13 tips for solo female travelers

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Hi there…I am Sam (at the risk of sounding too movie-ish or book-ish) and I am a regular traveler. Similarly, I know there are so many women out there like me who travel solo and really love the entire experience. However, if you’re all new to this solo travel business, it could become a bit too daunting.

So, this is something I wanted to do from my side: collate my top 13 tips for female solo travelers and share them with all you wonderful women.

  1. Being friendly is ok – just don’t let yourself be too trusting:  I may not need to explain this one to you. I mean, we all know this, right? But I’ll state this here anyway, as I think this is really important for all of us solo travelers.

So, please never forget this one: NEVER reveal where you stay – to ANYONE you meet   during your travels. This is especially true if this involves someone who you aren’t too comfortable talking to. You know what they say about women’s intuition, right?

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You could, of course, meet up with someone from that country, but why would you want to tell him the name of your hotel? Let’s just try and not do that. If you want to meet them up, just decide on another location and then meet up. And have some good fun.

I know this is being really cautious and, often, most people are harmless. However, being a little cautious never hurt anyone. That’s why I believe – strongly – in “better safe than sorry.”

  1. Have multiple backup plans: I know we all love to plan and then have it all go well. A seamless experience is the best. This holds true for our accommodations as well. However, this could get tricky at times. Sometimes, you walk into your planned accommodation and find that the reviews were not completely true or that the neighborhood is seedy or the other people lodged up in the accommodation don’t exactly inspire confidence within you from a safety perspective.

What works best in such a case is a Plan B. What’s the second-best place you found online? If that isn’t good either, you should be confident that you have another place as a backup. Since you are traveling solo and it isn’t exactly safe everywhere to travel alone at night, you need to have at least three backup plans for each place you intend to visit. Trust me, this tip is going to come in handy for you.

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  1. Share your itinerary with someone at home – This could be someone in your family, someone at work, or a close friend. I usually find it easier to leave all my accommodation and flight details and dates to someone at home. This way, I know that if – God forbid – something unforeseeable happens or even someone from back home needs to contact me urgently, they will know where to reach me.
  1. About your room: When you are picking a room to stay in for the night, ensure that the room has a minimum of two locks (if there’s more, wow!). Ensure that one of these locks is a deadbolt. What I also have found to be undeniably essential is a peephole – you need to be able to see who is knocking on your door when you least expect it. My personal tip – carry a can of pepper spray with you at all times and also have some  rubber door stops– just for added security.

Are you carrying your laptop or other valuable possessions with you that you don’t want to lug around while sightseeing, lock them up securely in the front desk safe. It’s safer than you expect.

Another tip: if you are leaving your valuables behind in your room when you step out, just leave that Do Not Disturb sign hanging outside your room – this gives the idea to people outside that you are still inside and should not be disturbed.

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  1. Learn extensively about the country before you visit: Different countries have different ideas about modesty. Yes, we need to be comfortable in what we wear, but we also need to pay special attention to what local women wear around the area and just follow their example. It’s all about being respectful of their culture. For example, in Thailand and Indonesia, someone told me that it is thought to be indecent of women to wear outfits that show off their knees and shoulders. That’s a small price to pay when you get to visit such beautiful countries.

Another tip you need to take note of is to avoid getting too sloshed when you are out alone and avoid those dark, lonely streets when you walk back to your accommodation.

  1. When people ask for a photo with you: While this can be an innocent exercise in some countries, it definitely isn’t in some others. I have had my friends tell me that some of these random strangers like to show photos with females from another country and boast to their friends that they (yuck) managed to sleep with her. So, um….no. Please don’t play along, unless it’s a mixed group of males and females.
  1. Keep real-time information sharing to a minimum: I am talking about personal information, of course. Apps like Foursquare are exciting, and I do admit I use a lot of it back home. But when traveling solo, that might not be the best idea. It’s definitely safe to post about the general place that you are in, like say, hey, I am in Queenstown at the moment. But don’t go saying I am at this gelateria right now and all alone. You know what I mean, right? Let’s be wise here, dear ladies.

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  1. Be aware at all times: I have seen so many female travelers who do not bother to pay attention to the people around them when they walk around. This is a big no-no in my book – especially when you are traveling solo. You need to cast an eye around you at all times. Never look lost. Have that confident look in your face and walk confidently ahead.

