The book Eat Pray Love issued no travel warnings; nor does the movie. However, somebody needs to remind women traveling alone that Halloween-night-style caution is always necessary.
(This photo is of me on a recent trip to Armenia. The cave dwellings in the cliffs in the foreground are home to wolves and bears. I know—I encountered a wolf when I was hiking solo at dusk and bear prints peppered the trail.)
I’m the only guy I know who read Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s wildly successful travelogue-cum-romance novel that’s also a movie starring Julia Roberts portraying the lovesick and soul-searching editor who met her second husband in Bali. As an author and veteran travel writer — 120 countries explored and chronicled — my immediate instinct was to write a male version/parody entitled Roam Drink Screw. My literary agent pitched that idea unsuccessfully, and a year later an Irish comedian scored with his self-discovery lampoon of Gilbert’s new bible for solo women travel entitled Drink, Play, F@#k.
I forgot about the Eat Pray Love phenomenon until I heard about 23-year-old Aubrey Sacco (a close friend of my cousin) from Greeley, Colorado, who has been missing since April when she didn’t return from a solo trek in Nepal’s Himalayas. Sacco’s disappearance struck me like a lightning bolt and renewed my urge to warn women about some of the realities of eating, praying, and loving alone in foreign lands.
Eat Pray Love is an entertaining read about a visit to three countries by an overburdened New Yorker who, I sense, prior to penning her travelogue, was the sort of vacationer who’d rarely strapped on a backpack, instead opting for forays more suited to luggage with wheels. What concerned me from the get-go is that becoming the new queen of women’s travel writing is a huge responsibility because, although we live in a world full of mostly decent people, the evil ones have a knack for targeting women roaming alone.
On behalf of my books, The Frugal Globetrotter, In Search of Adventure, and Globetrotter Dogma, I’ve “lectured” extensively about world travel on the campus circuit. Discussing travel topics like malaria, inoculations, robbery, rape, and kidnapping is serious business. My books celebrate the joy of traveling and forewarn about the dangers.
I always tip my cap to my two favorite hardcore female travel writers:
* Carla King, who has ridden motorcycles solo across Asia (China/India), Europe and America — several times.
* Lisa Alpine, who in the midst of visiting 112 countries, hitched rides in canoes solo through the tributaries of the Amazon.
These are the sort of empowered solo travel experts I’d want advising my daughter about the realities of globetrotting. Their personal tips to women traveling solo conclude this shout-out.
When Gilbert’s cinema-ready narrative came out, my hunch was that it was going to inspire many women to pitch their troubles over the back fence and venture out to distant lands to reinvent their souls, and I’m all for that. However, women and men, unfortunately, still need to endure different rules while on the road. That said, many of the warnings attached to girls and boys trick-or-treating on Halloween follow us throughout our lives. Although not a guide, Eat Pray Love, once canonized, might have supplied prologue and epilogue warnings about the realities of roving alone — and when not to do it.
15 TIPS FOR WOMEN TRAVELING SOLO
CARLA KING’S TIPS:
* Use your intuition, and never talk yourself out of acting on your feelings about it by convincing yourself to “work through your fear” because you’re just being paranoid. We are animals by nature, and those hackles that rise up along the back of your neck are telling you something real.
* Slow down! When you’re in a hurry you’re distracted, you’re not attentive to your surroundings, and your intuition and instincts don’t have time to kick in. You are also likely to get careless, leaving things behind or misplacing items.
* People often ask me if I’m “packin’.” The answer is no, because I might rely on a weapon instead of my intuition. Buy a cable lock with a motion sensor to secure your belongings. I like the Targus Defcon with retractable cable and audio alarm because you can also hang it on your hotel room door or attach it to the zipper on your tent. The alarm will sound if it’s moved, and it’s really loud!
* For God’s sake, dress normally and not like a tourist just off the cruise ship. It’s not difficult to attire yourself neatly and respectfully with today’s wrinkle-free, quick-dry clothing. Learn and respect local customs. In some countries they could care less if you walk around topless, but showing your knees is verboten.
* Ask. People love helping others. They just don’t have enough opportunity to do it. Enlist the help of a shopkeeper, restaurateur, or the nearest old lady if a man is bugging you. They’ll give him hell, and that’ll be that.
LISA ALPINE’S TIPS:
* Before you go, learn at least some basic words in the native language. This will endear you to the locals — even if your communications are garbled and childlike — and can help you work your way out of a jam.
* Hire a local guide who isn’t just a tourist hound but someone who can show you the insider places and who people know and respect.
* Scan your passport, airline tickets, traveler’s checks, and other essential documents, and email them to yourself along with bank account and credit card account numbers. Also include international 800# contact information for all of the above and the local embassy contacts.
* Don’t pull out large wads of cash when shopping or paying for hotels or meals. And don’t reveal where your valuables are stashed on your body. Calculate what you will need for spending that day, and only have that amount readily accessible.
* Be respectful, and hence, get respect by following cultural mores while traveling. Learn the appropriate cultural behavior for females in the regions you are traveling in. Cover your arms and hair. Don’t look men directly in the eyes. Speak in a soft voice. Use the local greeting ritual. Also learn what NOT to do.
BRUCE NORTHAM’S TIPS:
* Cops and bartenders know their terrain better than the local chamber of commerce — and they work nights. Cordially interview them when you roll into town. Inquire about the best meal deals, zones of peril, inviting accommodations, safe strolling, camping, worthwhile attractions, and colorful hangouts.
* One of your biggest allies on the road is the person who owns or manages the place where you’re staying. They’re likely not going anywhere anytime soon and should be consulted about valuables storage, shopping referrals and where not to go. As lodgers in an entertainment business where word travels fast, the last thing they want is mistreated guests.
* Most suggestions I pose for women traveling solo double for men. Whether it be hiking or bar-hopping, it makes sense to band with a group that’s already traveling together, at least until you understand the lay of the land.
* The first thing you pack is yourself. Then comes luggage — the less you lug, the less you’re a target for thieves.
* Buy clothing with secret pockets — check out www.scottevest.com and www.exofficio.com. Or, have hidden pockets sewn into the interiors of your clothing (which can be very inexpensive to do in many countries).
The photo is taken by Scott Jordan of me in Armenia in 2017.
Here is another story I wrote about trusting your gut when on the road: To Trust or to Run: A Woman Traveling Solo