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Solo Woman Travel

A Woman’s Traveling Advantages

Women travelers, especially those who go it alone, often face restrictions that their male counterparts do not. Threats to our safety, real or imagined, often keep us tethered to the beaten tourist path. But while men may have greater freedom to walk the streets and go to bars with the local men, women are usually more readily accepted into homes and families. The more interest you show in women’s lives, the more likely you are to be accepted.

• Go to traditionally female gathering places such as the market or the village wash house. Leave your camera behind. Start with a smile and a simple, impersonal question. Even if you think you know how to wash your own underwear and buy vegetables, a little humility should help inspire the local women to come to your aid.

“But I can’t speak the language,” you say. Sign language can get you a long way. In fact, it might be better to rely on non-verbal communication than to pretend you understand. A friend of mine learned this the hard way when she was befriended by a woman in India. As the Indian woman chatted away, my friend kept responding in her limited Hindi, “Yes, yes.” Turns out, she agreed to marry the woman’s son and the traditional engagement gifts of coconuts began to arrive from the neighbors.

• Accept hospitality. In much of the world, the line between what’s yours and what’s mine is less rigid than here. Everything from food to personal space is meant to be shared. A popular adage in Mexico says, if guests arrive for dinner the hosts just add more water to the beans. In the poorest of houses, the best food is often laid out for visitors and the best beds are vacated for their stay. Unless your intuition tells you differently, graciously accept what is offered, even if you are not sure you’ll like the taste of roast guinea pig. And be sure to ask for the recipe.

• Give back. The tradition of gift-giving varies widely from place to place, but it is usually correct to give a small gift in return for hospitality.

It can be a scary experience to find yourself in a foreign land without friends or family. Safety, I have found, has more to do with forming trusted relationships than it has to do with location. By seeking out other women in your travels, you will learn more about where you are. And you may also find yourself with a new mother, grandmother, or sister.