Diana is a travel writer living as an expat in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She used to be a solo female traveler and is now a solo female expat. Diana traveled all over Europe, parts of Africa and parts of SE Asia. Today, Diana does the PR and social media for Save Elephant Foundation in Chiang Mai, writes for her blog, D Travels Round, and also freelance travel writing. You can find Diana on Facebook and Twitter to follow along with her travels and life as an expat in Thailand raising awareness about elephant tourism.
1. Why did you choose to be a solo female traveller?
I am a perpetual solo traveler. Why? Well, the biggest reason is that I like to fly by the seat of my pants, and when I travel with someone else, I can’t do that. So, when I decided to go to Europe for the first time, I got a lot of looks when I said I was going solo. Then, when I announced I was traveling solo for an extended period of time, I got even more looks. And, lots of “you’re so braves.” Truthfully, I never thought I was brave, I was just fulfilling my own desires without counting on anyone else to fulfill them for me. I have learned in my life, the only person I can depend on is myself, so why wouldn’t I travel solo?
2. Tell us about your first solo trip. Where did you go? What were your challenges/reward?
My first solo trip was when I graduated college. I went backpacking through Europe for a month solo. I hit up Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Austria, Prague, Amsterdam and Paris. Was it challenging? At times. I remember when I landed in Milan and the scale of my solo adventure hit me. I was in a foreign country, didn’t speak the language and had a backpack that was way too full strapped to me. Adjusting to a foreign country alone can be challenging, but at the same time it also opened my eyes to locals and to culture. I also learned that you can’t trust the good in everyone. When I was on an overnight boat to Italy one night, one of the staff members took me up to the roof deck to show me around. We sat down and he put his hand on my leg, which creeped me out. So, I removed myself from the situation. But, the travel was also extremely rewarding. It gave me the confidence to know that I can overcome challenges. It introduced me to beautiful places, beautiful people and experiences I would never have had if I had not gone solo.
3. What destination was the most challenging? Why?
I have been to two countries that were extremely challenging as a solo female traveller. Kusadasi, Turkey was very difficult for me. The attitude of men in this area particularly towards western women was very hard for me to handle. The sexual harassment, the unwanted advances, the constant feeling of having to be on-guard was exhausting.
The other destination I had a hard time with was Morocco. Like Turkey, the men there were very difficult to handle, but it was more than that for me. Cities like Fez and Marrakesh, while beautiful, were entirely overwhelming. It was an assault on my senses – sometimes in a beautiful and whimsical way – but mostly I was always looking behind me, looking around me, and trying to make sure I wasn’t being taken for my money.
4. As a solo female traveller have you been in a situation where you felt unsafe? What did you do?
I used to be very trusting, and when I arrived to the little resort town of Kusadasi, Turkey, I had been traveling for four months and needed a break. I was offered a job in a hostel and took it immediately, even though the owner gave me a really bad feeling. I ended up in a dangerous situation with him, and resorted to another person I had met in town to help me, which resulted in another dangerous situation. I was stuck in town waiting for a bus, so I did the only thing I could do: I protected myself and went into fight or flight mode. I checked into a hotel and gave the owner strict instructions not to give out my name, called my parents and gave them the names of the people who were giving me trouble where they worked, and made sure I had an escort anytime I left my place at night. Then, when I got home, I made sure my phone was plugged in, double-locked my door and put up a barricade. Dramatic? Yes, but it made me feel safe when I was feeling extremely vulnerable.
5. How do you handle the curiosity/stares/leers/advances from local men when you travel?
I ignore it. When I was in Istanbul, I had a guy try to follow me home. I pretended I didn’t speak English, mumbled some Spanish to him and waved him off. I think ignoring it is the best way to go. One time, when I was in Madrid, a guy felt me up on the street. I looked him sternly in the eye and told him that was unacceptable.
6. Solo female travel has come under fire recently, if you had everyone’s attention, what is the one thing you would tell them about being a solo female traveller?
Being a solo female traveller is liberating. It gives you a confidence, a feeling of success, you cannot get from anything else in your life.
7. Have you ever been sick or injured while travelling? What did you do?
I have been both. During my long-term travel, I got pretty sick and had a friend who spoke the language take me to the pharmacy to get medicine. Fortunately, I have never been sick enough where I required medical care. As for injuries … well … I fell off a cliff when I was attempting to paraglide. I probably bounced down about 15 feet of boulders before landing on a small dirt road. I was beaten up, but nothing was broken, fortunately. I didn’t go to the doctor in this case, either, although I likely should have.
8. What is the BEST thing about being a solo female traveller?
For me, waking up every morning and knowing the world is my oyster, and that this day, this life, is exactly what I choose to make of it.
9. What should EVERY girl pack before travelling the world solo?
Condoms. Seriously. I’m not advocating being slutty, but let’s be real: travel and momentary romance tend to go together. Better to be safe than sorry.
10. How do you treat yourself (create a special ‘me’ day) when you’re travelling?
Wine, good food, a game on my phone and my journal. The beach or another gorgeous setting are also perfect to make a special “me” day. Or, I get lost in a city with some good music playing.
11. Name one guilty travel pleasure/indulgence you have.
Every now and then, I choose to class it up a bit. Staying in dorms and hostels night after night can get exhausting. So, when I hit the end of my rope, I find a nice hotel (or something) and treat myself to a little luxury.