As an island that has given the world at least six musical genres, and have influenced a vast majority of popular genres today, Jamaica was on my list to visit for a long time. In the U.K, the influence of the Jamaican community has indubitably had a profound effect on British music. It led to new genres of music, such as, Grime, Dubstep, Funky House and Drum and Bass. Though I prefer the raw, old school Jamaican music, this is still significant. As a dancer, I was also intrigued by carnival, the dance scene and nightlife out there, particularly the street parties. Passa Passa, is the term for the crazy street parties that originated in the capital of Jamaica, Kingston, and has circulated throughout the Caribbean and some parts of the U.S. The good Jamaican cuisine is just a bonus. I finally had the opportunity to visit when I moved to Los Angeles for my year abroad.
In December, I flew to Kingston from New York. I booked this trip in September when I had planned to spend Christmas with my friend, Nicholas, and his family in Kingston, but things fell through and he couldn’t make it out to Jamaica. Believe me, I was annoyed, but not because I’d have to spend time alone there (I mean, I’m somebody who likes to take themselves out for dinner while their friends think they’re fucking weird). You see, I was annoyed because I had always imagined my trip in Jamaica with a Jamaican friend—a local. I thought I wouldn’t be able to see the “real” Jamaica and have that “authentic” experience, especially when my Caribbean friends told me that I’m a woman, that I shouldn’t go alone, and it’s too dangerous. Of course, they had a point. They all thought it’d be best to just stay in a safe resort, but that’s not me at all. I can do that at home, fly to Europe. It made no sense.
I decided I’ll still be doing all that I wanted to do there with more safety precautions. I went on to research the less touristic areas of Jamaica and set out for Kingston, Ocho Rios (touristic, but incredible!) and Portland. So, however undoubtedly great my time in Jamaica would have been with Nicholas, those few weeks in Jamaica turned out to be the best few weeks of my life so far, and I’m so glad I did it alone.
Here’s my list of top safety tips for solo women thinking of traveling to Jamaica:
1. Be Respectful and Polite
Jamaicans are friendly. They love to chat and will approach anyone to say hello. Generally, it is rude to ignore someone and this is especially true in Jamaica. You should always acknowledge those who greet you, either with a smile or a quick “hi”.
Sure, some people can be particularly persistent in having a full-blown conversation with you and you won’t be interested, so, chat, but leave out the details. If someone asks something about you, answer, and ask them the same question—they will get the message. If someone was trying to sell me something I didn’t want, I often said, “No thank you. Maybe later on in the week.”
As a solo woman, you will get a lot of attention, probably the most attention you’ve ever received in your life. I certainly did. The attention is constant but non-threatening. Jamaican men love women, and all women too. Most will be very playful (yet, serious), so keep your wits about you. They will offer you rides, drinks, private tours—they’ll ask you to be their girlfriend and say they’ll want you for themselves! If you find them to be too much hassle, say you have a boyfriend/husband. They will respect this and leave you alone. I personally ignored the catcalls (though I couldn’t help but laugh most times), but responded to greetings.
Remain respectful and friendly, but be streetwise. Remember, no need to tell anyone where you’re staying if you feel uncomfortable. Trust your gut feeling.
2. Get a Digicel SIM card and ensure it works
Being alone meant I had to figure out how to get to places myself. And oh, wow, this proved difficult when no SIM card would work in my phone. I even called T-mobile and they couldn’t offer me any help either. There was no way around it. I only had wi-fi at my hostel! This meant I couldn’t be as spontaneous as I wanted to be, it was harder to meet up with people, and I absolutely could NOT have called anyone if I had needed help. Cry.
