I’ve always been a bit of an independent spirit. My poor mother–bless her heart–had to put up with it ever since I was old enough to climb and could say “I can do it by myself.”
Add to that my study abroad experience that pushed me out of my comfy Spanish 202 class into the middle of San José, Costa Rica–and forced me to speak Spanish to real people–and I don’t usually hesitate to take a solo trip. Don’t get me wrong–I enjoy sharing travel experiences with my husband or with a group of awesome, like-minded people, but I also love the freedom that comes with traveling solo.
Even so, as a woman, I totally get the concerns and hesitations that many ladies have about venturing out alone.
[bctt tweet=”Have you ever traveled solo? What holds you back? #ttot #solotravel” username=”roamtheamericas”]
Traveling solo has been awesome, but it hasn’t always gone smoothly. Despite my effort to stay aware and keep an eye out for anyone suspicious, it has sometimes been the kindness of strangers that’s kept me safe. While I was traveling in Guatemala a few years ago, a man started following me into the airport bathroom, but he was stopped by the woman who had just finished cleaning it. He left quickly as she yelled at him, and then she sweetly scolded me in Spanish, telling me to please be careful. It was a nerve-wracking moment at the beginning of my trip that reminded me to stay cognizant of my surroundings.
But please don’t stop reading here–I’m not telling you this to scare you away from traveling solo. Honestly, if you spend enough time going down the Internet black hole, you’ll be able to find plenty of horror stories.
I’m not all about the fear mindset, but the truth is that there are dangers, and it’s important to be honest about them. Going in blindly based on a few “I backpacked through ______ and felt totally safe” responses from other female travelers isn’t the best idea. But neither is letting the horror stories stop you from traveling solo.
Information and facts can give you the confidence to prepare and the wisdom to make a decision that’s right for you.
So these are a few safety tips I keep in mind when I travel. Many of them aren’t just for us ladies, but they’re important to keep in mind for both big picture preparation as well as practical stuff while on the road.
11 safety tips for solo travel:
- Use common sense precautions.
Stay aware of your surroundings and remain alert, just like you would when traveling in any big city. Don’t walk alone at night, and keep small stashes of cash in various places. Don’t drink too much alcohol (or maybe none at all). If someone robs you and is not trying to physically apprehend you, give them your money–the main goal is to get out of the situation safely. Do try to observe details about their physical features to give to police.
- Don’t flash valuables around.
I know, it’s pretty obvious. But we’re all so attached to our cell phones that we might not realize that pulling out a nice smartphone to get directions could make you a big target in some places. I don’t have a flashy engagement ring, but I choose not to wear it or other jewelry when I’m traveling in Latin America. I only keep my simple wedding band on. As a photographer, I do carry my camera equipment with me in a camera backpack. I use one that zips and buckles in a way to keep it protected from easy access, and I’m cautious about where I take it out to shoot.
- Maintain confidence.
Appearing paranoid won’t help you blend in, and it could make you look vulnerable or like you have something valuable to hide.
- Consider your physical appearance.
Be conscious of whether your physical appearance makes you stand out. I know that my skin, eyes, and accent immediately make me stand out in Latin America and may make me more of a target, while my Puerto Rican husband blends right in. The fact that I stand out doesn’t stop me from traveling, but it’s an extra safety concern. Whether or not your physical appearance allows you to blend in, also consider how you’re dressed and your mannerisms because these are within your control. I try to dress conservatively and within the cultural norms when I’m traveling. (Read more cross-cultural travel tips that will help you engage with and respect local culture.)
- Learn some of the language before you travel.
Speaking the local language not only makes traveling more enriching, but it also plays an important part in staying safe. Especially if you’re not traveling to a heavily touristed area, it’s important to know some basics in the local language. For me, speaking Spanish is a major factor in my feeling safe and at ease when I travel in Latin America. I can communicate if something is wrong or I’m looking for directions or just want to talk to someone about the area. (Read more about travel and learning a language.)
- Know what kind of issues are prevalent in the area you’re traveling to.
We all know from watching the news for 5 minutes that crazy things can happen anywhere, even in our own hometowns. But getting the facts about commonplace crimes is helpful in staying informed and prepared to travel. I’ve often heard people respond that they “felt totally safe” while traveling in a certain location as an answer to someone’s hesitations about traveling solo. And while I think your level of comfort is an important element, it’s not always indicative of what is actually happening in the country and what you should be aware of.
For example, even though Costa Rica is relatively safe and doesn’t have a high violent crime rate, I know I need to be extra vigilant about pickpockets and petty theft, as those are pretty big problems there. On the other hand, Guatemala has a high violent crime rate, so I try to stay informed about some of the major issues–red zones in the capital, certain public “chicken bus” routes that are prone to hold ups and extortion, and the regions of the country that see the most drug trafficking.
Again, this isn’t about highlighting the dangers and making the world sound terrifying. For me, being informed about current events helps me know what to be aware of, gives me confidence, and puts my mind at ease.
BONUS TIP: Though I stay basically informed about these issues, asking locals is the best way to find out if a specific area is safe. Ask locals, and then ask some more.
[bctt tweet=”Being informed gives you the confidence to prepare for #solotravel.” username=”roamtheamericas”]
- Go somewhere that’s familiar.
If it’s your first solo trip, consider going somewhere you’ve been before. Or, think about traveling to a new place within your home country or region. This will help you feel some familiarity with where you’re going and can help you gain confidence to travel solo.
- Think about what self-defense precautions you want to take.
Consider wearing a whistle around your neck, carrying pepper spray (though this can be dangerous for you as well, so make an informed decision), or taking self-defense classes.
- Register your trip with your government if you’re traveling abroad.
This allows you to receive travel warnings, which can be extreme and I don’t always pay attention to. What I like about it is that if there is a national emergency or disaster while you are in the foreign country, your embassy will know that you are one of the citizens traveling there. There is also helpful information on the website about what to do in an emergency.
U.S. Citizens: Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
Canadian Citizens: Registration of Canadians Abroad
Australian Citizens: Smart Traveller
- Create an emergency info card.
Include the phone number and address of where you’re staying in country and any other local contacts you have, the phone number and address of your embassy or consulate, name and phone number of your emergency contact at home, travel medical insurance information, and name and phone number of your banks (notify your bank before traveling of the countries you’ll be visiting, and ask them for the collect number to call if your card is blocked). Make at least 2 copies of this, as well as 2 copies of your passport–keep 1 in your wallet and 1 in your suitcase.
- Let someone from home know your plans.
Give them your flight information, a copy of your passport, where you’re staying and the phone number, and any other relevant information. Check in with them periodically.
Solo travel might look different for all of us. You may not be ready to travel to a developing nation where you don’t know the language, but you might love taking a summer road trip on your own. Although women have the added challenge of being seen as more vulnerable and we have many concerns that men will never think about, I still love and highly recommend solo travel. Being informed, meeting locals, and taking normal precautions will help things go more smoothly.
This list certainly isn’t exhaustive, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What other tips would you add? Do you do any of these things when you travel? Why do you love solo travel?
You might also like:
- 11 Travel Photography Tips: How to Get Over Your Fear
- 3 Reasons Everyone Should Learn History Before Traveling
- Self Defense for Women from Women on the Road
- 8 Safety Tips for Female Travelers from Brooke Schoenman on Nomadic Matt’s blog (the comments section has lots of great additional tips!)
- How to Make a Traveller’s Emergency Contact Card from Packing Light Travel