Is it possible for women to travel alone around the world, and still stay safe? Absolutely.
You can still go to third-world countries, stay in hostels, not speak the local language and visit well-known tourist traps without compromising your safety and well-being. And more importantly – still having an amazing time!
Travelling alone can be intimating and a bit frightening – especially if it is your first time. But if you take the time to prioritize your safety with these helpful safety tips, then there is absolutely no reason why you can’t have an amazing solo travel experience.
Travel Safety Tip #1 – Use your Common Sense
My father’s favourite saying is ‘Common sense is not that common’, and unfortunately, he is not that wrong!
It can be easy and it’s totally normal to get caught up in the excitement of being somewhere new, having adventures and meeting people.
Spending a bit of time on research can go a long way to preparing you for your destination.
– Learn about the best ways to get around
– Find out what the general clothing style is (so you don’t stand out as a massive tourist as much). More importantly, are there any cultural expectations?
– Reduce your pick-pocket risk by using a cross body purse that has both a zip and extra closure
– Don’t wear expensive jewellery and designer labels (odds are you will lose something along the way)
– Does your bank have ATM’s in that destination? Do the locals use cash or card?
Travel Safety Tip #2 – Research, Research, Research
Research does not have to be boring – you are planning your dream trip after all!
I love planning and researching about my chosen destination, and so do many other travellers. This is because we only have a finite time, so we want to make the most of our time.
When you are looking up ‘must-see’ sights, also look out information on different neighbourhoods, common scams, how to hail taxis, where is the local hospital and police stations and what are the recommended ways to get around?
When looking up accommodation options, consider the following – where is it located? What is the neighbourhood’s reputation? What have other guests said in their reviews? How close is it to the sites you want to see, or to local public transport?
I spend a ridiculous amount of time deciding on where I’m staying. Sometimes I follow recommendations from other travellers (especially if they are female), other times I have google maps open and I’m zooming into street view to get an idea of the location.
Look up your Government’s travel information site. Australia has a site called Smart Traveller, which is up to date with travel warnings and other very useful resources. Does your Government have a similar service?
There are certain things you should not skimp on, and the time you take to research is one of them.
Travel Safety Tip #3 – Don’t travel with anything you are scared to lose
This covers things you don’t want stolen, as well as anything you don’t want to accidentally forget somewhere, drop or have go missing in a lost suitcase.
In an ideal world we would never lose anything, but in truth we all lose stuff. The key here is to minimise damage.
With that in mind – don’t bring expensive jewellery, designer sunglasses, fancy shoes or dry clean only clothing (winter jackets are the only exception), birth certificates and all the cards in your purse (you don’t need your gym card).
Also, something a lot of people don’t think of – back up your phone and take off all the photos/videos/documents that you have saved on there that you don’t need. I learnt this the hard way. I lost an entire month’s worth of photos and videos that I had taken because I thought the phone backup was enough. But something corrupted and I lost everything on my phone.
Now, I not only do cloud back up, but save to Google drive and a USB as well.
Technology is a tricky one, it can be tempting to bring all your electronics – phone, laptop, tablets, kindle, DSLR cameras and all the chargers, accessories, adaptors etc. You don’t need it all.
I travel with my laptop because I need it for work, but I deliberately brought a slim and lightweight laptop that can fit into most large handbags (HP Spectre). But if you are only going for a holiday, then leave the laptop behind and only take the tablet (if you actually use it).
Think of it this way – will all your electronics fit in your carry-on bag with everything else you pack in there? Will that bag still be under the carry-on weight limit? If the answer is no, then reassess your ‘need’ to keep all your electronics with you.
Other things that should stay with you – your passport, any medication, cash & credit cards, an extra set of contact lenses (if you wear them), your phone and your camera.
None of the above should ever go into your checked luggage, keep them on you in your day bag/backpack.
Travel Safety Tip #4 – When out for the day, only carry what you need
It can be tempting to carry everything with you while you are out exploring. I’m here to tell you that is a bad idea.
