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20yo Sheltered Student Travelling to London...needs advice and reassurance.

I'm leaving for London in 20 days, and my overbearing, overprotective mother has drilled every possible fear into my head. I'm also a bit lost on planning! Any advice for a young female traveller on what to see, how to be safe, and how to get her mother off her back? Thanks!
10 years ago, June 18th 2010 No: 1 Msg: #113586  
So, I've only been out of the country once, and it was with my family for a stop-off in Canada when I was 14. I've been to 27 of the 50 states, but I've never been anywhere without my over-protective mother, or a gaggle of girl scouts in tow...In 20 days, I'm hopping the pond for study abroad in London, hoping to one day become a travel writer, but of course...

Not before my mother could plant all sorts of scary ideas in my head.

I'm a pretty introverted girl, most of the time. I have a HUGE passion for foreign culture and this trip was supposed to kick off my road to a future career! But now, I'm being spooked! I still live with my mom, cannot drive, do not drink, stay miles away from drugs (two good things), and have been under her rule for my entire life (and with the economy, expect to remain so). She's a great mom, don't get me wrong, but I'm afraid that her paranoid fears are going to put a huge hitch in my future plans! Who wants a travel writer too afraid to travel? She's insistant that I never travel alone, which is scary because I'm not too confident in making friends, and that I never talk to any strangers, the local flavor of the city! She even forced me to sit through that movie TAKEN with Liam Neeson, so that I would be shaking in my boots when I visit Paris on a weekend excursion. She googled London crime rates, and is thoroughly convinced that somebody will be out to kidnap me, rape me, or rob me blind at the turn of every corner! This was supposed to be the trip that got my head on straight, and helped me down my new path in life, not turn me into a frightened fledgeling too afraid to stray from her flock!

I need some reassurance that London, Edinburgh, and Paris are relatively safe places to be, and how to make it more so for a physically weak, young girl like myself. I would also love to know of places I CAN travel alone and feel completely comfortable about not bringing any chaperones and students with me. Any ideas on where to visit in general are greatly appreciated, too, since I'm a bit of a dutz at planning...

Thank you! Reply to this

10 years ago, June 18th 2010 No: 2 Msg: #113595  
I want to try and answer this one as it seems to be a genuine question from someone in need of reassurance. I must admit that I’m struggling to empathise with your situation and fears, Hope, as my upbringing, indeed my life, has been far from sheltered. I believe fear of the unknown and an overprotective mentality can become endemic amongst any group of people that live in a closed society or environment. You did not say where you are from but I would guess that you are not from a large US city? It sounds to me that you are not seeking confirmation of suspected truths in your post, but rather desperate for someone to dispel your mothers, and consequently it seems, your own, ingrained suspicions about that which exists beyond your well controlled borders.

Foreign travel is, by its definition, a new experience but one that, embraced with passion, planning and most importantly a freedom of spirit can only enrich ones understanding of the world and, by extrapolation, oneself. You say you have a passion for foreign cultures? This is indeed a good thing and a great place to start, but now you need to couple that bookish enthusiasm with some real world action. Take the plunge, skip across the pond and throw yourself into a world that, although similar to your own, will seem magical and unreal, colourful, vibrant, strange, enticing and odd to a first time traveller such as yourself.

If, like so many before you, this addictive first hit of the new changes your perspective and skews your previously held convictions about the world then good, this is a healthy addiction, and one that seems to keep giving more, no matter how many more hits you take. If you truly desire to be a travel writer then, as you say, you need to broaden your horizons and cut the ties that bind. From what you say your mothers protective stance is holding you back but, reading between the lines, it seems to me that you’re perhaps using her maternal instincts as an excuse. If you really want this, if travel and a career in the travel industry is really your dream, then book the ticket, pack your bags, reassure your mum and leave.

