Unpacking Solo Travel Safety with Katrina McGhee

Katrina McGhee was 30 years old before she took her first trip abroad. She didn’t get on a plane or even go to the ocean until she was 17. “Travel just wasn’t something my family prioritized,” she explains. “I was always fascinated by it, but truly didn’t know where to begin. I had no experience, but once I started, I couldn’t stop.”   

Katrina’s first trip abroad was a homestay in Costa Rica through her MBA program, followed by a trip to Egypt and Turkey, and then a semester studying abroad in Barcelona. In the nine years since, she’s managed to visit more than 30 countries, mostly as a solo traveler.

Katrina’s been to Argentina, Guatemala, Thailand, Denmark, Cambodia, and Belgium, as well as countries some traditionally consider (whether that’s right or wrong) to be less safe, like Colombia and Vietnam.

During our conversation, Katrina shared some great safety tips. Instead of trying to squeeze them into a broader interview, I decided to focus this week on her safety tips for women traveling solo.

Katrina McGhee Solo Travel Safety - Her Bags Were Packed

Katrina McGhee Solo Travel Safety - Her Bags Were Packed

Dress Like a Local

I try hard to blend in and dress like the people around me are dressed -- whether that's more modest or city chic style. I try not to look like a frumpy backpacker and instead attempt to look cute and blend in. (Although I still do look like a frumpy backpacker sometimes.)

Blend In

I try to relax and bring positivity with me. I'm not the person who is hunched forward with my purse shoved up in my armpit, looking side to side and waiting for someone to jump me.  If there is someone there with bad intentions, the body language can make you stand out as a tourist and invite unwanted attention. I'm looking at who belongs there and doing my best to seem confident and at ease. I'm just trying to blend in with everybody else.

Separate Valuables

When I go out, I only carry what I absolutely must and nothing I would be devastated to lose or have stolen. I'm not taking my passport with me to dinner (sometimes a printed copy, if I think I may need the identification) or all three credit cards and my debit card. I'm just taking the cash I think I’ll need, plus maybe a little extra and a credit card, if I need one.

Read Reviews

In general, I feel like reviews are important. If I'm staying somewhere, especially a hotel or Airbnb, I'll read reviews (for the accommodations and about the neighborhood). It’s important to see what people think and get a sense of things, so I'm not going into it blind.

Honor Your Feelings

When I get bad vibes, I honor those feelings and I definitely don't push back on them. But if an experience doesn’t have creepy weird overtones, like “I shouldn't be on this road” or “I shouldn't be doing this thing,” then I try to really relax and bring positivity with me and focus on the good.

Do What Feels Right For You

When I first started out, I’d bring the doorstop wedge, the rape whistle*, and all that sort of equipment people carry when they’re afraid they are going to be the victim of a crime. But I found that stuff kind of carried a negative energy. I was always worried I was about to be raped or murdered. And logistically, it was annoying to carry extra stuff around for “just in case.” So I committed to other compromises instead -- like paying for a taxi (if taxis are safe in that city), going out with other people from the hostel, asking someone to dinner that I’ve met on a tour in that city, or eating at places that are really close to where I am staying.

*I have not personally used these two products but am linking to them as examples of security equipment women have used while traveling. Please note that these links are affiliate links. If you make an Amazon purchase through the link, you are helping to support Her Bags Were Packed.