At the same time, watch out for anyone who might have been following you (this happens). If you suspect that someone has been following you, step into the nearest shop and see if they stop as well or continue to go on their way. Don’t worry about looking silly. Safety comes first.

Also keep your eyes peeled for those cars that sometimes slow down as they approach you. Keep a considerable distance from these and keep walking as fast as you can. Walk toward crowded places and just blend in well. We don’t want to play victim to any of these potential predators. I take all these steps and am always doubly cautious when I am out alone. It’s always paid off and it will for you too.

  1. Some general tips that you should never forget: First things first: Don’t carry too much money on you. Always have your money stored in a travel money belt with RFID block that properly sits under your clothes without looking too obvious or opt for a secure money belt  that houses hidden, handy compartments. I have been using these for most of my travels and I really can’t complain.

Also, look for lightweight medium crossbody bags – as opposed to the normal handbags, purses, and backpacks. These are less likely to get nicked when someone tries to make a go at your bag and take off.

I am an advocate of traveler’s checks. There’s no safer way of carrying “money.” However, remember to have your card on you as well – for all those possible emergencies.

Lock your bags at all times if you are stowing them somewhere while you travel. Also – and this is most important – remove your passport, money, and all those essentials from it before you stow it.

This tip is actually a lifesaver – if you feel lost at any point while you’re out alone, step into the nearest cafe or store, chin up, and  ask for directions. No one who looks at a confident lady could doubt that she can take care of herself.

  1. Pack light: I know this is easier said than done, but we often tend to pack too many things into our one piece of luggage that we intend to lug around the most. At least a week before you need to depart, try packing all your things into your bag. You might find it a little too heavy to lift.

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Rethink, repack, repeat. It’s only after multiple trials that you will be able to figure out how much to take and how much to leave back at home in order to make your luggage just comfortably heavy.

  1. Rape Whistles: This is mostly self-explanatory, but highly necessary. Carry a personal alarm/rape whistle with you at all times.

  1. The time of arrival: Taking costs and availability of flights into consideration, I know this is not always possible, but if it is, do opt to arrive at your destination during the day. This way, you can feel safer while you take any form of transportation to your accommodation.
  1. Take time for yourself: This is more a friendly tip than a safety suggestion: utilize this time of solo travel to learn more about yourself and grow from within. When you travel to new countries solo, you not only end up learning about their cultures, but also get some time to reflect on your own life and values. While you might find your first solo travel experience intimidating, once you’re at it, you will find yourself feeling empowered. You understand that the world is your oyster and you can travel to anywhere you want and do anything you wish to do. It is truly a liberating exercise and one you’ll really enjoy.

Happy travels, lovely ladies!

 

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Book Review: Cossack by Ronald McQueen

Cossack (Drava Book 1) by Ronald McQueen is an illuminating story that gives us a glimpse into the plight of the Cossack people around WWII. The story introduces us to a once-thriving staništa (Croatian for habitat or living space) that now just includes a handful of houses, farm buildings, a slow-moving river, and a rusted tractor. This is where the Cossacks lived and a few of them still live—people belonging to the Don and Dejnev families.

The people in the staništa have learnt to live with what is now their hard reality and know how to celebrate the little things in life. But, this doesn’t last for long, as what remains of these families is attacked and destroyed by Russian soldiers. One of the very few who escape from these soldiers is Katja Dejnev—a girl “just approaching the first bloom of young womanhood.” Where does Katja go from here? Whom does she turn to? This forms one of the largest chunks of this beautifully written story.

I have read my share of historical fiction, but this one is something that will stay on top of my mind for a long time to come. The author has taken great pains to spell out every little detail that would help us imagine the settings, the battles, and the characters. It is these details that ensured that I took my time reading the book. I found it to be an emotional roller coaster. It’s not easy to read about the hardships faced by the Cossacks as they get trapped between the Nazis and the Red Army. But, the strength and determination shown by each of the characters makes it a true story of inspiration.

This book is a must-read if you enjoy learning more about history that hasn’t been heavily documented previously; however, if you are new to historical fiction, you might want to pick another book before you dive into this one.

There are breaks of sorts in the story as you see it flow from the perspective of three main characters from different backgrounds— Katja (introduced earlier in the review), Andrei, the old but dependable veteran; and Mikhail, the young, brave soldier. This gives us pause and helps us assimilate the new events that happen in the lives of each of these characters as they move through Europe, fighting and fleeing from the enemy.

