Monday, January 10, 2011

A Girl’s Backpacking Guide

Okay, I leave tomorrow.  I’m less anxious, more active today, although still very sick.  I figure this cold should be gone in a couple of days so I’m not postponing my leave date.

As I’m packing, I thought it’d be wise to share some backpacking secrets especially for the young women that plan to take backpacking trips at some point.
  1. Get a knife.  I have a gorgeous Swiss Army knife that I take with me on all of my trips.  Not only is it useful for protection but I use it all the time.  I use it to cut the fresh mangoes I buy at local markets.  I use it to cut the thread on the hem of my skirt that’s come undone.  I sleep with it under my pillow at hostels where I’m sharing rooms sometimes (hey you never know).  Anyway, it just comes in handy, plus you feel empowered to protect yourself and walk around with less fear, which in itself, helps prevent any sticky situations allowing you more confidence. 
  2. Walk around like you know where you’re going, no matter how much you might stick out in the crowds.  Be confident.  Don’t be afraid to smile at strangers and enjoy the sights but don’t walk around like a deer in headlights.  That “lost” look attracts not only people coming to sell you things but also people that might want to take advantage of you.
  3. Pack a solid first aid kit.  Include bandages, hydro cortisone cream, disinfecting cream etc.  Anything you would need to take care of yourself after cuts or rashes caused by allergic reactions.
  4. Don’t drink alcohol.  I know it seems counter-intuitive considering you are on vacation and want to have a good time but this isn’t your neighborhood pub where everyone knows you and you can stumble on home safe and sound afterwards.  This is another country.  Be responsible.  If you must drink stick to beer and keep an eye on it at all times.  I suggest not drinking.  You’re in a new country…why dull your senses? 
  5. Be open to new experiences.  So you've never seen women breast feed in public – don’t gawk.  See it for what it is and move on.  So you hate the way the men look at you in this country.  Don’t over analyze it, accept it and move on.  Talk to strangers.  Make new friends.  Practice the language.  Learn to say hello and thank you and please and nice to meet you. 
  6. You are not here to change the world.  You’re here to witness it and stand in awe of it.  Maybe you have more formal education than those in the country that you are visiting.  Maybe you think you can teach them about feminism and change aspects of their culture with your “enlightened” perspective.  Newsflash: there’s a reason you are visiting this country and it’s not to change the very culture you’re attracted to viewing firsthand.   Leave it at home.  Sit and observe without judgment and walk with humility.  You may find that your experience with a new culture teaches you more than you expected. 
  7. When in Rome, do as the Romans.  If it is uncommon for women to visit taverns alone in this country, then don’t.  It doesn't matter that it's entirely appropriate back at home.  If it is inappropriate for you to shake hands as a greeting then kiss everyone hello. One time I was in a rural part of Mexico quite homesick and I went to a bar to have a beer and write in my journal.  I was dirty, wearing awful clothing I’d been travelling in for weeks and every man stared at me and kept harassing me.  There were no women in the bar.  The men kept trying to talk to me and I was not having it.  I later found out that going into a bar as a woman alone in this part of town meant that you were a prostitute looking for clients.  Oops! 

Have fun.  Meet new people.  Explore history and culture.   Smile a lot.  Watch your back.  Carry a knife.  Be safe.


  1. You are so smart, yenny! This is a great guide!

  2. This is a great list. I stopped over here from 20sb and should probably have read this post back in my early college days of traveling... (well, the "substance use" part at least) I have since learned you appreciate a lot more with a simple glass of champagne than case of beer while exploring :)