As regards your mothers (and more, I believe, your) need for reassurance, I would say only this: foreign countries and cities look so much worse viewed through the distorted lens of the media. Positive news is rarely reported in the media about one’s own country in one’s own country, even at the provincial level, so to expect anything but the worst news from England filtering back across the pond is just ridiculous! If I were to make my judgements of America and Americans based purely on what I see on telly then I’d never consider visiting that country in a million years. Likewise, if all users of Travelblog were to always follow their government’s advice on countries to avoid when travelling then the blogs would come from but a handful of countries.

What I’m trying to say is that if you really want to travel, if writing about new countries, cultures and places is truly your life’s ambition then you have to turn a deaf ear to all the doubters, a blind eye to all those waving their arms in admonition of your desires and simply get out there and do it. Crime figures be damned, overbearing mothers placated and your own fears doused; pull on your pack, step off the plane and I guarantee you you’ll never look back.
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10 years ago, June 18th 2010 No: 3 Msg: #113597  
Hi Amanda -

Congrats on facing your trepidations head on and embarking on a study abroad. My first trip outside the U.S (and traveling alone) was to Paris when I was 19 or 20 and I had an equally over-protective and worried family (mother in particular) so I can understand where you are coming from. And I took my father on his first trip outside of the U.S to London and I swear by his planning and worrying and stressing you'd have thought we were traveling to the moon. All that fear was un-necessary.

As Scott mentioned above, foreign countries and cities look distorted from what you see on T.V and hear on the news. You will notice some cultural differences between the U.S and London/Paris naturally, but there will be far more similarities to the cities you know and recognize. Street signs look like street signs, stores look like stores, creepy strangers look like creepy strangers, and people that you can trust act just like people you can trust at home. The same precautions you would take getting on and off a bus in your hometown or walking down the street at home apply when abroad, but cities like London and Paris, just like in New York, Seattle, Chicago, L.A, are full of people just going about their normal daily lives, to work and back and out with friends, not full of people looking for a young traveler to hassle.

I think London is a great starting point for you because you speak the language, the daily habits of everyday life in America and England are close enough that you won't have any major difficulties understanding them (which I always find to be the trickiest part to exploring a new place - where's the line? how do I pay? do I seat myself or get seated at this restaurant? what's proper etiquette? - it should all be pretty obvious in London) and you are certain to run into other students there willing to explore with you at first. After a week or so, it won't even seem like you're in a "foreign" place and you can branch off into Edinburgh and Paris comfortably and confidently. And even if you do get lost, or do get confused, I've found that more often than not people are willing to help you out. I got hopelessly lost on the metro in Paris one night and standing on a dark street myself in the night, a couple asked if I was okay and then walked me back to where I needed to go, rather than kidnap me. There are more good people out there than bad.

The best (and only way, I've found) to get an over-bearing mother off your back is just to go ahead with your travels and then say "You know what, thanks for the advice, but it's actually not like that at all and I feel perfectly safe and comfortable traveling/living here. You should come and visit. I'll show you around!" and realize you actually mean it.

- Stephanie

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10 years ago, June 20th 2010 No: 4 Msg: #113654  
Hey Amanda 😊

I'm a frequent solo-female-traveler myself, and have found many people (though not my mother) who have not traveled much eager to discourage my adventures and flying solo by instilling fear and doubt. Don't listen. Remember to think about where the information you get is coming from, and what motives the giver may have. You're mom is, I presume, just terrified to have her baby girl going overseas away from her protection. It's a scary thing for a parent to lose the ability to protect and watch over their children every day. My mom struggled with it a bit (though she'd never say until years later) when I first moved to Germany. She wants you to be aware of all the dangers, because that's all she can think about as you prepare to leave her.

By not drinking or doing drugs, you're already going to be safer traveling abroad, especially as a female. Just remember as you make new friends and enjoy your new found sense of freedom you keep your head on straight about those things. It can be easy to end up drunk, drugged, lost, arrested, raped, robbed, and in a really bad position if you start down a road you're not familiar with in a country you're also new to. Not trying to scare you, but many Americans under 21 get off to a bad start in countries with lower drinking ages and different attitudes towards alcohol, and put themselves in compromising situations. Just be smart.