There is no doubt that the author has done his research abundantly well. Though there is a disclaimer before the book begins that the story weaves some fiction with real history, it’s hard to tell in places where fact ends and where fiction begins. The writing was so wonderful in most places that I found it easy to get emotionally connected to the main characters.

I selected this book to read as I was curious to know what the author’s perspective was on WWII; however, I never imagined it would teach me so much about Cossack history. I was impressed at the depth of narrative.

Nevertheless, there were times when there were jumps back in time that were introduced into the story without preamble. This was disconcerting. For instance,

Katja was thrilled.

Beside her on the front board of the wagon, Mikhail looked up and smiled at the girl. He had some idea of how impressive all this must be – a simple farm girl who had probably never seen anything much larger than a village-sized stanista. For someone like that Novocherkassk must seem like a dream.

And so, with Katja gaping, open-mouthed at her surroundings, they entered Novocherkassk, the modern capital of the Don, where the lives of everyone were about to change forever…

…Huge sobs wracked her body and she couldn’t breathe. She was lying half on the floor and half in someone’s arms, and someone was talking to her. After what seemed a long time her sobbing settled down and the words finally got through to her.

‘There, there little one, there’s nothing to be afraid of. They have gone.’”

I noticed a number of typos and punctuation errors in the book. It requires another round of efficient proofreading and that should do it. However, these errors did little to detract from the overall story.

This book is historical fiction at its emotional best—though I’ll have to nip off a point here for the unwarranted jumps back in time. I rate it 3 out of 4 stars for its thoroughly researched, realistic storyline, relatable characters, and matter-of-fact and vivid take on the plight of the Cossacks during Stalin’s rule. If you are a fan and regular reader of historical fiction, you will love this book—provided tragedy doesn’t affect you too much.

Book Review: Who Told You That You Were Naked?: A Refreshing Reexamination of the Garden of Eden by William Combs

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I am a non-Christian. This doesn’t mean that I do not read works that focus on the Christian faith. I do, as I believe every faith has something good to teach each one of us. That’s how I took up Who Told You That You Were Naked? as my latest read. I completed the book within a week and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. Honestly, there is just so much to learn and absorb in this book that renders it almost impossible to rush through any of the chapters. One thing I can tell you about this book is this: take your time to read it, take breaks in between to allow your mind to savor what was just revealed to you, and see how it applies to your personal situation in life. It really helps.

 

A glance through the short blurb on the back cover of the book gives us some information about the author—William E. Combs. A retired Presbyterian minister, Bill Combs holds Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from the Fuller Theological Seminary. Leveraging his knowledge and experience in this book, the author reevaluates the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The key argument that the author makes is that—all our lives—we have misunderstood everything about “The Fall” and most of the message conveyed in the Bible.  Our definition of “sin” is misplaced. No, sin isn’t a series of transgressions; rather, it is the knowledge we have inherited from Adam and Eve, which permits us to identify and analyze good and evil.

 

The book has just 10 chapters, each of which present a set of questions to us at the end that help us question our own understanding of the content of the chapters and also include open questions that we could discuss with a group of others interested in the subject. It is my personal opinion that asking ourselves these questions can increase our belief and our connection with God. Who knows, this might help us keep away from questioning his existence each time we encounter roadblocks in life!

 

Of all the sections in the book, my favorite was that which talked about the reason why God put the tree with the forbidden fruit right smack in the middle of the Garden. He could have chosen to not have that tree around in the first place and, thereby, completely uprooted (pun intended) all chanced of Adam and Eve succumbing to temptation. To top all of that, God also offered this couple the choice of path they could take in this matter—eat the fruit or continue to be his obedient creations. The author has inspired me to take some of the lessons offered in the book quite seriously and alter some of my own habits to have more faith in God every living minute of my life. It might sound easy, but I know it will be quite an uphill task. But then, I am positive.

 

One flaw I noticed in the grand scheme of the book is the author’s inclination to speculate. He makes some presumptions throughout some parts of the book about the biblical content that are instances of unadulterated conjecture. Most theories he presents in the book are absolutely impressive and convincing; however, these other theories have little in the form of substantiation to help us truly believe them.

