Written By Katherine Ganes Austria - March 22 2016
One of the most common emails I get from solo female travel hopefuls is in regards to safety. Maybe you’re worried that being alone will make you a target, your friends and family are telling you that you’re being irresponsible by going out into this big and scary world on your own, or your own inner-voice is holding you back with visions of worst-case scenarios.
Well screw all of that!
I’ve traveled for over three years now, almost exclusively by myself, and even in countries that are considered ‘dangerous’, with almost no issues whatsoever. What’s my secret? I believe that traveling alone has actually helped me stay safe. Why? My intuition is sharper, I am more aware of my surroundings because there’s nobody distracting me, and when locals see me, a girl on her own, they are more likely to want to help me than harm me.
The truth is, you already have the skills you need to stay safe when you travel. They’re the same skills you use at home to stay safe. But you don’t have to take my word alone for it. I asked 30 other solo female travelers to give me their best safety tips for traveling alone, and this is what they said:
Trust Your Gut
1. “Politeness is never more important than safety. While the world would be a better place if everyone was thoughtful and kind, sometimes people – especially women – let courtesy override our gut instincts because we don’t want to be rude or be told we’re “overreacting.” But we should always trust our intuition, stop worrying about what other people think, be nice when it’s warranted, and choose safety when it’s not.” – Katie, Domestiphobia
2. “It’s SO important to trust your instincts. If they tell you something is off, it probably is. And at the same time, if they tell you it’s all good, it probably is. It’s never let me down, ever.” – Milou, Explorista
3. If you’re couchsurfing and the situation feels uncomfortable, just leave! Aleah fromSolitary Wanderer adds, “make sure you have alternate accommodation in mind. Print out or write down the addresses of nearest hostels so you know you have somewhere to go if your arrangements go south.”
4. Be open to positivity and don’t assume everyone is out to get you. As Dyanne fromTravelinLass says, “I honestly rarely even think about ‘safety’ per se as I find most all folks friendly and helpful and not out to somehow harm me. Such harm can come via walking down the street of my home town after dark, and I see little difference if I’m backpacking across South Africa (yes, even in -OMG- Johannesburg), or skipping around Egypt.”
Stay Aware and Be Less of a Target
5. “One of my favorites: Conceal cash by rolling it up tightly and sticking it in an empty tampon applicator (unused!!). Slide it back into the wrapper and you’re set. Not many pickpockets will try to steal a tampon from your pocket!” – Sonja, Breadcrumbs Guide
6. Sofie from Wonderful Wanderings adds, “Don’t flaunt your valuables too much” which should seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people I see with their phones out on city streets or wearing jewelry when they travel! Just keep it hidden or at home. You don’t need to wear expensive rings and earrings when you travel.
7. “I wouldn’t listen to music with earbuds in while walking around in a city. It makes you less aware of your surroundings and also usually signifies to a would-be mugger that you probably have a smart phone in your pocket.” – Eva, Eva Explores
8. I’m a big advocate of walking with your back straight and your head held high, and looking people right in the eye when they address you. As Abi from Inside the Travel Lab jokes, “Learn to walk like a man.”
9. “Make sure you know of popular scams and problem areas within the city/region where you’re planning to travel. This isn’t to scare yourself silly before you start traveling, but rather just to be more aware of the place you’re heading to.” – Kasha, Lines of Escape
10. “Mind the booze. It is ok to have a couple of drinks but getting drunk in a foreign and unknown place could put you in danger and get you lost.” – Inma, A World to Travel
11. “Dressing appropriately can save you a lot of trouble, research about appropriate clothing for women wherever you go. Areas that are hot and humid are normally more comfortable in shorts and sleeveless tops, but it may not be suitable for certain traditions, cultures, and locations.” – Lyndsay Cabildo
12. When taking a taxi, keep your stuff with you in the back seat so that you retain control over when you can get out. It can be useful if the cab is taking a longer route, tries to overcharge you, or if things feel uncomfortable. As Stacey from One Travels Far adds, “I now put my bag in the back seat with me, and not the trunk so that if I need to jump out quickly I can.”
Talk to Locals
13. “I look for walking tours whenever I’ve arrived in a new destination while traveling solo. Walking tours give me the lay of the city, and help me find my way around without getting lost the first time. (Because otherwise, I ALWAYS manage to get lost.) Tour guides will usually point out any areas you might want to steer clear of, and I feel more confident about finding my own way around the city after being led by an expert.” – Britany, Travel Write Away
14. Combine fun and safety with this tip from Kristin of Souvenir Finder: “I love taking a ballet class at a local dance school to meet locals (you could do the same with a yoga or other class).” Locals can give you a great idea of where to go and what to avoid, plus, if they show you around that’s even better!
