This would be my last piece for #PeruMarathonSeries🇵🇪 that I wrote in the spirit of Peru’s upcoming 99th independence day, by refurbishing some draft posts that I made back in 2017 but never really got the chance to finish and share.
I first came up with this article because, at that time, I had been receiving quite a few questions from my friends regarding how I managed to dare myself to travel solo to South America, and also how I actually execute the travel. Most of these questions seemed to have stemmed from the fact that I am merely a brown hijabi female who does not even speak Spanish, and probably doesn’t even look as “adult” as I actually am (which truthfully does not imply that I don’t look as aged, it’s just that my 155 cm or *nearly* 5’1″ height is way below the average height of most 20-something-year-old females, lol).
Also, South America isn’t typically a common tourist destination for most Indonesians, and I guess for a large proportion of the Asian community as well. Even to some extent, for the western population too.
Therefore, I thought I should perhaps compile some tips on how I dealt with any uncertainty that might arise before and during the travel. Even though I realize that there are many way more experienced women who can talk about this topic better than I do, I think it just doesn’t hurt to share my experience. In particular, because I always felt that at least for Muslim communities, we only have a few hijabi solo travellers slash influencers whom we could look up to in reference to this topic.
Without further ado, here are some tips I’d recommend for your seamless solo travel!
1. Make sure you did your research very, and I mean veeery, thoroughly beforehand
I myself am a very perfectionist person, thus this preparation step is really something that I enjoy doing very much. For the Peru trip, I did a very detailed itinerary including the daily breakdown (sometimes even hourly) of destinations, how I was going to do it, how I would get there, what transportation mode I should use, and so forth for the whole week – like how I normally did for my other solo travel as well. This might sound like a terrible amount of work to do, but this step really defines whether or not you’ll have a smooth experience during your journey.
However, the research doesn’t stop at itineraries. You need to be certain that you know (and are able to actually portray) what kind of places you’re going to, whether or not you’ll have people who are able to help you out if any emergency happens, or whether or not your health and safety are risked. For instance, you need to be aware if you have certain allergies or something that might be enhanced due to the nature of the travel or the destination. And most importantly, whether or not you are comfortable with the idea of you travelling by yourself. Again, this probably sounds like another terrible workload to do, but this step could actually be very simple if you know the tricks.
And the main trick is: make concise, summarized information from different articles and/or people whom you know have been there before and compare.
For me, I simply allocate a couple of hours to read people’s reviews about the destinations that I plan to go to, and if I seem to have a well-established illustration about the place afterwards, then it’s a green light. It’s extremely important because, for example, Cusco and other cities that I went to in Peru have stray dogs everywhere – which some people might be allergic to. The altitude of these cities also makes Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) something that is very commonly suffered by tourists. Hence, it’s extremely important that you do your homework beforehand.
2. Know how much you have to pay for anything
This is fortunately another non-issue for me as a self-proclaimed acute perfectionist. But even if you’re someone who’s more of a generalist, hates details, or doesn’t have any issue with however much you spend for the particular trip, try your best to at least figure the estimates of every plan you’re going to execute during the trip. Not only to avoid scams, but also when you’re able to book everything from a service that provides normal price, that means you’re in good hands and you can rely on them if you ever need help with anything else. Surrounded by people whom you can trust will go a very long way in making your travel experience a smooth one.
2. Dress casually and appropriately
Apart from avoiding to attract the attention of pickpockets and any other possible crimes, some locals may also feel bothered or even “offended” by overdressed tourists with some fancy extravagant clothing that looks out of place. Sure, some people may say we live in an era where we should be able to live the way we want to, but the truth is, that’s not quite the most appropriate advice for certain situations. Particularly when you are alone in a new, unfamiliar territory where you want to keep your presence low-key and perhaps slightly under the radar.
When I travel solo, I always try to wear something simple in subtle colours and very basic style, such that it doesn’t attract people’s attention nor sparks their curiosity. (Because obviously, I’ve been attracting enough attention by wearing hijabs in Peruvian Catholic cities full of cathedrals.) Wearing modest outfit is an even better idea, since at the very least your presence won’t be very striking in public.
3. Ask your bank in advance what sort of ATM machine you need to withdraw your cash
I had a moment of panic when I landed in Lima airport, because it turned out that I couldn’t withdraw any cash from any ATM at the airport. I called my bank through a (thankfully) toll-free international number, and figured that apparently it’s not enough that the ATM has a Visa logo, contrary to what I thought I knew for the past year. It also has to have Interact and Plus logos.
Fortunately, I got lucky because at the airport, I could purchase a sandwich with my USD where the lady didn’t mind to give me some changes in Peruvian Soles. I therefore had at least a bit of cash in hand just in case. From there, I proceeded to take a connecting flight to Cusco, where again, the airport unfortunately does not have any ATM that works with my debit card.