 

Nevertheless, this book is brimming with wisdom and insight from the author. Therefore, I recommend it to all readers looking for a sound Christian faith book. In addition to the author’s point of view on the diverse aspects relating to Christianity, you will also come across some instances in the book where he describes some wonderful stories about how God communicated with him and his wife and how that transformed their lives completely. I found some minor spelling and grammar mistakes, but these issues certainly aren’t enough to stop me from rating this book 3 out of 4 stars.

Book Review: From Drift to Shift: How Change Brings True Meaning and Happiness to Your Work and Life

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From Drift to Shift is a nonfiction book by Jody B. Miller. The author has presented the contents of the book as a collection of several real-life events encountered by people from different walks of life. These events seemed like roadblocks to these people initially and the impact of the events caused them to drift in life. Nonetheless, they managed to rein in their emotions and feelings of helplessness, transformed their mindset, put in dedicated effort, and succeeded in finding their true place in the world.

 

All of us want to be happy—that’s a given (unless, God forbid, we are some sort of twisted masochists). Nevertheless, recent polls and surveys have revealed that at least one-third of our population is unhappy. What is the root cause of this unhappiness? Is it a lack of self-esteem? Or, is it something more complicated than that? Jody Miller gets us engrossed in the abovementioned inspirational stories to provide us with answers to these questions.

 

In part one of the book, she walks us through the reasons why shifts sometimes become inevitable. Part two deals with when exactly we should make that shift, while parts three and four focus on how to shift and how to steer your life in the right direction after the shift, respectively.

 

The author’s narration is very graceful and she manages to convince us that we all need to make a shift in our lives at some point along the way in order to find balance, meaning, and happiness.  All the people featured in From Drift to Shift have successfully discovered their passion, given it their all, and come out as winners in their lives. And seriously, why remain stuck in suffering when making our way through it might lead us to a beautiful way out on the other side?

 

However, I found that the stories introduced and presented in the book were all extreme examples. I know that it is meant to show us that no matter how big the challenge, we can turn the situation around to actualize positive change in our lives. But—maybe—the book could have featured these inspirational stories peppered with a healthy dose of simpler, everyday instances that we could all relate to instantly.

 

Since the topic is about happiness and self-awareness—and one can never really have too much of either—I think it was quite considerate of the author to provide us with references to additional reading material to supplement our knowledge and understanding. I believe the art of shift cannot be mastered by just reading this one book; rather, it should be treated as a continuous learning process.

Jody Miller talks about the previous assignments and self-awareness workshops she attended and reveals her thoughts and apprehensions during those sessions in an attempt to put us at ease and show us that we are all just humans and deal with the same kinds of fears and strive toward the same goals. I love the genuineness and energy with which she puts words to paper. I appreciate that the author wrote in a humble, identifiable manner. For example, she talks about one of the self-awareness workshops she attended in San Diego, during which she was asked to step outside and bring back something from nature that embodied her in spirit. She writes:

 

“My ego wanted me to pick a seashell to represent how I would ride the waves to distant, exciting shores; or, to choose something like a feather to show that I had the strength to let go and trust the wind to guide me. It all sounded poetic, but I knew what I was.

I was a weed.”
This is a book that will inspire you to follow your dreams and desires, and everyone—from a CEO to a fresh-out-of-school student—will be able to benefit from it. I rate From Drift to Shift 3 out of 4 stars, only because of the number of typos that seem to have slipped in. These typos break the flow of the narrative in places and prove to be the only thing that put a damper on the power packed in this wonderful book.

 

Book Review: Yesterday: A Novel of Reincarnation by Samyann

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Yesterday, by Samyann, is a historical fiction book with a story that ranges across decades from the Chicago of today to the American Civil War of the 1800s and the most horrific conflagration of those times that we now know as the Great Chicago Fire.

This well-written novel tells us the story of Amanda Parker who saves the life of Mark Callahan—a mounted policeman—and drags his limp form through a litter of rubble and out of the path of a falling train. When Amanda gets hurt in the process, Mark manages to move her to safety and call for help. These events form a bond between the two of them and they end up seeing a lot of each other. They cannot shake off this feeling that they know the other from before. However, tragedy has always kept Amanda company. What’s more, death has always managed to claim all her loved ones without fail. That is why she strongly resists the pull she feels toward Mark. Amanda and Mark are sure of one thing though: they both want to uncover the mystery of how they were connected to each other in their past. The story introduces us to Bonnie, Jack, and Daniel, and we gradually learn the parts each of these characters played in the pasts of the main characters.

