Travel safety is a top concern that repeatedly pops up when people tell me they want to go travel but are hesitant to do so. “You traveled all by yourself? Weren’t you scared? Isn’t it dangerous??”
It’s great traveling the world. For the most part. There are moments of awe, wonder, bliss, and freedom when you travel alone. Then there are moments of ‘WTF just happened?’ Luckily, I made mistakes, so you don’t have to! Without further ado, here are my top 15 tips for the solo female (or really, any type of) traveler.
1) Be Assertive & Confident
Fake it if you have to. You know how dogs can sense fear? Same thing goes here. There will be times when people will swarm you after getting off a plane or bus to take their taxi, their “amazing” tour package, scuba diving experience, and more. Instead of looking bewildered, it helps to firmly say “No.” and move along. To be honest, after this happens repeatedly, you’ll grow accustomed to rejecting people and just walk away.
2) Know Where You’re Going
Again, fake it if you have to. When you look lost, it can attract people. When you get off a plane, people may bombard you and all the other passengers with cheap taxis or rides to get into the city which can be overwhelming. It helps to sit down at a simple cafe in the airport and breathe for just 15 minutes or grab a snack. Not only are you able to prevent yourself from being possibly ripped off in a taxi scam, but those people will most likely disappear in that time. Also, the people in the cafe could help you point out tips on how to get to your next place.
Before I get to my destination, I usually have my hostel address written down or I simply take a screenshot of it on my phone. I then use the phone app Maps.Me since I can use if offline without wifi or data (just make sure to download the map beforehand!) It’s great for when you’re lost or are trying to get somewhere. This saved me a lot when I entered a new country, hopped off the train, and had to figure out where my hostel at night was and was able to walk in the right direction. Also, when I took a motorcycle or taxi ride back to my hostel, I could tell immediately if the driver was taking me in the wrong direction.
3) Consider Getting A Good Handbag
Or a fanny pack if that’s your thing. When I was looking for a day bag to use for my world trip, I found this Pacsafe Citysafe Anti–Theft Travel Handbag. It seriously eased my mind from worrying about pickpocketing and theft and is just the right size to fit your belonging when you go exploring around town or in the city. If handbags aren’t your thing, you can check out their smaller day backpacks and other bags here. The straps are strong so no one can cut it and run off with your bag. There’s also a steel mesh lining so if anyone were to slash or cut the bag, your things won’t fall out. Finally, there’s also a hook that attaches to your zipper when it’s closed so a person can’t just unzip your bag, grab your items, and run off with it.
If you really want to go cheap, you can carry a plastic shopping bag (ie. a 7-11 bag). It looks cheap but it works; you don’t look like you’re carrying anything expense. Also, when I eat at a restaurant, sleep on a bus/plane/train, I keep my passport, important docs, a majority of my money in that day bag and wrap the straps around my leg when I take a nap or go to sleep.
At the end of the day, it completely drains your energy if you travel in fear. Most of the time, as long as you have your hand over your bag protecting it, pickpocketers will most likely skip you. They go for the easy opened bags that are wide open and unwatched by their owners.
4) Try To Arrive During The Daytime
Sometimes we don’t get lucky with the flight options, but if you do have a choice, it makes life easier if you land at your destination during the day time. When you come in at night and taxis are the only available mode of transportation, they tend to raise prices especially when you’re tired and they know you’re not in a position to bargain.
5) Dress Modest (aka Don’t Look Flashy Rich)
Avoid wearing flashy jewelry and carrying around flashy accessories/purses/shoes with expensive name brands. Look low key.
Take a look around: how do the women dress? That’ll give you an idea of how much to cover up. Going to a temple? Time to cover them shoulders and legs, out of respect. Does covering up guarantee that no one will bother you? Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way so no. However, it’ll help you get less unwanted attention. I love packing a lightweight thin scarf because you can use I as part of your outfit and it’s lightweight enough to keep you cool in the summer weather. I don’t do well in extreme humid heat, so if I need to cover my legs, I’ll wear a maxi skirt or harem or “elephant” pants (yes, they look funny but I can see why many people wear them – they’re so breezy and comfortable and keep you cool)! Yes, at home it’s ok to wear what you want, but don’t forget – you’re not at home. Even if there’s no danger, it’s just respectful to the culture to cover up, depending on where you visit.
