Stay safe as a solo female traveler and have an epic adventure!
Let’s talk about staying safe as solo female travelers. It breaks my heart when I hear women talk about how they would never travel alone, because they fear for their safety. I’ve traveled solo most of my adult life, and, thankfully, thus far, have managed to avoid terrible situations. I thought that I’d share what I learned.
This is the second part of a two-part series on staying safe as a solo female traveler. Safety starts with trip planning, so if you haven’t read part one yet, I encourage you to do so.
Safety and Solo Female Travel
Alas, bad things happen
A reminder from part one. Sadly, bad things happen, and nothing here is a guarantee that nothing bad will ever befall you while you are traveling solo. Travel carries taking risk (even travel in big groups), and we should be clear-eyed about that. I hope that nothing happens to you and you come back from your journey with joyful memories that will last a lifetime. But I can’t promise you that.
Your safety calculation may need to factor in different things
I’m an able-bodied, white, middle-aged woman. You may need to factor your safety differently than I do (I will say that I learned a lot of these things, a few the hard way, as a young woman). I don’t mean for this to be the definitive list for everyone under every circumstance, and this may include you. If these help you, I’m glad. And if there’s something else that would be helpful to include here, please let me know in the comments.
21 tips to stay safe as a solo female traveler
These tips are offered in the spirit of helping us to be aware about what we’re getting ourselves into and doing what we can to minimize risks. We want to have epic adventures, so let’s go be brave!
1. Basic street smarts
Generally, almost everything here about on how to stay safe as a solo female traveler comes down to basic street smarts. Pay attention to your surroundings. Keep track of your belongings. Keep your head. Have an idea of where you’re going and what to expect when you’re there. Listen to your instincts. Avoid dangerous situations when possible.
A word of caution about pepper spray and the like. You may not be able to travel with them. If you can, make sure that you know how to use it, because it can also be turned on you.
2. Packing with safety in mind
Your trip starts with packing, and solo female travelers should pack with safety in mind. We’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: you have to be able to handle all of your luggage, easily, including your checked bags.
If you’re checking a bag, pick it up with one arm. If you can’t handle it, see if there’s something you can leave out. While one-arming it is not exclusively necessary, it’s a good indication that you might be a bit encumbered. Being a bit encumbered can leave you vulnerable to being robbed. We don’t want that, do we?
Don’t forget your whole transit experience
Don’t forget that you need to be able to handle your luggage at the airport, but also after the airport. You might be riding metros, you’ll probably need at least one trip to the loo, and you’ll need to get to your lodgings. You’ll likely be tired, and travel is always a bit disorienting. You want to appear confident and in control, not draw attention to yourself.
Note that this is a bit different for road trips by car, but the same general idea applies. You need to be able to handle yourself.
Pack to minimize how often you need to open your luggage
Pack in such a way that you minimize how often you have to dig into your luggage while you’re on the road to minimize risk. If you need tips on packing your carry-on, check out my post on packing your carry-on for a good journey.
3. Download apps to help you—and pack a guidebook
Our technological age has its drawbacks, but there are a lot of advantages, especially when it comes to staying safe as a solo female traveler.
Locally relevant apps
Look into apps that are relevant to your location (transit, etc.) and download them. That way, you aren’t fumbling while you’re out and about.
Apps for offline use
Make sure that you have relevant apps downloaded for offline use to help you navigate, both literally (maps) and linguistically (Google Translate is great if you don’t speak the language). Internet service doesn’t always work, and you don’t want to be stuck, so make sure to get these for offline use.
Bring a guidebook
Bring a guidebook. I prefer ones focused on where I’m going (so, say, Paris instead of a general one on France), but that isn’t always possible. The reason why I’m suggesting this is because they usually have maps, especially of cities, and they also have a lot of information handy on what to do in an emergency. Old school? Yes. Taking up room in your luggage? Also, yes. If you stick with their advice for your trip, will you miss a lot. Absolutely. But, a potential lifesaver if something happens and you don’t have your phone? You betcha.
