Kristina Wegscheider is a world traveller who has visited all seven continents and over 50 countries, many with Gecko’s Adventures.
She is also the co-founder of Do It While You’re Young, a travel website for young women interested in travelling, working, studying and volunteering abroad:
I have been travelling extensively since I was 19 years old and I’ve taken most of those journeys by myself.
In the early years, I would tell people my plans and they would almost always say, "You’re going by yourself?" And my response was a resounding, "Yes, I am!"
While it seemed a little scary at first, I've had some of the best moments of my life travelling solo. Why so much concern from people? Well, for one, the only place in the world where I blend in is western Europe because I’m a tall blonde.
Specifically though, the destinations I chose weren’t exactly mainstream. To me, places like Tunisia, Nepal, and Ecuador have way more appeal than more traditional holiday spots.
During these independent adventures, I noticed some distinct trends in how independent female travellers are treated and how we are perceived by the citizens of the world.
Here are some home truths about travelling on your own, especially as a woman:
I’m always with him
I don’t think some parts of the world are ready for a twenty-something solo female traveller. It seems that wherever I go and whatever I do, if I am talking to a man my age or older, I am assumed to be travelling with him.
I am a frequent flyer on Delta Air Lines and usually get upgraded to first class or at least get a prime seat in the front of the cabin. Both of these areas are typically dominated by men. Often times, the flight attendant sees me chatting to my seatmate and jumps to the conclusion that we’re dating or married ("We were just talking, I swear!").
Even when I'm on an organised tour, if I'm hanging out with someone about twenty to thirty years older than me, it’s instantly assumed that I’m their child. Luckily, my fellow travellers have always had fun with this and ‘adopted’ me as their daughter.
Sometimes it works in your favour
On a flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires, I met a group of older doctors from Louisiana who were on their annual hunting trip to southern Argentina. I was en route to Ushuaia, Argentina for my trip to Antarctica and had to change from the international terminal to the domestic terminal for my next flight.
Seeing as they were on the opposite side of town, I had planned on taking a taxi and waiting around for ten or more hours at the airport. When I mentioned this to my seatmate, one of the doctors, he mentioned that his group had a similar layover and had arranged for lunch and sightseeing during the break. They invited me to come along where I enjoyed a delicious lunch, complete with Argentinean wine, and a brief stop in Buenos Aires.
Learning not to be quite so friendly
I live in California, where it is totally normal to smile at a stranger you make eye contact with. When you’re a girl walking alone in other places of the world, you definitely do not want to do this as it could give men the wrong impression about you! I went to Jordan last year and, due to the time difference, I was up at 5am each morning - starving.
The hotel breakfast didn’t start until a few hours later and I knew there was an awesome falafel cart about ten minutes away on foot. So, I put on my conservative, yet comfortable clothing, trekked down to the falafel joint, and had my cheap and cheerful breakfast.
During my morning routine, which went on for four or five days, I never saw another woman; just a bunch of men who were, of course, staring at me. I wanted to be friendly, but also didn’t want to attract attention, so I wore my sunglasses (even though the sun was barely out) and used every muscle in my body to just act normal and not my overly friendly self.
Those, um, female issues
While we don’t want to gross out the boys here, it is evident that sometime or another during travel, ‘that time of the month’ will coincide with a girl’s travels. If you bring supplies from home, you’re usually set, but if you forget (which I did TWICE in one year) you may find yourself in some unusual and expensive predicaments.
The first experience was in Beijing, China. I had totally and completely forgotten to bring anything and I decided to visit a pharmacy where all five of the employees were female. At first I tried asking in English. No luck. Then we tried the computer. Again, no luck. Even charades didn’t work! Then, I resorted to the best, most worldly communication method ever… drawing pictures! And it worked! The second occurrence was in Venice, Italy. Of course, I had to choose a place where items were going to be marked up even more than usual because of the location.
Of course, there are some downsides
While travelling is fun and adventurous most of the time, I have also had a few experiences where being a woman travelling solo was not so desirable. On one occasion, I had the creepiest taxi driver in all of India asking me the most inappropriate questions as he drove me to my hotel in a suburb of Delhi at 2am (be sure to always book an arranged transfer through your tour operator when landing late at night!).
And, of course, there are some times when you just need someone to point you in the right direction and they’re more concerned with trying to get your phone number and meeting up with your later that night. In both of these scenarios, ignoring or deflecting comments and/or questions is usually the best method, especially if you’re in a taxi in the middle of nowhere.
Oh yes, and even if you’re not married, it is always helpful to have a story in your back pocket about your ‘husband’ who is meeting you at the hotel. While it seems so meaningless, it actually goes a long way in most countries and men usually back-off after hearing that. Get a simple, silver ‘wedding ring’ and your story is even more believable!
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