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 ten 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 we have to say about solo female travel safety:
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.” We should always trust our intuition and stop worrying about what other people think. Be nice when you want to, and choose safety when you don’t.
It’s SO important to go with your instincts. If you feel like something is off, it probably is. At the same time, if your gut tells you it’s all good, it probably is. Trust me, my gut almost never lets me down.
If you’re couchsurfing and the situation feels uncomfortable, just leave! Make sure you have alternate accommodations in mind. Print out or write down the addresses of the closest hostels so you know you have somewhere to go if your arrangements go south.
Be open to positivity and don’t assume everyone is out to get you. 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 hometown after dark, and I see little difference if I’m backpacking across South Africa (yes, even in -OMG- Johannesburg), skipping around Egypt, or traveling in Colombia.
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!
Don’t flaunt your valuables too much. This 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.
When in doubt, just travel without fancy jewelry. Most of the time you don’t need it, and why risk being robbed just for the bling?
It makes you less aware of your surroundings and also usually signifies to a would-be mugger that you probably have a smartphone in your pocket.
If you end up walking alone somewhere, pretend you’re on the phone. Muggers will probably ignore you for fear that you could tip someone off.
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. Learn to walk like a man.
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 you silly before you start traveling, but rather just to be more aware of the place you’re heading to.
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.
Simply put, drugs put you in a vulnerable position. Plus, consuming them contributes to drug trafficking, which is a big no-no anyways. It’s not worth it.
Dressing appropriately can save you a lot of trouble, research appropriate clothing for women wherever you go. Areas that are hot and humid are normally more comfortable in shorts and sleeveless tops, but they may not be suitable for certain traditions, cultures, and locations.
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. Whenever possible, put your bag in the back seat with you, so if you ever need to jump out quickly, you can!
A walking tour is one of the best ways to warm up to a new destination. It gives you the lay of the city, and helps you find your way around without getting lost the first time. Tour guides will usually point out any areas you might want to steer clear of (as well as cool local spots that are not available on travel guidebooks), which will help you feel more confident about finding your own way around the city after being led by an expert.
Combine fun and safety with this tip. 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!
Do you already have connections in the country? Ask around on Facebook or ask locals. When I was traveling alone, I asked a local friend whether he knew anyone in the town with 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 the way locals do. I suggest 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 citizens at the destination city.
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.
A lot of travelers like to download dating apps like Tinder and Bumble to meet people while they’re traveling. This can actually be a fun way to meet locals, but be super careful. Always let someone know where you’re going and make it clear to your date what your intentions are.
At least being able to say “thank you” or “hello” can help build trust with people and show them you’ve made an effort to learn about your destination. I think this makes people more likely to help you if you need it.
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 being followed, pop into the nearest restaurant or hotel. These usually have someone who speaks English and they’re more than happy to help.
Another tip that came up several times is knowing when to splurge and when to save. Don’t be a cheapskate is my new motto after spending a night in a seedy place alone.
This counts for taxis, too. Personally, I always use Uber 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. 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.
Some places don’t have Uber but might have alternatives like DiDi and Grab, which work exactly like Uber but are often cheaper. They track your trip the same way, so they are just as safe.
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 malicious plans!
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.
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.
Research what official taxis look like in your destination and only take those. In many places, there are fake taxis that can actually be part of human trafficking schemes and other crimes.
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.
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 using a miniature hairspray as a sneaky pepper spray replacement. All of those hurt when they get into someone’s eyes.
Most crimes are crimes of opportunity, so it’s really all about putting yourself in the ‘too hard’ basket. Consider carrying a personal safety alarm (the Vigilant one) in your pocket that gives off a hell of a sound if you were to pull it.
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.
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!
If you’re camping or staying somewhere with rustic accommodations (aka, with an outdoor bathroom), keep yourself safe from critters or creepers by bringing a headlamp. That way, you’ll have plenty of light, and it’s hands-free.
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.
This is similar to the slash-proof bag, but can be locked with a padlock. Pacsafe has these and they’re super convenient because you can leave your valuables in your accommodations or bring them with you safely.
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.
You can share your live location for up to a day at a time with Whatsapp. That way, someone will know exactly where you are if you’re hiking or walking anywhere unfamiliar.
Let others know of your travel plans. I email people a copy of my itinerary and let them know if I change it.
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. 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 everyday 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.
I hope these safety tips 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! What are your top 3 safety tips when traveling alone?