Traveling as a Modern Woman
Note: This is a guest post! Please enjoy.
As a modern woman, adventure by means of flight is something that is accessible, affordable, and can take you to any biome this planet has to offer.
Growing up in a family of pilots, I was lucky to be able to travel the world for free, and with that came the desire to be a chameleon. I didn’t want to be perceived as a weak or uninformed foreigner. . . I wanted to be someone that could adapt and happily thrive in whatever situation I was thrown into. I’ve been traveling alone internationally since I’ve been thirteen and have come to conclude that intuitiveness is a learned trait: knowing what to say and wear in foreign countries isn’t something a Lonely Planet guide can tell you.
I’ve been close friends with Mrs. Nerd for a couple years now, and I would love to share a couple tricks with my fellow solo women travelers on how to blend in like a local, no matter your destination.
The Ultimate Accessory
The scarf. Best scarves for travel are nice long, beautifully woven or dyed pieces of fabric. They can be dressed up or down and should be rather calm in color in order to be easily paired with the clothes you’ve brought along your trip. Throughout my travels in the Middle-East it served as a much needed hijab, in temples and places of worship it’s always good to cover your shoulders as a means of respect, and not to mention it serves as a great pillow on a plane.
The scarf is an international accessory and is used in all seasons and climates. I’ve made them into make-shift bags, fixed straps, and T-shirts when nothing else is clean. A good scarf can help you fit into a crowd, serve a fashion statement, and can be a priceless tasteful tool in your international travels.
The Conundrum of Footwear
Many travelers are much too well acquainted with the conundrum of what kind of footwear to bring on vacation. Although different destinations call for different shoes, I have a rule of thumb.
Three pairs are enough. I personally go with three basic styles: hiking/tennis shoes, flip flops, and heels. I can’t possibly envision a situation where you would need anything other than that. Wear the bulkiest shoes on your flight to optimize bag space.
I’m from France. Our night life scene is pretty fantastic, and with that comes a lot of pride from club owners or even judgement from club-goers. Which means in short, if you don’t have heels, you might as well go back to your youth hostel. You will be turned away from most establishments if you don’t have them on. I’ve personally invested in a nice pair of black ones—they match with anything and are comfortable enough to dance the night away from Jakarta to Marseille.
Flip flops are an obvious choice for a beach getaway. The hiking boots were a recent purchase: they’re comfortable, a bit classier than tennis shoes, and can dominate the Rocky Mountains or the Greenlandic ice sheet in a way that Nikes can’t even imagine.
The Biggest No-no
There are a couple of items that immediately make an American tourist stand out. Uggs, sweatpants, and those awful neck pillows that seem to sway merrily off backpacks.
I’m not here to tell you to not wear that. I’m just letting you know, as someone who has been pretty much been played in every way possible, that a neck pillow is a sure cue to scammers, pickpockets, and your regional assholes to harass you and take advantage of your sweet American dollar and good intentions.
If you want to blend in, leave it at home.
YouTube and Notebooks
The English language has received both a blessing and a curse in having become language of the world. That’s not politically correct to say, but no matter which continent you go to, you’ll always find someone who speaks basic English. And that’s fucking great when you’re lost in the middle of Mongolia.
Then again, assuming everyone can speak English makes you an asshole. If you really want to blend in, learn how to say “Hello” and “Thank you” informally in the local dialect. Learn how to say “Cheers” or other festive sayings. YouTube is full of really helpful videos. I’ve found that I’m the most believable when I can mimic facial expression and verbal tones. I almost think of it as creating an alter ego; if you’re trying a totally different language, sometimes it helps to think about getting into character. Don’t be embarrassed, it might feel weird to roll your R’s, but in reality you’re either coming off good enough to fool your new foreign friend or they at least appreciate your effort.
Sometimes the language is just too hard or you don’t have time to practice. A journal is a great thing for informal hand-drawn maps, drawing pictures of words you didn’t memorize, and basic monetary conversions.
A brief note on money: In places where the dollar is extremely strong, I find that writing conversions beforehand makes it easier to not get ripped off at a market. For example, 1 USD converts to about 8,000 Laotian Kip. So numbers can get pretty large and you can think that you’ve got a good deal on your hands when all of sudden you’re paying forty dollars for a bracelet. Try writing equivalents to 1, 10, 25, and 50 USD to use as a quick cheat sheet when shopping around.
A Universal Phone Plan
Bringing a phone abroad can be immensely helpful for translation, maps, and finding things to do. There are two routes you can follow when bringing your phone out of the country: ask your carrier to extend your plan to cover international service or buy a local SIM card.
Carriers can have great deals on international phone packages—for example, AT&T has a pretty good deal going on for coverage in Rio during the Olympics. Otherwise, I would just buy a local SIM card (your phone needs to be unlocked but you can easily get around that). Incoming calls are generally free and outgoing calls are significantly cheaper. This comes with the occasional caveat of having a different phone number, but I actually take that as a bonus. A phone abroad is not to call mom back home, it’s to exchange numbers with locals you meet and to help enhance your time in the country you’re in—not stay rooted in the one you just left.
May your travels be full of adventures and discovery. Hopefully one of these tips will save you some money or make you some friends during your time abroad.
About the guest poster:
Chloe F is a passionate world-trotter in her early twenties. Born and raised in France, she's had many opportunities to travel ... and many more to make incredible connections with fellow humans (and animals) all across our globe. Her experiences include studying frogs on secluded waterfalls in South America and chasing whales along the coast of Mexico.