7 Top Tips For the Solo Female Backpacker

Carol backpacking through India.
Travelling alone can be one of life’s most rewarding experiences. A rite-of-passage at any age, it’s a chance to explore the world on your own terms, without the need to pander to the wants of a travelling companion.

The proliferation of budget airlines offering cheap flights means circumnavigating the globe with a backpack is easier and more affordable than ever. For female backpackers travelling alone, the world has become a much safer and more accessible place. But there are still plenty of tips that women travellers can follow along the way.

Be prepared

Always do your homework before embarking on a solo trip. Study the safest routes for female travellers and always be aware of the possible dangers in a particular country you are visiting. If possible, arrange most of your travel in advance to avoid being ripped off, or at very least have a good idea of how to travel from a to b along every leg of the journey. Check out the local customs and laws as these will vary from country to country, but might inform your journey.

Travel safe

Always carry some kind of personal safety device, even if it’s just a whistle to attract attention in a sticky situation. Also pack a first aid kit in case you find yourself alone and in need of basic medical supplies. Never accept lifts or offers that involve you being alone in an unfamiliar place. Most of the time these will be genuine gestures of hospitality, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Choose your accommodation carefully

At the end of a long day it can be tempting to head for the first available hostel bed, but always choose a hotel or hostel that’s popular with other travellers, and try to find one with plenty of fellow female travellers.

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Dress for the occasion

In some countries women are required to wear certain clothing, particular when visiting religious sites or even when walking down the street. Always be aware of local customs to avoid attracting unwanted attention.

Keep in touch

You may be travelling alone, but modern technology means you are never more than an email or phone call from a familiar voice. Always let somebody back home know of your exact travel plans so that if anything does happen they can raise the alarm immediately. Regular contact with friends and family will also be a boost during those inevitable home sick moments that every traveller experiences.

Make friends with other female travellers

Travelling is all about visiting new places and making new friends. Finding a female friend to hang out with at various legs on the journey is both fun and a good way to stay safe. Women who travel in groups are less likely to be targeted as a soft touch.

Don’t panic and never be afraid to ask for help

Although there will most likely be nerve-wracking moments, solo backpacking is an unforgettable experience. If you do get into some sticky situations, don’t panic, and don’t be tempted to jump on the next plane home at the first hurdle. Never be afraid to ask for help when you feel uncomfortable.

The Backpacking Chica is BACK!

Holy Hell!

It’s been way too long since I wrote a post on here…but never fear, you haven’t been far from my mind! In my “absence” I was working behind the scenes trying to get more exposure for this site, which got me more readers…and more spammers. I do apologize if random posts of mine have weird comments attached to them; I do not endorse or condone any viagra websites or russian dating agencies at this time :-)

The last time you heard from me, I was chilling in North Florida working simultaneously on two books about my time in Africa. Nowadays…about a month later, I’m still in North Florida, but wonder upon wonders, yours truly got a J.O.B.

Yes! A job.

In fact, please imagine me putting on shades, raising my right hand, and wagging my index finger as I say, “I told you so!”

Why?

The sole reason I got hired, beating out dozens of other applicants who were definitely more qualified than myself, was because I went to Africa. Because I could confidently say: “I’ve run a blog, I know how Twitter works, and I promise I will get attention to your cause.”

It sounds stupid, but it worked! When I left on my trip fourteen months ago, there were more than enough people who swore I was doing the wrong thing: the money spent, and the time wasted could be better invested in my future.

Fourteen months later, the ONLY reason I beat out nine lawyers for my position was because, “if (you) can go backpacking around Africa by yourself, you can definitely work here!” In fact, my boss loves my whole little “crazy” story so much, he calls me the “Backpacking Chica,” whenever he’s particularly happy with my work.

In any case, my transition back to civilization is more or less complete: I’ve been able to vault my trip (and the accompanying work and blogging experiences) into an awesome job, an awesome boss, a great salary, and a new career path. Even BETTER is the fact that I get to accumulate 400 overtime hours to be used as paid vacation time…per year. How much does that ROCK? What this means to you, blogosphere and universe, will get more travel stories and no pesky advertisements on my site!