4. Language and safety phrases
If you’re going someplace where you don’t speak the language, hopefully you picked up a few phrases before leaving. This should include emergency phrases, including, for me, being able to say that I’m allergic to shellfish. Not only will you have a more pleasant trip (people tend to like it when you at least make an effort to speak the language), it could also literally save your life.
5. Keeping your valuables secure
Related to packing, but extending to your whole trip, here’s my best advice for avoiding being robbed while you’re out and about on your trip as a solo female traveler: If you carry a purse, make it a cross-body bag that closes securely and keep it across your body at all times (you might relax a bit at finer restaurants, but, even then, keep it close.
Cross-body bags are harder to snatch. Securely closed bags don’t invite prying hands. This is what we want. If you’re someplace with a real reputation for street crime, consider keeping your credit cards someplace else on your person (I prefer my boot).
6. ATMs, points of sale, etc.
You are at your most vulnerable when you are getting cash at an ATM. While you can’t prevent everything, there are some things you can do.
Watch how much money you withdraw at once
If at all possible, try to avoid getting cash late at night, and in very isolated areas. Make sure that you are as quick and efficient and take care to conceal your pin. Don’t get out ridiculous amounts (you’re likely going to pay a foreign transaction fee; just accept it as part of having a holiday).
Stay organized, but take care where you organize
Better to quickly stash the cash at the bottom of your purse than dilly dally with your wallet. You can organize things when you’re safely away (do make sure that you organize things, because nothing screams “ PLEASE ROB ME!” more than just pulling a random handful of cash out of your bag).
Points of sale
I prefer not to use cash while I’m traveling wherever possible, but that’s not always possible. Don’t use your debit card if you can possibly avoid it. In addition to incurring foreign transaction fees, you can also run the risk of having your account drained.
If you have one, a contactless credit card is the way to go. That way, your card never leaves your hand, and the encryption is safer than chip and pin.
7. Keep your phone and camera safe
Even the safest places have petty theft problems, and cameras and phones top the list. As a devoted shutterbug, I do not shy away from photos. However, I take care where I take them. While I have contingency plans, like all of us, I rely on my phone for just about everything logistics. So I do my best to keep that darn thing secure.
Keep your phone in your bag most of the time
Keep your phone in your cross-body bag, or, at least in your front pocket. Limit how often you walk around with it in your hands, and do not just wave it around. Watch yourself in crowds when it comes to your phone, especially when taking photos. Better to miss a shot than lose your phone.
Make sure that you have a camera strap and keep it around you when you’re using it. While it won’t stop someone from stealing it, it will make it harder. Be mindful of where you are when you have your camera out, and perhaps reconsider it in certain places, especially with big lenses. Use extra caution when using a tripod.
8. Act like you know where you’re going (even when you haven’t a clue)
The Google Maps Dance, I call it—that frustrating little chacha one does when one thought one was going the right way and one was walking instead in the clear opposite direction, causing one to have to correct. (Seriously, Google, how many people know their cardinal directions when they’ve just plopped down in a new place?)
Try not to scream TOURIST! as a solo female traveler
That little dance gives you away as a tourist and leaves you vulnerable to shenanigans, especially in tourist areas. So, a little subtly is in order. Maybe pretend to window shop a bit, or perhaps cross a less busy street before doubling back and crossing again. Whatever you do, don’t just stop in the middle of the sidewalk on a busy street, stare down at your phone and turn around and start walking with a puzzled look on your face. Better to be a bit late than have your phone stolen or worse!
Tips for subtle turn-by-turn navigation
Even if you’re doing turn by turn directions, avoid just starting at your phone (your phone should be kept secure most of the time). You can put turn-by-turn directions on vibrate (vs. audible—don’t do that!), which will signal you to turn. Glance down at your phone to get the direction of the next turn, and then wait for the buzz again. You’ll almost look like you know what you’re doing!
Go with the flow
Also, go with the flow of foot traffic. If you are walking more slowly (raises hand), be off to the side a bit so that people can pass you and you don’t call attention to yourself.
