Google Maps street views is a god-send for this), but of course nothing beats actually standing on the street you’ll be living on for however long your trip is. Know the area where your hotel/bed and breakfast/apartment/hostel is located. And I don’t mean just the address, you should get to know the surrounding streets; where the closest train/tube stations, bus stops, taxi stands are; etc. This is so that you have several options on how to get back to your temporary home away from home, essential when you’ve missed the last train or bus.
- Stock up on those hotel address cards: This is especially important if you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language and/or they use an entirely different alphabet. Take a couple of them and spread them around, maybe one in your jacket pocket, one in your wallet and one in your handbag. If your accommodations don’t have those cards, then write down the address a couple of times in several pieces of paper and/or maybe on your guidebook as well. If they use a different alphabet, then have the concierge or reception right it down for you. This will help in case you’re asking for directions and are totally butchering the pronunciation of your street because you can’t get the correct Chinese intonation or because you’re drunkenly slurring.
- Sometimes, it’s safer to be rude: I don’t mean not saying “sorry” when you’ve bumped into someone. What I mean is that if you’re a girl traveling alone and someone approaches you to talk to you for no apparent reason then it’s better to politely smile but walk away. Walking to the Trevi Fountain in Rome, this man came up to me, asked me if I was going to the Trevi. I said yes, and to my surprise, he proceeded to walk with me all the way there. He started asking me questions about where I was from, my name, why was I in Rome, all of which I answered without elaborating. I figured it would be safe if he knew I was in Rome for work. But when he asked me if I was traveling alone, I started to feel uncomfortable and lied and said I was meeting up with my friends there. At that point, I decided to ditch him, if I could. I started to walk faster and stopped answering his questions. He started asking me why I suddenly stopped talking, why I didn’t want to talk to him. In my head, I was picturing scenarios where he had an accomplice waiting for or following us to maybe mug me or worse. My mind was in overdrive, thinking of a way to lose him without having to resort to running away. Then the guy just seemed to lose interest and give up. In all probability, he was probably just an over-friendly man, but it was his question if I was traveling on my own that was a red flag for me. So I followed my gut and attempted to ditch the guy. Again, he could’ve been a nice guy who was just striking up a conversation, but I’d rather be rude and safe than be friendly and mugged. Or worse.
- If you’re planning to stay out late, know the transport schedule: Metro/tube lines close at certain times, and most major cities have a separate bus route system in the evenings (London, for example). So if you’re going to be out late, take note of these times, routes, and the new bus numbers. I once had a mini panic attack when I missed the last Northern line train from Waterloo because the Federer-Verdasco match at the O2 arena ran long. It was a good thing the organizers of the tournament foresaw this, and they had people ready at Waterloo to help direct the otherwise stranded tennis fans to the right night bus routes that will get them where they needed to go. You can bet that the next night I watched a match, I made sure I knew the time of the last train so I wouldn’t miss it.
- Your bag MUST have a zipper. Use it. – Leave the Neverfulls at home, ladies. Totes and other open-top bags have no place whatsoever in a vacation in a touristy city, unless you’re feeling really generous and don’t mind if a pickpocket does away with your wallet. Your handbag must have a zipper (or a flap over the opening, as with a satchel), and of course, you should use it. And the zipper pull should be within your peripheral vision at all times. Learn from my mistake. Sure, my bag had a zipper. Did I close it completely? No. Did I have the zipper pull in front of me? No. So while I was in line to enter Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with the zipper of my wide (east-west) bag slightly open AND behind me, I almost got pickpocketed. I felt my bag get a little heavier, and when I turned, I saw a girl with her hand INSIDE my bag. Luckily, I caught her early, and I didn’t lose anything. But who knows how close she was to my wallet or mobile? Needless to say, from that moment on, I always made sure my bag zipper was closed all the way and was in front of me.
- Watch Taken– If you haven’t yet, please do. You’ll understand why after.
Hopefully, I didn’t turn anyone into a paranoid, neurotic tourist with my tips above. But a lady traveling on her lonesome needs to be a little more careful than the average traveler. Nothing can ruin a trip like getting sold into sex slavery (again, watch Taken). But seriously speaking, getting lost or stolen from will take precious time away from you exploring a new city, so better minimize the chances of that happening to you from the get go.
Feel free to share your own tips in the comments! I’d love to learn from your (hopefully not entirely unfortunate) experiences.