After many solo trips to various types of countries (sometimes in the middle of civil unrest) it still always surprises me when friends and family freak out for my safety. I’m always asked by other female readers how I stay safe and if I have any tips for them. So, here are the things that I may be doing different than you when traveling.
Use Common Sense
Let us all just be honest, common sense is unfortunately not all that common, but if you are traveling solo, I have a feeling you are a smart cookie. Use your head. Don’t do things that aren’t smart. Don’t wear flashy jewelry in a 3rd world country or anyplace that you are't familiar with. Keep wallets and cellphones out of your back pockets especially in places with a large petty-theft problem (I’m looking at you Italy). Watch your bags, double check what you have.
Never admit you are traveling alone to strangers
I love that people are impressed by my solo travels, it makes me proud to be able to navigate a foreign land on my own, so that question “Are you traveling alone” is always a tough one for me. My immediate thought is always “Yes, I am alone! I love that you are speaking English with me. Lets be friends!” However, I almost always respond with “No. I am meeting friends at [insert made up place or a made up time].” It’s always good for people to think that someone is expecting you to be someplace, and that someone would notice if you were missing. It isn’t foolproof, but it can certainly deter a relatively intelligent criminal.
Do I enjoy lying to potential new friends? No. But, often women that get into trouble when traveling alone are taken advantage of by someone from their own country that they met and trusted. Which leads me to my next point…
Don’t trust someone just because they are from your homeland
Just because someone is from your country or speaks your language does not mean they are a good person. Often times, when traveling solo in a place where you don’t speak the language it’s easy to get very excited to speak English, as trying to decipher a foreign language can quickly become exhausting. Use caution when meeting anyone new because you are still in unfamiliar territory. Does this mean all people are bad? No. Just be careful what information you provide them, and cautious if they try to lead you somewhere.
Have someone back home expecting you to check in.
This one proved to be challenging in Cuba due to lack of internet and phones. However, it is easy to get a phone plan in most countries (especially if you have AT&T). They can be relatively inexpensive and a great way to stay in touch with family and friends. Have someone back home accountable for checking in with you. This will help you out if things ever did take a turn for the worst during your travels.
Have a copy of your passport
It’s much easier to get a new passport issued if yours is lost or stolen when you have a copy. Have one copy locked in your suitcase that you leave at the hotel, keep a photo of it on your smartphone and have a trustworthy friend of family member back home also have a hard & digital copy. Taking a quick picture before you depart and emailing it to yourself, texting it to your mom or whatever you decide works best is a great way to ensure you have a way to get it if you need it.
Lock your luggage
Lock up your valuables, important documents, expensive clothes, laptop, passport etc... and store them in the room. In-room safes are not all that safe considering it takes one key to open all of them in the entire hotel. Sometimes, I think keeping belongings out of site is much more effective as long as they are locked. Additionally, it would look much more suspicious if a hotel employee walked out of your room with an entire piece of luggage.
Know where your Embassy is located
I am known for and I love taking last minute trips halfway across the world to places I know little or nothing about, but if you have the time arm yourself with as much information as you can. Knowing where the US Embassy is located is crucial should you be in a place that is known for being problematic. For example, I went to Egypt during the Arab Spring. When 2 million Egyptians show up in Tahrir Square to take a stand against the military and you can smell the tear gas and Molotov cocktails from your hotel balcony, you will be damn glad that you did some basic research.
Read up on Travel Advisories
Recently I was invited to Saudi Arabia, if you read the travel advisory you will know why I’m not going anytime soon. Travel advisories can be over exaggerated and can sound really scary, but it’s important too check them. When an advisory is un-expectedly intense, I cross check by looking at the UK and Canadian travel advisories as well. If there is no problem on those sites, I don’t hesitate to go.
Study a map before you depart
Look up areas to stay away from and areas that are safe. Where is it okay to go during the day that you may want to stay away from at night? Those are great questions to ask on a forum like TripAdvisor. Additionally, knowing this information can help you choose your hotel or hostel.
Don’t look lost
If you don’t know where you are going, slip into a local shop. Personally, I never pull out my map if I’m not in the hotel. I will use my iPhone map to get around so it looks like I’m texting and not lost. Additionally, if I need to stop to get oriented, I will put my back up against a wall so I don’t have to worry about whats going on behind me. This is a great trick so you can keep an eye out to see if anyone has been watching you too closely.
Try to look like a local and not a tourist
This one seems like a no-brainer but I can’t tell you how many people I spot that still do this. If you are in Europe with sneakers and a graphic t-shirt on, a nikon around your neck, a map hanging out of your back pocket and a backpack on - you are a moving target. Maybe that is a gross exaggeration, but the point is: try to fit in. Do a little research on what to wear. This includes not dressing in skin baring clothing when you are in a country where women cover their bodies more. Be respectful to the culture of the country you are visiting and you will be treated with more respect and look less like a visitor.
Present yourself with confidence
This one is key. Look like you know where you are going. Walk with purpose, don’t ever look lost even if you are. Fake it till you make it, darling and no one will pick you as an easy target.
Did I miss your favorite travel safety tip? Comment below.