I loved how much research has gone into this story. There is a lot of history that we are educated on but never in a way that bores us. Every minute detail related to Amanda’s and Mark’s pasts has been woven seamlessly into the plot.

What’s really admirable about this book is how it is a healthy mix of romance and mystery. We get to learn much about the process of past life regression—something I have not seen dealt with in so much detail in any other book I have read to date. Modern day techniques of forensics also come into the picture and play their part in putting together the pieces of the puzzle involving the past of the main characters. The whole story is really enjoyable, and the storytelling itself is fast-paced.

The author focuses on generating some really warm, fuzzy feelings in the reader—and it really works! However, I feel that Amanda’s character could have been a little stronger. I know that she has had a difficult past, but she seems to use that as an excuse for her odd behavior at times. For example, when she knows she isn’t too good at handling regressions herself, she still attempts slipping into one of these sessions unassisted, gets hurt mentally by it, and runs out of the house to avoid the people she loves. At another time, she locks herself in a room for three whole days and goes on a drunken bender. I know I am being less sympathetic to the character, but I guess I have always preferred seeing stronger female leads in books. Note to Amanda: Stop wallowing in self-pity; you have a wonderful man (a soulmate at that) and a beautiful family!

I rate Yesterday 3 out of 4 stars. I am someone who likes to see mush levels at a minimum in romance novels, and this one was right up my alley. Unfortunately, the book contains a number of punctuation errors. This prevents me from giving it a higher rating. I recommend Yesterday to all those who enjoy historical fiction.

Why thirst for 360-degree approval?

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Do you seek constant approval from people? Do you want to be liked/loved by everyone around you? Do you put your thoughts, energies and feelings into this? If yes, then could you please take some time off to think why you are so into gaining all-round approval? Why, you may ask. Let me tell you why: It’s just not too healthy.

I am not saying that accepting any kind of criticism from people is unnecessary. No. People who really matter to you – your close friends, your family, your manager – their opinions do matter. Cuz they contribute, in one way or another, to shape you into the person you are. But the one who sits next to you in a train, your cubicle neighbor at work who talks loudly, the team that gossips in hush-hush tones behind you 9 out of the 9.5 odd hours you spend at work? No, their thoughts and opinions don’t actually matter.

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Invest your energy and beliefs into loving yourself, loving your body, mind and soul. Look into your heart and do what it tells you. Work wholeheartedly toward achieving your dreams. Just do everything to make your life happy and fulfilling. Just remember to never hurt someone in the process and you are well on the way to be a better life ninja. Power to you.

Way too stylish: The natural way to go

Style is about elan. Style is about dignity. Style is about intimacy. Style is about intenseness. Style is about allurement.

Have you visited those Egyptian museums? Well, I haven’t. But, that’s not the point. The point is, have you seen the goodies they used to bury with the bodies of the ancient Egyptians? Don’t you think they believed in being stylish, then? Style has always mattered to the human race. I have seen photographs of the kind of head dresses that got buried with some of these bodies. Man, way too stylish for us to carry off. And, probably, THAT is exactly why they decided to carry those items with them when they got transferred to the other side. Why leave it behind for us, when we would not have the guts to use it? Fair enough. The human character has a natural bent toward self embellishment. The ancient Egyptians believed in catering to the said bent.

This is a trait prominent in all of us. Yeah, don’t deny it. You have the need to be fashionable in you too. And, this internal urge to look your best and the desire to don a new look on and off  is the target of the fashion world that churns profits in jillions. Smart, aren’t they?

I know you can relate to what I am saying. I am sure you have an anecdote to share with your friends that will talk about what clamant drives you get every other month to get your hairstyle changed, revamp your wardrobe or even get shoes of another color. I got my hair straightened more than a year back as it didn’t look stylish enough when it was wavy (aah, me!) I don’t say I regret doing it, ‘cuz hey, it still looks stylish. I wake up in the morning and my hair still looks set. Like that of a celebrity. Don’t we all like to look like celebrities in our own little way?! *Cough Cough*

Another urge I am not proud of is this need to raid my favorite mall every month to spend on clothes and other “cool” stuff. I have no idea what I want to buy. I just want to.

Now, I don’t think we can altogether kill this urge to be stylish. All we can do is try and use our older stuff more fashionable and add on to our style quotient. Maybe I can talk about this in my next blog. So, till then, keep it stylish! Keep it alive! And, keep feeding the voracious style demon within you!