This section is aimed mostly at women. These are good practices for men as well, but I've noticed that men don't seem to think twice about travelling solo. As for me, I know I would regret spending my life in front of the TV because it was impossible to coordinate with my friends vacation schedules or because I was afraid of the remote possibility of being attacked. There are some interesting articles available on whether women would be justified in fearing solo travel more than men.
Whereas much of women's fear of violence and sexual attack is based on perception, there are well-founded reasons why women feel fearful when venturing into public spaces alone. Around the world, women continue to be the primary victims of rape and sexual attack (World Health Organisation, 2002). ... Yet herein lies an interesting paradox. Current research in Australia shows that women's safety in public has increased over the last decade, and most of the acts of sexual violence against women are carried out by men they know (ABS, 2005). ... Studies of female travel behaviour (Aitchison & Reeves, 1998; Carr, 2000; Hillman, 1999; Jordan & Gibson, 2000) have also found that, despite their desire for independent travel and time alone, women tended to be disproportionately fearful for their per- sonal safety when travelling.
– E. Wilson and D. E. Little. "The Solo Female Travel Experience: Exploring the Geography of Women's Fear." Current Issues in Tourism. 2008.
What I gather from the available evidence is that there is some basis for women to be cautious, but that we tend to perceive more danger than actually exists.
If you want to go on your first overnight solo trip, I highly recommend the Grand Illinois Trail. You'll never be far from civilization, but it feels that way when you're on the bike paths.
Here are things I do to be and to feel safe.
- Don't bike in unfamiliar territory after dark. It's the end of the day, you are tired, and you will make bad decisions. Your headlamp can only illuminate a small portion of the trail. Puddles that were clear during the day turn black so that you can't tell if you're about to cross an inch of water or a rim-denting pothole. Plan to get to your next destination at least a few hours before dark. That way if you get lost or your destination has unexpectedly lost your reservation, you have time to execute your backup plan.
- Take a self-defense course. Not a karate course or a kickboxing course, although these things are great. Take a short self-defense course which covers the basics of projecting confidence and how to disable an attacker and get away. Many years ago I took the "Chimera" course which is still in existence in Dane County.
- Have contingency plans. Even if you don't intend to bike after dark, bring a headlamp and taillight in case you get caught. Have a backup motel in case yours is full.
- Call to check in with someone at home frequently.
- Carry a card with two different parties that can be contacted in an emergency. Make it easy to find without digging through your stuff. You could tape a copy in your helmet if you don't find that too morbid.
- Make sure you always have water, and a little something to eat if you get low blood sugar. Don't plan on finding it after you run out. Although this may not be an immediate safety threat, you can make bad decisions when you get nauseated and dehydrated.
- Carry a cell phone. I am experimenting with carrying an air horn. I think it makes a good backup signalling device for where there is no cell phone coverage. A whistle is good, too, and lighter, but this is louder than a whistle.
- When you bike, wear shoes that you could walk 10 miles in if you had to.
- Don't drink alcohol or get intoxicated on your trip.
- Trust your gut. If you don't feel safe, go somewhere else.
Great Things about Biking Solo
- You're more likely to notice your surroundings
- You're less likely to scare away wildlife before you see it
- The experience is more spiritual/meditative
- You can go as slow or as fast as you want
- You can sleep in or start as early as you want
- You can stop whenever you want
- You don't have to listen to your partner(s) complain about how much their butt hurts