By Alexandra Yeboah
Posted on December 17, 2021
It was just after midnight when I arrived at the Tribhuvan International Airport, in Kathmandu, Nepal, after over 20 hours of flight travel. As the airport throbbed with activity, I eyed the overwhelming number of strange faces that busied the area. My pickup ride–a Nepalese family man who had volunteered to host my stay and escort me during part of my trip–was late. When he finally showed up half an hour later, I was extremely grateful. Alone in what seemed like another world, his friendly face gave me a bit of comfort in a rather shaky time.
As a Black woman foreigner overseas back then in 2016, I encountered many risky situations and I lacked a solid sense of cultural awareness. Despite my best efforts to blend in with the locals, I stood out noticeably and the more attention I drew, the more I became aware of this truth.
For a woman travelling solo, there are many unique obstacles that she may be confronted with. Having fun is important, but so is keeping safe. If you’re thinking about venturing overseas, I’ve shared some tips that will hopefully make it possible for you to have the best travelling experience possible.
Be aware of the risks
Before heading off for your designated adventure, be sure that you complete a risk assessment. Browse through information on sites like travel.gc.ca or look up the country’s profile on BBC News. If you know any friends or family who have previously travelled to the country you plan on visiting, ask them about their experiences and what you can expect. A proper risk assessment should take into account your safety and security, cultural norms and customs–especially when it comes to the role of women–and the political and economic environment. Equip yourself with as much information as possible and build your travel strategy based on those key points.
Be alert and aware of your surroundings
You can think of your bodily senses as a friend who’s always looking out for you. Right before I had my passport stolen, I had a strong gut feeling that caused me to hesitate before allowing the “bellhop” to carry my backpack for me. I learned the hard way the importance of being alert and acutely aware of your surroundings.
Crime is everywhere you go. Even people who seem like they want to help you may have ulterior motives. Always keep your ears and eyes open, especially when meeting new people or travelling to new places. Have a clear plan that includes specific knowledge of where you’re going, what your purpose is and how to get back. If navigation isn’t your strongest suit, study a map or travel guide ahead of time or arrange to have a local tag along with you.
No one ever wants to think about things going wrong with their trip but preparing for your worst-case scenario is not such a bad idea. This step is not meant to scare you and send you running in the other direction, but to learn to exercise caution.
Leave copies of important travel documents – such as your passport, airline tickets, and other paper identification–with your friends and family in Canada and keep scanned copies for yourself in one of your luggage bags (not the bag you are travelling with). Because I didn’t follow this step, I had to rely heavily on my parents to assist me in getting me the crucial information I needed to apply for an emergency passport to get back to Toronto after losing access to the original. By taking the time to prepare this information ahead of time, you will save yourself from a world of unnecessary grievances later.
Get travel Insurance/travel assistance
Travel insurance protects you from any travel-related incidents that might occur, including emergency medical coverage, trip cancellations or interruptions, baggage loss or damage, or flight/travel accidents. It would be ideal to browse online to find out what providers are out there and review several different options before making your final decision. If you are unsure about what a package offers, ask the company. Finally, take a list of relevant resources with you that includes the address of the Canadian Consulate General or embassy in that country. Global Affairs Canada is also a good source to have on hand.
Equip yourself with some safety tools
There are some nifty devices that you might enjoy taking advantage of during your trip. Protect your most important valuables by using a dummy wallet – containing some cancelled credit cards and a little bit of cash–meant to lead a potential thief astray while keeping your real treasures safely tucked away. Lock away your important items in a portable safe in your hotel, or wherever you will be staying. Having a tool such as a whistle or alarm can also be helpful if you find yourself in a threatening situation, need to call for help or alert attention for any reason. Safety apps like TripWhistle or bSafe provide emergency numbers from all over the world. Store pictures of all your documents and electronics like passports, IDs, reservations, photos of your camera, etc. on a locked site like DropBox or Sync so you can access it from any computer. As part of your planning, you also want to think about the more basic items you might need, like a first-aid kit or portable charger for your phone.
Check-in back home often
Let your friends and family members know how you are doing regularly. You know they will be worrying, so why not put them at ease? Prior to leaving your home country, invest in an international phone plan or set up a WhatsApp account for all of your communication overseas.
Leave your itinerary with at least one family member or friend and let them know when your plans change. Make sure they have the number of your hotel or people you will be staying with too.
Be safe, not paranoid
Remember to enjoy yourself! Travelling solo is a privilege that will allow you to gain so many new and exciting opportunities and grow you as a person. Be smart and responsible, but also don’t be afraid to be fearless and have the adventure of a lifetime. Believe me, everything you will come to learn and understand as a result of your independent excursion will be so worth it.