Since we’ve just been discussing safety concerns specifically for Roatan, I’d like to offer this reminder for the ladies especially. This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post on December 9, 2014.
Solo female travelers have a plethora of information and advice available to them through a simple online search. But what about those single ladies looking to move somewhere new rather than simply passing through?
I have been a solo female traveler, and I accidentally became an expat in Roatan. Through my hundreds of conversations with potential and current female expats, I’ve accumulated enough tips and advice to last a lifetime.
But let’s just start with the short list. One of the most common concerns I hear solo females voice is in regards to safety. Completely understandable – as females we are constantly aware of our surroundings and our security. As travelers, we should all be aware of our surroundings and our security – both men and women. But most often, I get questions from women looking to retire or start a new journey in a new environment. The prospect of creating an exciting, adventurous life in a different country is so appealing that single ladies are grasping at it all over the world.
If you are one of those women looking for something fresh and unique, a place to begin a new chapter and forge ahead, look abroad. Americans and Canadians are flocking to Central and South America and all over the Caribbean to find their ideal lifestyle and locale. Expat communities are cropping up everywhere, so fear not if you are venturing out alone; you will be enveloped into that community almost as soon as your plane hits the ground.
Keeping in mind the concerns that many women have, this list is designed to ease your anxiety and help you take the next step toward a better future, safely and confidently.
1. Visit your potential new home at least once before you make the big leap.
You need to be sure the reality of it meets your expectations, since sometimes it can seem perfect on paper but be a flop in real life (we’ve all had those relationships). Stay there for a month if you can. Rent an apartment and live like a local – go grocery shopping and take out the garbage. But also listen to your own instincts. Do you feel safe there? Do you feel confident walking around alone? This is a great opportunity to investigate the local expat community to learn more from people actually living there, rather than online searches. Now is your chance to ask questions! Talk to other expat women and get a real feel for safety and security on a full-time basis.
2. Understand local customs.
If you are moving to a foreign country, you need to do some research. As a solo female, you are responsible for your own safety. If you’re headed to a culture where women are expected to dress or act a certain way, or where women are not allowed in certain settings, YOU need to figure that out ahead of time. Also understand that in different cultures, men may be more vocal or even physical in their attempts to talk to you. Know where you’re headed so you’re not caught off-guard when you arrive. To many North American women, the cat-calling by men on the street in Central and South America is foreign and disconcerting. If you’re headed there, just know before you go. Some women don’t mind the attention; others are very bothered by it. If it bothers you, have a plan. Some women make up a boyfriend or husband back at the hotel. Or if you feel secure enough, be forceful and vocal about being left alone. It’s entirely up to you how you want to handle these situations, but knowing they can happen before you arrive will prepare you appropriately.
3. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home.
Moving somewhere new where nobody knows your name can make people act, well, silly. Nobody knows you so you’re free from professional and personal constraints. I can’t count the number of times living on an island I’ve seen ladies of all ages “let loose” and get so intoxicated they barely stagger out of the bar. As a single gal, if you were at home at a bar by yourself, would you feel safe doing that? Likely not. You shouldn’t do it in your new home either. Also keep in mind that most expat communities are very tight-knit, so word can get around quickly. The benefit of a tight-knit community is camaraderie and safety; the downside is gossip.
4. Befriend other women.
You will meet new people every day – be bold and start conversations: talk to the bar owner, the shop manager, the waitress. An area with a solid expat community will bring you into the fold almost immediately, but you have to open yourself up to those opportunities. In the States, I would never presume to walk up to someone randomly and ask them their life story. But moving abroad, everyone has a story and everyone wants to learn yours. Don’t be offended by personal questions – expat communities are typically open and eclectic, and they just want to know the real you. Other expat women will be your new safety net. They will guide you and empathize with you, and they will be the ones watching out for you most. Be open to spending time with new people.
5. Keep in touch with someone back home regularly.
Expat life is not for everyone! Keeping in touch with your friends or family back home will help keep you grounded, and it will assuage their fears for you as well. While you relax on a beach with a cocktail, they will be worried about you off on your own in some foreign country. For your sanity and for theirs, keep in touch. Be honest when you talk with them about your new life. If you’re unhappy for any reason, they will be your sounding board. They know who you were in a previous life, and they will be able to tell if something doesn’t seem right.
Becoming an expat is a wonderful option for so many single women looking to retire or start a new life. If you are already thinking about making the move, now is the time to act. Be bold! And if you want more guidance and tips, don’t hesitate to reach out.