Single female travelers - post tips and experiences here!

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Single female travelers - post tips and experiences here!

Postby steven » Sat Dec 19, 2015 5:37 am

I have wanted to write some advice for single female travelers in the region for some time, but never got to it. Since I am not a woman, I have little to say about the matter. If you are a single female traveler and you have some good advice for other women, please let us know here, I will collect your advice into a handy page on the site.

Thank you very much in advance!
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anyone
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Re: Single female travelers - post tips and experiences here!

Postby anyone » Tue Dec 22, 2015 1:39 am

This is a bit long, but hopefully it'll help a few people.

I was in Central Asia for about 3 months last year and think I only met one solo female outside of the Bishkek/Tian Shan area, so you might be seen as a novelty. This can be good and bad. In general, the usual (and unfortunately necessary) safety rules apply: don't go out alone at night, dress conservatively, don't be overly friendly toward men, try to avoid isolated areas. You'll find yourself in a few sketchy situations regardless of how careful you are, and you will frequently be approached by men, which for me ranged from harmless to creepy. But beware of men who are drinking!!

I recommend letting most people know you are engaged or married (you will be asked, even by strangers you are sharing a taxi with). A ring helps. Unlike some other places I've been, Central Asian men usually respected this. Engaged might be better than married because they will want to know why you're travelling alone. I did get some interesting reactions those times I admitted I was single: confusion and scorn among them. As amusing as those reactions were, being married is better because the status of women is low, prostitution is rampant, and you don't want anyone to get the wrong idea.

Urumqi, China: No problems except when I wandered into the Uigher area of town wearing a tight t-shirt and men started leering.

Almaty, Kazakhstan: No problems but was uncomfortable when the hostel filled up with Kazakh students and they turned my female dorm into a coed one (5 or 6 guys I couldn't communicate with plus me). The sleeper bus from Urumqi to Almaty was actually tons of fun, definitely recommended if you can find the bus station!

Kyrgyzstan: Getting a local SIM card is easy, cheap and reassuring. In some ways, I had it easier than male travellers. There was an insane epidemic of tourists getting robbed by police, especially in Bishkek, but I didn't hear a single story of a woman having problems. The border guards were friendly; I even got invited in for soup by some provincial border guards--the same ones who later robbed a male tourist I met along the way--and then one of them tried to get me to marry him but backed off when I told him I was engaged. I highly recommend the CBT network for accommodation outside of Bishkek. Go to each local CBT office and have them arrange homestays--no issues whatsoever. Only thing to note is make sure you lock your door whenever you're in the room if you want privacy: often your hosts (including the men) will just walk right into the room. Cultural differences, I guess. What else... The homestays in Sary Tash were creepy--wish I knew the name of the place I stayed with the old guy who kept trying to touch me. I was glad I tied my door shut because he tried to come in my room at night. I don't think this place was affiliated with a CBT organization.

Tajikistan: As with Kyrgyzstan, getting a SIM card is easy and coverage is surprisingly good. The isolation in the mountain areas was unsettling at times, but at least when I travelled there were always women in the vehicle. Throughout Central Asia, it was sometimes possible to grab the front seat in shared transport, but usually a man took it. Meal breaks were interesting because the women would usually ignore me, while the men invited me to eat with them. A male traveller told me he had the opposite experience: the men would ignore him at meals, but the women would invite him to eat with them! Long travel times with late night arrivals can be a problem--have a plan in case you arrive in Dushanbe or Khorog at 4am. If you have no language skills, the plan will likely involve being severely ripped off by a fake taxi driver, or possibly pick accommodation that's walking distance from a drop-off point. But walking in Dushanbe at 4am is just as sketchy as taking a fake taxi. Maybe call your hostel/guesthouse and tell them the licence plate of the car while the driver is listening? Oh, and this isn't a tip for women, but rather for everyone: motion sickness is a huge problem in mountainous Tajikstan and you can expect multiple vomit breaks when using shared transport. If you are prone, dimenhydrinate doesn't exist in Central Asia, but dimedrol is widely available and works well enough, though it will leave you feeling quite stoned (worse than dimenhydrinate) so it's not appropriate for all travel. Lastly, if you want to sample the nightlife in Dushanbe, go with some guys from your hostel and stay close to them: the clubs appeared to be 95% men and 5% prostitutes.