6) Enjoy Drinking (but to the point where you can remember and function)
Drunk = Hazy decisions & memories + an unknown environment with strangers = you’re open to problems. It’s much easier to mug or assault you.
Need to slow down on the drinking? Have some juice or soda. You may get the pressure to drink in many places (ie. hostels, bars, night out). If you prefer not to drink (and you’re tired of explaining why you aren’t drinking), you can always ask for a glass of soda water with a wedge of lime or cranberry juice in a glass. People won’t be able to guess that it’s a mocktail! Also, watch your drink. I know, I know, this sounds like the same advice you hear in college but people tend to put their guard down when they’re on vacation/holiday mode.
Same goes for drugs. Sometimes there are scams where the police will sell them to tourists. Once you’re caught and put in jail, it will take a huge sum of money to bail you out. This is not to scare you, but just for you to be aware that it does happen. (I met a lady who was freaking out on how to bail her boyfriend out of jail in Thailand because he was caught in this very scam).
7) Don’t Forget: You Can Lie!
People don’t know where you’re from or where you’re staying. They don’t know if you’re single or taken. If someone asks where you are going, you can always say that you are meeting up with your boyfriend/husband. Use the phrase “My boyfriend/husband…” if someone approaches you and your gut instinct tells you something’s off. If they ask why you are traveling, you can say “My boyfriend and I are visiting” or “My boyfriend is meeting me.”
If they ask if you want to sign up for their tour, you can always say that you’re flying out tomorrow. – If you look non-Caucasian, you can pretend as if you don’t know a word of English. I’ve had one or two much older men approach me and I just started speaking random Vietnamese phrases and eventually they gave up trying to talk to me.
8) Use Your Common Sense & Trust Your Instincts
Use the common sense that you’d use back home (you know, the same things your parents tell you) such as avoid being loud and obnoxious so you don’t draw attention to yourself and don’t walk home alone at night especially in poorly lit places. Usually in lively tourist areas I felt safe walking around and exploring, but when it got too quiet my spidey senses would start to kick in. If you grab a taxi, make sure to use a marked taxi and always request that they turn on the meter as well. The meter will always be cheaper than what you can bargain with the driver.
It sticky situations, your gut knows when something is off. If you feel uncomfortable or doubtful, it’s always better to err on the safe side.
9) Book Your Accommodation/Hostel Ahead Of Time
One thing I always try to have down is a place to sleep and rest for the night. I usually book 3-4 days in advance.
I once decided to “wing it” in Europe because I met some travelers who insisted on last minute deals for flights and hostels. Well, I arrived in Budapest at night (oy, see #4) and walked up to the hostel I was hoping to stay at and 1) it looked closed and I couldn’t get in! 2) I had ask around to find another one and thank GOODNESS I eventually found one.
Looking back, I’m sure I could’ve walked to any hotel nearby, break my budget, and paid a chunk of money for it. But in the moment of panic, I wasn’t thinking clearly.
Lesson learned: Winging it doesn’t work for me. People may make fun of me for planning ahead but this experience (and a couple of other similar ones) showed me that doing things last minute doesn’t work for me. Sometimes luck just isn’t on my side. As a female, it’s better to be safe and have a place to sleep for the night.
10) Start Small
To start off without overwhelming yourself, you can try traveling to tourist friendly and English-speaking countries such as – Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Canada, and USA. You can also try traveling within your country. That way you can slowly start to get your bearings down, get into the groove, see what things are like. When it comes to comfort level, you can take baby steps. No one says you have to jump right away into a difficult/challenging country like Morocco and India.
