As a solo female traveler, safety is a major priority. And it is one that has become more important to me as I have aged. Call my 17-year-old self naïve, maybe even dumb, but safety and security for women travelling independently is at the top of most of our minds. And after 15 years of travelling, and making some foolish calls, I feel like I may have some legs to stand on as far as safety travel tips go.
Not to say I’m smart now, just smarter than I was. Three cheers for personal development!
Make the Decision to Travel Solo with Eyes Wide Open
Keeping yourself safe as a woman traveler, really does start when you make that initial decision to travel solo. I am a huge advocate for independence and solo travel for many reasons.
But if you’re not ready or don’t feel safe, then you shouldn’t do it. Think about how you are in a crisis. Do you immediately reach for the phone to call someone for help, or can you tackle anything. I’m not saying you shouldn’t push yourself beyond your comfort zone, but there is a difference between taking calculated risks and being reckless.
I had done two major long term backpacking trips with friends (6+ months), plus a 6-month international semester abroad and a 4-month international internship before I ever travelled solo. I am also independent to a fault and don’t like being told what to do, so I’m kind of made for solo travel.
What are the Best Countries for Solo Travel for You?
There are all kinds of articles out there about ‘the most dangerous places to travel’. Most of them are crap if you ask me. I recently saw one and I had recently been to 5 of the 20 countries on the list.
A better way to find out the true security situation of a country is to do actual research and talk to other people who have been there, especially folks of your same age, sexuality, gender, and ethnicity.
Being a woman makes figuring out the best countries for solo travel that much more complicated. We ladies deal with street harassment, warnings of not walking alone after dark, and even clothing restrictions.
My experience in Jamaica was very different from that of my 64-year-old father.
I was very comfortable in Nepal on my own for two months, but I actively recruited a travel buddy to go with me to India for 10 days.
Finding out the reality of a good destination for you will take some work, but it’s all worthwhile information as a solo female traveler. To be forewarned is to be forearmed!
Blogs and guidebooks can be useful for this type of research. I find that tourist boards gloss over this or are far too general, while sites like Canada’s government travel advisories are very alarmist. Pretty much every country I have been to in the last 5 years has some level of travel warning. Calm down Canada. Don’t want to get murdered in Jamaica? Don’t join a gang. Pretty easy risk mitigation.
Language is also a major factor. If you can communicate in your destination, you are safer. Not to say you should only go to countries with your own mother tongue, but even knowing a few basic phrases can help.
Solo? Stay Safe by Booking Ahead or Being Flexible…
I’m a big fan of flying by the seat of my pants. In other words, not planning. Often this freedom is liberating and that is what many of us solo folks are looking for.
At the same time, planning ahead, by booking accommodation and transportation means that you know where you are going and how you’re getting there.
I can’t tell you how many times I have arrived somewhere after dark and not had a room booked. I would love to tell you I don’t do this anymore, but then I would be lying to you.
Being flexible means you can hop town if it is sketchy or just plain boring. But having your bookings made means you are sure of a bed that night.
Leave Your Travel Details with Someone Who Cares
There was this week back in 2009 during which I was on a small island off the East Coast of Nicaragua (Little Corn Island, everyone should go!). My mom knew this, but there was no internet on the island, and I ended up staying one more day than planned. Then I got to Managua and there was no internet at my hostel. Then I left for Honduras and couldn’t get online for another full 2 days. By the time I finally got an email sent off to my parents, my Mom was ready to call the Canadian embassy.
Leaving details with folks back home can go either way, but really you would rather someone have a vague notion of where you are rather than not.
This gets tough when you are travelling for a long time with little structure or plan. But even if you can plan a few days in advance and give those plans to someone who will notice if you don’t check in, your personal security factor goes up.
I would specifically recommend this if you were going off the grid for even just a night or two. I know being off the grid is magical, but as a woman travelling alone, we need to cover our bases. Who doesn’t remember that creepy scene in Wild when that weird hunter guy with a shotgun follows Reese Witherspoon. And it was way worse in the book… Yikes!
Travel Safe with Other Solo Travelers!
Don’t worry, you still get your solo traveler street cred, but hooking up with other travelers isn’t just for the fun social times.
While I was in Central America on my own for 3 months, I travelled with people for at least half of that time. Having some travel buddies for parts of your trip, especially the dodgier bits, can cover your butt.
Unless it’s that Dutch woman who latched on to me uninvited in Mexico, steer clear of her!