Uzbekistan: I think there's some official policy that police at all levels aren't allowed to harass women, because the male officials I dealt with were extremely careful with me. The women were stricter, but I only encountered them at the border crossings. Tashkent was the only place I can recall being really uncomfortable in public--there was a bad macho vibe there, constant stares. Overnight train travel involved sharing a compartment with three men, which was uncomfortable. As with Tajikistan, what nightlife there appeared to be male-dominated.

Turkmenistan: There are two potentially very uncomfortable situations a solo female on a transit visa will encounter. Sketchy situation #1 is seeing the Darvaza gas crater on a budget. I met up with another traveller for this, and was so glad he was there. The enthusiastic drunk guys from the teahouse met us at the crater. Then, back at the teahouse, I found myself trying to sleep on the floor of the main room while a bunch of sullen men were drinking and cops were getting drunk in the next room (I got kicked out of that room when I refused to join in the drinking). We ended up leaving and the taxi driver parked in a really weird parking lot on the edge of Ashgabat and washed his car, then we slept in the car for the rest of the night. The driver went somewhere else to sleep. I got yelled at and interrogated by the washroom attendant and then some random guy in the parking lot on the way back to the car. Sketchy situation #2 is the cargo boat crossing to Baku. Luckily, there were a couple of other solo women on my crossing who took care of me. And when the ship landed in the middle of nowhere an hour south of Baku late at night with no public transport, a passenger who took a liking to me (he was a gentleman, not a creep) took me with him into Baku, made sure I got where I was going, and left me with a warning about the boys in Baku. There was a Japanese tourist on the ship, and I think he was left to fend for himself. So being a relatively young female does have its advantages.

Azerbaijan: A bit macho, male-dominated outside of Baku, and be prepared to share an overnight train compartment with men.

I can't comment on things like the availability of pads and tampons because I had everything I needed, but definitely bring wet wipes for those times you don't have running water. If you're in the mountains when it gets too cold to wash outside, bring a scarf to cover your dirty hair.

One last thing: I won't say where this happened, but an army colonel invited me to spend a night at an army base. Which I did (after ensuring I'd be safe), because really, how often does an opportunity like that come along? I'm sure I was only invited because I was a solo female (and the colonel was quite drunk--it was both funny and terrifying when he started ordering guards to hand over their assault rifles so I could look at them).

So overall, it was fine to be a solo female. I wouldn't recommend it for really young/inexperienced travellers, but for everyone else, keep your wits about you, trust your gut instinct, be prepared to rough it now and then, and you should be fine.
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Alma
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Re: Single female travelers - post tips and experiences here!

Postby Alma » Wed Jan 20, 2016 2:47 pm

This post will probably be quite long too. I'll try to give some more transport advice, as this is what people usually ask me about.

I've been commuting the region as a solo female traveller for three years on and off now. I'm absolutely in love with the region, and am excited for other travellers to brave the same adventures.

