South America often gets a stern wrap about safety, especially for single female travellers. And it’s fair enough to be cautious. I have just been refreshingly reminded that wandering around this continent can also be hassle free if you keep a few things in mind.
Recent inspiration comes from a 50 plus Aussie lady who has just spent a solo month exploring Brazil. After travelling for two months before that with her daughter, they ventured through several countries on the continent and had no dramas. In fact they could only talk about how kind, respectful and friendly both men and women have been to them. A mother and daughter wandering about in such a family oriented destination was met with respect.
From my own single jaunts I have learned to try and keep these things in mind:
Do your research
Sticking to the popular places of any country will mean safety in numbers. Researching what the current political climate and destination warnings are is also a good idea.
The Australian Government website errs on extreme caution. Looking up travel posts on line to read about the current situation from other travellers feels more accurate to me. The Thorn Tree Forum is a popular place to check in. Another good resource for women in particular is from The Gypsy Gals – a great link to 9 inspiring sites for the solo female traveller.
Respect the local culture
It sounds basic, but plenty of people seem to forget that the fashion of their country isn’t appreciated everywhere. Flashing your muffin top thong around won’t do you
Don’t get legless
No one is saying you can’t have fun, but getting wasted at a local bar and wandering home alone is dumb. Get drunk in your hostel if you really feel the urge, or head out with some people who can get you home in one piece.
Sleep with the ladies
There are places to stay that have rooms for women only. If you still want to sleep in a budget dorm and know you won’t wake up with a ‘friendly stranger’ then there are some good options online here.
Chances are you will never look like a local, but if you dress like you just won the lottery you could attract unwanted attention. If you look poor, it’s more likely you will be treated that way and left alone. Keep your expensive camera, mobile phone and guide book on the low down.
If you can carry all your gear easily you won’t need to ask anyone for help. Better still, if it fits under your seat for long journeys you can keep everything close. Chucking your massive bag on the roof increases the chance of losing your load.
Pack some common sense
If Julio invites you to swim after dark at a Brazilian beach and you have downed 5 beers it’s probably not a good idea. It’s also worth splitting your money in a few places in case you get the light finger treatment. Likewise, leaving your wallet sitting on the cafe table or your bag slung over the back of a chair doesn’t really add to your street cred.
Learn some nice words
If you can mumble a few polite niceties in the local language you will be treated with more respect. It might even get you invited in for a meal with some local mamas. Manners and the appreciation of making an effort to speak Spanish go a long way.
Realise that manly attention is de riguer
You really aren’t that special – men the world over will call out to women to get a reaction. Aussie men are excellent at it, Egyptians waver between hilarious and annoying, and Latin men love to appreciate women in their own way. Reacting with anger doesn’t help you much, ignore the attention and realise it’s all part of the ride.
Don’t be shy
It doesn’t take long to realise that there are plenty of other people in the same boat. Long periods of time solo can be peaceful, but when you need to chat to people – it’s fair to say – that they are often in as much need for company as you are. Inventing some opening lines that don’t just parrot the usual ‘Where are you from?, Where have you been? How long are you travelling for?, Where are you going next?’ would be far more interesting for everyone!
Tell someone where you are
If you think you are in a dodgy area make sure you tell someone, like the hostel staff, what you’re thinking of doing. They can keep an eye out for your return or give you accurate advice on safety. Most hostels can tell you which dark alleys to avoid.
Never jump in a cab on the street. Plenty of people have been caught out by random taxis taking them to the wrong place and relieving them of all their money en route. If you call and book it’s much safer.
Hire a friend
Some places in South America can be enjoyed with a reputable guide. You get local knowledge and hopefully feel protected along the way. Get some references before you rush in. Journeywoman has plenty of general female oriented travel information, including guide recommendations around the world.
Go with your gut
If something feels weird or uncomfortable don’t do it. Female intuition is well quoted for a reason. Being too paranoid doesn’t fare well either, people sense fear a mile away. Bad stuff happens all over the world, often the most dangerous situation can be at home where you feel comfortable.
I’ve done all the wrong things over the years; lost my luggage, had my passport stolen, stupidly accepted a spiked drink, and regularly felt completely lost. But the feeling of being deliciously independent and seeing the world at your own pace is well worth any challenges along the way. All you can do is jump in!
I don’t need a man to rectify my existence. The most profound relationship we’ll ever have is the one with ourselves. Shirley MacLaine