solo female travel in Brazil

Solo female travel in Brazil: maybe I wasn’t scared because I’m from the Philippines?

“Why are you walking the streets at 2:00 am! It’s not safe!”

My hostel mate from Belgium screamed as soon as I entered the hostel. She was working in her computer at this hour while I, half sh*t-faced, couldn’t utter the words to her welcome remark. It was already the first month of my solo female travel in Brazil so Sao Paulo already grew on me. I wasn’t sure how to answer back in a way that will be pleasing to her.

The receptionist was half paying attention. He was reading a magazine with his legs elevated on the table.

“She is from Manila. Sao Paulo is not scary for her.”

That was something a response I never thought of saying but maybe he’s right? Maybe I am not scared of walking the streets of Sao Paulo because I lived in Manila? I’d like to believe Manila was a training ground for me. My courage is coming from the broth of my experiences while studying in Taft Avenue — the most notorious street in the whole University belt. I was once robbed while crossing the street so being extra cautious and watching my back every day has become a habit. It was a one-time thing but you can never be complacent in Manila. Something will always come up, especially when you least expect it. I’d like to believe that if I made it in Taft, I can make it anywhere.

how to look for host families abroad for free

My host family in Sao Paulo / September 2013

When I first landed Sao Paulo, it looked exactly like Manila – the traffic, the culture, the people – I felt like I never left the Philippines. Because of that, I became comfortable and stayed for 90 days. Yes, I was just in Sao Paulo for 3 full months just because it didn’t feel strange. I have local friends there and that’s probably another factor why I didn’t feel unsafe.

Sao Paulo always gets a bad press. People skip it. Brazil is so big that others prefer to visit the most touristy parts (like Rio de Janeiro) to save time and money. I, on the other hand, went to Sao Paulo and felt like staying. My South America journey was set on indefinite travel time so there wasn’t a rush – I can stay as long as I want to do my digital nomad work. I also believe that staying in a certain place for a long time contributes to its level of safety. The longer I stayed in Sao Paulo, the more it became my home.

Many Brazilians in Sao Paulo are often from European ancestry. For example, my Couchsurfing host didn’t grow up in Italy but has an Italian passport. The Italians migrated to Brazil in 1875 when Brazil opened its lands to increase their population. Today, there are more than a million Italians in Brazil. Half of them live in Sao Paulo. By 1904, Italian migration decreased so Brazil and Japan signed an agreement allowing Japanese migration to Brazil.

With this, Sao Paulo has been very used to foreigners. I was once mistaken to be Brazilian-Japanese (because of my Asian eyes and brown skin). I am only speaking for myself but I’ve observed my European travel companions did not get any weird glances while traveling Brazil. They are really used to foreign faces.

World Cup 2014 in Brasil

On my second visit, I stayed for another 4 months and spent my time mostly in Rio de Janeiro and the north. It has always been my dream to go to the World Cup 2014. The streets were full of people from all parts of the world. I did not think of becoming cautious until one drunken morning, I got pickpocketed in Copacabana. I was living with a few people in a rented apartment. We take turns in cooking every day and when my turn came, I went to the supermarket. As per any big sporting event in one of the busiest cities in the world, the supermarket was really crowded. I put my wallet in the basket and started strolling the crowded alleys. I wanted to cook adobo, a famous, tasty and easy to cook Filipino dish. There was never a time that nobody liked it. It’s always a hit.

Though this dish is easy to cook, the ingredients in Brazil are different. Adobo’s main ingredient is soy sauce but based on experience, soy sauce in different countries are different. In Uruguay, it was less salty I had to put 2 liters. In Nicaragua, I got one that’s sweet. In Japan, well, Kikkoman. It took me a long time to decide which Brazilian soy sauce fits the Filipino adobo.

When I finally chose one, I put it in the basket clinging to my right arm and to my surprise, my wallet was not there. It would’ve been okay if the contents of that wallet were easy to obtain but it was mostly identification cards (driver’s license, citizen ID, etc) that I can only get in the Philippines. It’s not a problem if I don’t have those because my passport is still safe (thank God!) but I wasn’t comfortable traveling with just one ID, especially I was traveling for an indefinite period of time. What hurts the most in that instance was that I just withdrew my salary from my online job. It was $800 USD down the drain.

brazil travel guide

After the World Cup in 2014, I stayed for 2 more months in Rio

I panicked. I went to the customer service area and asked for help. My Brazilian Portuguese was just okay to understand so the supermarket staff sort of understood me. They announced it on the PA but I was 100% sure I will not get it back. In a country as poor as Brazil, it will be a miracle to get this back. But I did give not much value to it just to please me. I still hoped that someone would be kind enough to leave it even without the money. But how do I win with that when the money weighs more value to me than the IDs.