Each day, do a quick check so that you have a general idea where you’re going
If you can, have a little forethought and study your maps before you leave for the day, so you have some general clue where you’re going. Use Street View to clue you in and make sure that you’ve downloaded the maps for offline use, in case you lose your connection.
By all means, wander about aimlessly. It’s one of the great joys of traveling. However, it’s also good to know if there’s something best avoided.
9. Your lodgings
I have a friend whose dad was a state trooper, and she has a host of safety tips for entering your lodgings (talking to your imaginary very big beauhunk, etc. upon arriving in the room) when traveling on your own.
Mine are a little less strict. When I’m heading back, I pay attention to anyone around me (hopefully not obviously), and once or twice, I’ve kept going to avoid someone who struck me as off. When I arrive, I make sure that I have my key ready, and I move quickly, closing any security doors behind me. I don’t freak out, but it’s important to make sure that we’re safe when entering our lodgings.
Lock your door! And other tips
Keep the door locked at all times, do a quick check upon entering that things look right, and have a little something by the bed that could help in an emergency.
Hopefully, the research that we did in planning our trip helped to ensure that we’re staying someplace reasonably safe, but things happen.
10. Staying safe as a solo female traveler: keep your lodging location (mostly) to yourself
When I’m traveling, I post loads of photos, as you know if we’re friends. However, while I’ll post a shot of something out a window that could help to pinpoint my location, I am still careful about revealing exactly where I am. It’s unlikely that someone would come after you based on this information, but it does happen, especially with women traveling alone. You don’t want it to happen to you. Keep photo tags to the general area (neighborhood is fine in cities), as opposed to the exact address.
I have a ritual of posting a external shot of where I stayed after I’ve checked out and am ready to move on.
11. Carry an umbrella—even if it isn’t raining
I don’t carry mace or anything like that, but I do carry an umbrella. Handy in the rain and can be a good deterrent.
When I went to Rome, my sister warned me that robberies were frequent. In my bag was a guidebook (this was pre-smartphones) and some water. My valuables were in my boot. Wandering this way and that, I took a turn where I encountered two young men who did not mean me well. They took a look at me, a look at my bag, and started rushing toward me.
My umbrella came in handy
I had my umbrella in hand (it happened to be a bit drizzly), and I gave them a look that showed I wasn’t kidding and raised my umbrella slightly. They got moving. But even if they had stolen my bag, my valuables would have remained secure in my boot.
After that, I started carrying an umbrella whenever I travel solo.
12. Check in with your emergency contact
In the first part, we discussed the importance of letting someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. It’s also important to check in with them while you’re away. This doesn’t need to be anything extravagant. Just a quick hello is fine.
I check in with my parents
I mentioned in the first post that I share my itinerary with my parents. I email them most days I’m away and send them a photo or two. My mom doesn’t send me panicked texts this way, and I get to share travel stories.
A good use for social media
This is also where social media comes in. I tend to use my personal Instagram and Facebook as a way of “taking people with me” when I travel. My friends (well, most of them, anyway) like the updates, and it also provides yet another touchpoint. If I just up and disappeared, someone would miss me. I don’t count on this, and you shouldn’t either, but everything can help.
Beyond just running away in an emergency (may this never happen), what you wear on your feet can help keep you safe. Remember, if you fall down because you had some cute little heels that you fantasized gliding around Paris in, you’re potentially on your own to hobble back. Wherever possible, we don’t want to have to depend on the kindness of strangers.
14. Clothing—don’t scream TOURIST!
Part of the fun of traveling is experiencing how other people live. Part of that, I think, involves not sticking out like a sore thumb when we’re visiting a place. While we don’t, and, in many cases, shouldn’t completely copy dress styles (let’s not wander into cultural appropriation territory), we can and should be respectful of local customs. By all means, I’m not telling you what to wear, but I am telling you to think about it.
Not only does this mean that we’ll likely have better experiences (who wants to get funny looks while we’re on holiday?), but blending in a little can also help us with safety. Doing this helps us to avoid screaming TOURIST! as we wander the streets. When we travel solo, we want to be a bit inconspicuous.