In addition, I’m finished with the first draft of my first book! I spend about six hours each weekend working on it, so while progress has slowed, my resolve definitely hasn’t! I am actually hoping to gather up the courage to post a few pages on here in a few weeks…just to see what you guys think!

Finally, I want to thank all of you for your great comments and uplifting support on my twitter and facebook. There are now more than 900 of you guys tracking my blog’s movements, and, without you the transition back to American life would have been much harder. While I have become more jaded, and I’m sad that the Paris portion of my trip wasn’t the disney wonderland I’d dreamed it would be, I am happy that I grew as a person, and could honestly not ask for anything more in life right now.

Cheers (and thank eff for American beer selections),

Backpacking Chica

Gay in Africa: Where is the closet and who is in it?

Last night I listened to an awesome techno version of one of my all-time favorite songs; the Amelie soundtrack…and I watched a very attractive transvestite dance along to it as well. Leaning against the bar, I was so happy to see a small, but enthusiastic crowd cheering and dancing along in this organized gay pride event. These girls were hot; I’m ashamed to say that they had better fashion sense than me!

As a side note, I will take this moment to throw out there that I was very proud of my outfit last night: this super cute jumpsuit thing, AMAZING heels that are really my work shoes…but needed to be showed off, and a pair of bright blue earrings. Before you judge me for wearing a jumpsuit, you should know that I was complimented on it by one of the more fashionable event participants. Awesome? I think so.

Anyway, somewhere after a quick salsa number and before a tear-jerker Celine Dion rendition, I fished an ant out of my caipirinha (only the second one in my whole life!), and thought about how long it’s been since I’ve seen anything resembling a gay, lesbian, or transgendered person.

In Equatorial Guinea, I was surprised to find out that being gay is not even a choice that people can make. In their culture (or at least I how I perceived their culture to be), it is literally unfathomable that someone would be gay; you’re either straight…or a monk. Questioning my EG peeps, not one person could name a gay friend. Nor could they remember the last time they had even heard of anything gay or lesbian related. One of my friends even remarked that he couldn’t tell me how many gay people there were in EG, because he didn’t know “what a gay person looked like”.

This attitude sort of pervades so many aspects of EG culture:

1)      You will sometimes see men holding hands; when you are in conversation with someone, holding their hand is a way to keep their attention (or so it was explained to me). Of course this isn’t considered gay; I don’t think it would even cross their minds that this contact is considered “gay” in the United States.

2)      Lesbianism is not considered attractive to many Equatoguinean men (or so they told me!). I believe this is very different from the United States; in EG it is almost viewed as being unnatural and simply unnecessary.

3)      Having children is very important to a lot of people in EG. Every person I met could not understand why I, personally, do not necessarily want to have kids. Upon hearing that I wouldn’t mind remaining childless, one of my friends got quite excited and said, “but what does your father think about that?”. I came to realize that there were many different cultural, societal, and social factors influencing people towards having children. If a culture views childbearing and rearing as an important goal of adulthood, I think it follows that it the culture might also be less open to gay and lesbian relationships.

4)      Being affectionate in public is taboo to begin with; gay or straight, you don’t see people touching or kissing in EG. Even if a person were gay, you would really have no way of knowing they are; I’m sure this doesn’t help unite the underground gay and lesbian community…if there is such a thing.

Here in Madagascar being homosexual is actually a lifestyle option (at least in Diego, which is the fifth largest city on the island), albeit not a popular one. That being said, my roommates, who have been here for several months, were flabbergasted when I told them about last night’s alternative talent show. In a city where gay pride stickers are unthinkable, it just seems so out of place to have an organized get-together.

I have to say, it was good for the soul to be a spectator to last night’s event. Sometimes it’s easy to get disheartened by the lack of open-mindedness or freedom both at home and abroad; seeing people proudly and openly celebrating who they are reminds me that progress is being made in communities worldwide.

And if nothing else, I at least felt like I was super stylin’ last night :-)

I am not ashamed.

I saw these shoes when I was shopping for Madagascar and fell in love. Maybe it’s the pattern.

I know, only a German could love them. Functional, semi-ugly, and they probably look better when paired with knee-high socks and lederhosen. Yet, I am wearing them in the Frankfurt Airport right now. Not much more needs to be said:

 

 

I fully embrace being German!

