Travel entrepreneur Carolyn Pearson wants to liberate women to get out and experience the cities they go to when travelling solo
As the founder of a social network for female business travellers, one would imagine that I never need dine alone. Having said that, I recently found myself in the beautiful city of Paris without a dinner date, as my appointment for the evening had to cancel at the last minute.
The restaurant was warm and inviting and probably about half full. Fully confident, I was quite taken aback with the expression that greeted me. I couldn’t decipher it exactly, but it seemed to say “mais non!” (A woman dining alone, where do I put her? Also, that’s one cover rather than two that I get for that table for two).
We can sometimes make up an entire life story based on one look, can’t we? After a split second of awkwardness, two friendly ladies invited me to sit at the table next to them and the waiter visibly relaxed. I looked around and noted, briefly, before diving into conversation, that my solo presence had caused quite a lot of interest with the other patrons, too. It had never occurred to me that a woman dining solo in Paris is an unusual occurrence.
When it was time for dessert, I made the biggest mistake and best decision both at the same time: I ordered the crème brulée. Unbeknown to me, this cosy, traditional French bistrot is actually famed for the special ritual that accompanies its crème brulée. The lights were dimmed, the doors were opened and then out came the branding iron! A large flat disk which must have been sitting in a hot furnace was placed on top of my dessert. There was a loud hiss as the hot iron met the cold dessert, the entire restaurant filled with smoke and all eyes turned to me. Now, whilst I’m not a shy girl, I have to say that the entire crème brulée ceremony made me a little self conscious.
Thankfully, this has been my most uncomfortable solo dining trip, but I know for many women, dining alone in a restaurant can be an excruciating experience. Because I love to travel and experience new places, my intention with maiden-voyage.com has always been to liberate women to get out and see the cities they travel to, helping to make their experience both safe and social.
Here are some of my top tips to ensure you get the most from your business trip.
Research where your meetings will be and where you will be staying. Hotels on the outskirts of a city may be cheaper but it can be a false economy if you have to take taxis everywhere because you don’t feel safe coming back after dark.
Find yourself a female-friendly hotel
If the hotel receptionist verbally announces your room number or puts you in an inappropriate location, such as a ground floor room or at the end of a dark corridor, don’t be shy about asking for an alternative.
Always be secure
Ensure your hotel has double-locking doors and that both work before unpacking. There’s nothing worse than having to sleep with one eye and/or ear open, if you don’t feel entirely safe. Consider carrying a device such as a DoorJammer to give you extra peace of mind.
If you’re being collected from an airport or train station, ensure that you and the driver have corresponding paperwork. Remember anybody can write a name on a piece of cardboard. Remember to remove your name badge after leaving the office or a conference. It’s easy for others to pretend they know you and out of politeness we can find ourselves in a tricky situation.
On a lighter note, think about shoes. I always take a reasonably sized handbag so that I can fit in my heels and go from meeting to meeting in a pretty pair of flats. I love to pick up the odd piece for my wardrobe, a little something you can’t get back home. Nice department stores such as Printemps in Paris or Saks Fifth Avenue in New York are great places to shop. The advantage being you can grab a snack there too, everything is under one roof so you are spared the danger of wandering into an unsavoury area and they are usually open later.
Embrace the opportunities that travel offers
Whether it’s connecting with like-minded women or reinvigorating existing relationship with contacts I’m connected to on LinkedIn, a business trip often gives me the opportunity to socialise and get around different people. This can often lead to new ideas, trying something new (in Paris it was the opera) – or even a business deal.
Make the most of your time
For me, staying in with room service is the last resort when I’ve travelled to somewhere exciting. Four walls of a hotel room look pretty much the same anywhere but, if you really have no option, remember to take some nice bath oils, indulgent reading material and perhaps download a meditation podcast and have a little bit of “me time”.
Carolyn Pearson is founder of Maiden-voyage.com, the global social networking connecting female business travellers around the world.