I’m sure at some point most of us have been on both sides of this. When traveling to a new country with a completely different culture to your own it can be tricky to know the ‘cultural norms’. I find as a solo female traveler you have to be even more aware of these things than people traveling in groups or couples. I wanted to put this post together to help other solo travelers be more aware. So, here are some tips on how to be culturally respectful when traveling solo.
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A bit about me
Now before I start I feel the need to preface this post with the fact I am a feminist. I think that’s important for you to know. There is a big difference between being respectful and allowing sexism. I also believe that women should do whatever the hell they want with their bodies and not be dictated to. But just because I like to wear my tightfitting denim hotpants in one place, doesn’t mean I’m going to wear them in another. I mean I totally could, but quite frankly, for me, I’m just not comfortable with the unwanted attention you get in many places.
Leave the judgment at home
First and foremost, I have always been taught that when you are an observer of someone else’s culture it is important to view and gain understanding, but not to judge. I believe that as a visitors, it is not our place to pass judgment. But to learn, be respectful, and try as much as we can to blend in and adhere to their social norms. I have seen some pretty shocking displays of tourists (both men and women) not doing this and it makes me cringe.
Do your research
Before you go, read up about the country you are visiting. Google is or should be, every traveller’s best friend. Try “How to dress in ______”. It won’t take you long to get a feel for appropriate clothing. For example, if you are heading out to Thailand you need to cover up when visiting the temples. Elephant pants are like £2 and super cool in the heat make sure you have a top that covers your shoulders, simple.
You might get away with walking around Phuket in a bikini. But if you head out to one of the small, mostly Muslim islands, be respectful of their faith and add some shorts and a t-shirt when zipping around on your scooter. In Colombia, I had no problems wearing shorts in the coastal towns but every time I did in Medellí I would come home super pissed because of all of the cat-calls. Sometimes I would be too hot to care, other times I’d put on some lightweight pants instead.
Be respectful at places of worship
Honestly, I can’t believe I even have to write this. But I have seen pictures of bikini clad women doing yoga poses outside sacred places of worship. Again, do some research before you go, dress appropriately and if there are certain rules you need to follow they are normally printed outside.
Think before taking a Selfie
I know we all love a selfie. But there is a time and a place for an all smiles striking a pose with the peace sign selfie. Over the reflection pools at ground zero, isn’t it. Yes, you heard me I actually saw that.
Think, be conscious and be respectful.
Research and think before you act
The above aren’t so gender specific but this one is. Ok so being a woman, especially a woman traveling alone, can be tricky due to some cultures having very strong views about socially acceptable behaviours for a woman. As a white woman born in the UK, it’s sometimes difficult for me to get my head around the fact that if I was born somewhere else my life could be very different. I may not be able to vote, or drive, or leave the house without a male family member and it may not be appropriate for me to make any physical contact with a man in public.
These are very real situations around the world. As a visitor, regardless of whether we believe it to be right or fair, it is not our culture and we should be as respectful of it as we can. If you are in a country where women are expected to be modestly dressed take a light scarf with you and cover your head or shoulders if/ when appropriate.
As a woman breaking some of these rules could have some unpleasant consequences. This is the last thing you want when traveling! At best it could be a bit awkward, and at worst you could get arrested.
I’m sure we have all see stories on the news of westerners getting arrested kissing on a beach or taking their tops off at the top of a sacred mountain. Research and think before you act. Just because it is OK to do something in your country, if you are in a more conservative country it could get you into a lot of trouble.
Plan your trip in advance and make sure you pack suitable clothing based on your research. If you don’t feel comfortable dressing modestly or following other rules for women then give that country a miss. There are plenty of incredible places in the world you can visit, so go to one of them instead!
Have you ever got into trouble abroad because of any of the above? Or have you seen any tourists not being respectful? Maybe you have something else to add to this list? Let me know by commenting below or drop me an email. I always love hearing from people and I will always write back.
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This post was proofread by Grammarly