You do not need to carry all your bank cards, cash or valuables. Take what need and keep the rest locked up at your accommodation. Any cash you do carry, split it in half and keep some tucked into your bra or hidden pocket in your clothing. That way if you do get stuck, you should have enough for a taxi back to your hotel.
Most hostels have lockers you can use. For that reason, I also carry my own padlock with me when travelling. I also travel with a portable safe (like this one from PacSafe), which I chain under my mattress or anywhere else discreet in my room.
This is an amazing product which I strongly recommend using. It won’t stop criminals who are determined to rob you, but it is an excellent deterrent. Especially as most thieves are after the quick and easy grab (and not necessarily walking around with bolt cutters).
Make sure that you check if your destination has a lot of ATMs or accepts card easily. There are many places that only accept cash. In that case, when you are at the airport or train station, after taking out cash go straight to the bathrooms and stash that cash in your underwear.
Yes it seems gross and a tad extreme, but pick pockets expect you to withdraw cash while you are in the airport and will assume it is in your bag. Your bra and socks are the best place to temporarily store the money until you reach your accommodation.
Travel Safety Tip #5 – Stranger Danger
You will meet some amazing people when you travel, ones who mean you no harm and who are genuinely good people. Unfortunately, you will most likely also meet ones you are not so nice or well-meaning.
It is tempting to tell people you meet your life story, your trip plans, show off the amazing photos you took on your high-tech camera… but you could be in-avertedly be giving away more information then you intend to. There are the con-artists with ‘friends’ who will give you discounts, the ones that know of some amazing site that only locals know. Always be careful, and mindful. After all you don’t know who is listening into the conversation or where you might end up.
Watch your drinks when you are out, and always finish it before going to the bathrooms. I’ve had my drink spiked once, because I trusted a lady I had met on a walking tour that day to watch our drinks while I jumped onto the dance floor. I was very lucky that night, but it could have ended very badly. Never again.
It can be tempting to want to trust someone quickly, especially as the time we have with them can be very brief. Just take it slow and trust your gut instincts.
Travel Safety Tip #6 – Alcohol is fun in small amounts
Drinking is a socially accepted pastime that most people don’t think too much about, but it can also be dangerous.
If you are in a foreign city, you don’t know your way around and probably don’t speak the language then getting drunk is a very bad idea. Alcohol dulls the senses, slows your reaction time, and reduces your awareness of your surroundings leaving you potentially at risk.
You can still drink, just pace yourself, make sure to drink water between each drink and eat. If you are having shots, then don’t have other drinks in between. If you are having cocktails, then you definitely don’t need shots. Order and collect your drinks yourself from the bar, you will be more likely to keep track of how much you are drinking. Besides, who wants to waste a day of exploring on being hungover??
Granted, I have met several people who travel solely to drink and party. They have zero interest in exploring the city they are in, but instead just want to let loose somewhere fun. Everyone is different.
Also keep in mind some cultures love to drink. Know your limits – don’t try to keep up with a Russian when it comes to vodka shots, or the Irish and their beer, or Australians and drinking in general (I have to admit though, that when I am feeling homesick there is nothing like finding a group of Aussies at a pub).
Travel Safety Tip #7 – Dress like a local
One of the key tips that I swear by is to blend in. The last thing you want to do is stand out as a tourist because you instantly have a target on your back. Sometimes it is unavoidable (a red head with white skin will not blend into the crowd in Morocco), but for the most, respecting the local dress codes is enough.
If you are visiting a Muslim country, simply pack loose clothing that covers your chest, arms and legs. Having a scarf or wrap on hand is also useful as some shrines and holy sites also require that your hair be covered.
In most of Europe it is not common to walk around in active wear as your daywear (that is a very American and Australian thing to do). Instead dress neat casual and pack a nice dress and heels for going out at night. Even a cute pair of black ankle boots will be ok if you are not comfortable in heels or if the weather is cold.
The key is to blend in, so that you are not an immediate target. Forget the backpacker fan favs and go with a capsule wardrobe that is neat and clean and won’t require daily ironing. Just remember, you can always pick up little things like accessories or bits of clothing along the way to mix things up a bit.
