Weekly Journal

Solo Female Backpacker Safety: Advice from one traveller to another

4th May 2017

Having run a Muay Thai gym teaching women and travellers how to defend themselves as well as being a solo female traveller myself, I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of meeting a variety of kick-ass ladies who have flipped the bird at the expected “responsibilities” imposed by society, removed their shackles, and decided to travel the globe.

When planning a solo trip, travellers consider a number of factors: Where do I want to go? What visa do I need? What budget will I need? Do I have insurance? What cultural faux pas should I avoid? Often, safety is completely overlooked.

Over the past six months, I have noticed certain characteristics of Thai culture. Throughout my experience, I’ve found that there are four major aspects to keeping your wits about you when you are face-to-face with a brand new adventure.

Exploring one of the lovely beaches in Koh Samui.

Be mindful

Being aware of your surroundings is of utmost importance. There is nothing more liberating than the feeling of tapping into the vibes of a new country. However, trading in your mindfulness for the hope of a crazy experience may hinder your trip. It is important to remember to maintain a sense of safety while you are enjoying yourself.

Even if you are passing through a city and only staying one night, it is still sensible to keep track of nearby locations to help you find your way back to the hostel if you plan on exploring. Consider downloading map like maps.me, which you can use without wifi. The app allows you to route your trip and find local hotspots. Before you leave your hostel, take a business a card or write down the name, in case you find yourself lost while aimlessly meandering the streets of an unknown country. With this information in hand, you can easily ask local business owners for help without the limitations of a language barrier.

Most budget travellers seek the cheapest mode of transportation. If a random stranger drives up to you on their motorbike wearing their normal clothes rather than a “taxi” vest, then avoid hopping on the back seat — even if they are cheap! From my experience, I’ve learnt that it’s not pretty to jump off of the back of a bike if you get in a sticky spot.

When you are somewhere new, take a note of the tourist police or local police numbers. In a big city like Chiang Mai or Bangkok, the locals have had more experience with the English language, while some smaller towns, such as Pai, have a tourist police office with translators. If you find yourself in a situation in which your morality will not allow you to turn a blind eye, then let trained people control the situation. If you prepare yourself in a new country, you can still do the right thing and not get yourself hurt in the process. By having the numbers at hand, you can alert the authorities in a time of emergency, just like you would at home.

Being mindful and confident in yourself is a great start to travelling safely. Why not try a self-defense class whilst on the road, or more favourably — before you go? Whilst a jam that requires a forearm to the throat and a knee to the balls is an unlikely incident, it wouldn’t hurt to know how to protect yourself effectively with a few simple tricks. With over 200 Muay Thai gyms on Koh Samui alone, be sure to take part in a class or two. Every woman I have ever seen in class has given the feedback that they would feel more confident in having some basic protection if they needed it, or at least in getting away from a situation.

“There is nothing more liberating than the feeling of tapping into the vibes of a new country. However, trading in your mindfulness for the hope of a crazy experience may hinder your trip. It is important to remember to maintain a sense of safety while you are enjoying yourself. “

Don’t make yourself a target

Try to be mindful of how you dress so that you don’t look like you just arrived in the country. Wearing elephant pants and rocking a Chang singlet whilst strolling barefoot through Thailand with a flower in your hair is comfortable, but you’re also wearing a sizable neon sign around your neck stating that you are a tourist, and since you’ve travelled so far, you likely have money (even if you don’t). In regards to dress, be sure to research appropriate clothing per culture. For example, although Samui is a tropical island, avoid walking into stores wearing your bathing suit. Would you do this in your home country?

As you’re walking around exploring, try to have an idea where you’re going, even if you are completely unaware. You’ll discover that most people are friendly and interested in helping you. I have been blown away with the kindness of strangers over my time in Thailand, and you will find the same on your travels. This is especially prominent in areas in which tourism hasn’t overrun the locals. You’ll find the quaint Hua Thanon, the community where The Content Castle is located, exactly like this.

Before you head out at night, check your maps to see where you’re going and how you will return. If you find yourself lost on your way home, avoid pulling out your phone in the middle of a busy street, especially in places like Chaweng or Lamai on Samui. Wherever possible, try to do it out of view, perhaps in a shop, to avoid making it painfully obvious that you are lost.

If you have headphones whilst you’re walking, you can’t possibly be aware of what is going on around you. If you have to wear headphones, at least stick to keeping one out with the volume on low, but preferably leave them in your bag. Who wants to listen to early 2000s pop songs when you can listen to nature or speak to locals and other travellers? Common sense might not be universal, but intuition is something we all have. If something is telling you not to do something — don’t. On the flip side of this, there are some incredible adventures you can find yourself stumbling upon if you’re tuned into staying safe, as not all offers are going to have negative intentions. It is these unplanned days that will produce the best stories.

Spending a nice afternoon at the pool.

Be conscious of money and valuables

The number of tourists sauntering into the different villages in Samui allows for visitors fresh off of the boat to take the time to examine the culture around them without worrying about sticking out too much.

Even if you see tourists safely flashing their iPhone, this doesn’t mean you need to recklessly avoid general safety rules. With this in mind, avoid carrying all your money on you. Try stashing money inside a tampon box or a (preferably unused) applicator because no one is going to steal a tampon!

When I was packing to come to Samui, I stuffed a money bag (a bag which ties around your waist and you put it under your shirt) into the bottom of my backpack. Currently, the money bag is still sitting at the bottom of my backpack, collecting dust and leftover snack crumbs.

Understand the culture: know where you are

This one may puff out some chests, ladies, but let’s be honest here. We might be in 2017, but some cultures and beliefs are not. This isn’t a post to share my opinion on the matter, but to simply raise awareness to it. In some cultures more than others, we are the subordinate. Thai culture, in particular, emphasises not losing face, so if a man is embarrassed in public by you, you’d likely piss him off. Not all men believe hitting women is a problem. Try not to become a part of it by doing some simple research. This is, of course, an extreme example, as the likelihood of this reaction would be slim to none. For the most part, you might find the men to be overly flirty, but it is harmless.

In essence, it’s a good start to have some street smarts and not get yourself wrapped up aimlessly in the fairy-tale whirlwind of “the world as your oyster.”

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