In the world today, one of the most fascinating and fulfilling things we can do is to travel. Getting out of our comfort zones to see the world and learn about other cultures is a truly life-changing experience that everyone should enjoy at least once in their lifetime.
As travel becomes easier and more common, so also does the trend of solo travel. More and more we hear about people going off to explore and adventure on their own. And it’s not just the men. It has become more and more common for women to travel solo. While a majority of these solo travelers return home safely and have fascinating experiences while traveling alone, there is still a moderate incidence of solo travelers ending up in situations they aren’t prepared for.
To help mitigate your chance of becoming a statistic, here is a list of things to do before and during your trip to improve your personal safety.
- Research the area around hotels/hostels you are thinking about staying in. See if you can find a crime report site and check the hotel’s reviews to see if there is a tendency for people to get mugged or have items stolen from their rooms.
- Research the cities you plan to visit. Find out which areas should be avoided at night and which areas have higher incidences of muggings.
- Plan travel routes ahead of time. Find out the best way to get from the airport to your hotel so you do not have to scramble or feel lost when you arrive. Learn which bus/train stops will get you where you want to go and where the bus/train stops near your hotel are located.
- Safety first. If you can find one in your area, sign up for a women’s self-defense class. This can be useful at any point of your life, not just while traveling.
- Learn a few simple phrases. It’s always polite to say Thank You in the local language, but it makes it much easier to get around and negotiate prices if you can understand a bit of the local language.
- Research customs, culture, laws and body language. Every country has their own set of rules regarding what is polite and appropriate. Find out which areas do not allow men and women to touch, what the proper mode of greeting someone is and what gestures are considered offensive. Read up on the laws of the country to avoid accidentally getting yourself into legal trouble. Also find out which countries you will be expected to tip in and where it is insulting.
- Be prepared. After selecting a hotel, look up where the closest police station, hospital and embassy are located. Print a map of this information along with the address and phone numbers to keep with you. Keep an extra copy or two in your suitcase along with emailing it to yourself and a friend/family member.
- Photocopy each debit/credit card you are taking with you. Bring a copy with you to keep in your hotel room and leave a copy with a friend back home. If you feel comfortable doing so, email a copy to yourself. If you wallet gets stolen and/or you lose your printed copy, you will still have the emailed copy.
- Photocopy your entire passport before leaving on your trip. Leave a copy with a friend/family member and bring a copy of your info page with you. When you arrive at each destination, photocopy or take a picture of your entrance stamps. Carry these copies with you so you can leave your passport in the hotel safe. Or, leave the copy in the hotel room if you choose to carry your passport with you.
- Make a detailed itinerary. Include flight details (flight number, departure/arrival times and layover stops), hotel information (address, phone number, confirmation number), check in/out dates, list of places you are going to visit, separate list of places you might visit, which days you plan on going where along with the modes of transportation you plan on taking to each place. This will be helpful in finding you should something happen to you. If you decide to do something that you didn’t include on your itinerary, email your friend/family member to let them know. If you cannot do that, leave a note in your hotel room (not in plain sight) stating where you are.
- Keep in touch. Set certain days and times where you will send an email to someone or call home. Have a secret phrase picked out ahead of time to include in case you are in trouble and need help. If you find you will have to skip a planned check-in, let that person know as soon as possible so they will know you are okay.
- Learn how the locals dress and plan your wardrobe. One of the fastest ways to mark yourself as a target for muggers, pickpockets or other trouble-makers is to stand out, especially when you are traveling alone. Many Asian, South American, African and Middle Eastern countries dress very subdued and the women are much more covered up than in Western nations. You do not have to dress exactly like the locals, but try not to wear things that will immediately set you apart as someone who is foreign.
- Leave the bling behind. Don’t even pack the fancy necklaces, bracelets, earrings or rings. Wearing such things while traveling will mark you as someone with money and will make it more likely that you will be targeted by muggers or pickpockets.
- Bring the ring…….but not the real one. If you have a pricy wedding ring, you may want to leave it behind and instead wear a simple band in its place. You will be less likely to be mugged wearing a simple ring, but if you do get mugged, you won’t lose your valuable ring. If you aren’t married, you should still consider bringing a ‘wedding ring’ with you to ward off unwanted attention. If you do find someone you’d like to spend more time with, you can explain the ring away, but it’s much harder to convince someone to leave you alone because of your ‘husband’ if you don’t have any evidence that you have one.
- Buy a lock for each of your bags. Even if you aren’t allowed to lock your bag at the airport, you will still want a lock to lock your bags while they are alone in your hotel room or while you are taking public transportation. You should also have a small carabineer hook or some type of clasp to hook your purse zipper to the strap so it is harder for someone to slip anything into or out of your purse.
- Utilize the in-room safe if there is one. Keep all important documents (copy of credit/debit cards, emergency contact info, passport or copy of passport, etc), electronics and any extra money locked up.
- Keep your money safe. If you are going to wear a jacket, wear one with an inside zipper pocket or add one yourself. You can also keep money in buttoned pockets on your pants/shorts. If you do not have buttoned/zippered pockets, keep your money in a pouch around your neck that is kept inside your shirt.