The first thing I did on my first morning in Cusco was to look for any ATM where I could withdraw some cash. And it turns out that there was only one! Moral of the story is, save yourself some hassles by calling your bank in advance, so you know what to expect.
4. If you have a certain group of friends that are linked to an international group of people, ask around to see if they know a local who can perhaps accompany you at least for some portion of your trip
This tip helped me so much because it got me introduced to a friend of my friends who is a Peruvian residing in Lima. He had been an exchange student at my university where I was doing my Master’s at that time, but we had never met on campus before. And at that time when I was about to visit Peru, he was already back in Lima.
Through this “network,” I could ask him more details about some questions that I couldn’t exactly find the proper answers on Google. He even offered me to stay with his family when I stayed overnight in Lima at the end of the trip. Saves me a lot of bucks, and also it’s nice to have someone who’s not completely a stranger even if it’s just for a brief moment during the trip!
5. Stay at gender-specified shared hostel rooms
This tip does not only apply to my fellow Muslim folks, but everyone in general who is a not-so-experienced solo traveller. Staying at gender-specified room means at the very least, your roommates probably did not have the intention to look for things like a one-night stand whatsoever, and are most likely committed only to the travel experience itself. Not to mention that you don’t have to feel awkward or self-conscious when changing clothes or wearing tank tops or tight leggings to go to sleep, for instance.
I recommend staying at a shared hostel room because it’ll enable you to meet like-minded tourists, since most of them would probably be solo travelling as well. It never hurts to try to make some new friends!
You may even get some extra tips and inspiration from their travel stories. Better yet, you may have the chance to exchange your Facebook accounts so you could get in touch for just in case you will be visiting each other’s hometown in the future. Who knows?
6. Befriend your accommodation’s receptionist and staff
When I’m not Couchsurfing, my next obvious choice of person to ask around is my accommodation’s staff, especially the receptionist. Not only they are usually very helpful when hooking you up with tour agencies, but they usually would be more than happy as well to answer whatever question you have in mind, such as finding ATM that might work for your card, finding a local-favourite affordable restaurant that is the nearest from your accommodation, and so forth.
7. Start a conversation with friendly-looking tourists, especially those sharing the same accommodation or tour with you
Other than enabling you to chat with people from all walks of life, this would help you feel less isolated and alienated as well from being in an unfamiliar place. More often than not, I would be the one impressed and inspired with so many interesting travel and/or life stories that they shared. To me, this also has been one of my sources of inspiration for my writings.
8. Be open-minded, ask questions when unsure about anything, but appear confident too
It’s better to bug people out with redundant questions than to not be fully prepared. Also, your curiosity and open-mindedness could go a long way in making sure you gain the most knowledge about this new place you’re visiting.
However, it’s also important to present yourself in a way that does not make you look like a target for people who do not have the best intentions to help you out, since we never really know which one of those people could be our guy or the bad ones. Therefore, to appear confident but not arrogant is one of the keys.
9. Bring small souvenirs from your home or residential country to be exchanged with locals
It doesn’t have to be something extraordinary. Postcards, bookmarks, or even things as simple as your currency in coins and bills of small values would do. Just make sure that the bills are in good condition so it looks presentable!
It might surprise us how much these small things could make someone’s day, especially those locals who had never been travelling anywhere else due to some socio-economic reasons, perhaps. Especially if you’re from a country that they barely hear anything about. Your local tour guides, hostel’s staff, or waitress might appreciate these little things more than you expected, and it would eventually brighten your day too!
10. If you’re into photography, bringing tripod is a must! Also a list of other backup things to bring…
- spare camera battery,
- car charger for your mobile and/or cameras,
- spare memory cards,
- spare travel adapter (I short-circuited mine and then spent hours trying to look for an affordable one in Cusco),
- power bank,
- spare charger cables.
Additional essential stuff to bring includes:
- Bike lock to attach your suitcase onto the bed’s legs,
- Masks and hand sanitizers, since you will never know if something may trigger your allergy,
- Your own water bottle to avoid spending an unnecessary amount of money to buy water and avoid adding more plastic waste in the city.
And especially important for my fellow hijabis: instant anti-wrinkle spray to avoid bad hijab day!
And that was the wrap of my three-piece-stories on #PeruMarathonSeries🇵🇪. If you’re interested, kindly check out my posts on things you should know before visiting Peru, the detailed itinerary to get you a week of Peruvian tourism highlights for under USD 650, and how to make the best out of a full day of Machu Picchu.
Until next time, and happy 99th independence day to Peru! 🇵🇪