I start each of my newsletters (*) with a section called Marie’s Diaries where I recount a personal travel experience. These stories are not things I usually reveal when I talk to people about my trips. Frankly, they are rather personal stories, and emphasize an error, a weakness, or something that didn’t quite go as planned.

The reason I tell these stories is to show that it’s OK to make mistakes, especially when you are beginning to travel, or when you are going to a new country or region for the first time. You screw up, you recover, you learn from your mistake, and you move on. Most errors are rather benign in the grand scheme of things, and they often make the best stories afterwards.

The most important advice I can give you is to always trust your instinct. The majority of women have this instinct, or intuition, that tells them when something is not quite right. It may not be obvious to your rational brain what is wrong right away, but you must learn to trust this instinct. Even if you can’t explain why you’re suddenly feeling uncomfortable with a person, or a situation, never hesitate to extricate yourself. Don’t be shy or afraid to insult someone or be rude. Just politely say “I’m sorry, I don’t want to continue” or “Sorry, but this is making me uncomfortable” or just “please stop”, “leave me alone”, “I’m leaving now”.

Don’t be afraid to appear silly or paranoid. Trust yourself. You are your own best friend (which is literally the case if you’re travelling solo).

For example, while visiting Fatehpur Sikri (a UNESCO site in India), my guide put his hands on my hips to (supposedly) help steady me while I was looking through an opening. I let it pass, even though I felt that it wasn’t really called for. But then he did it again, and again. It was obvious to me at this point that he was doing this on purpose, just because he could. So finally, I spoke up. “Could you please stop touching me. It’s making me uncomfortable”, I said. He looked all shocked, and gave me this innocent face like I was completely mistaken, but come on. He knew that I knew that he knew. 🙂

Another time, near the central square in Cartagena, Colombia, a friendly man introduced himself as a guide, and after some small talk told me that he could show me the house of Gabriel Garcia Márquez (author of Love in the Time of Cholera and many famous novels). I started following him thinking that the house was nearby in the historic centre, which was full of people even though it was night time. But after a few minutes, I saw that we were headed outside the centre, toward more deserted, darker streets. So I just stopped and said “Sorry, I don’t think I want to do this. Goodbye”. And I turned on my heels.

In Luxor Egypt, I yelled at a guy to “buzz off” because he wouldn’t leave me alone despite my repeated requests. They always look all startled like there is something wrong with you. Don’t feel guilty. You’re doing the right thing.

You need to strike the right balance between meeting new people and experiencing new things, and personal safety. If you say “no” to every opportunity, and hide in your hotel room, you might as well stay home. This is especially important when you are travelling on your own. Use your intellect, but always, always trust your instinct.

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