Meriwether Falk, 32, of Portland, Ore., lived in Istanbul in the summer of 2012 and now has moved there to teach writing and language arts. But during that summer, she learned an invaluable lesson about traveling solo.
She had been staying in a "cheap hotel in Izmir," when, she says, "I was awakened by a phone call in the middle of the night, some man saying 'Sexy, let me in.' "
Falk hung up immediately, but then she heard a key turning in the door. Leaping out of bed, she shoved all of her weight against the door, and at the same time, she recalls, "I let out a hair-raising scream that could have woken Ataturk from his grave."
Her shouts apparently scared the man, whom she suspected to be the front-desk clerk.
Later, the police wanted to know why she was reporting the incident if she hadn't been raped.
The lesson in this, she says, is to pay extra for a nice, reputable hotel. Instead of a splurge, she calls it a safety measure.
"As in any country, women have to be extra cautious when traveling alone," she says. "I can't allow fear of men in unfamiliar countries to dictate where I choose to live and work. I believe women should not only take back the night, but take back the world, because traveling without fear of being raped is a fundamental right."
Going it alone
Women who hit the road solo realize the journey can sometimes be difficult and even dangerous. While today's ladies know how to travel, I asked a few global road warriors for their best safety tips.
Gary Galanis, a former executive, has traveled to Nepal, Beirut and North Korea in the past year on humanitarian missions with the Bridge Foundation.
"This is important for anyone traveling abroad, but especially for women traveling alone," he states. "Take photos of your passport and then send them via e-mail to your traveling companions and friends and family members who you can reach out to if you lose your passport, have it stolen, or run into visa issues."
Far-flung destinations often don't have cell service, so Galanis also advises renting a satellite phone.
International road warrior Sarah Burling Devaney of Chicago advises leaving the pearls, diamonds and other good jewelry at home.
Devaney also suggests asking questions about a destination before you go.
"When traveling to emerging countries for the first time such as India or Brazil, I always speak to a friend or colleague who has been there, to get the lowdown before I depart," Devaney advises. "They can tell me which areas to avoid and which are safest."
At the hotel
"Try to stay in bed and breakfast inns when you travel," says Diane McCray Crews, owner of the Green Palm Inn in Savannah, Ga. "The owner or innkeeper knows where you are in their fair city and can get you from point A to point B in the best and most efficient manner."
Jane Coloccia Teixeira, a California-based consultant, also is constantly traveling by herself.
"My advice for traveling alone is to not accept a hotel room at the end of the hall near the stairwell," she says.
Teixeira explains that her husband, who once traveled every week, jokingly dubs the rooms by the stairwells "murder central," in that anyone could lurk around them to quickly commit a crime and make a quick getaway.
She also suggests asking for another room if the front-desk agent repeats the number out loud so others can hear it.
On the road
When nature calls and I'm on the road, I prefer to stop at a newer, brightly lit, indoor-corridor hotel along the lines of Fairfield Inn or Holiday Inn Express.
Almost always a bathroom is in the lobby, and I politely ask if it's OK that I use their powder room. A stop at such a hotel is much safer and cleaner than one at a convenience store, gas station or even an interstate rest area.
Jamie Whitaker Sease of Ridgeland, S.C., says she often combines rest stops with shopping. Her restroom breaks include a stop at a Cracker Barrel, where customers are always milling around before or after their meals. Bonus: She can browse its Old Country Store, the colorful gift shop.
Sherri Findley Smith of Columbus, Ga., who is retired, offers practical advice for the road. If she and her husband are traveling together, she locks the car door if he must get out someplace without her.
"Make sure you are aware of what's around you at all times," she offers. "But if someone comes up to your car, never unlock your car door."
Writer Lazelle Jones takes Smith's tips even further. "Always listen to your inner voice. If you don't feel it's right, then it's not. "
For two decades, I've relied on intuition to take me on plenty of solo trips around the world safely. The thing about intuition is that you learn simply to not put yourself at risk. I have also chosen not to frequent bars in strange cities or foreign lands unless I was with friends or colleagues.
"Hang up the damn phone!" says Nashville-based Melissa Corbin. She points out that as long as you're on the phone or texting, you're off-guard and not aware of your surroundings, the perfect setup for purse and phone snatchings.
Yet another sliver of advice comes from Abbie Thompson Harris of Winder, Ga. As much as Facebookers, Instagrammers and Tweeters like to post photos and notes from faraway, exotic lands, she says to resist the urge. Too many ne'er-do-wells troll social media sites looking for easy targets. Plus, she adds, it invites thieves into your empty house back home.
Tricia Szulewski of Motorcycle magazine is often alone on the road, just her and her motorcycle and the wind. She suggests checking in often with someone at home. "Let somebody know where you are," she says. "It's just common sense."
And finally, always carry yourself with a little attitude, says Maisa Fernandez, co-founder of Globa.li, a marketplace for boutique hotels.
"Don't be afraid to dine alone," she says. "It's easily the most liberating thing a woman on the road can do. People engage more if you give off a laid-back aura. Just make sure not to share too much about where you are staying or your personal details.
"And the solitude, when needed, can be so incredible, too."