“You are going alone?” asked my husband’s sister. Warnings poured in from concerned family and friends about the inherent dangers of traveling alone.
Yes, my primal fears surfaced occasionally.
I wasn’t the young woman who backpacked, carefree and clueless, on Ecuador’s gringo trail many years ago. Could I still do this as a more experienced adventurer?
My answer came as I met a 62-year-old woman traveling solo in Uruguay. She said, “My husband was too sick and friends couldn’t go with me, so I decided to follow my lifelong dream of traveling around the world by myself.”
This British woman never knew that she became my inspiration.
Why Ecuador? It remained a soulful place for me with its colonial cities, beaches, Andes, Amazon, Galapagos Islands and friendly people. I never shook my dream to return.
For the past three Septembers, I returned to adventures such as Amazon canoe rides, a Shaman traditional ceremony, hiking in the high Andes, spinning wool with a tribal elder, and climbing up an ancient bell tower in Quito.
Women are traveling solo more than ever. The draw here is freedom, empowerment, meeting people on your own and experiencing life fully; whether you are married, single,
engaged, widowed, or separated.
Start by scouring the Internet with a simple Google search on Ecuador. Read guidebooks such as Frommer’s Ecuador, Moon Handbook and Lonely Planet. Journeywoman.com is a useful Web site filled with hundreds of tips for traveling women. Another helpful resource is SoloLady.com. You may want to read GutsyTraveler.com by women’s travel expert Marybeth Bond.
Buy a detailed map to get your bearings. Learn the language or at least the basic words you will need. Often guidebooks will include basic words, phrases and questions. Bring an English/Spanish dictionary.
Safety is one of the main concerns of solo women travelers, but these tips apply to all travelers.
Prevent potential problems by being prepared. Be aware of dangers in certain areas. Theft is a concern in Quito, as in any large city, although assaults are rare. If there is a problem, contact the Consulate and local police. A good tip is to register with your Consulate and keep the American Embassy’s contact number in your wallet.
Use precautions as you would in any country. Let hotel staff know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Also, take their business card with you as a reminder of its name and address. Try to learn to pronounce the hotel’s name and address in Spanish.
Be aware of your surroundings and always listen to your intuitions. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, leave. And, of course, rely on common sense: it’s best not to go out alone at night or hike by yourself.
Young women travelers often experience hissing or comments from “macho” men. Ignore them and walk away.
If you are going alone at night to a restaurant or theater, ask the hotel staff to call for a taxi. If the driver asks if you are alone, say, “I am meeting my husband.” Even if you are not married, you may want to wear a fake wedding ring.
Respect the culture and your safety by wearing clothes that don’t seem to shout out, “I am a tourist.” Wear your backpack or handbag in front of you in crowded areas. PacSafe makes thief-resistant products with slash-proof materials and zippers that can be locked onto a table or chair.
Personally, I’ve never experienced problems in Ecuador. I prepare and take precautions, as suggested. With regards to carrying documents and money, my choice is to wear a money belt and leg wallet.
Ecuador’s currency is American dollars. Take small change for taxis and tips. Before leaving, I took 50 $1 bills, as well as a few $5, $10 and $20 bills. But remember that it can be difficult for them to make change due to a shortage of higher dollar amounts.
For more, check out our Money, Currency & Credit section.
ATM machines are available in Quito and larger cities. Have two credit cards in case you lose one. Always carry your passport with you. Call your credit-card companies ahead of time to let them know your travel plans.
On my month-long trips in Ecuador, I brought one soft-sided suitcase (requested for trips to the Amazon) and a daypack. The Web site, OneBag.com is a useful resource with tips on packing efficiently and lightly.
If you are traveling in the Andes, it can be cold at night. Bring (or buy in Ecuador), a warm sweater. Dress in layers. Comfortable walking shoes are essential.
In the Amazon, bring insect repellent, sunscreen, long pants, brimmed sunhat, sunglasses, binoculars, long sleeve shirts as well as T-shirts and sandals for around your lodge. Avoid cotton, but look for lightweight clothing that breathes.
When traveling in the city and countryside, it’s fine to wear either pants or a skirt, but shorts can be offensive to the Ecuadorian locals. It’s generally better to err on the side of dressing conservatively.
Dining alone seems to bring out our insecurities. You know, that awkward moment when the hostess asks if you’re dining alone, and everyone around you is in couples or groups.
Remember, you have as much right as anyone to indulge yourself. Some women prefer to sit at the bar and find conversation with the bartender.
I enjoy writing in my journal, postcards, reading a book, planning my next day or eavesdropping on conversations (yes, I admit it). Actually, some of my best times have been eating at communal tables seated with other travelers, such as in hostels and small hotels.
Ecuadorian cuisine is a mix of AmerIndian, Spanish, African, North American and other Latin American influences. These are exotic and delicious foods. However, don’t drink the tap water or use ice in your drinks, and avoid unpeeled or uncooked fruits and vegetables. If you have a sensitive stomach, skip the “street food” (though it is delicious!).
Initially, it can be especially difficult when you are recovering from jetlag as well as experiencing a new culture. This may be a good time for finding a cyber café to email friends and family. If culture shock sets in, don’t jump on the next plane for home but wait it out for a few days.
Get acclimated to the city with a bus or walking tour. Slowly, reach out and find something familiar such as a bookstore (Libri Mundi, for me), bustling café or people watching. Try a few words of Spanish and locals will be grateful and helpful.
Check with the tourism bureau and your guidebook for culinary classes, volunteer work, Spanish classes, art workshop, cultural excursions, nightclub tours, museums or plays. This can add purpose and structure to your days, and of course, the opportunity to meet other travelers and locals.
Cultural and Conservation organizations such as: Jatun Sacha, Charles Darwin Foundation and Volunteers for Peace (www.vpf.org) have volunteer opportunities. In addition, the South American Explorers (SAE) is a good source of information.
The colonial-style, Hotel Santa Barbara (www.hotel-santabarbara.com) is my Ecuador home. It’s safe and has a friendly, helpful staff. When I arrange my room, I also schedule a pickup at the airport with Guillermo (a trustworthy guide and driver). (Email him at gvfacilities @ hotmail.com.)
Transitions Abroad is a helpful resource for travelers, particularly a feature story on “Exclusive Hotels & Haciendas in Ecuador.” Visit www.TransitionsAbroad.com in the “Travel Abroad Section” under “Travel Accommodations.”
Ecuador is an amazing country for solo travelers. But, as in any country, it pays to be aware of your surroundings and savor your travels.
By Sandra Kennedy for PeterGreenberg.com. Sandra has traveled extensively in 33 countries and taught in American International Schools in Paris, Lisbon and Lima for eight years. She is the author of Teach and Travel and has been published in International Living, Transitions Abroad, Oregon, and Luxury Living, among others.
- Solo Travel Tips from One Woman’s Journey to Nicaragua
- Women’s Travel section
- Solo Travel section
- South American Travel
- Money, Currency & Credit section