15. Do you already have connections in the country? Ask around on Facebook or ask locals. As Eva from Trevallog says, “When I was traveling in New Delhi alone, I asked a Tibetan friend whether he knew anyone in the town who I could travel together with. It turns out that he has a nephew who was enjoying school holiday and could accompany me to explore New Delhi the way locals do. I suggest to solo female travelers who are planning to travel to cities perceived as dangerous, to look around at their friends to see if they have any connections to local citizen at the destination city.”
16. “From my experience, women look after women, which is heartwarming. I travel solo, and local women are often really helpful. When I meet these women, I’m no longer alone.” – Teresa, Independent Travel Help
17. “Avoid traveling by train/bus/taxi by night if possible. Arrange to arrive at a new location in the light of day. Not only will you feel more at ease and be able to be more aware of your surroundings but there will also be more people around, giving you a more secure feeling.” – Cailin, Travel Yourself
18. Another tip that came up several times is knowing when to splurge and when the save. After a bad experience in Hong Kong, Shing from The Culture Map says, “Don’t be a cheapskate is my new motto after spending a night in [a seedy place] alone.”
19. This counts for taxis, too. Personally, I always use Uber (If you want to try it, you can get your first ride free here) when I’m in South Africa or a country where taxis are often controlled by gangsters. The app tracks the driver and you, keeping both of your information in the system. Even better, the payment is done through the app via credit card so no money is exchanged. As Becky from The Girl and Globe adds, “Travel budgets are a good thing, but be willing to ‘splurge’ when it relates to your safety. Pay for taxis at night instead of walking alone.”
20. Another good taxi tip if you don’t have a SIM card to use Uber is to “take the driver who is least interested or maybe even sleeping. Chances are lower that he/she will have malacious plans!” – Manouk, Bunch of Backpackers
21. “If I’m traveling solo after dark, I’ll often walk relatively close to a couple or a family. Usually, if I shoot them a smile, they’ll see that I’m not stalking them, but instead looking to walk with people. You’re less of a target if you’re by other people. If you ever do feel like you’re bringing followed, pop into the nearest restaurant or hotel. These usually have someone who speaks English and they’re more than happy to help.” – Stephanie, Travel Break
22. “I always grab the business card or ask front desk/concierge to write down the name, address, and phone number of my accommodation. That way if I get lost or am in a cab and can’t communicate with a driver, I can hand it to them and I can get back home.” – Arnette,RTW Girl
Bring These With You
23. “Carry decoy money in a dummy wallet. Keeping most of your cash in your bra/money belt/wherever is great, but if someone wants cash from you and you have nothing to hand them, they could get angry or even violent. I always keep a few small bills in my wallet just in case, and the bigger bills elsewhere.” – Rease, Indecisive Traveler
24. In many countries, such as most of Europe, carrying mace or pepper spray is considered a concealed weapon. To get around this, I’d suggest using mosquito spray instead, or, as Lucy from WanderLuce suggests, “Use a miniature hairspray as a sneaky pepper spray replacement.” All of those hurt when they get into someone’s eyes.
25. “Most crimes are crimes of opportunity so its really all about putting yourself in the ‘too hard’ basket. Hence, I carry a personal safety alarm (the vigilante one) in my coat pocket that gives off a hell of a sound if I were to pull it.” – Britt, Roam to Wonder
26. “Invest in an alarm door stop (only like $15) that both slows someone in opening your door and also sounds an alarm when someone is trying to open it.” – Stephanie, Quarter Life Epiphany
27. “I put a flashlight in my shoe. If there’s ever an emergency at night I worry I’d forget a flashlight- but I’d always put my shoes on!” – Leyla, Women on the Road
28. Here’s MY biggest tip: Bring slash proof, RFID-blocking, and locking baggage with you. I religiously use my PacSafe cross-body bag and wire mesh bag protector and to date, knock on wood, have never had anything notable stolen. No method is completely fail-proof, but by using items like these, I make myself the most difficult and annoying person in the guest house or on the street to rob.
29. “While you don’t have to check in with family or friends every day, it can be a good idea to regularly update some form of social media while on the road. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or even Foursquare/Swarm, these digital breadcrumbs can give peace of mind to others that you’re safe, wherever you are” – Edna, Expat Edna
30. “Let others know of your travel plans. I email people a copy of my itinerary and let them know if I change it.” – Valen, Travel Scamming
Most Importantly, Enjoy It
31. “Sometimes you need to be alone. To get some peace, to get space to think and to be at peace with the world and oneself. And sometimes this is only possible when there are no other people around, when you have time to talk to yourself, listen to yourself and leave go of all the hectic and stress of every day life. Enjoy this time. Take your time and do whatever YOU want. Go for a walk (in the daytime) just by yourself, sit in a café, go in a museum or do something adventurous. It can be anything. And try also not to speak to anyone. Just yourself. You will see that you actually enjoy your own company way more than you would have expected.” – Yvonne, Just Travelous
I hope these safety tips from these solo female travel experts help you stay safe and confident, and if you ever need a little encouragement, just remember how many women are out there traveling alone, and having a fabulous time doing it!