Friday, November 5, 2010

How to get around as a single woman traveler

My recent arrival in Beirut, a city I don’t know at all, is a good opportunity to practise the best way of getting around when you are a woman travelling on your own. After four days of trying out this, that and the other, I think I have discovered the basics which, of course, can be applied to any other location in the world.


Obviously, the first thing you do is to get yourself a decent map to see where you are and where the different districts of any city are located in relation to the location of your hotel or apartment. Draw a circle in red around your hotel so you can always see at a glance were you need to end up.

Fold the map to show only the section of where you want to go. Nothing makes you look more like a –sometimes vulnerable- tourist than holding up a big flapping map in the middle of the road and staring at it in confusion.

Be aware, that maps do not altogether coincide with reality. They are simplifications. You think, something is a clear run and it turns out that you have to take twists and turns which don’t show on the map.

Districts often go by different names. Familiarize yourself with them and find them on your map before you set out.


The best way of getting orientated is on foot. Taking a taxi is easy, but you lose direction quickly, because taxi drivers take short cuts. Dispense with heels and wear flats and always watch out for holes and other obstacles on the pavement. Learn how streets are crossed. Are pedestrian crossing to be trusted or not? Are one way roads respected or not?

When taking a turn into another street, always look back and memorize landmarks, shops or billboards so you can easily retrace your steps.

Don’t hesitate to ask locals. Rarely will they send you in the wrong direction (it has happened to me, but not in Beirut). Pointing at your map helps when there are language problems, but be aware that, like here, locals seldom know street names. They refer to destinations by landmarks or buildings.


They are a blessing and a cruse in any country. A blessing because it’s the easiest way to get from A to B, a curse because there are different sorts of taxis and different fares. Many Middle Eastern countries have communal taxis which go vaguely in your direction and are shared by strangers. Leant what the fare is. Flag down a cab, shout your destination and add ‘service’ and if the driver stops you know you are on your way.

Individual taxis either have a meter, but always make sure it’s running. Or you need to agree the fare in advance. Make sure you know what it normally is or you end up paying twice as much or more because you have identified yourself as an ignorant tourist.


Riding local buses is great fun but rarely will you find itineraries or even stops (at least in the Middle East). Make sure you know how the ticket system works, do you need tokens, do you pay the driver, do you need the exact fare? Then, simply hop on and see where the bus takes you. Don’t forget your map and you’ll end up somewhere you will recognize although it may not be where you wanted to go in the first place.

After all, discovering places and doing as the locals do is part of the fun and excitement of travel.


Every city has areas where it is not a good idea to go, much less on your own and as a woman. Make sure what they are called and where they are. Pay attention to your surroundings, don’t flaunt 7 gold bracelets on your arm and a 2carat diamond on your finger. Dress to blend in and avoid tourist gear like hats with batches on it or the famous socks/ sandals combo. Leave plunging necklines for clubbing. But, don’t be too anxious. Don’t clutch your purse to your bosom and constantly look around for possible muggers.

I attended a self defense course a few years back and the first thing our instructor taught us was this: don’t look like a victim or you will become a victim. Be alert but also be confident. A self assured attitude is your best protection. I have found that to be sound advice.