Traveling Tips For Solo Female Adventure Riders
Female travelers share their best tips for staying safe and healthy on the road.
What’s it like to travel around the world as a solo female Adventure Rider? It’s ridiculous fun. It’s new experiences, a steep learning curve about yourself and the world, and most of all, it’s something unforgettable, something that changes you as a rider, as a traveler and sometimes, as a person.
But the smiling selfies, inspiring tales from the road and stunning photos of remote faraway lands often make an impression that long distance motorcycle travel is all about easy fun. And while for the most part, it is, sometimes it can also be lonely, scary, dangerous, or simply difficult.
That’s all part of the deal, of course. On the other hand, being prepared means you can avoid a lot of trouble on the way. So after interviewing a few courageous world travelers, I compiled their best tips and advice on how to stay safe and healthy on the road.
Photo: Elisa Wirkala
If you’re setting out on a long overland journey by yourself, common sense is your best friend. If you wouldn’t do something at home, it’s probably a good idea not to do it abroad, either. But what about camping wild, dealing with hostile border officials, and riding solo in the most remote corners of the world where help isn’t always available?
“A good rule of thumb when it comes to camping wild is either camp in the middle of nowhere, where nobody can see you, or somewhere where the whole town knows of your presence. I’ve camped both behind bushes on the side of the road where I couldn’t be seen and in town parks and even a roundabout where everybody knew where I was, but never on the outskirts of a town or village. That way I’m protected by either the complete anonymity, or the fact that most people will look out for a solo traveler,” – advises Katherine Swanson, a rider currently exploring South America on her DR650.
“Border officials will ask to search your meticulously packed bags. Give’em something to dig through: put your tampons and previously worn unmentionables at the top of the bag. It won’t stop them all, but a few will lose interest rather quickly. Also, keep important original documents and cash stashed in the pockets of your motorcycle armor,” – suggests Robyn Kocienski, who has traveled extensively in the States and Mexico.
Heather Ellis, an adventure rider who’s completed her 15-month journey across Africa back in the 90’s solo, encourages to be careful riding off-road. “Ride within your ability, especially on dirt roads. If you can’t see what’s coming around a bend, expect a vehicle or farm animals to be there. When riding through villages, be aware that goats and chickens can suddenly run out in front of you. Always ride with constant awareness no matter where you are and try to avoid riding at night when poor vision adds to the risk of a crash,” – advises Heather.
Chantal Simons, a traveler who has recently ridden her ‘chook chaser’ bike from Australia all the way to the Netherlands solo, says riding a motorcycle has advantages: “Travelling as a solo female on a motorbike, I believe, is easier than being a regular backpacker. In many places people will instantly respect you because you ride a motorcycle. And if you ever don’t trust a situation, all you have to do is hop on the bike and be gone. I think the biggest dangers women face while on bikes in unknown places are the same as men: poor road conditions and chaotic traffic.”
When traveling to remote areas, there are always ways to stay safe. “If you are planning to ride some very remote regions like certain parts of Central Asia, I would suggest either of these three things: buddy up (most of the time, you can link with other riders), have an emergency locator GPS, so that if anything would happen all you need to do is press the button and they helicopter you out; or if both of these aren’t an option, I would find a more traveled route. Just in case, I always carry my pocket knife in an easily accessible place. In my 50,000+ km of solo travel it never even crossed my mind to take it out. A friendly attitude and big smile are much more powerful weapons,” – says Chantal.
Quite a few women world travelers swear by wearing ‘fake’ wedding rings or inventing stories about husbands waiting for them right in the next town. “For the most part, when you wear a wedding ring you simply avoid long and sometimes exhausting explanations. In the more traditional societies, a single woman on the road is a very rare sight, and as such, it’s suspicious. They may feel you’re a ‘lose woman’, by their own standards. A wedding ring or a story about your boyfriend or husband waiting for you at your next destination will usually deter most unwanted advances, and ensure you won’t have to be explaining yourself over and over again,” – argues Trui Hanoulle, an adventure rider who’s traveled extensively in Asia and the Middle East both on her own and with her girlfriends for over a decade now.
Elisa Wirkala, an adventuress who has ridden South America, Europe and Australia solo and who is currently on a round the world journey, emphasizes it’s always a good idea to be very aware of your surroundings and make friends on the way. “When traveling solo, get to know locals as you go, especially women and families. Chat people up and make friends. If you find yourself in a bad spot, you’ll have friendly faces to turn back to. Also always check door and window locks, and never pay for a room before you’ve had a chance to make sure it feels safe. Avoid ground level rooms when possible. And last but not least, always watch your alcohol consumption. You wouldn’t believe how many stories and close calls I’ve heard from people (men and women) who had a false sense of security, lowered their inhibitions and knocked back a few too many drinks, leading to some pretty scary situations,” – warns Elisa.
What about getting to know the locals, and knowing where to draw the line if friendliness becomes just a little too much? Liz Keily, an Australian adventuress who has completed an Australia to Iran ride and is now planning her next adventure in Africa, says it’s always a good idea to seek out the local women. “Invitations home for dinner can provide the most amazing experiences, especially in an exotic country. Often though in the more conservative countries like India, Pakistan and Iran, the women may never make it out of the kitchen. Don’t be afraid of inviting yourself into the kitchen with the women, get to know them, show an interest in them, their children and their culinary skills. That way you should avoid awkward situations with the men of the house. It sends a clear message to everyone in the house that you are only interested in their hospitality and you get to learn the secrets of their cuisine,” – advises Liz.
Rashmi Tambe, founder and editor of the Global Women Who Ride project, has ridden solo across North America, Europe and New Zealand, and she says that what matters most is your attitude. “The fact is, women aren’t inherently safe at home and way more unsafe elsewhere. We are socialized from birth to limit ourselves and take way more precautions to be safe. Most men would be surprised to hear all the mental calculations about safety that go into our decision making! So, my advice? Just do what you do every day to be safe. For men I would have a huge list. I would also advise women to read more inspiring material featuring women adventurers, not restricted to motorcyclists. And to turn off any movies, TV shows, books etc. that depict violence against women. Because it all adds up to creating a culture of fear to keep our lives restricted,” – says Rashmi.
Prevention is the best medicine, so plan ahead. In 2013, while riding in the Peruvian rainforest, I contracted dengue fever. I was lucky to be near a town, where medical help was available, but I hate to think what would have happened if I was still out there in the jungle camping wild by myself!
While there are no vaccinations for dengue fever, it’s advisable to get shots against yellow fever and malaria. Depending on your destination, other vaccinations may be required; keep in mind that some African countries even require you to have a document proving you’ve had certain vaccinations. You can find country – specific health information and requirements here.
Knowing first aid and having a first aid kit, including some basic medications like antihistamines and paracetamol, is also a good idea. For more first-aid advice and a first aid packing list, check out this article by Georgia Melville, and Australian rider and paramedic: First Aid Motorcycle Emergencies.
What about female – specific health issues? “Pack feminine hygiene products and pain relievers you trust if you’re heading out of a first world country. If you’re prone to yeast infections and plan to camp, ask your doctor to prescribe Diflucan pills you can take on the road,” – says adventure rider Robyn Kocienski. According to her, hygiene and cramp management was the biggest issue on her journey across the Americas. “That was more of a problem than anything else on my journey, being a woman and all.”
While all of these women have different tips and advice on how to keep safe on the road, the clear message from every single one of them was this: use common sense, pack well, and always be aware of your surroundings. But most importantly – just go! The right attitude, positive thinking and a big smile will get you a lot further than the best navigation gadget out there.