The shoes.

I went shopping in Africa for a cocktail dress and shoes. Ten stores later I found them. The dress came easy, the shoes came hard. Apparently African women have tiny feet because a women’s size ten was nowhere to be found. One shopkeeper literally laughed at me – that’s OK though :-)

The shoes I eventually bought actually still had a “Ross” sticker on them, which is a cheap outlet store in Florida. I guess that the shopkeeper got them very cheap (for $19.95, in fact!) and I paid…way more than that. Such is life.

So, as promised in previous blog-post, I’m posting pics of the buys. For your viewing pleasure, I’ve uploaded them here.

Thanks to a water shortage in the city, my hotel room became the showering place for a family that I became very close with. One such night, the kiddies passed the time playing dress up with my new clothes.

The shoes…and some hot models! :-)

Calvin Klein Dress: $100.

Shoes: Way too much money (my little secret…smart women never report real prices!).

Dressing up for the first time in four months in clothes that do not smell perpetually like a camping bonfire and that haven’t been washed on rocks and in hotel sinks: Priceless.

The dress. :-)

Reality: Life as a Woman.

The last few days have been akin to a roller coaster ride. I recently had my first negative experience being a solo, female traveler…which has taken some getting used to and more than a few beers. Thanks to the wonderful friends I have here, I’ve been able to talk about the incident and feel much better; you know who you are, and I am thankful! For more information on this event, as well as my thoughts on personal safety during my travels, check out an article I wrote for the Naples Daily News. Rest assured I’m going forward with my trip plans….I just love Africa too much to leave!

Aside from that event, I’ve been working on a very exciting project, which will hopefully be ready to “reveal” next week! Stand by for more information :-)

 Finally, I would like to say that I continue to have amazing experiences everyday. Had a tarantula in my room two nights ago. A tarantula! Thankfully some friends helped me take care of it; unfortunately my conservation instinct flies out of the window when something with eight hairy legs is hiding in my bathroom. I also got to visit the city’s orphanage today – once again, I am made aware of how lucky I am! Truly.

Pictures coming soon…in four days I’ll be in Germany and will be catching up on work there :-)

Loving life, growing as a person, and eating way too much food…in Africa.

With Love,

-Yours Truly

A day in the life…

Just a heads up about a new article I just wrote for the Naples Daily News. At the moment I am traveling around Africa and loving it!

Just got my hair braided yesterday…my friends here joke that I’m becoming a true African. It’s amazing to be here, relaxing in good company, learning the local language, and recharging before my next job. I think it’s fantastic how little kids have become the best way for me to learn the local language. They’re not afraid to talk to me and don’t really care if I make absolutely no sense.

I’d also like to note that it is super difficult to go running with my hair now…three bags of fake hair braided onto my scalp can do that!

Hope all is well in your parts of the world! Shout out to the people who are reading this in Iceland…I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that it is nice and warm here.

The new, braided look.

 

The cute girl who is now a budding photographer. I taught her how to use my camera.

The final results of my photography lesson.

 

:-)

Left the Jungle!

Hey Guys!

Just a quick note to let you all know that I’ve made it out of the rainforest (after two months of almost complete isolation…and only eighteen minutes of satellite phone communication with the outside world) and that I’m in healthy, happy, and thoroughly enjoying fresh vegetables for the first time in as long as I can remember.

Today has been a complete culture shock – chairs, tables, doors, stairs, coca cola, porcelain plates, and bread…all things that I haven’t had in weeks. I have had the time of my life, it’s been absolutely amazing – I have so many funny, interesting, and down-right unbelievable stories to tell; hopefully I can get them up here in the next few weeks.

Thank you to everyone for the encouraging emails, comments, and facebook messages – coming back to such an online “welcome” has been better than I could even have imagined.

Cheers! (and I truly mean that…I’m having beer for the first time tonight in weeks, and I know it will be a grand time!)

-Yours Truly :-)

How four girls climbed a mountain and survived.

This last summer, a small group of my friends (all girls, by the way) decided to climb up Mount Wittenburg in the New York Catskills.  Preparing for our adventure the night before, the only Wittenburg veteran quickly assured us that it was a “fun walk”, “not very hard”, and rounded off the conversation by concluding that “if I can do it…so can you guys!”