TRAINS:
Fun and usually safe! I've done most train routes in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (both domestic and international) by now, crossing to and from Kyrgyzstan and Russia into and out of Kazakhstan. I think in terms of trains, the most odd (yet important) advice I can give is to choose 'platskart'. Platskart is the cheapest sleeper option, where you are tucked into a wagon filled with about fifty people. The alternate 4-bed 'kupe' could seem like a comfortable and more private option, and as fun as it can be drinking vodka with your stranger companions, and eat food with whole families, there are still some things that will make me always choose platskart if I am alone. In a kupe I have tried being the only passenger in the kupe at a border crossing, and the train staff tried to make me take responsibility for some of their luggage they wanted to take over the border. No, no, no!! Luckily they accepted that, and I came out fine. But imagine the fear.. Also, as fun as it is travelling with a local family, I have also tried getting stuck with flirtatious, drunken men who did not give me a moment alone. Platskart is more fun and safe - you meet more people, who curiously will come over and ask where you are from. No one can pretend unclaimed luggage is yours at border crossings, and people generally don't drink that much in platskart in my experience. It's not allowed on trains in Kazakhstan and Russia, so in an open wagon people obviously can't drink (that much) in secrecy. Flirtatious young men can one never escape from, but there will usually be a sweet grumpy old babushka to wave them off. The train staff is usually also friendly and attentive, if you smile you might even be invited for tea in their compartment! I love taking trains in the region..
These experiences apply to Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan only. I would probably never take the train from Tajikistan to Russia. Not only will it require an Uzbek and Kazakh transit visa, but the Tajik 'labour migrant train' is not the most awesome place for a lady to be..
In Xinjiang (China), I took the train from Urumqi to Shanghai alone. It was a wonderful trip, most beautiful train ride of my life probably. The Uighur men aboard the train were staring a lot (being blonde there gives you some attention!), but the (Han) Chinese train staff politely told them to go back to their compartments..

(SHARED) TAXIS:
Usually safe, safe, safe (in terms of being a single lady, not road safety..). I've done parts of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan alone in shared taxis. As for the previous post, people will curiously ask you about marriage and such, and as in the previous post, I also usually say that I am married.
Just keep friendly distance if the men get too interested in why your husband allows you to travel alone, or if you want a Kazakh lover. As annoying as it may be, I've so far (knock on wood) never had an ugly experience. I try to choose the front seat, and otherwise enjoy the beautiful rides and chatting to the locals. :)

A pro tip to Almaty (and Astana) for the female lone city traveller who is not too keen on waving down cars on the street as the local custom prescribes (it's super cheap though, and safe, give it a try!). There is an app called RUTAXI - you need a local simcard to use it though. Here, you can order taxis with pre-settled price, and you usually don't have to speak Russian or call a taxi company. It will provide you with the number of the taxis license plate, and on a little map you can see the car's GPS and track when it has arrived to pick you up.

GENERAL:

In Tajikistan, you will find a lovely and curiously open people, stunning mountains. I lived there for a while and love it unconditionally. ...But I also got harassed.. On a daily basis. Dushanbe is super safe, but men WILL catcall you. All the fucking time.. And ask you to marry them, or call you a whore. But 98% of the time, it's only talking, they're just trying to show off to their friends. I only had one bad experience - once, I got groped on my boob by a policeman (!) from behind, in a crowd..
Anyway, general advice for Tajikistan: No cleavage showing, avoid short skirts or shorts. And just ignore the men catcalling you, and avoid walking in Dushanbe by night alone. Avoid the dodgy nightclubs, they are not a fun place to be at night for a girl, but there are a bunch of good bars - Bundes is probably the best, but Cotton Club and Istiqlol can also be recommended.
In the Pamir Mountains, the Ismaili Pamiri people are more openminded and liberal.
I must say again: I love Tajikistan. People there are open, friendly. They love foreigners, and they will invite you for tea, cake, plov in their houses. Enjoy it. Crime rate is surprisingly low for a country with a very recent civil war, and I almost never felt unsafe :) Tajiks are also super honest. Over several months, I only got cheated twice over prices.

In Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan I never had any issues travelling alone as a girl. I avoid short skirts in the Ferghana valley (Osh, for instance), but people usually only stare. My stay in Uzbekistan was short, though. Beware that crossing over land from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan may end up in you having to undress in a closed room in front of a female border police..

Kazakhstan is also a country I feel super safe in. And people are less patriarchal than the rest of Central Asia, so being a lone girl will not raise as much surprise. Almaty is also in the centre usually fine to walk alone at night - even when drunk :) Otherwise just wave down a street car to drive you home for small money.

