Tips For Safely Traveling Solo
The most frequently asked questions I receive about solo travel are safety related. Sometimes these questions come from family and friends who worry about me while I’m gone, and other times they come from women who want to try solo travel but are a little nervous. With that in mind, I reached out to eight female solo travelers and asked them to share their solo travel safety tips with the Her Bags Were Packed community.
My utmost and heartfelt solo travel tip to you ladies out there is to be ASSERTIVE. When people hear that word, they can imagine aggression, or not being nice, or being ‘difficult’. Far from it.
Being assertive is simply expressing your wants and needs -- in a clear, fair and confident way. It is something I feel you have to learn. Sometimes we can be too aggressive (angry); other times we can be too passive (quiet like a mouse)! There’s a balance – and once you’ve started to master it, it will help you immensely.
In particular, it will help you to say ‘no’ when you don’t want to go somewhere, eat something, or do something. Being assertive will help you get out of situations you’re not comfortable in, whilst still respecting the local culture.
You can be assertive using various techniques. Here’s one quick way: Be concise and use simple sentences so others understand you! For example, "I really love trying new foods. It's hard for me to eat this snake though – I just can’t go that far. I'd appreciate it if I could try something else.” (Yep, been there and totally said it!)
As women, we are generally significantly more on edge when we are alone in public than our male counterparts. In our world, it’s not uncommon to walk to our car with our keys in our hands in case we need to defend ourselves or to be very aware of a stranger walking behind us down the street. While this “edginess” is common in our everyday lives, we tend to put up even more of a wall when we travel, which is understandable! Understandable, but harmful. By putting up this edge, we miss out on so much beauty when we travel! Traveling is about opening our hearts and our minds to new experiences, and this fear only holds us back.
Therefore, my biggest tip for women traveling alone is, yes, be aware of your surroundings, but don’t be afraid. The world is not nearly as threatening as some would have you believe. People are generally good and want what you want: to be safe, loved, and enjoy life. Don’t be afraid to open yourself up to these experiences!
Nothing will prepare you more than having a good relationship with your intuition. Bad situations aren't easy to spot, and they aren't always the result of doing something stupid -- despite what television and movies will lead you to believe. More often than not, a dangerous situation starts off like any other usual situation and gradually escalates; and by the time you realize you're in a pickle, it's almost too late. You're just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Women are especially prone to being preyed upon because we've been socialized to give people the benefit of the doubt. We've been groomed to be polite and kind to everyone, and if we suspect we might be in trouble, we're told we are overreacting or being dramatic. Overtime, we've internalized those messages. So my biggest safety tip would be to silence that voice inside your head that makes you second guess yourself. Go with your gut. Trust your intuition.
As a tall, fair-skinned woman with blonde, curly hair, I stand out when visiting Asia and at times receive unexpected or unwanted attention from men. Over time I’ve developed some strategies for protecting myself while not becoming too cautious and missing opportunities to connect with locals.
On my first day in South Korea, I was sitting in a park waiting for a nearby temple to open. I caught the attention of an older man who started walking very quickly in my direction. I was uncertain what to do next. He stopped right in front of me and asked where I was from. I told him California and a big grin spread across his face. He told me about his family members that lived in California. We continued to chat for a minute and then he left.
A few days later, I was sitting in a cafe enjoying my breakfast when a young man noticed me and sat down at a nearby table. At first he began asking simple questions -- like where was I from – but quickly his questions and remarks became inappropriate, and I was uncomfortable. I stood up, announced that I had to go, quickly left the store, and walked back to my hotel.
It’s okay to leave an uncomfortable situation. In these rare situations I seek the safety of familiar people, places, or even a crowd. But I don’t want to assume the worst in people, and, whenever possible, I look for moments to talk with curious locals. Their initial interest may be my different appearance, but it doesn’t take long to find something in common.
For a solo female traveler, planning is important. I like to know where my accommodation is and how to get there, so I don’t end up lost and wandering the streets - especially if I am arriving late at night. I like to choose somewhere to have dinner before I’ve left my hotel, so I can get there quickly without searching on my phone while I am out in the dark. Having a plan is vital, but equally, you have to be flexible if your plans don’t work out. Sometimes flights are delayed or cancelled, or the hotel you booked is nowhere near where you thought it was, and sometimes restaurants can be closed. Being flexible and able to think on your feet is just as important as planning. Most of the time you can just roll with it, and it won’t be a big deal; but if something does go wrong when you travel alone, don’t panic. Almost every problem has a solution, just take a moment to think it through calmly. If help is needed, in my experience, a friendly person has always been ready to help me. In Peru, a kind family helped me flag down a taxi when I got lost; in Brazil, a man on the street walked me to my hostel when the taxi driver didn’t know where to go. People are generally good, and will help you get where you need to be. We are always taught to not talk to strangers, but when you are in trouble, look for a friendly face and you will usually find one!
Always know where you are. If I am in a cab, I use Google maps to follow my trip so that I can ensure I am on the correct route and the driver isn’t trying to scam me.
I leave a copy of my flight and hotel details with my family back home, in case of any emergency.
Practice the usual common sense rules you’d use back home – don’t leave a drink unattended, don’t go alone into isolated areas, don’t accept a ride from an unknown person after a night out.
Before traveling, check the US Department of State website for travel advisories, join Facebook groups for that area and connect with locals (obviously be smart about it), read guidebooks, research local customs, and consider travel insurance.
Most importantly, remember that wherever you go, you’re probably safer and less likely to be harassed while traveling than you would be in the White House. ;)
There are so many benefits to traveling alone — get the most out of it by being fearless!
First, in order to BE fearless, we must ACT fearless — even if you don’t feel it! Act as if you know exactly where you are going, as if you can defend yourself, as if you have no fear. Then use this approach to go venturing off into the unknown! When I am in a new place and have no idea of where I am or where I’m going, I just choose a direction and walk. I get so much out of the experience of discovering new things, that I don’t leave any room to be scared. Exploration with no boundaries leads to great adventures and often to wonderful and unexpected things. Next, work on your “stranger danger” sense and start putting your faith in the people around you. Ask a stranger to take your picture (see pic), for the best place to eat, to help if you need it. A huge advantage to traveling alone, especially as a woman, is how kind and generous strangers will be, so use it! Put these tips into practice and your next trip will be your best.
Have questions about any of these safety tips or want to make your own suggestions? Share them in the comments below.
Interested in trying out solo travel? Check out the Her Bags Were Packed solo travel guide with 5 steps to ease into solo travel or check out the solo travel support services I offer here.