“No, you not! You are gonna get killed!!!”
“Yes, mom…” *eyeroll*
Needless to say my mom wasn’t too happy when I proclaimed at the age of 21 that I’m going to travel around the world for the next 12 months. Alone. At a time when smartphones didn’t exist and many hostels still had no idea what WIFI was.
10 years and more than 80 countries later, I’m still alive (sometimes I’m surprised by that, too!). I have solo travelled to many places that are often considered as unsafe, like Venezuela. Nothing really bad has ever happened to me.
Pure luck? Maybe. Being careful? Potentially. Applying some incredibly important travel safety tips? Most definitely!
Over the past decade I have learned a lot about how you can stay safe while traveling; what you can do to protect yourself and your belongings – especially, when you are a solo female traveler. I know that many people would love to go and see the world but are scared about safety.
That’s why I’ve put together a list with all the things that can help you stay safe on the road. I urge everyone with little or no solo travel experience to at least skim through it and apply a thing or two when traveling.
Travel Safety Tips: Before You Leave
There are a few things you can do to travel safely before you even leave. Be prepared:
1. Scan Your Documents
Before you leave, scan all important documents (or simply take a photo of them), such as passport, ID, driving license, international health care, or visas. Send these copies to your email account or save them online somewhere, e.g. Google Drive or Dropbox, so you can access them from anywhere at any time.
In case your bag with these documents gets stolen or you lose it, you still have copies.
2. Do Your Research
I know, I like to be as spontaneous and flexible as possible when I’m traveling, too. But do at least a little bit of research and see if there are any regions you should avoid or any other common threats in the area you want to travel to.
Also check the news. Are there any recent uprisings? Maybe some kinds of epidemics?
Get a better feeling for the safety situation in your destination country.
3. Get Vaccinations
Yes, that’s part of travel safety, too. You don’t want to get terribly sick in the middle of nowhere without proper medical facilities. Check what vaccinations are recommended for the regions you want to travel to and start getting them early enough (sometimes you need a couple of shots spread over a month or two).
4. Get a Travel Insurance
Make sure you have a travel insurance or an international health insurance, in case you are traveling long-term. I know many people prefer to save the money and not get one. But I strongly advise you against it.
A travel insurance not only saves you thousands of dollars in case you need help, but it can also save your life. For example, an affordable and reliable option would be World Nomads.
Check out my World Nomads review and find out if they are the right insurance for you.
5. Money Access
Don’t keep all of your money in one bank account or bring only one card with you. In case the card gets stolen, you are screwed. In case they empty your entire account, it sucks even more.
Spread your money on two accounts and bring at least a credit card and debit card. If you can, store some cash with a family member or friend. In case you can’t access your accounts anymore for whatever reason, they can transfer you your money via Western Union.
If you are looking for a great travel bank account, check out the linked banks which have hardly any fees and many benefits for travelers.
6. Pack Light
The less you carry around, the less can get stolen. Makes sense, right? Plus, it’s easier to watch only one piece of luggage than a pile of it.
Packing light is also important to stay flexible and safe. How do you want to chase after someone who just stole your handbag when you have 3 massive suitcases to drag behind you? Or run away? Or defend yourself when you are wrapped in backpacks and bags?
7. Plan Your Arrival
If possible, get a flight/train/bus during the day. Every city is friendlier and safer during daylight. If you can’t avoid it and arrive late at night, make sure you have your transport figured out. You will most likely be tired, jetlagged, have all your luggage with you, the area will be new and your perception might still be a bit slow.
Do your research and see if it is safe to take the train or bus in the night. Make sure you know how to get from the station to your accommodation.
If it doesn’t seem to be too easy or safe, get a taxi! Find out what type of taxis are safe in that country (yes, there can be huge differences) and how much the ride should cost approximately.
Travel Safety Tips: During Your Trip
Here are the things you should keep in mind when you are finally out and on the road:
1. Listen to your Gut
During all my travels, I’ve always trusted my gut feeling first. If something feels dodgy, I don’t do it. A street you don’t feel safe walking through; a fellow traveler urging you to go out with him; a tour guide saying that this food or drink is absolutely fine – If my feeling tells me something isn’t right here, I stay away.
Maybe I have missed out on a fun night, an easy shortcut or a tasty treat. But I’m very sure it also saved my well-being and maybe even life a couple of times, too.
2. Use a VPN
You will probably use public WIFI networks all the time on airports, buses, markets, cafés, or hotels. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that you use a VPN on your laptop and phone to protect your data.
I have been using NordVPN for years now and I’m super happy with it because it is reliable, easy to use and very affordable.
If you want to find out more about why you need a VPN when you are traveling and see if NordVPN is a good choice for you check out the linked post.
3. Have Backups
Losing your laptop, phone or camera is really frustrating. What’s worse is the fact that you don’t have your photos, documents or other data anymore.
That’s why it is important to make regular backups. Save your files on a USB stick or, even better, upload it and save it online. If you don’t need too much storage space, you could use the free versions of Dropbox or Google Drive.
4. Dress Appropriately
Visiting a temple in hot pants and crop top is not only very disrespectful towards the local culture but can also get you into a whole lot of trouble. In many countries it is not ok to go out showing knees and shoulders. People will either see that dress code as very rude or as request to treat you in a way you will not like.
