3 Tools For Finding Friends On the Road

Facebook.com

In the age of smartphones and social networks, it seems rare that anyone would ever be lonely. But technology doesn’t always fill the void for some good old fashioned personal contact. When you’re on the road, these tools and social sites can help you find a friend in a city full of strangers — and in some cases, you might end up saving money, too.

Graph Search
Good For:
Anyone on Facebook
In case you haven’t noticed, the search bar in Facebook now allows users to search and sort through information within your friend network. Sure, you can use it to check out which of your friends are single, but it’s also a tool that can help you find out which friends now live in certain cities or countries. Maybe one of your college buddies got a job in Washington, DC and you didn’t realize it. Or, perhaps someone you know recently visited the city. “People who uploaded photos taken in Washington” and start your detective work.

Friends of Friends Travel
Good For:
Solo female travelers
Whether you’re looking to find a place to stay or just share a cup of coffee, you no longer have to do it with random strangers. This website intentionally limits users to friends and “friends of friends,” making it easy to find trustworthy travel partners. It’s an especially good tool for solo travelers who might be a little apprehensive about using services like couchsurfing.com, which can sometimes be a mixed bag. At least now you’ll have a friend to vouch for their buddy — and you won’t have to browse thousands of couches to find them.

Grubwithus
Good For:
Hungry business travelers
For those who just want to meet up for a meal, Gubwithus can connect you with strangers who have similar interests (and I’m not just talking about a shared love of pizza). The website allows you to join different groups — options include tech junkees, book enthusiasts and ladies only — and then meetup at pre-arranged dinners. It’s a great way to not only meet new people, but also try new restaurants. Right now, Grubwithus is only available in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle.

Should Women Travel Alone? Of Course!

News of the death of an American woman vacationing in Turkey made headlines across the country, but her tragic death also raises an important question because the mother of two – who was missing for nearly two weeks before police found her body over the weekend – was traveling by herself.

So it begs the question, should women travel alone?

Heading off on a solo voyage naturally comes with some safety risks regardless of gender, but it does seem like women have it worse. For one thing, muggers and criminals may see solo women as walking targets since they’re less likely to fight back than a male. And for another, there are the cultural differences. While we might view women as being equal to men, there are many parts of the world where old-fashioned attitudes persist. In some countries, women that are traveling by themselves may be viewed as having “loose morals,” for want of a better term, and as a result, they may attract negative attention from men.

Traveling by yourself as a woman also means you may hesitate to do things you would otherwise jump at the chance to do if you were in a group. Got invited to a local party? Or asked back to someone’s house for dinner? These kinds of things can be great opportunities to immerse oneself in local culture, but as a solo woman, the opportunities come laced with risks. Even simply going out to enjoy local nightlife means having to contend with unwanted – and potentially dangerous – attention from men.On the other hand, solo travel comes with its benefits. Ask anyone who’s done it (myself included) and they’ll tell you that hitting the road on your own is extremely rewarding. Traveling by yourself successfully can be a real confidence booster, helping you realize you’re capable of much more than you thought. Solo travel also has a way of forcing you out of your shell. Even if you’re shy or quiet, you’ll meet so many more people – travelers and locals alike – since it’s a lot less daunting to approach and befriend a solo traveler than a big group of tourists. And let’s not forget that sometimes traveling alone is your only choice – if you don’t have anyone who’ll accompany you, it’s either go by yourself or don’t go at all.

At the end of the day though, here’s the best reason I can offer for traveling alone: you can do what you want, when you want, how you want. So while you might be faced with some obstacles, don’t let the risks put you off from making that amazing solo journey. Remember that bad things can happen to you anywhere, including in your hometown – so fear shouldn’t stop you from living your travel dreams. As long as you use some common sense and take a few precautions, you should be perfectly fine.

5 Quick Tips for Staying Safe

1. Start small. If you haven’t traveled by yourself before, start by visiting countries that are used to seeing women out and about on their own. For example, Australia, England and Scandinavia are all destinations that are accepting of female independence. They’re also culturally similar and easy to get around, making them a good starting point for newbie solo travelers.