- Use common sense. Avoid construction zones, dark streets at night and deserted streets during the day. Don’t get on empty buses or buses that only have men on them. Stay away from the beach at night. When riding on trains, avoid empty train cars, especially at night. If you feel uncomfortable, sit next to or near another woman or as close to the bus driver/train conductor as you can.
- Be aware of your purse. If you carry a purse, be sure it is one with an outer zipper as well as an inner zipper or at least a side pocket when you can zip up your passport (or copies) and money. If you buy a super cute purse that doesn’t close all the way, wait to use it until you get home.
- Your life is more important than your purse. If you do get mugged, let the bag go. Toss your purse to the side and run the opposite direction. Reaching inside to give them your money could make them think you are reaching for mace or a weapon and they may hurt you. And don’t chase after them. My boyfriend’s boss tried to chase down a man who mugged a female coworker in Malaysia. It didn’t turn out well. He got hit in the head with a rock and had to go to the hospital.
- Be cautious with taxis. Never accept rides from people who claim to be off-duty taxi drivers looking to make a few extra dollars. Have your hotel call a taxi for you when you leave your hotel if you plan on using a taxi. Make sure to have your taxi driver use the meter so you aren’t being ripped off. When returning to your hotel, you can go inside another hotel to ask them to call a taxi. It is better to do that than to flag down a taxi when you are alone at night. If it is appropriate to tip in that country, give the clerk a small tip for assisting you.
- Carry small bills in the local currency. Even if the country uses USD, be sure to keep a stash of small bills to pay taxi drivers and leave tips. You are less likely to get the correct change (or any at all) if you pay taxi drivers in USD. Some taxi drivers and shops will only accept local currency, so you’ll need to be prepared for that. Plus, if you are carrying small bills in local currency, it will make you less of a target for pickpockets and muggers because they won’t see your USD, which is quite a bit more valuable than local currency in some countries.
- Don’t be a tourist. Wearing a fanny pack, openly carrying a map and/or guide book and looking at those frequently will automatically mark you as a tourist and open you up to muggers and scammers. Study the map before you leave your hotel room to plan your route. If you get turned around, find a cafe or other business where you can sit inside and look over your map privately.
- Withhold information. When talking with people you meet around town, do not freely give out which hotel you are staying in, when you plan to return to your hotel or any of your travel plans. Even if you feel comfortable with a new person, think twice before telling them you are traveling alone.
- Hotel safety. Be sure all doors and windows are locked whenever you are in the room. Even if you are just grabbing something off the desk, shut the door all the way so nobody can push in after you. If someone knocks on your door and asks you to open the door when you aren’t expecting anyone, call the front desk to verify they sent someone up.
- Use the ATM in daylight. Don’t go to the ATM at night, especially when you are alone, unless you absolutely HAVE to. Be sure to have something to quickly put your money into as soon as it comes out of the machine. Do not openly count it or let others see how much money you have withdrawn.
- Vehicle safety. Keep all doors and windows locked when you are inside the vehicle. Always double-check to be sure the vehicle is locked before you leave and check the back seat before getting in the car. When driving, keep your purse across your body or on the floor of the passenger seat. Never keep it on the seat where people cna smash the window and grab it easily.
- Separate big bills from small bills. Keep your big bills in the bottom of your shoe, in a pack around your waist or anywhere else where it is on you, but not with your small bills. Consider leaving some of the big bills in your in-room safe. When you pull out money to pay for things or give tips, people will see the small bills and you will be less of a target since they will think you don’t have much money. This is also helpful when negotiating trinket prices because you can pull out your money and show you only have a little bit instead of having to keep your money out of sight so they won’t see you can actually afford more.
- Get info before joining other groups. If you meet a group of people (or another solo traveler) and decide to go on an excursion together, email as much info as you can about them and the activity to your friend/family member back home so that in the event of something unfortunate happening, people will know where you went and who you were with.
- Food and drink safety. Whenever you eat or drink, do not leave your food unattended and do not ask strangers to keep an eye on it for you. All it takes is a second for someone to slip something into your drink or to tamper with your food. If you have to leave your drink unattended, order a new one when you get back and do not drink from the old one. If you start to feel off and worry someone may have tampered with your food or drink, ask a waiter to call you a cab and do not let anyone else get in the cab with you.
- Be aware and trust yourself. Be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. If at any time you are in a situation where you feel uncomfortable or alarmed for any reason, do what you can to extricate yourself from that situation as soon as possible. If you are walking down the street and you feel like you are being followed or that someone is paying too much attention to you, duck into a hotel or business and ask them to call you a cab so you can go somewhere else. If there is nowhere you can duck into, head towards a crowd and look for a police officer.
Traveling is a really great experience where you can learn a lot about yourself and about other cultures. Traveling alone can be just as enjoyable as traveling with friends if you are prepared and exercise caution. You don’t have to be on high alert 24/7, just be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts.
If you have any questions, comments or tips to add, feel free to do so in the comments!