Eat Pray Love…and Be Cautious

The book Eat Pray Love issued no travel warnings; nor did the movie. However, it never hurts to remember that Halloween-night-style caution is always important, especially when traveling alone. Unfortunately, this is especially true for solo women travelers.


I’m the only guy I know who read Eat Pray Love, Liz Gilbert’s wildly successful travelogue cum romance novel that became a movie starring Julia Roberts portraying the lovesick and soul-searching editor who met her second husband in Bali. As an author and veteran travel writer—130 countries explored and chronicled—my immediate instinct was to write a male version/parody entitled Roam Drink Screw. My literary agent pitched that idea unsuccessfully and a year later an Irish comedian scored with his self-discovery lampoon of Gilbert’s bible for solo women travel entitled Drink, Play, F@#k.

I forgot about the Eat Pray Love phenomenon until I heard about Aubrey Sacco (a close friend of my cousin, in her twenties) from Colorado (pictured above left), who has been missing since April 2010 when she didn’t return from a solo trek in Nepal’s Himalayas. Sacco’s disappearance struck me like a lightning bolt and renewed my urge to warn women about some of the realities of eating, praying, and loving alone in foreign lands.

Eat Pray Love is an entertaining read about a visit to three countries by an overburdened New Yorker who, I sense, prior to penning her travelogue, wasn’t a veteran of solo international traveling. What concerned me from the get-go is that becoming the new queen of women’s travel writing is a huge responsibility because, although we live in a world full of mostly decent people, the evil ones have a knack for targeting women roaming alone.

On behalf of my books, The Frugal Globetrotter, In Search of Adventure, and Globetrotter Dogma, I’ve “lectured” far and wide about world travel on the campus circuit. Discussing travel topics like malaria, inoculations, robbery, rape, and kidnapping is serious business. My books celebrate the joy of traveling and forewarn about the dangers.

I always tip my cap to my two favorite hardcore female travel writers:

* Carla King, who has ridden motorcycles solo across Asia (China/India), Europe, Africa, and North America—several times.

* Lisa Alpine, who in the midst of visiting 112 countries, hitched rides in canoes solo through the tributaries of the Amazon.

These are the sort of empowered solo travel experts I’d want advising my daughter about the realities of globetrotting. Their personal tips to women traveling solo conclude this shout-out.

When Gilbert’s cinema-ready narrative came out, my hunch was that it was going to inspire many women to pitch their troubles over the back fence and venture out to distant lands to reinvent their souls, and I’m all for that. However, women and men, unfortunately, still need to endure different rules while on the road. That said, many of the warnings attached to girls and boys trick-or-treating on Halloween follow us throughout our lives. Although not a guide, Eat Pray Love, now canonized, should consider adding an updated prologue and epilogue warning about the realities of roving alone—and when not to do it.

I hope Eat Pray Love on the big screen didn’t motivate an army of women into possibly unsafe situations. I don’t know if Aubrey Sacco read Eat Pray Love, but she’s still missing while her father, brother, and Nepalese authorities scour a remote region of northern Nepal. Her father has offered a reward to whoever finds her. Our hearts go out to her friends and family.

In June 2012, the beheaded remains of a 23-year-old Belgian hiker were discovered in that same Langtang region of Nepal. This news was on the heels of a 23-year-old American woman being threatened with rape and death by a knife-wielding man (she escaped) and the assault of a South Korean woman—also in Langtang.

Aubrey Sacco’s father noted that the Belgian government put investigators on the ground in Nepal but the USA would not.

* * * * *



* Use your intuition and never talk yourself out of acting on your feelings about it by convincing yourself to “work through your fear” because you’re just being paranoid. We are animals by nature and those hackles that rise up along the back of your neck are telling you something real.

* Slow down! When you’re in a hurry you’re distracted, you’re not attentive to your surroundings, and your intuition and instincts don’t have time to kick in. You are also likely to get careless, leaving things behind or misplacing items.

* People often ask me if I’m “packin’.” The answer is no, because I might rely on a weapon instead of my intuition. Buy a cable lock with a motion sensor to secure your belongings. I like the Targus Defcon with retractable cable and audio alarm because you can also hang it on your hotel room door or attach it to the zipper on your tent. The alarm will sound if it’s moved, and it’s really loud!

* For God’s sake, dress normally and not like a tourist just off the cruise ship. It’s not difficult to attire yourself neatly and respectfully with today’s wrinkle-free, quick-dry clothing. Learn and respect local customs. In some countries they could care less if you walk around topless, but showing your knees is verboten.

* Ask. People love helping others. They just don’t have enough opportunity to do it. Enlist the help of a shopkeeper, restaurateur, or the nearest old lady if a man is bugging you. They’ll give him hell, and that’ll be that.


* Before you go, learn at least some basic words in the native language. This will endear you to the locals—even if your communications are garbled and childlike—and can help you work your way out of a jam.

* Hire a local guide who isn’t just a tourist hound but someone who can show you the insider places and who people know and respect.

* Scan your passport, airline tickets, traveler’s checks, and other essential documents, and email them to yourself along with bank account and credit card account numbers. Also include international 800# contact information for all of the above and the local embassy contacts.

* Don’t pull out large wads of cash when shopping or paying for hotels or meals. And don’t reveal where your valuables are stashed on your body. Calculate what you will need for spending that day and only have that amount readily accessible.

* Be respectful, and hence, get respect by following cultural mores while traveling. Learn the appropriate cultural behavior for females in the regions you are traveling in. Cover your arms and hair. Don’t look men directly in the eyes. Speak in a soft voice. Use the local greeting ritual. Also learn what NOT to do.


* Cops and bartenders know their terrain better than the local chamber of commerce—and they work nights. Cordially interview them when you roll into town. Inquire about the best meal deals, zones of peril, inviting accommodations, safe strolling, camping, worthwhile attractions, and colorful hangouts.

* One of your biggest allies on the road is the person who owns or manages the place where you’re staying. They’re likely not going anywhere anytime soon and should be consulted about valuables storage, shopping referrals and where not to go. As lodgers in an entertainment business where word travels fast, the last thing they want is mistreated guests.

* Most suggestions I pose for women traveling solo double for men. Whether it be hiking or bar-hopping, it makes sense to band with a group that’s already traveling together, at least until you understand the lay of the land.

* The first thing you pack is yourself. Then comes luggage—the less you lug, the less you’re a target for thieves.

* Buy clothing with secret pockets. Check out and Or, have hidden pockets sewn into the interiors of your clothing (which can be very inexpensive to do in many countries).

* * * * *

The search for Aubrey Sacco continues on and on Facebook.

bruce northam

Bruce Northam is the award-winning journalist and author of The Directions to Happiness: A 135-Country Quest for Life Lessons, Globetrotter Dogma, In Search of Adventure, and The Frugal Globetrotter. He also created “American Detour,” a show revealing the travel writer’s journey. His keynote speech, Directions to Your Destination, reveals the many shades of the travel industry and how to entice travelers. Northam’s other live presentation, Street Anthropology, is an ode to freestyle wandering. Visit