One of the biggest obstacles that keeps women from traveling solo is a nagging fear of their life suddenly being morphed into some crazy version of the movie Taken.
And while it’s true that plopping yourself down in a new country alone does come with its risks – the world is a much safer and friendlier place than the news would have you believe.
Staying safe abroad really comes down to two simple things: preparation and awareness.
By taking a few simple, proactive steps you can greatly decrease the risk of finding yourself in a dangerous situation.
Here are my tips for a safe experience as a female traveling solo:
Do Your Research
1. Research the common scams and crimes to watch out for at your destination
Especially those most often directed at tourists. If you are aware of the problems that people are reporting, then you can take the appropriate steps to make yourself less of a target.
2. Know the phone numbers for local authorities.
This is one of those details that is too often overlooked until you’re in an emergency situation where you need help right now. Before you even arrive at your destination, look up the phone numbers of emergency services and add them as a contact in your phone.
3. Look up what areas to avoid (and when).
While there’s nothing quite like wandering through a new city with no particular destination in mind, each one has its good and not-so-good neighborhoods. Do a little bit of sleuthing on Google to figure out what areas are best avoided and when (some places are perfectly safe by day, but you wouldn’t want to find yourself alone there at night).
4. Don’t automatically opt for the cheapest housing option.
Going off of tip #3, accommodation is usually cheapest in the areas that are the least safe or desirable. Make sure before booking that you’ve thoroughly researched the neighborhood. Also, if you opt to use a service like Couchsurfing, or even a shared AirBnB, and will be staying with someone you don’t know, make sure you have a back up option such as a nearby hotel or hostel where you can go if you get any weird vibes.
If you’re on a budget hostels are great because they are usually located near the city center or main attractions and sharing a room with multiple people often actually keeps you and your belongings more safe because there is always someone around.
5. When in doubt, take a cab.
Especially if it’s dark out, you’re in an uncomfortable situation, or you’re in an unfamiliar area that’s giving you bad vibes. If you’re questioning if you’ll be safe walking outside alone, don’t risk it. Take a cab.
6. Download offline maps.
Before you leave for your trip, be sure to download the location using Google Maps or an app like Maps.me so that you’re able to use your navigation even if you don’t have cell phone service or a wifi connection. You can find instructions on how to download offline maps using Google Maps here.
Protecting Your Belongings
7. If you’re walking alongside a road, keep your purse or bag on the side of your body that isn’t facing the road.
One common crime is people driving by on motorbikes and swiping bags from unsuspecting pedestrians, zooming off before you even have a chance to process what happened or catch them. In general, try to keep a hand actually on your purse at all times or else keep it tucked between your arm and the side of your body.
8. Split your cash and cards.
THIS IS A BIG ONE. Never keep all of your cash, cards, and valuable documents in one place, that way if you ever get robbed, or even simply lose your wallet somewhere, you aren’t totally screwed. I always travel with two debit cards, two credit cards, local currency, emergency cash in USD, paper & digital copies of important travel documents, and of course – my passport itself. I take whatever cash and card(s) I need for the day out with me and leave the rest locked up at home.
9. Wear your backpack on your front.
Yes, you’ll look ridiculous. But, especially when using crowded public transportation or visiting big tourist attractions, this will make it much more difficult for anyone to mess with your things without you noticing, as opposed to when it’s on your back and out of your sight.
Another option that will earn you far less weird looks, is to use TSA luggage locks or other methods to secure your zippers. I personally use the Pacsafe Metrosafe backpack as my everyday bag which has built in security features like slash guard protection and zipper locks. If you’re going to be traveling frequently, upgrading to more secure gear is well worth the investment!
10. Pack Less.
Traveling solo is not the time to be the damsel in distress. Pack no more than you can manage on your own. I recommend bringing only a carry on bag on and a backpack regardless of how long you’ll be traveling. For more info on how to pull this off, check out my post on How To Travel The World With Only a Carry-On Bag.
Don’t Make Yourself a Target
11. Leave the designer items and expensive jewelry at home
(including knockoffs). In many countries, your designer bag may easily be worth more than someone’s entire monthly salary, so don’t have flashy, expensive items on display. If you are going to wear expensive items, try to make sure that the logo isn’t prominently plastered all over it.
12. Dress appropriately.
The easiest way to be safe in a foreign land is to blend in, so make sure that the clothes you’re wearing aren’t a magnet for unwanted attention. Also, blatantly disregarding local dress customs in more conservative places can be seen as disrespectful (and rightfully so, in my personal opinion). The last thing you want to do is offend the locals, whose help you very well may need at some point in your travels.