How can you hook in with other solo ladies? This is actually why staying in hostels is a great way to be, even if you can afford better. Sterile fancy hotels don’t breed new friends like the old couches of a hostel common room. I have met most of my travel friends in hostels, though I have also met people hiking, one on a beach chair in Cambodia, and another crossing the Nicaraguan/Honduran border!
Be open to new friends!
Choose your Accommodation Wisely for a Solo Traveler
Regardless of your budget, security is a must. Depending on your own comfort level, dorm rooms may be out of the question altogether. But many hostels have female only dorm rooms that I always opt for if I can. Not only does that add a level of security, but boys are gross and snore. Blah.
I also like to see if there are lock –up facilities, either a locker in room or with the staff. My computer may be a million years old, but it would break me if it were stolen.
When choosing a place to stay for solo travel, don’t just look for the in-house amenities. Check and see how close it is to restaurants, shops, and transportation. Check it out on Google Maps on Street view to see if the area looks sketchy. Call or email the accommodation and inquiry about street lighting. You can be as close to the centre as you want, but if the last 200 meters to your front door is down a dark alleyway, don’t do it!
Don’t Get Super Drunk
I love my wine and rum, but when I travel solo I never get beyond a certain level (anymore). It’s just plain dumb and ultra risky.
I have a girlfriend who made friends with some dudes at her hostel, and then went out drinking with them that night. She got way too drunk and her wallet, phone, and iPad were stolen. Were those guys the culprits? I don’t know. But regardless of who took her gear, nobody really had her back that night and much worse could have happened.
If you’re travelling with the real intention to party, take a girlfriend!
Cross Borders Early in the Day
This is just good travel advice in general, but as a solo female traveler, getting stuck in a border town is never a great scene. Border towns in developing countries are infamously sketchy and have less than stellar accommodation. If you are crossing a border, do so early enough to get a bus or taxi away and to a decent town.
One of the worst places I ever stayed was in a border town in Nicaragua. I had crossed late in the day, after the last bus left. I had to stay in a “hotel” that was really just a couple of rooms attached to a bar. That I’m sure were meant for something else.
All night I heard people walking past my cell, a few even knocked on my door. I kept that door bolted and tried to keep 100% focus on my book. Which was Obama’s The Audacity of Hope and really did get me through that night with my sanity. Thank you Barack, you never stop giving.
Ladies, Pack Lighter!!
Nothing says female traveler like a massive suitcase or backpack. You may as well paint a bulls-eye on it with a sign saying I Can’t See You! The less you carry, the less enticing you and your gear will be to a would-be thief. Lighter and less luggage also means you are more physically capable to make a break for it and you can keep track of your gear better.
That said, if someone does come after your bag or your purse, drop it! Nothing is worth injury or worse.
Seriously ladies, if you are travelling in a way that means you are personally carrying your gear, give up trying to look cute. You won’t regardless of how much makeup or white mesh bralets you are toting around.
Be Super Polite and Friendly to the Front Desk Folks
This may sound natural to all of you nice people out there, but front desk people at hotels and hostels get a lot of crap, all the time. Which isn’t smart, because these folks hold a ton of power and can really help you out in a bind.
Not only does the man or woman standing behind the check in desk determine what room you are in (and with who if it’s a dorm!) but they may have the power to upgrade you. They are also full of information, especially about the security situation of the town or the neighborhood.
Regardless of how tired or cranky I am, I always try to be nice to these people (except for once in Cusco, Peru when a dude didn’t want to check me in at 5am. Come at me bro!).
I always ask their names, ask if they are from that town, and say something nice about the country. These people have tough jobs, and they are wonderful resources far beyond just giving out the Wifi code.
I have been in my fair share of risky situations.
There was the creeper who followed me part way home in Kathmandu. I spotted him and told him off. He said that was his direction too. I stopped at a well lit street corner and told him he could go first then. Directionless, he turned around and left. I then sprinted home.
There was the taxi driver in Malaysia who said his car was just “over there”. It wasn’t.
There was the guy in a dorm room in Byron Bay who laid in bed all day drinking warm milk. He was seemingly harmless, but I’m pretty sure he was short a few screws. He also smelled weird.
I was pick pocketed in Jamaica at a taxi stand. Sure, I lost my phone, but I was totally unhurt, so it went the best it could have I guess!
In Thailand, I had my Swiss Army Knives and some cash stolen out of a private room.
But really, in the big picture I have done pretty well. Any injuries I have suffered are my own fault (damn ankle!) and I like to think I’m a pretty smart solo traveler nowadays. Dare I say I am actually qualified to give these unsolicited travel tips for solo safety!
Did I miss any? What safety precautions do you take while travelling solo?
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