When traveling solo, especially as a women, it’s difficult to be spontaneous and trusting with strangers. You would like to think that everyone is nice, and everyone wants to help out a solo traveler and that people naturally want you to have a good time in their country but, and a big BUT.. How do you know when to say yes and when to say no? You don’t want to miss out on a potentially awesome experience with the locals but you also always want to stay out of trouble or potential dangerous situations.
I struggled with this at the beginning and sometimes even thought I might be being rude to people whom so nicely offered me a stay, a meal or joining them on an activity in their city. Stranger-Danger!! I told myself. Before coming on the trip I told myself I couldn’t trust anyone and that I couldn’t put myself in any possibly dangerous or uncomfortable situations. I would have to stick to staying solo if needed. But after a while, after saying yes to more and more situations and after seeing more of the world and understanding the cultures I caved in to saying yes more and more and thankfully nothing bad has happened so far and I have had unique experiences. I realize that I’ve known when to say yes or no not dependent not on the country particularly because let’s face it, you could walk into a dangerous situation in your hometown, a block from home with people you have known for a long time. It’s the same when traveling, it won’t be more or less dangerous whether you are alone or with a friend you just have to be extra aware of everything and everyone. It’s about how people make you feel. It’s all about learning to trust your gut and most of the times you are right, trust me 😉 This is what we call intuition: “Intuition is the capacity for direct knowledge and immediate insight, without any observation or reason,” says David G. Myers, PhD, a psychology professor at Hope College and author of Intuition: Its Powers and Perils.
I read a book a while back by Malcom Gladwell called Blink; the book talks about how and when to trust your instincts and let your unconscious take over rather than analyzing every single factor. Your first impression and your first response are usually the correct ones because even though you don’t know it, your body, your mind and your previous experiences have already analyzed every little bit of information that intellectually you couldn’t possible come up with.”Our brains are constantly comparing current experience with the past, trying to find a fit so that we can make a quick decision. When we find a match, often in a fraction of a second, our intuition boils down a lot of experience into a simple, visceral metric: I feel good about this or not,” Allman says. The book also teaches you how to develop a clear mind of course and it trains you on making sure you are indeed making the right choice by fine tuning your intuition. It has helped me a lot when traveling it taught me to observe and listen to factors and visuals I wouldn’t have known to look out for before specially when meeting people. A couple of questions that you get out of the way and you can already get a feel of this new person you’ve encountered. In listening to myself and observing I have said yes to many situations that many might think put me in danger but the truth is I trust myself and my previous experiences to guide me towards a good decision and so far they have.
In Puerto Princesa in Philippines for example, I was sitting at the hostel and some locals had come here to have some lunch and they so nicely invited me over to their home to join them and friends at their BBQ later that day and I said yes. Of course, I sat with them for a while and we talked and after a couple of hours that I got to know them and inquired about many things I knew they had the best intentions. I got in the car with them (of course it wasn’t all men, come one, I am not THAT crazy) and had the best local food and got to try new things like their homemade garlic vinegar, a type of seaweed I had never seen before, saw a crab farm for the first time, got to feed and pet a goat among other things but the most valuable was that I got to sit with them and have them talk to me about their city, about their country and about the best experiences here in town. It was the most amazing day and the most amazing people. BUT.. I was alert at all times. Even if I was okay with coming with them and I felt comfortable I am always thinking of what could possibly go wrong and how I could get out of the situation if needed. Little things that might sound ridiculous but for example, in the car, sitting at the window seat and making sure the doors can open from the inside, carrying my pepper spray just in case, and paying attention to the road, signs and people along the way and I advised the staff at my hostel that I would be joining this crew but would be back later today as they had promised to bring me back later. If I had gone missing at least the staff at the hostel will miss me or my money and call someone. Nothing happened of course, I already knew it wouldn’t BUT.. rather safe than sorry.
So yeah, it could have been disastrous, it could have been dangerous but I have developed a good sense of awareness and I have learned when to say yes and when to say no. You also don’t want to be afraid all the time and say no to everything and everyone just to stay “safe”, you want to be able to enjoy the trip and immerse yourself in the culture with the locals. So, trust your gut, talk to people and if you feel comfortable and are sober go for it. Which is another thing I don’t ever drink unless I am with good friends that I know have my back, EVER, and it’s always a couple of drinks nothing more. You can’t try to avoid all dangers because if something was meant to happen to you no matter what you do it will end up happening to you, for the good and the bad. Sorry to say it so bluntly but it’s true.
You have to put yourself out there and have fun. Not sure if my mom or brother would agree with this, they would have probably said no and it might be best to never mention this to them EVER because I doubt they’d understand, it’s a thing you learn from traveling and from meeting so many people. You know how to filter the good ones from the bad ones, with locals or fellow travelers alike. Fine-tuning your intuition will help you make better decisions
If you were wondering though I have also been in sketchy situations and trust me your survival instincts do kick in if needed and your mind is much more aware than ever so you won’t allow yourself to get deep into a dangerous situation but sometimes yes, you will indeed encounter a couple of seconds of doubt and when in doubt.. RUN! I am kidding, you don’t have to run but for sure remove yourself from that situation. Don’t go spraying that pepper spray just because either.
If you don’t trust yourself to make the right decisions yet, you might need some fine tuning which is fine, we’ve all been there, but you can easily become more and more confident on trusting your intuition by playing with the small things; which line in the supermarket to pick, is it going to rain today, etc. Your brain uses intuition when there isn’t time for in-depth analysis so once you are confident enough you will be able to prevent those dangerous situations where you have to make important decisions in less than two seconds. It’s all these decisions and events that will make your experience far richer and safer so take advantage of this power and make sure you master it before your trip . I hope you are all enjoying your travels and are sending the best vibes out there to get the same in return.
Stay safe fellow nomads.