11) Research A Bit
You can research online which countries/cities are safer for tourists or what to see and do. But beware, sometimes it can lead you to a series of negative articles that list the worst-case scenarios, kind of like when you search WebMD and you think you have cancer based on your symptoms. I personally don’t research much. Usually I will look online or ask other travelers on forums the logistics on how to get to my destination. When it comes to activities and excursions, I usually get to my hostel and ask the receptionist everything and pick their brain on where to go, scams to look out for, what the local emergency # is, safe places to go, areas to avoid, things to see and do. They are some of the most knowledgeable people as they are asked the same questions everyday by the many travelers that come and go and can map things out for you!
12) Keep Important Things On You & Photocopy/Important Docs
Whenever I’m traveling to another country with my luggage, I carry my most important possessions on my day bag which include my passport, phone, camera, credit cards, and (most of) my money. I usually keep $30-$40 USD cash in a hidden part of my luggage (ie. inside a rolled-up sock) in case of emergency. Once I get to my hostel/accommodation, I lock up the important stuff in a locker. Then when I go out and about, I carry only my driver’s license as my form of ID, a photocopy of my passport, and just enough cash for the day.
In case your stuff does get stolen or pickpocketed, (I hope it doesn’t happen), have a Plan B. Before your trip, it’s a good idea to email yourself and a trusted friend/family member photocopies of your passport, driver’s license, travel insurance information, important phone numbers, and have the country’s emergency phone entered in your phone.
And of course, always watch your stuff and don’t have it laying around in the open. People can be trusting back home to not steal; sadly, the world’s not like that. Which leads us to…
13) Get That Travel Insurance. FOR REAL.
Things happen on the road: Theft, catching a cold, breaking a leg, food poisoning, and the list goes on. I know I know, it’s tough looking at spending that chunk of money on something you might not end up needing. Do not skimp on this because in the rare case that you need it, you’ll regret having to pay that whopping fat medical bill. You will also have to check with your current health insurance provider to see if they cover things internationally. Most don’t.
I personally use World Nomads. I didn’t think I would get sick from a random earache in South Korea but I did, and I’m glad they covered my doctor visit and meds.
14) Pay That Extra Bit For Your Safety
Walking home late at night? Your life is more important that worrying about spending that $10-$15 for a taxi/Uber, and make sure it’s a marked (aka legit) taxi. Go ahead and pay for your hostel/accommodation to pick you up at the airport if you arrive at night in a city known to be sketchy(unsafe?) at night. That hostel or Airbnb that has high ratings on security? Definitely worth paying for it.
Your safety is priceless. You may be on a budget but when your life could be at risk, now’s the time to compromise it. It’s just not worth it. Also, I’ve read on other blogs that some women carry a whistle, but I never had one and didn’t personally feel like I needed it.
15) Let friends and/or family know where you plan to go.
With technology today, this shouldn’t be too hard to do unless you’re in the middle of Timbuktu and have no data/wifi. There are apps like Whatsapp, Viber, Facebook, Email, Twitter, to let them know where you’re planning to go. You can even send them a rough itinerary or your flight information and check in with them now and then. In case anything does happen to you, they’ll have a better general idea of where you are. Just don’t go overboard and post on social media the specific place you’re currently staying at (ie. you don’t want what happened to Kim Kardashian to happen to you).
All these tips may seem daunting and make you fear traveling but I promise, millions of people who travel come back home in one piece!
In the U.S there can be violent crimes such as assault and gun violence but as long as you don’t go into shady areas (which no visitor usually goes to anyways) you’ll be fine. In Europe, I noticed you’re most likely to encounter quieter crime (ie. pickpocketing) so you just need to watch your bags. Also, keep in mind that the top reasons people file a travel insurance claim when their trip goes awry is due to trip cancellation or delays (77%).
Also, in my experience, women tend to naturally look out for each other on the road. There were moments where locals watched out for me as well. The world’s much safer and kinder than you think, despite what the internet and media says. I can’t stress this enough. Not everyone’s out to get you.
At the end of the day, just use common sense, carry some street smarts, and have some self-awareness. Your gut instinct is there to help guide you. I never felt like I was in danger but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious and to pay a little extra for your safety and be prepared, cautious but not paranoid. And you’ll be set!