Morning dawns, and we’re all in various states of excitement. I, myself, am fairly excited; the prospect of nature is generally appealing to me. Most of all, I know I will have cell phone service at the very top and any modern-day cell phone addict knows that dead zones (such as the one I had been staying in for at least three days) will drive one to do absolutely crazy things. Like climb a mountain.

Driving to the trail, spirits are high. Myself and a good friend (we’ll call her MBA…she’s structured, analytical, and generally in much better shape than the rest of us combined) are about a 9 (on an excitement scale of 10). A third member of the tribe, Charlotte (as in Charlotte from the Sex and the City) is nervously pulling on her Vera Bradley bag and wondering aloud if wearing designer jeans is the best idea. A fourth friend, the Veteran (and local), is going mostly because the third person on our expert mountain climbing team would do just about anything to avoid nature in general.

We navigate the car into the parking lot and worry about the parking costs (no one is there – should we pay? Should we leave? What on Earth will happen if we don’t pay this $5 fee?!??!?), and take some obligatory facebook pictures. We gasp; the trail begins with a beautiful log bridge spanning an equally dazzling and clear mountain stream. More facebook pictures are taken. We climb a few steps and start to look out for the trail notebook; the notebook each group signs to ensure that no one gets lost on the trail overnight. We don’t immediately see it, but that’s OK. Life is good. Sunlight dances through the trees. We walk a few more steps. More facebook pictures.

And then the first sign of trouble: “Can we take a break?” says Charlotte…Veteran agrees. Pep-talks ensue. MBA looks a little ruffled but it’s all good. We keep walking. Another break.

Soon we make a pact that I will climb ahead and wait for Veteran and Charlotte to catch up (MBA chasing them up from the rear), and that we can rest at each one of these points. This works…for some time. We reach the sign-in book. Hurrah! We’ve finally made it to the “official” trailhead. Adrenaline rushes, and we are motivated to continue. We decide: No more turning back.

Another hour passes. I run ahead. They catch up. Facebook pictures are periodically taken. Having packed a million granola bars, I thoughtfully chew them on our various breaks…part of me wonders why no one else is eating either. Never mind, they must have food  – who would leave on a day-long hike without it?

Pretty soon we start to look for the half-way marker. Apparently there is a sign which should point us in the right direction and according to Veteran, it can’t be far off. I squint my eyes trying to see ahead. After a couple of false alarms, even MBA is telling me that I’m mistaking weird-looking trees for the sign.

The first one to go is Charlotte. First it’s a few words here and there (mostly pertaining to what exactly the mountain could do with itself, if it were given a choice), but soon it’s a downright mutiny! “Enough!” says MBA: “We’re too far up to stop now…we’re getting our girl’s trip photo-op or else!”

Good. We’re in for the long haul. I start to walk ahead – the stop and go pace is tedious. I soon walk out of hearing range, but I imagine the beautiful mountain top that awaits me and it propels me forward. I climb, and climb, and climb. But it just keeps going. Where the hell is the top of this mountain? I run last-night’s conversations through my head, trying to remember specifically what Veteran mentioned about the trail, but a lot of what she said seems wrong. The trail gets pretty rough. The last hour involves at least five areas where I literally have to scramble up the rockface to get to the next segment of the trail. A few times, I only know where the trail is because of the markers. Clearly this isn’t hiked often.

Finally, after four and a half hours I notice the vegetation getting thinner and shorter. I round a corner, and I yell with joy about the beautiful view stretching out beneath my eyes. A bright blue sky is dotted with clouds, whose shadows play over the lush, green landscape in all directions. The top of the mountain is a worn, grassy area – almost like three large, flat steps that lead down to the edge, where rocks plunge into the forest below. Two large birds of prey fly over my head. There is no sound except for the wind. The sun shines on my face, and I am happy. That is, until I am attacked by dozens, if not hundreds, of little flies.