Travel Safety Tip #8 – Fake it till you make it
Our body language can give away more then we expect, and a lack of confidence in your surroundings is a strong signal that you don’t belong there.
Make sure to walk with confidence, keep your shoulders back, look straight ahead and walk with purpose.
Do not open a map on the street, you can use Google maps on your phone if you are lost but pull to the side or better yet, pop into a café for a quick break and a discreet search.
As tempting as it can be to want to look at everything, sometimes it is not safe. Some cultures also take perceived staring to be rude, so avoid the unnecessary attention and keep moving.
Travel Safety Tip #9 – Money spent on safety precautions is money well spent
Your safety is your number one priority, and it can be tempting to go for the cheapest possible options when travelling on a tight budget. It will cost you a lot more though if you get scammed, robbed or mis-directed, because you went too cheap on things you should have spent a bit more on.
If your flight is landing at night, don’t try to navigate the public transport system especially if it is your first time visiting that destination, get a taxi instead.
Don’t book the cheapest hotel or hostel on the outskirts of town, where it is on a side street 20 minutes from the nearest station. The time you loose getting around is not worth it, plus if you need a taxi then the price skyrockets. Stay closer to the city centres, you will save money on public transport plus there will be more things for you to do (and fewer quiet empty streets at night).
If you go out on your own and have a few drinks, take a taxi back. There are many places with Uber, so if you prefer to see what streets the driver is going then use Uber.
The bonus with Uber is that you can share your trip with others. For this to work though, you do need a local number so if your phone takes dual sim then definitely take advantage of it.
Travel Safety Tip #10 – Keep backup copies of all your documents
In today’s digital age, there is no excuse not to have a copy of your important information saved online that you can easily access.
This includes and is by no means limited to:
– Copy of your passport and ID
– Copy of your birth certificate
– Copy of your travel insurance
– Your credit card and bank information
– Any receipts and details for accommodation, activities and flights booked
The reason for this is that if your passport or credit card is stolen, you can go straight to an embassy and speed up the process of organising a new passport. Otherwise you are waiting for someone back home to find it all (assuming they have copies or can access your home) and send it through.
Google Docs or Dropbox are common for this, it is a little risky to save them in your emails simply because if your email gets hacked you are locked out. Do not leave copies of this information as photos in your phone…. For the same reason.
You should also notify your banks that you are travelling, and which destinations. That way you don’t find your cards suddenly blocked with no way to easily call.
Travel Safety Tip #11 – Travel Insurance is worth it
Accidents happen and, in this case, it is better to pay for something you may never need then to NOT pay for it and find yourself in dire need.
Travel insurance is not just for health, it also covers natural disasters, political events, stolen property, missed flights and even repatriation of your body should the worst occur. It is absolutely essential. Just read the fine print and make sure you know exactly what you are covered for.
Make sure you have a detailed record of any electronics and valuables you are taking, including photos and serial numbers. The more detail you can give if needed, the better. Also remember that as soon as you know something has been stolen, you need to get to the local police station and get a report. All Insurance providers require this.
There are heaps of travel insurers, but my favourite and the one I strongly recommend is World Nomads.
Travel Safety Tip #12 – Keep in Contact
It can be easy to brush this off and say that you keep your social media accounts up to date, that should be enough.
Ideally you should have at least one family member or friend who has a copy (or access to) your itinerary and your important documentation (See Tip #10). Keeping in contact with this person is important because if anything happens to you, they will be the first to raise the alarm.
It is up to you how often you contact each other, but it should be every few days and at minimum once a week. It can be by email, phone call, messenger or even Whatsapp.
For example, I email my parents who have copies of all my information at least twice a week with photos and a mini update. But I have an agreed time that I call my grandparents on the phone every single week. My grandparents refuse to get the internet connected, and letters take too long. So, before each trip we agree on a day and time every week that I call. The family rule is – if I miss a call then it’s an emergency.
Now not everyone has family they can call, or a close friend that they can contact and that’s okay. Just make sure you have followed the other steps.