Try to avoid giving away too much of how little you understand something if you think that you’re in a bit of a sketchy area.
15. Watch hand gestures
A few years ago in Barcelona, I encountered this guy often. He seemed pretty nice. That is, until I made some kind of unconscious hand gesture in response to something he said that was apparently very bad in his culture. The look he gave me could solve climate change, and every time I encountered him after that, even when I tried to apologize, he thought I was an a-hole.
I took the lesson, and, as someone who gestures a lot with her hands when talking, it’s a hard one. Watch it. What is perfectly normal to you could mean something disgusting, or, worse, threatening, to someone in the country you’re visiting. While these are often, like mine, unconscious and simply part of your own cultural lexicon, and so difficult to control. Try. Doing a little homework about hand gestures can come in handy.
Learn from my less-than wonderful experience: watch it with booze, especially when you’re traveling solo. By all means have that glass of wine with dinner, enjoy a cocktail at that rooftop bar, live a little. But do not wind up drunk off your arse in an unfamiliar place. In addition to giving you a hangover that will ruin one of your precious vacation days, overindulging also leaves you vulnerable to Bad Things happening to you. Remember our adage, Be Brave, Don’t Be Stupid.
17. Late night
It’s not right that I need to write this, but staying safe as a solo traveler means watching it late at night. Do your homework ahead of time to help determine how safe it is to stay out late. Some places, it’s totally fine, and have at it. I love places like that, because it feels so good to be out on a warm night.
Other places, it’s a big risk, and one to make a considered decision about whether or not it’s worth it. You know you and your comfort levels. Use your street smarts. Keep your head.
18. Public Transit
I’m a huge believer in public transport, and I think taking it in different places is a fantastic way to get to know a place. However, some systems are safer than others. Do your homework to make sure that you know what you’re getting into.
A reputation for not being safe at night? Don’t take it late at night. Far away, nearly empty stops late at night? Really try to avoid those.
Always keep your belongings with you, and don’t set anything down unless you are prepared to have it stolen. Even the safest systems have petty thieves.
19. Taxis and rideshares
When I was a kid, my mom had a ritual whenever she sent me off to walk to school. I love you. Have a wonderful day. Go straight to school, and come straight home from school. NO CARS, NO STRANGERS!
Taxis and rideshares have us violating a key rule for safety, getting into cars with strangers. Here are things we can do to help.
Avoid when you can
First, avoid it whenever you can, especially at night. If you can walk it, and it’s safe to do so, do it. If you do need to take a taxi, make sure you know what a legit taxi looks like. Give the driver a good look. Ensure that the driver knows where they are taking you BEFORE you get in the car. Pay attention while you’re in the cab and make sure that you aren’t going somewhere you shouldn’t be. If you’re really nervous, message your contact that you’ve gotten in a cab at X place, expect to get out at Y place, and text then when you get back.
I prefer rideshares
While bad things happen in rideshares, I generally feel more comfortable with them, if, for no other reason than that there’s a record that I was supposed to ride in a car license plate X, to destination Y, with person A and that it was supposed to take a set amount of time. Generally, there’s a photo of the driver, too, which helps. Same rules, though, apply while in the car. Pay attention.
20. Online safety
Don’t just hop on any old free wifi. Hackers love to steal your info. Consider a portable hotspot if your carrier does not have a decent travel plan (buy one if you travel a lot). Use a VPN for additional security (bonus: Netflix whilst out of the country).
21. If you don’t feel safe, leave
This one is a bit tricky, because part of travel, the best part of travel, really, is stretching ourselves and getting outside of our comfort zone. There’s a big difference, though, between stretching ourselves and sensing that something is wrong. If you don’t feel safe, don’t question it, just calmly leave and get someplace safe. Trust yourself. You know what to do.
What are your best safety tips for staying safe as a solo female traveler?
What about you? What’s your best safety tip for the solo female traveler? Let us know in the comments!
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