One of the most frequent questions I get asked about traveling solo is regarding my safety. I used to worry that as a solo travel woman I would stand out and be a target to any and all worst-case scenarios. Although yes, things can happen, the more you experience solo travel whether abroad or even just trips to different places within your own hometown, you will gain sharper intuition and become more aware of your surroundings.
Part of the reason I was prepared for solo travel was due to moving to NYC at only 21 years old. For the most part, I was left to explore and get comfortable living there on my own and it all worked out. It was during this time that I learned most of the skills below that have helped me on my travels. You probably already do some of these without even realizing. The key thing to learn from this though is to become more aware.
Trust your instincts. If you take away one thing from this post, let it be this. When you feel like you are entering an unsafe situation, get out. You’re feeling that way for a reason. If you feel secure and comfortable, everything is probably going to be fine. Do not let anyone talk you out of trusting your gut. Some things to help you be prepared if you find yourself in a concerning situation:
- Staying with a host family? Make sure to locate and keep a list of nearby hostels, hotels, and emergency services. If you ever feel uncomfortable – get out.
- In a new country? Locate your nearest embassy or consulate.
- In a different city? Locate your nearest hospital and emergency service stations (fire, police, etc.).
Walk with a purpose. Don’t walk with your head down and try to keep from looking intimidated if you are in an area that makes you feel worried. Doing so will alert those around you that you are ‘out of place’ and not from there. Walk with your head held high and with confidence. This will help you be more aware of your surroundings too. Some other ways to help you stay aware:
- Do not listen to music with headphones while walking around. It tells possible muggers that you have electronics of value with you and that you are not alert.
- Smile and acknowledge people as they pass and approach you. Make eye contact. Someone will be less likely to want to attack you if they know you can profile them.
Know the culture. Make sure that when traveling abroad you do some research on the culture and any dress codes. You will be less likely to receive catcalls, unwanted comments or worse if you are dressed appropriately. Plus, if you are traveling somewhere – respect their culture and policies.
Outside of Muslim countries, the top 5 countries with the strictest dress codes are:
- Saudi Arabia
- North Korea
- France (specifically around their “burqa ban”)
Be prepared. Some good things to pack to take the extra step towards your safety are:
- A copy of your passport and ID. If you were to lose yours, having a copy will help when going to your nearest embassy to ensure you have no issues going home.
- This will sound odd but, an alarm doorstop. These are great to have as they will slow down any unwanted visitors trying to enter your room.
- Traveling to a location that lacks toilets (i.e. they have dirt holes in the ground)? Get yourself a go-girl. This saved me from many unsanitary trips to the restroom while in Peru.
- Slash-proof, RFID blocking bag/wallet
- Flashlight/whistle keychain
Talk like a local. You don’t have to be fluent in the language of the country you are visiting but, try to learn some basic phrases and/or keywords that would be helpful in case of an emergency. Drops: Language Learning app is one of my favorites. Some sample phrases to learn:
- Where is the police station?
- Where is the hospital?
- I need help.
- Where is the airport/train station/bus depot?
- I am allergic to…
- Call the police/ambulance.
- I am hurt.
- Help me.
- American Embassy.
- Where is the…
- How long until…
Download the apps I shared in my “Top 10 Apps for Traveling Solo” post. Trust me – you will have a much safer and smoother time traveling with them.
Other useful tips:
- Watch your drinking, especially if you are traveling solo. Don’t get too drunk to where you are unable to get yourself to your hotel or know where you are. Also, make sure you always watch your drink.
- Wear a money belt or crossbody purse while traveling. Even the most popular and “safe” tourist areas are not immune to pick-pocketers.
- When taking public transportation; stay awake, alert and keep a hold on your belongings.
- When in a cab, keep your purse on the floor and your belongings in the back seat with you so, you can get out easily if needed. The purse on the floor prevents someone from reaching through the window at a stop light and snatching it.
- Don’t go the cheap route. We all want to save money and find a bargain but, safe for shopping. Cheaper taxi/hotel/restaurant options may not be the safest. It’s worth the extra costs to ensure you are safe.
- Get the business card of the hotel you are staying at. This way, if you get lost or have a driver who does not speak your language, you can show them the card to direct them where to go.
- Make sure to have a data plan on your phone. Just something minimal to ensure you can phone home if you need to.
- Let at least 2 other people know of your full itinerary. I always give my mother and a friend a copy.
I hope all of these tips empower you to become a solo travel woman and to explore all our world has to offer. Things can happen anywhere, prepared or not but, you should never let the fear of the unknown hold you back on once-in-a-lifetime moments.
Until next time, happy exploring.