As long as you use basic traveler-common-sense, which you might not know being new to this... Things like: keep your passport in an inside zipper pocket in your purse or bag, watch your belongings extra careful in crowds and on public transport, don't get drunk, don't accept drinks (even a Coke or juice) from strangers, carry a padlock when backpacking or taking overnight trains to secure your belongings (or sleep on top of them as I often do), don't wear expensive or flashy jewelry, and many more basics. Read up on the local scams and stuff before going anywhere new. I recommend taking a Lonely Plant guide with you, as it has so much great information (on scams, history, sites, hotels, etc.).

You need to know the worst things that could happen, even though they probably won't, so that you can defend yourself from bad situations. I have always read up on scams and new crime rings of countries (especially the developing ones) before I go. I have never have any problems or been victimized, but that is probably due to the fact that I can defend against being a victim through prepation. By knowing the warning signs, the scams, and how to not look like a target, I have never been one.

People have generally surprised me on my travels, with so many offering kindness and help to a total stranger. There really are more good people out there than bad. As a new traveler though, it just might take you a little time to figure out how to tell the difference. So have a little faith in your fellow travelers, but never so much it could put you in a bad position.

Safe and happy travels. I hope you find the experience you desire 😊 Feel free to message me if you have any specific questions on better preparation for your first time abroad.

~Elizabeth Reply to this

10 years ago, June 20th 2010 No: 5 Msg: #113657  
B Posts: 151
As a mother, I would say listen to your mother 😊

Our basic maternal instinct is to nurture and protect.

However, I don't believe in inflicting fear into the mind of children to the point where they'll be fearful of their own shadow. Everyone especially women have the right to feel safe and free to live their life to the fullest.

If you are those introverted type, my advice is:

1) Build up your self-confidence. Attend personal safety seminars and women's self-defence workshop. Join Clubs.
2) Plan your trip and research as much as you could. Knowledge is power. You'll feel more confident if you know what to expect, how to get around places and what to do.

I've seen TAKEN too. Very scary stuff. But then again, it's hollywood and far-fetched.

I went to a Personal Safety Seminar few months ago taught by an ex-cop. According to statistics, it's an 80%!p(MISSING)robability that an attacker could be someone the victim knew. So choose your friends and who you associate with wisely (including relatives). Also, high rate of attacks or crimes happen in places where they serve alcohol. Since you do not drink, you already minimized your risk.

I also went to Women's Self-Defence Workshop . My initial goal was just to learn how to kick @ss �nd just muck around with my friends. After the workshop, I fully understood the importance of the self-defence course. You'll never know when you'll be put in the situation when you have to defend yourself ! .

I do not mean to scare you like your mom but preditors are out there (in any country). They choose an easy target who can't defend themselves. Your best primordial first line of defence when in danger is to follow your instinct. Either flee or fight. That's when the self-defence training course comes in handy if you can't run away. I've been followed in the carpark by one of those creepy guys and was lucky enough to lock myself in my car and drive away in a flash.

I will strongly recommend the self-defence course to all women. My friends are so grateful that they took the course. They are single women who live on their own. After getting all worked up kicking and screaming at the workshop, we all got hungry and headed off to the Thai restaurant afterwards. It was a fantastic dayout with the girls 😊.

Perhaps you can attend the course with your mom. It's a great way to re-assure her that you can defend yourself if needs be. Then butter her up with a french cuisine afterwards ! 😉

Bon Voyage !

Johanna 😊
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10 years ago, June 22nd 2010 No: 6 Msg: #113785  
I agree with everything said already so can't really add anything new. I have an over-protective mother as well, she sent me on my first trip to Cuba with a girlfriend for a week and stressted the entire time I was gone. Since then I have been to southeast asia twice, once four years ago for four months, and again this time, been away for three months and will be away for over a year.