---

Use your logic, gut feeling, and common sense. People in Central Asia are very friendly, awesome and lovely, and though they might rip you off with the price, that is usually the worst harm they would ever do. ;)

I have to add as a finish to this post that although I am not local, I speak Russian and have lived in the region on and off for several years. Russian is an advantage! This makes my advice useful (I hope), but also I recognise that some situations I have been able to talk myself out of easier.. Plus I know the customs very well by now.

Enjoy your trip! :*
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Re: Single female travelers - post tips and experiences here!

Postby steven » Thu Jan 21, 2016 5:07 am

Alma and anyone: thank you!
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Re: Single female travelers - post tips and experiences here!

Postby carpetblogger » Thu Jan 21, 2016 8:53 am

Don't have much to add to the advice above except the following (which applies outside CA as well as anywhere the social status of women, is, how to say, diminished).

Copy the behavior of local women: If they don't engage with men they are not related to, you don't either. For a variety of complex reasons, in some cultures western women are seen by local men as "easier" than women from their own culture, with whom their interaction is strictly limited. Your eye contact, smile, and open attitude will almost certainly be interpreted in a way that may make you uncomfortable. If that's your intention, go crazy. That's your call. But if you don't want that, demand that you be treated as a local woman. If a dude can't approach a unfamiliar woman from his own culture on the street or on a bus, he sure as hell can't do that to me. Also, dress like local women. Yes, it's hot and uncomfortable but so many problems can be avoided by leaving the shorts and tank top at home. Depending on the country, put on a headscarf and watch your problems disappear. Don't go out at night alone or to bars alone if local women don't do that. If the only local women out at night/in a bar are prostitutes, don't be shocked if you're treated like one.

Your impulse is to be nice and friendly -- smile, engage, make friends. Resist it. Deploy resting bitchface. In Pakistan, local women treat men they must deal with in shops, public transport etc with utter and complete disdain, verging on contempt. Cross those social boundaries at your peril. Be your sunny self with other women, however, and watch the magic happen.

Invent a husband and children. It's the first question you will be asked and is critical information in many cultures for assessing your status. Practice your fiction-development skills.

It's awful to say this, but don't squander your status (inherent to being a foreigner in many, but not all, places, and enhanced by being married, with children and/or middle-aged) by expecting/demanding equal treatment. Use status to your advantage. Sit at the front of the bus (if that's what local women do), refuse to sit next to men on plane or train (maybe you'll get an upgrade), stand in the Unaccompanied Ladies lines (which move faster). Pay a little extra to sit in private lounges at the airport. If you're about to be searched, demand a female searcher (there probably won't be one so they'll throw up their hands and let you go).

Make female friends: especially in shared taxis and buses. They can help you if things go south (but only if you behave in ways that are recognizable to them).

You can do one of two things: you can use your bright and sunny and independent attitude to expose the world to the freedoms and equalities enjoyed by western women and Be The Change You Want to See in the World. Or you can enjoy your trip. :)
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Re: Single female travelers - post tips and experiences here!

Postby rook » Mon Mar 21, 2016 3:23 am

Solo female in my early twenties who has been travelling in Central Asia for several months now. I have only been in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan now but also plan to visit Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the upcoming months

I'm of East Asian descent and have found that I don't immediately stand out in the streets, even in more rural areas or other regions where foreigners and Russians, etc are not as common. In Kazakhstan I was often told I looked somewhat Kazakh.

Anyways, it is perfectly safe to travel these regions as a solo femaleI don't like drawing unwanted attention to myself, so I tend to dress in a pretty nondescript way. In cities like Bishkek and Almaty this would mean donning ankle boots instead of sneakers, for example. I don't tend to put on makeup, which, according to many people I've met here, makes me look seventeen.

As a rule, I tended to err on the conservative and cautious side while dealing with strangers, especially men. When I was with male travel companions, I would feel perfectly comfortable striking up extended conversations with people on the streets, but not on my own.

