The following tips come from Jasmine at Jasminewanders.com. I asked her a question about traveling in South American as a solo female and received a response that is a truly excellent primer for all travelers anywhere.
What are your tips for solo travel as a female in South America? Are there any special precautions that you would recommend taking? Any advantages that you feel you have over your male counterparts? Any special strategies that you employ to travel safe, well, and to have fun?
The most important tip I can offer is learn Spanish! If you plan to be traveling for awhile in Latin America, there’s no excuse not to. One language will carry you through numerous countries, which is a unique feature of the region. However, taking Spanish classes for two hours a day and then hanging out with other English-speaking backpackers all day will be a waste of your time and money. If you really want to learn the language, practice it!
I also can’t emphasize enough the importance of listening to and trusting your instincts. There’s a thin line between being overly paranoid and dangerously naive. It might take awhile to find a balance if you’re not used to listening to your inner voice, but my instincts have kept me safe from dodgy situations and helped me be open with those who have become great friends.
Disclaimer: your instincts are useless if you are a pushover. Some will try to take advantage of you for being a foreigner or a woman, but you don’t have to let them. That might include aggressively haggling $2 off a taxi ride, saying no to an aggressive tour guide, or fending off the advances of a stray drunk.
That brings me to my next point… ask for local advice. When you get to a new city, ask your bus mate or hostel staff if there are any rough spots you should avoid, how much a taxi should cost from point A to point B, or if there are any places you can check out that aren’t in your guidebook.
And for girls only – boys, look away! – it’s not always easy to find tampons. Unless you like waddling around in the evil diaper, stock up before your trip or bring along a Diva cup or its equivalent.
The way I stay safe in Latin America, and through all my travels, is to project a confident energy. Shoulders back, head high, act like you belong there. Just like dogs, dodgy types can smell your fear. I’ve learned to project a “big” and sometimes a “don’t f*ck with me” energy, which has helped protect me through dangerous capitals, bad neighborhoods, and aggressive pervs.
Being a female traveler is easy. Women are generally seen as less threatening than men, and I think people are quicker to help females than males. Also, if the situation calls for it, a touch of feminine charm doesn’t hurt either.
To maximize my travel experience, I always make an effort to make local friends. A country is not made up of sights, it’s made up of human beings. The way to get to the heart of a country is through its people.