I wanted to burst into tears outside the supermarket. I left my phone at the apartment so I couldn’t call my friends. Our place was a few minutes walk to the supermarket but I didn’t understand why I didn’t go back to the comfort of my friends. I just sat there quietly analyzing the first time I lost money in this long journey.

“Are you okay?”

A guy carrying a shopping bag approached me. I probably looked like I was going to cry any minute. I told him the story on how I lost my wallet. He was listening carefully and told me that pickpocketing is very common in Rio de Janeiro. He didn’t lecture me about being mindful though it’s probably what I deserved.

“Come to my house for lunch. It will make you feel better.”

My mom has always been worried about my habit of hanging out with people I don’t know. In recent years, there have been many rape and murder cases for solo female travelers. My mom’s (or another mom’s) greatest fear is to see her daughter killed in the news headlines. But somehow, I felt the sincerity of this stranger. I felt his offer was genuine and what else can I lose anyway? My wallet is gone. He can never take anything from me. If he harms me, well, I will fight back for sure. I am not sure if I will be able to because I know that panicking is the first response when you are going to be attacked. “Groins, eyes and knees” are the three words are the words I programmed my mind together with panic. These are the three places I will aim to hit if I get attacked.

For the record, I was never attacked or physically assaulted in my travels all over the world. Not even in the Middle East. I never had to hit anyone on the groins, eyes, and knees but I’m sure it works. Repeating those three words, I went with this man to his home. The route he was walking to was going to Rocinha, the notorious favela where I use to volunteer as a teacher.

solo female travel in Brazil

World Cup 2014 with these beautiful people slash housemates

Favelas (slums) in Rio de Janeiro is considered unsafe. It is not advisable to go here on your own. It is worth seeing as it is one of the most iconic of Brazil but you will need to sign up with a tour company. My work experience there was the only reason I would go by myself. However, if I am not familiar with it, I wouldn’t dare go alone. Together with this stranger, we cooked, chatted and once again, I had the chance of seeing the good in people. If you want to read the full version of this story, you can click here.

In 2017, a heard of a Filipino blogger who was robbed at gunpoint in the same favela that I have been to. This broke my heart because I never really had a bad experience in Rio de Janeiro (aside from the pickpocketing). Maybe after some years that I didn’t visit, times have changed? I thought to myself that maybe times did change. It changed my mind visiting Brazil again because I didn’t want to overwrite the good memories I had. But then again, I realized, that safety, especially in Brazil is subjective and personal. I truly believe that our aura greatly affects our safety.

After eating at my new found friend’s home, I remembered that my friends were waiting for me to cook lunch – they must have been starving! I excused myself to my accidental host and told him I needed to go back and inform my friends that I am safe. As soon as I got to the apartment, only two of my friends were there. They told me they were looking for me for hours and were very worried about me. I told them about what happened and they insisted that I go to the police to report it. Like I was a few hours ago, they were hoping there is still a chance that I will find it. But I honestly moved on. We all went to the Polícia Federal to file a report. I needed this report to claim my insurance anyway.

solo female travel in brazil

Samba nights with the crew / Rio de Janeiro 2014

Is solo female travel in Brazil safe? Would I tell you not to go there? Of course, not! I consider traveling Brazil by myself one of my greatest achievements in life. You deserve to see this country. If you ever find yourself forced to entertain unwelcome attention, all you have to do is ignore them – do it with all your heart to make them feel they don’t exist. You know, like you are not hearing or seeing them. I have mastered this not just in Brazil but in most parts of the world. I realized that if you start a conversation with them, even just a simple hello, they will never stop bugging you.

Brazil, I guess is for experienced solo female travelers. If you are not sure of your level, do not go out at night by yourself. Make sure to always hang out with people. During my time in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, I have been super active in weekly Couchsurfing meet-ups which led me to meet a lot of locals. Whenever I am in doubt of going to a neighborhood I am not familiar with, I make sure that I always go with locals or a group.

I wanted to try hitchhiking as I did from Uruguay to Argentina but this is not advisable for solo female travel in Brazil. Again, if you want to do this, make sure you are with a companion or a group.

English is not widely spoken in Brazil so you might want to learn the basics for emergency purposes. Ajuda is the world for help. It’s only one-word but everyone will understand this.

When it comes to what to wear, it is very known to us that Brazilians are really fashionable and loves dressing up sexy. My choice of wardrobe was never a problem for me in Brazil. I wore anything I want without even thinking!