Flies? On a mountain top? How and why are they here? It’s a mystery to me. All I know is that hiking through the forest, they were no problem. They are only on this sunlit platform, exactly where I had planned to nap the time away until the rest of the group got there. Unable to take the flies, I walk back into the forest. I sit on stone for a while. It gets to be too uncomfortable, so I move. I walk a little further down. Then back up to see the view. Then back down to get away from the flies. Forty minutes goes by. An hour goes by. Could I have really been that far ahead of them? Where are they?

I call their names. No answer. I walk further down. I walk so far down that I’m about twenty minutes from the top. Of course they have no cell phone signal. And my phone is dying; I can’t even waste the time by chit chatting.

Finally, I call out and I get a reply. It’s the girls – they yell out and ask whether I’m at the top. I answer “no, but I’m close”. Silence. They slowly come into view. It’s not a pretty picture. Charlotte is cursing like a sailor. I never would have guessed it, but coming in at 100 pounds, she is one feisty girl! The Veteran is wishing evil on pretty much the entire New York mountain range and looking a little guilty about last night’s amnesia-like predictions of how our walk would go. MBA is looking professionally irritated; great for business, extremely funny in this situation. Trying not to laugh at the picture we paint, I don’t mention the flies. I furtively hope that they are perhaps an imagination; maybe altitude sickness manifested in a strangely real way.

Alas, altitude sickness is not to blame: the flies are everywhere. EVERYWHERE. This is not good.

Everyone retreats to their corner of the mountain top and recovers. Out come the cell phones. But no food. Everyone’s hungry, except for me. I’m just sick of my granola bars. We take more facebook pictures. We climbed all this way, we at least want decent pictures to show for it. I figure out the self-timer on my camera and prop it up using my fleece sweater. The picture looks great; we all check it for double-chins, bad smiles, closed eyes, bad hair. Everyone is happy with it.

Having spent less than fifteen minutes at the top, we gather our items together, happy to be leaving the cursed mountain. Charlotte gets happier and happier the more we walk. She literally has a bounce in her step. We call dibs on who gets the first hot shower. The happier Charlotte gets, the more upset Veteran is. She hurt her hip climbing up, and walking down is tough. We slow down. Light seems to be fighting to peak through the thick canopy, and it starts to get dark. Whispers about staying in the forest overnight echo in our minds.

Gradually, we start to see familiar objects. If only we make it to the sign-in post, we will be just a ten minute walk from the car. Finally, we see it. There are no words in the English vocabulary that can fully describe the joy we all feel. Hobbling down the last few steps, cursing the brown stream with the ugly wooden bridge, and collapsing in the car, we all agree: No More Hiking. Ever.

Driving home we console ourselves with the thought that we at least got lots of good memories captured on film. That was, until I realize that my fleece sweater-turned-camera stand in fact blockes out half of our only group picture.

In total, we hiked eight and a half hours. Although we absolutely hated, hated, hated the entirety of the day, it was the most memorable day of the trip.

In the words of Charlotte; “Remind me to never marry a mountain man”.

Tomorrow is the day it all begins.

Hey Guys,

Just a little update: Tomorrow I’m leaving on the start of my 2 1/2 month volunteer position/expedition on Bioko Island. I’m very excited, nervous, and curious about the experiences I will be having there. I know that it will be an amazing opportunity – the people are wonderful, the staff has been so helpful, and the biology is one-of-a-kind. Hopefully I can share this with all of you, and hopefully my pictures and words will at least partially convey how wonderful this trip will be.

During the time I will have very limited internet access. I have written several posts about my time in Germany, which will be posting sporatically…so keep checking back if you’re interested in that. Also, it has been discussed that we (the four volunteers) will take turns hiking to a nearby village and catching a ride to the research station where we can take a night to read emails and take a hot shower.

Tomorrow will be pretty unique because we will have a chance to see the island from an ocean-perspective. Apparently the scenery is absolutely stupendous. To get to the southern end of the island, we will be transported on a large, corporate barge/ship, and then ferried to the beach on smaller boats. The beaches aren’t great landing sites, so we will likely be wading up onto dry land ourselves, and then work in a team to slowly unload piles and piles of gear and food.

Anyway, I love, love, love reading all of your encouraging comments and questions…so leave me something to read for the few days when I can extract myself from the jungle. I hope everyone is having a fantastic new year – see you in a few weeks :-)

~Kim