13. Walk CONFIDENTLY and with PURPOSE.
People tend not to mess with a woman who looks calm, collected and like she knows exactly what she’s doing. Walk like a woman on a mission. Make it look like you belong there even if you have no idea what you’re doing. If you get disoriented or need to look at a map, find a park bench that you can casually sit down on or a convenience store to duck into while you get it figured out.
14. Tie a whistle to your bag or backpack.
Now this is a tip that I only recently came across but will definitely be using the next time I head abroad. Criminals look for easy targets, so the minute you begin to cause a scene or demonstrate that you have the ability to, you’re no longer worth the effort to most people. They’ll move along to another clueless tourist.
15. Choose your gear wisely.
There are several products out there made specifically for travelers to help make sure that your most valuable possessions stay safe. As I mentioned before, my everyday bag is the Pacsafe Metrosafe backpack which comes equipped with all kinds of extra security features. At a more basic level, things like TSA luggage locks or passport protectors can provide an extra layer of protection. A small investment can make a big difference.
16. Use apps to hail taxis.
One of the most common problems that foreigners run into many places abroad is being scammed by taxi drivers who try to charge you a highly inflated fare, oftentimes refusing to let you out until you do. The best way to avoid this is to find out what the local ridesharing app is (uber, Grab, car:go, taxify, etc.) and always use it to catch a ride. This way the money is handled via the app and there is no opportunity for haggling or for your fare to be raised. The ride is also tracked so the driver is less likely to take you anywhere unrequested (i.e. in India it’s common for drivers to stop at jewelry shops, etc.).
17. Keep a portable power bank and/or phone charger on you at all times.
Especially when you’re new to an area. The last thing you want is to be cut off from the device that serves as both your communication tool and map.
18. Learn to read situations and trust your gut.
Your brain has literally one purpose: to keep you alive. So if you get a sudden inexplicable feeling that something isn’t right, get the hell outta there. Even if you’re wrong – sometimes you probably will be – it’s better to be safe than sorry.
19. Get very comfy saying “No.”
This is one that I struggle with constantly (curse my midwestern roots!). When traveling solo there will likely be several instances where you’re going to feel like an asshole. I was raised to always acknowledge anyone who wants to have a conversation with me and to treat them with respect and kindness, but at times this can go too far and quickly escalate from a friendly conversation to harassment or being followed. Traveling alone forces you to quickly learn how to politely (or sometimes not-so-politely) set and express your boundaries.
20. Master the art of the fake phone call.
If you can tell someone is going to approach you who you don’t want to engage with or if you feel like someone is following you, pretending to be on the phone can be a huge help. Try to make it sound like you’re meeting someone nearby, because people are much less likely to mess with you if they believe that you’re about to join a larger group of people.
21. DON’T DRINK TOO MUCH.
This is probably THE biggest danger in my opinion. At home you have friends and family to look out for you and you know your surroundings well, but as a solo female traveler, you’re all you’ve really got, so you absolutely have to look out for yourself.
When The Worst Happens…
22. Make sure you have travel insurance.
Yes, it’s expensive. Nobody wants to spend money on something that has no tangible immediate value, buuuuut when the time comes that you finally do need it you’ll be so thankful. Just the peace of mind that it grants, allows you to have fun, worry-free. A single incident could be the difference between having to pack up and go home and continuing on your journey. I use World Nomads because it not only protects you in health emergencies, but also covers things like stolen luggage or trip cancellation.
23. If someone mugs you… just hand over the goods.
Don’t fight back. Things can be replaced. Your life cannot. If you’ve split your cash, brought backups of important documents, and have purchased travel insurance, you shouldn’t have too much to worry about because you’ll be able to replace your stolen items.
24. Make sure someone knows where you are at all times.
Use an app like Life 360 that allows people (that you give permission) to see your location so that someone always knows where you are. Also, if you’re going on a date or hanging out with someone new, let a friend know in advance so that SOMEONE is aware of who you’re with.
So there you have it!
I hope that these tips have helped you feel more confident in your ability to travel solo safely.
There’s a great big world out there, and there’s something so empowering about setting out on your own to discover it! Solo travel opens you up to a whole world of opportunities and friendships that you may not have come across had you arrived at your destination with your tribe in tow. Don’t let a little fear of the unknown keep you from the biggest adventures of your life!
Now I Want To Hear From You!
If you have traveled solo previously, what are your tips for a safe journey? Let me know in the comments below.
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