The best thing for yourself and your mom is to just get out there and do it. I have never been to Europe or the UK so I can't give advice on that front, although I think the danger level would be much the same as any western city, it happens, not as much as the news shows, but there are way more amazing and friendly people around than bad guys.

My mom learned how to use skype and got good at emailing so she contacts me quite a bit that way, the first time I was away for a length of time she tried to get in touch everyday, not a bad thing, but she got a bit worried if I didn't respond for a few days. She's gotten much better now, still emails me and calls on skype once a day or so, but I find her relaxing more and more as I am away for greater lenghts of time and she can see that I am happy safe and healthy. Blogging is also a great way for your mom to see that your fine (pictures and videos of your travels) and that you are happy doing what your doing. I think the most important thing for a parent is to see that their child is safe and happy, it takes awhile for them to get used to your not being right there with them and to realize that they don't need to take care of you like when you were younger, but it does come. Just give it time, and be patient.

Happy travels, the hardest part is making up your mind!! just go out there and do it!!


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10 years ago, June 30th 2010 No: 7 Msg: #114441  
Hey Amanda,

I'm really jealous you're about to leave for London! I studied abroad there Spring 2008 at Regent's College and I had an amazing time. If you don't mind me asking, which uni will you be studying at?

London is no more dangerous than a large American city in that there are only certain pockets you should avoid. London has some scary crime statistics but the vast majority of crime is between gangs and doesn't involve foreign college students. The most notorious area as a whole is East London. However, there are worthwhile things to experience even there. I'm not sure of your interests but Brick Lane has the best South Asian food in the West and the area in general is interesting because of its long and troubled history. I believe it's the Aldgate East tube station but don't quote me on that! Just do your exploring during the daytime and keep an eye on your belongings.

During my semester there I never once experienced crime and I thoroughly enjoyed the city and its nightlife. I actually visited Edinburgh and Paris (among other places) while there also and had no problems at all.
You might be nervous now but this will be one of the greatest experiences of your life! I'm excited for you haha. If you want to know any specifics just send me a PM!

PS: If you drink beer you should absolutely try Fuller's London Pride at a pub. Museum Tavern (close to British Museum) has it and is an interesting place as it used to be Karl Marx's haunt.
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10 years ago, June 30th 2010 No: 8 Msg: #114498  
Hey Amanda,

I think I have another small piece of information that might reassure you 😊 Years ago, I was an exchange student myself (from Germany to the US) and have since met so many others. For a while I even worked in an office at a university that organized semesters abroad for US students.

One thing I have learned and heard from so many other exchange students is that you are never truly alone. Most universities take extremely good care of their exchange students and more likely than not you will find yourself surrounded by other exchange students a lot. Most universities organize ways for them to get together, seminars, etc. And even if that is not the case, you will quickly meet other exchange students who are in the same situation you are in: alone in a country where you don't have any friends (yet). And that makes people stick together and is sort of your built-in support group 😉 That's why I also wouldn't worry about other trips you are planning on taken while in London. Chances are you'll find many other travel-willing exchange students who want to explore the country/continent with you.

Now go and have fun! 😊
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10 years ago, July 3rd 2010 No: 9 Msg: #114762  
Thank you all so much for your support and advice. It's really helping me out! ^^ I only have 5 more days until I leave the country, and I think with your support (and the support of Anthony Bourdain, who I had the fortune to meet while he was in town on tour this past weekend), I think I'll be able to cool my mother and I's anxiety about this trip! Everyone has been so wonderfully helpful! Thank you!

@roamingdavid: I'll be studying at King's College in Hampstead. Reply to this

9 years ago, March 22nd 2011 No: 10 Msg: #131787  
I travelled solo (female) for a year around the world and didn't have any bad experience. Quite opposite! Some advice for backpackers and travelblog from RTW is here: <snip>
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9 years ago, June 29th 2011 No: 11 Msg: #139413  
B Posts: 23
I am kind of facing same kinda problem. Can y'all help me by replying my topic, please? Thanks btw.
[Edited: 2011 Jun 29 11:34 - ThamSoon:202318 ]
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