Make sure you have internet and credit. I hate to make this a priority while traveling, but it would have made my life easier. Upon my arrival, I deliberately tried to find a Jamaican taxi driver that I could trust and wouldn’t rip me off, so I had the option to call whenever I needed a ride or some help. I did find this man. His name was JJ, and he was kind of like my father. No signal meant I couldn’t call him, of course, but he checked in on me a few times via the hostel house phone. A very worried man with three daughters, Papa JJ kept asking if I knew I was in Jamaica, and I still laugh about that. He is the only person that I lost contact with. It would have been nice to be able to call someone and rely on the same driver.
Anyway, if somehow the universe doesn’t want you to have a working SIM card out there (I’m sorry) then I suggest you screenshot maps, plan your day a bit more thoroughly, and look at all the different routes you can take to wherever you are going. You should also memorise your address. Don’t always assume a taxi driver will know where you are staying. I stayed in a popular Dance hostel called Belleh House, which many knew, but there are loads of hostels! In these instances of no signal, stay near the hustle and bustle of the town or city; it’s hard to hail a taxi when you venture out.
3. Know when to “Buddy Up”
Traveling alone doesn’t always mean being alone. For me, it’s the best of both worlds; you get to pick and choose when you’re alone and when you want company. But, at times you will need company. I prefer to stay in hostels for this reason.
I wanted to go to the Rockers International Records store, but it was located in a very dangerous area in Kingston, next to Tivoli Gardens. So, I messaged one of the guys I had met on a night out and asked if he could take me there, and then he ended up showing me around Trench Town, where Bob Marley grew up—a fairly dangerous neighborhood from what I’ve been told. It was amazing having just visited the Bob Marley museum too. Good records, interesting history, and a better friend secured.
Buddy up when it’s night time. I was always with someone in the early hours, even if it was a (nice) stranger on the street. Parties tend to start at 1am and go on till 8am. If you want to stay out, always walk with someone. Make friends. Go for the person who looks like somebody.
4. Walk and Talk with Confidence, even in doubt
This is just a nice reminder for everyone to remember that you attract what you give off. Even if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, do not show it. You are already easy to spot as a tourist!
This one time in Kingston, I was trying to post a Christmas card and my phone (with the screenshot) had died while walking to the post office and I had forgotten to charge my portable charger! Anyway I was set on finding this post office, asked a couple of people for directions, but I walked a little too far out and ended up in a very strange place. I immediately sensed that things could become unpleasant. I didn’t even want to do a U-turn because I’d already been walking like I knew the place and didn’t want to be followed out. People were staring at me and a man said I shouldn’t be here. I gasped and made a joke like, “Why, are you going to kidnap me?”, and laughed at his response then asked if he could accompany me toward the nearest post office because I thought he was funny, BUT my boyfriend is waiting there. He laughed and said he wasn’t expecting that—he underestimated me. We had a nice chat on the way. Some people thought I lived in Jamaica.
I believe that I deterred unpleasantness by appearing as though I knew the place and speaking like I did. I wasn’t afraid to respond to greetings. I had a sense of humour and understood some Patois. What made everyone more suspicious is why I was confident, alone. They’d tease me and ask me who I knew to be out here all alone. Others in my hostel, including the owner, said their bags had been snatched or someone had tried to pick-pocket them. When I am out with them, I feel their anxiety and I’m sure everyone can sense it. It was only when I was with super nervous tourists did I feel slightly unsafe in Jamaica. Change your body language and your mind will follow.
5. Don’t Show Off
Don’t be that person
Quite obvious, but don’t bring all your fancy jewellery and clothing to Jamaica. No need. You’ll attract the bad apples! Some very basic, cute clothing is enough to get you through your adventure.
I hope these tips ease your mind. I could never explain these few weeks to anybody. The only true worry a girl will have is when she realises she’ll have to leave Jamaica. I even shed a tear on the bus to the airport!
Just bring your enthusiasm and energy wherever you go. People will genuinely want to be your friend, show you a good time and look after you. They thank you for being in their country. And if you’re a dancer, then, Jamaica, is the place for you.
“Use sensible safety precautions as you would anywhere and you will be fine”
– Mike, a friendly guy.