Remember to be mindful with your stuff. Most of the establishments in Brazil accept credit cards so it’s okay for you to go around without cash. I only realized this during my third visit to Brazil. From then on, I only use a debit card when going out. Do not go out like me with $800 USD in your wallet because it will be trouble.

Above all, enjoy. Brazil is more than an amazing country. You will love everything about Brazil as much as I did.

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How was your experience in solo female travel in Brazil?

What are your safety precautions? Did you find Brazil a safe place to travel for women? Share your tips in the comment box below to help fellow women travelers plan their Brazil trip!

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Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world and learn about life. Her style is to stay in one place she likes for 3 months (or more) to know what it feels like to eat, cook, speak, and sleep in another culture that isn’t hers. She'd like to believe she's not traditionally traveling but she just chooses to be somewhere else all the time. In no particular order, her favorite cities in the world are Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Tel Aviv.

Comments

  • Thomas Bourlet
    March 24, 2019

    Having spent several months in South America, I’m sad to say I only experienced one day in Brazil, but I would love to go back some time and you do amazing at creating an image of how it must be out there. It is sad that there is a fair amount of crime, but I always hope it doesn’t stop people from exploring as much as possible.

    reply
  • Jean
    March 25, 2019

    Half sh*t faced. You sure you aren’t Australian? 😛 Like any city/country there are safe and unsafe spaces but knowing your own limits and noticing the surroundings does help a lot. As a survivor of Manila traffic I can see how you wouldn’t have any issues travelling around Brazil.

    reply
  • Danik
    March 25, 2019

    Its a problem that there is so much crime in Brazil but I think with common sense and keeping alert, then solo travel shouldnt be scary. Love your mentality and keep on traveling (and inspiring those who are thinking of solo travel).

    reply
  • Indrani
    March 26, 2019

    Your attitude to travel is good, very inspiring. Too bad about your loss of 800USD.
    Good to know a stranger helped you out.

    reply
  • Rosemary
    March 26, 2019

    After spending 6 months in South America, I’m disappointed we didn’t make it to Brazil. As female travelers, we have to alert wherever in the world we are. It sounds like you were on high-alert and on your toes. This is an inspirational article and very contrary to what we see in the media. I’ve spent a little time in Manila and I can understand how that environment can prepare you for Sao Paulo.

    reply
  • Milijana
    March 26, 2019

    As a solo female traveler, I agree with you: ignoring is the best way to escape unwanted attention. Unfortunately, even if you seem to be rude and impolite because of that.
    At the end of the story, your safety should be first in your mind and not what someone thinks of you. So, just keep ignoring and move on.

    Happy and safe solo travelers, Trisha!
    xoxo Milijana

    reply
  • Lisa
    March 27, 2019

    Being robbed is definitely a solid reason to be extra cautious and watch your back. And I’m so glad that you were never attacked or physically assaulted during your travels. I agree that Brazil is a must-see, even for a female traveling solo ?

    reply
  • Christina
    March 27, 2019

    I was interested to hear that you thought Sao Paolo looked just like Manila, although, I’m sure it is much bigger and busier! You fit right into the local scene. Looks like you’re right at home there.

    reply
  • Tami
    March 27, 2019

    I’m really sorry you lost $800 in cash, and I’m glad you’ve never been attacked or hurt. But maybe don’t let your mother read this post. If she’s anything like I am she’ll be terrified for you!

    reply
  • Archana Singh
    March 27, 2019

    I so agree with this post of yours. I am a solo traveller and have been in your situation a few times before. Glad you were not physically assaulted anywhere. And, I so want to travel to Brazil.

    reply
  • Jessie Baltazar
    April 24, 2019

    Hello, do you have tips or preferred airline to go to Brazil from Philippines?

    reply
  • sb
    January 6, 2020

    I really disliked this post because the writer infers that since she’s from a dangerous city she knew how to “handle” herself in Brazil. This attitude just pushes blame for getting robbed onto victims of crime, rather than onto the criminals themselves, as if everyone who runs into a bit of trouble just “doesn’t know how to handle themselves,” and didn’t grow up in a dangerous place and therefore behaved in a way that attracted attention. This isn’t true of all victims of crime and not everyone is “asking for it”, as the author later discovers when she is pickpocketed. Also, it’s not called pickpocketing if you leave it on show for thieves, that’s just carelessness (pick + pocket, it has to be somewhere hidden, e.g. in a pocket). I also can’t believe the author forgot about her friends and just left them there for hours… I generally found Sao Paulo to be safe (it’s a big place, so it’s hard to generalise) and Brazilians always told me that the crime rates were lower than in Rio. I travelled solo for months in Rio and SP and look Brazilian.

    reply
    • sc
      January 17, 2020

      sb 100% agree with you, this post was ridiculous in all aspects

      reply

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