2. Dress modestly. You don’t have to walk around in a burqa, but avoid wearing any kind of clothing that might draw unwanted attention. You also want to make sure you’re respecting the local culture by covering your shoulders or knees if that’s what’s expected. This is a thoughtful thing to do whether you’re by yourself or not.

3. Don’t say you’re alone. If you’re feeling vulnerable, avoid telling strangers that you’re traveling by yourself. Pretend that you’re meeting friends or better still, your husband. Wearing a fake wedding band can do wonders to deter unwanted suitors.

4. Avoid wandering around by yourself at night. Women are certainly going to be more vulnerable walking down dark, isolated streets. If you do want to go out in the evenings, stick to well-populated areas, don’t get too drunk, and have a plan for how to get back to your hotel.

5. Take public transport. Taxis might be convenient, but being alone in a car with a stranger carries its risks – some travelers get mugged, or worse. Taking a crowded bus or subway might be more hassle, but there’s safety in numbers. Of course, this is a tough one to generalize since not all public transit stops are located in safe areas and not all taxi drivers are dodgy – at the end of the day you’ll have to listen to your gut about what’s safe and what’s not.

Do you think it’s a good idea for women to travel alone? Share your thoughts in the comments!

[Photo Credit: Flickr users Garry Knight; Daran Kandasamy]

The perils of solo travel, or, how to sexually harass someone without even trying

solo travelHere at Gadling we’ve talked a lot about the perils of solo travel, from how it can break up relationships to creating feelings of loneliness. On a recent trip to Antwerp I discovered a danger to solo travel I never thought of–people look upon you with suspicion.

I was dining alone in a popular Antwerp restaurant. The waiter had seated me so that I faced another table less than ten feet away. A middle-aged woman and her college-aged daughter sat there. The daughter was directly in front of me facing to my left, so if I looked straight ahead I was looking at her profile.

I didn’t give it any thought as I ordered. Sometime during my appetizer I noticed the daughter kept turning to look at me. At first it was just every few minutes, but by the time I got my main course she was giving me annoyed glances every thirty seconds or so.

Obviously she thought I was staring at her. I tried to look elsewhere. She kept looking over so often, though, that anytime I happened to look straight ahead, she’d “catch” me. I began to feel a bit guilty, like when I’m walking home at night and there’s a woman walking in the street ahead of me. I hate when that happens because I know I’m making the woman uncomfortable. What do you do? Speed up and pass her? Slow down? Both look suspicious and are only going to make her more nervous.

But we weren’t alone in a darkened street; we were in a busy restaurant and she was sitting right in front of me. What could I do, squash my face into my plate of venison?

She started whispering to her mother in French. They’d been talking normally before, but now their conversation changed into a angry, conspiratorial whisper.

At this point my guilt changed into annoyance. I mean, where else was I supposed to look? In fact, for the past half hour I’d been deliberately trying to avoid looking forward. That probably made me look even creepier because now both mother and daughter kept swiveling their heads to check on me.

The bill came and I paid. More whispering. Just as I stood up, both turned on me with snarly little faces, mother and daughter the same snarly little faces.

“Peeg,” snarled mother.

“Peeg,” snarled daughter.

I ignored them and walked off. I would have explained it was all a misunderstanding if they had looked open to that approach. My second reaction was to say, “Sorry to rain on your parade, kid, but my wife is twice your age and STILL better looking than you.” That wouldn’t have gone over too well either. Instead I said nothing, got my coat, and headed out into the night.

So guys, if you’re traveling alone be sure to bring a book to dinner, otherwise you may be mistaken for a male chauvinist “peeg”.

Photo courtesy Alex Castro and the London Anti-Street harassment Campaign.

Plane Answers: Do jets have keys, my first airline flight and overwing exits

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Lee asks:

Hi Kent –

Two items, please…

Silly question here, but I’ve always wondered, does a typical jetliner have “keys”? You know, like you have keys to the car. And is the same true for a 757 or 767, whatever?