Echoeing other posters above, public transport ranging from buses, marshrutkas, shared taxis, trains, and planes, is perfextly safe. In terms of road safety, it is still pretty unnerving to speed by on mountainous roads without a seat belt. In Almaty, I often used unofficial taxis by flagging down cars on the street, but would avoid getting in cars with more than two men and called a taxi late at night. When trying to find shared taxis for longer trips, it's at first pretty overwhelming to be surrounded by hawkish taxi drivers trying to get you to board their car. But it's important to be assertive and look like you know what you're doing and remind yourself that you have the right to refuse any offers. Nothing dangerous happened, although I have on rare occasios received dodgy propositions. But nothing that couldn't be taken care of with a firm no or pretending that you don't understand. I've only taken trains in Kazakhstan and Russia and can't speak for other places, but I preferred platzcart for shorter distances and upper bunk kupe for longer distances. The provodItsas and providniks on trains always paid more attention to me as a foreign solo female traveller. In Russia, I had the experience of being basically the only female in a platzcart compartment full of men from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. It was an interesting experience with many people going out of their way to help me. Although one young man about my age was acting a bit, shall we say, possessive toward me, trying to tuck me in bed..

I looked young enough so that inventing a husband wasn't really necessary, but I often hinted that I had friends waiting for me at the destination.

I would also suggest not hesitating to play the clueless innocent female traveler card in instances where it might come in handy. In Kazakhstan, I once got into trouble for overstaying my visa. The workers at the border however were looking after me and doing their best to be accomodating.
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Re: Single female travelers - post tips and experiences here!

Postby fyodorova » Thu May 12, 2016 6:55 am

carpetblogger wrote:
Your impulse is to be nice and friendly -- smile, engage, make friends. Resist it. Deploy resting bitchface. In Pakistan, local women treat men they must deal with in shops, public transport etc with utter and complete disdain, verging on contempt. Cross those social boundaries at your peril. Be your sunny self with other women, however, and watch the magic happen.



100 times this. This advice goes for almost anywhere in the world, not just Central Asia. We are trained to smile and be nice at home. Unlearn this! Friendliness towards men by a Western woman will be interpreted as sexual interest in traditional cultures. Sometimes you have no choice but to be "impolite" or encourage unwanted behavior.
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Theresa
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Re: Single female travelers - post tips and experiences here!

Postby Theresa » Sun May 07, 2017 9:28 am

Hey! I know the last post was created in 2015, but I think I have something to add.

But at first I need to admit, that I wish I had read your advices before I went to Central Asia on my own in autum 2016. I spent 3 1/2 months in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan & Uzbekistan mostly traveling alone. I'm very bad at lying anyway and also figured out that they would've probably not believed me when I had told them that I'm "only" 20, European and married (they marry way earlier in some rural areas but they are often "educated" enough to know the European way - unfortunately). So I just honestly told them: no, not yet. This "Western smiling approach" got me more than once in very unpleasant situations in Central Asia.

All of you above absolutely correctly described the situations that happened, but I need to add that sometimes speaking Russian (like in my case) makes everything worse, so it does not always protect you, it makes you more vulnerable even when traveling with other travelers. Especially guys honestly considering marrying you won't leave you. I definitely still need to learn how to be "clear and straightforward" but I need to say that the Kazakh people (followed by Uzbek men) I met were the worst! - even the "white ones". Maybe I just had "bad luck" but one even harassed me in a Hostel in Bishkek once (he was a "guest" there). And in general the most "annoying" men where those around 50 (even being married and having children) - I forgot how many of them wanted me to "stay over".
With Kyrgyz people I had no problems (although I heard some "bad" stories from fellow travelers). Even a police man I accidentely hitchhiked turned out to be very nice and helpful (although I did not trust him until I got out of the car).
The only privilege when traveling as a girl as that almost every car will stop for you on the road - but this is also a disadvantage.
Many things I will do differently next time! But the way I did it this time I can to 100% prove EVERYTHING you have written here and in your post about single female traveler.

I still LOVE Central Asia & especially Tajikistan and I would not want to miss out on anything I experienced there (life is a lesson)! Thanks caravanistan!
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