Not all places are accessible or welcoming to all travelers, but we are all a part of the global travel community. We all benefit and are supported, when travel guidebooks, bloggers and YouTubers can notify inaccessibility and risks if we happened to chance upon them during our stay. This person-to-person safety network ensures all people can participate in the wonderful world of travel, while being safe and supported by a community.
Solo Female Travelers
For world-travelers, the experience of male and female travelers vary a lot. This is noticeable by comparing blogs of Solo Male and Solo Female travelers. While this is broad-strokes, Solo Male travel articles generally have a Carpe Diem attitude, while Solo Female travel articles generally have a long list of cautions – such as safety from street harassment, and whether modest clothing is needed. Are taxi-drivers safe? Is traveling in a train safe? Are mixed hostels safe? Should I come back before night? Are the police co-operative?
I strongly believe everyone including solo male travelers, who are new to travel would benefit by reading and writing about their concerns and negative experiences, since safety of women is a litmus test for general safety of many areas.
Aside from safety, solo traveling as a woman also has concerns regarding availability of feminine products, as well as type of clothing which is acceptable to blend in.
Race, Politics and Religion
Many countries around the world have strong views regarding religion. In deeply religious countries, female travelers, atheists, lgbt folks, members of other religions etc. may have to exercise modesty or be discreet, in order to blend in and not stand out.
Similarly, during political crises, people generally have anti-immigration sentiments. For example, many non-white travelers faced discrimination during the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe. Cautioning people of color goes a long way towards building confidence. As a side note, Caucasian women, with blonde or red hair may stick out in countries with majority black hair. Similarly, African-origin women with noticeable hairstyles may draw unwanted attention, and caution goes a long way to take preparatory steps.
Physical Accessibility & Mental Health Needs
Alas, many charming cobblestone streets of Paris, the narrow bazars of Istanbul and atmospheric stairs to a Kyoto shrine are not wheelchair friendly. While we can’t magically change the world, tagging places with accessibility needs enables relevant travelers modify their itinerary around these, dramatically improving their experience.
Similarly, in many countries, various medicines for mental health are either outright banned, or not easy to purchase locally. This may be due to religious taboos regarding mental health, or classifying medicines as recreational and addictive. Caution regarding this enables travelers to prepare beforehand.
Acceptance of Singles, Teens, Elderly and Children
This applies to smaller places, like bars, restaurants, activities and day-trip tours. The coming-of-age is different in different countries, and teenagers may be classified as minors or adults in different areas.
Similarly, many activities are either centered around couples, or around families with kids. As a solo-traveler myself, I’ve been in awkward situations – such being the only adult in a kid-friendly Samurai training in Kyoto, to being the only single person in an obvious romantic wine-tasting tour in Napa Valley. I wish people had cautioned me although I would encourage people to not back out of once-in-a-lifetime experiences because of this.
This also applies to friendliness towards young children and elderly folks. If an activity involves lots of walking or driving in a shared vehicle, precautions can be taken so you’re not stuck with a wailing little-one without any rest-stops and others giving you death-stares.
Language, Culture and Food
I’ve had cool experiences in Japan with a new language and near-lack of English, however Japan is an extremely safe and well-organized country. In many places translation helps – hence downloading the apps on the phones or buying phrase books is necessary (depending on availability of electricity and data connections).
Many countries have cultural taboos regarding food, clothing and physical proximity. Some countries like Middle-Eastern ones have gendered spaces. Countries like the United States are extremely protective of children near adult men. Many countries have restrictions of alcohol, meats etc. or have fasting seasons where food-stalls are all closed.
Conversely, travelers may themselves have food restrictions – either religious and moral ones like Kosher, Halal or Vegan, or health-related ones like allergies, food-sensitivity (like AFRID) or just trying to be healthy. An additional factor is safety from food-poisoning and how to pick safe foods to eat.
Safety, Crime and Political Stability
Lastly, not all of us travelers are muscled krav-maga experts who intimidate others. Street safety of neighborhoods does matter a lot to the stay experience.
Political stability and relations of your destination with your home country matter too. Not all of us travelers are US, Canada or European citizens who can get easy entry into most countries. Many of us have to apply visas separately to each country and thus often have to minimize crossing of borders for long road-trips or train-trips.
Parts of Central-America, Middle-East, Caucuses and Balkans often have many tiny countries next to each other, and in these places one must select a road-route taking this into account. Furthermore, geopolitical conflicts often restrict travel, for example, Israel and Islamic countries often have strained relationships and limit visas to each other.
Sometimes, entering the same country through different regions are different experiences. US-Canada border is very different from US-Mexico border. Entering Russia through St. Petersburg is different from entering Russia through Kazakhstan or Japan. Some regions are disputed, and some travelers are welcome while others can be deported, fined or imprisoned.
We are a part of the global travel community, and we must use our knowledge to lift each other up and caution each other, so that we all can have great experiences. For many of us, home does not refer to a geographic location – it refers to finding a community that shares our interests, look out for our needs, and support us in our journey.