Believe it or not, Lee, they do have keys, but only for the cockpit door. Fortunately they’re standardized, so we only need to carry one key. For security reasons, this key doesn’t open our ‘bank-vault’ style door inflight.

Also, do you remember your first REAL solo? You know, when they handed you the “keys” (maybe) and said, “you’re the man today.”

And not in some Cessna or tree-topper. When you got that big break after you were hired by one of the big name commercial airlines. You were behind the wheel of your first big jetliner taxiing across the field and made that final turn only to see a mile of runway in front of you knowing it was up to you to get 50 tons of flying brick in the air.

What’d all that feel like?


Since airliners are flown as a crew with two or three pilots, for me, it never really felt like my first solo flight did. There’s just nothing to compare to that experience; it’s one that I’ll always remember.

I do remember just a few things from my first flight in an airliner. It took two hours to taxi our 727 out of Newark airport and I was amazed that any airline could make money with such long takeoff delays. Fortunately, I’ve never had as long of a taxi since.

But really, I can’t recall anything else on my first flight at a major airline probably because it really wasn’t entirely different from flying a smaller aircraft. It was exciting at the time, and I’m sure I was awash in the new procedures I had just learned, but I can’t say flying a 12,000 pound airplane is that much less exhilarating than flying a 500,000 pound aircraft. The same is especially true when transitioning from, say a 737 to a 777.

Oh, I do remember that there was no hotel room for me that night in Indianapolis, so I slept in the hotel’s conference room instead. But the flight itself was a blur.

Patrick wonders:

On the little card that shows what to do in case of an emergency the little pictures show the little cartoon guy putting the door on the seat. Wouldn’t this get in the way? Why not just chuck it out the opening?

I wondered about that as well. Some aircraft have two over wing exits next to each other, so it may be preferable to place the door on the seat (I would use the one behind or in front of the exit row) rather than risk hitting someone who is already standing on the wing outside.

Also, keep in mind that it’s more common to have those over wing exits used in an evacuation that may or may not have resulted in any damage to the airplane. I’m sure those doors are hugely expensive in that case.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for the next Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.

Indie Travel Podcast launches new magazine

Craig and Linda Martin have been traveling the world together since 2006. In that time, they’ve launched the Indie Travel Podcast and turned it into a successful website (they were named Best Podcast in Lonely Planet’s 2009 Travel Blog Awards) and an excellent source of information for the independent traveler. Now, in a time when major glossies seem to be folding right and left, they’ve launched a magazine. You’ve got to admire that kind of moxie.

The Indie Travel Podcast website combines inspiring destination features with practical advice, like how to use Skype and other internet phone services or what to look for when booking a hostel. There are also entertaining and informative podcasts, videos and hotel reviews. The newly launched magazine combines the best features of the website with the same Indie Travel focus – it’s geared towards independent, adventurous travelers, and budget and long-term travelers.

The Indie Travel Podcast Magazine launches September 1. There will be four issues per year, available at NZ$40 (around US$27) including postage. I had a chance to take a sneak peak and was quite impressed with the quality of the production and the writers (familiar names in the blogosphere) attached to the project.

The feature articles are fresh and interesting – Tim Patterson’s article on the Kachin Independence Army in Burma put a human face on war, and Lola Akinmade’s photos of Lagos were stunning – and the regular columns promise to be informative and helpful – Kim Mance will offer practical advice for woman traveling solo and Christine Gilbert will show us how to be “location independent” so we can earn a living while traveling the world. In the premier issue, there are also blog reviews, an interview with round-the-world traveler Gary Arndt, a guide to tapas in Seville, book reviews, and profiles of Tonga, Egypt, Alaska, Angor Wat and the Baltic capitals of Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius.

If you’ve ever felt out of touch with the Travel + Leisure set (you know, those who file a $200 per night hotel under “budget options”) or if you’re just looking for more inspiration and practical information to feed your wanderlust, check out the Indie Travel Podcast Magazine. I think as the mag continues to grow, the quality will get even better. Plus, I’m a sucker for moxie, and I like the idea of supporting two “indie” travelers with the courage to follow their dreams.