Have a look around and see how locals dress. How much skin are local women showing? If you are not entirely sure how to dress, always bring a scarf or sarong in your handbag, which you can use to cover up in case you get weird stares. The best idea is to blend in and dress like the locals if possible.
5. Obey the Laws
Too obvious? I want to mention it anyway. Simply because you might not expect certain regulations and laws since they are so different from the ones in your home country.
For example, kissing or any other type of physical affection in public can get you into real trouble in places like Dubai, Morocco or India.
Make sure to do your research and play by the rules.
6. Know Your Weaknesses
Traveling is exciting! You get to do so much fun and adventurous stuff and you feel like you have to try it all. Well, sometimes you shouldn’t.
It is important to know you mental and physical limits.
For example, I get symptoms of high altitude sickness very easily. Anything above 2,200 m and I get a headache from hell, get dizzy, have to throw up and feel like dying. I would LOVE to do more hiking tracks in higher regions but I usually don’t. Chances are I get very sick and I don’t want to be a burden to fellow hikers and most definitely don’t want to risk my health.
Sometimes you just have to be the “boring” person who doesn’t participate because your health and life is more important than anything else.
7. Be Easy on Social Media
If you are very active on social media, be careful what you post. I have heard some creepy nightmare stories of fellow solo female travelers. There are really some crazy peeps out there.
In particular, be careful with your current location. I once mentioned the restaurant I had dinner in an Instagram story. A little later two guys showed up at that restaurant who found me through that. They only wanted to chat and had a lot of questions. Nothing threatening. But it was still a bit of an uncomfortable situation for me.
From now on, I only mention or tag exact places only when I’m in a group or a couple of hours after I have left.
8. Keep Your Family Updated
This is something I still need to improve. When I’m traveling I change places quite often and spontaneously. My family and friends know only roughly where I am (“somewhere in Africa”). In case I get lost, they would have absolutely no idea where to look for me, like zero idea. Not good!
Make sure you tell your loved ones in which city or hotel you stay and what your plans for the next days or weeks are. You know, just in case.
9. Know Your Location
Back in the days when we didn’t have smartphones, you had to use an actual map to find your way around town. Or simply go out and explore and hope you find your way back somehow. I don’t need to mention that I got lost countless of times without any clue which direction I have to go to.
These days it’s fairly easy to know where you are. Simply use apps like Maps.me (my absolute favorite) and mark your accommodation. This way you will always find your way back and can easily give a taxi or Uber driver directions.
Bonus Tip: If you are in a dodgy area, don’t check your phone on the street. Go into a café or library or something like that and check it in there so people on the street don’t see that you are lost.
10. Spread Your Cash
Don’t run around with hundreds of dollars. Only bring what you need. And don’t keep all of your cash in your wallet. In case you lose it, it gets stolen or you end up in a robbery, make sure you still have a couple of dollars somewhere else with you. Just enough to bring you back to your accommodation.
The same goes for credit or debit cards. Don’t keep them all together. For instance, you could hide things in your sock or get special underwear with tiny pockets or use a hidden security belt.
If you want to keep a bit of cash in your suitcase or big backpack, hide it in your dirty laundry bag. Not many people would want to dig in there.
Bonus Tip: Only use ATMs during the day and at places with a lot of people around. If possible, use the ones inside of a bank.
11. Clear Your Wallet
We all have countless of membership cards, cashback cards and god knows what kind of notes and cards in our wallets. When you go traveling you won’t need most of it. In case you lose your wallet, it’s a massive pain to remember what was in there, get new ones or freeze any accounts.
Do yourself a favor and only bring what you really need: ID, credit card, debit card, driving license, insurance card.
12. Don’t Flash Your Valuables
In many cities you will be fine running around with your camera around your neck, your smartphone in your hand and expensive jewelry on your body. In other cities that wouldn’t be the best idea.
Of course, you want to take pictures and need your phone for directions. But try to be not too flashy with it. Use it and put it away in your bag once you are done. If you look like you are super rich, the temptation to rob you is just bigger.
13. Watch Your Valuables
Watch your belongings everywhere and at any time. Seriously. Pickpockets are faster and smarter than you might think.
Want to quickly go to the toilet and leave you backpack on your train seat for a minute? Never! Drag that thing into the cabin with you.
Place your handbag on the floor between your feet while you take a nap on the bus? Nope, people can easily cut it open from the seat behind you and take out valuables.
Keep your phone in your jeans pocket while exploring the city? It is fairly easy to pull it out in crowded places or public transport. Always keep it where it is very hard to reach.
14. Bring Helpful Gear
A flashlight or head torch is always handy to bring and help you through power blackouts or unlit buildings or halls.
A lock is great to secure your suitcase or backpack. Maybe your hotel room has a closet where you can use it, too.
There are even backpacks out there, that are slash proof, for example the Pacsafe Venturesafe. There is no way people could cut through the material and steal your valuables.
A very annoying whistle can also keep potential offenders away. It is easy to carry with you and loud enough to get attention and help.
15. Listen To Reviews
When you plan to stay at Airbnbs or want to do Couchsurfing ALWAYS check the reviews before you book. If a place is new and doesn’t have any reviews, better stay away from it. As a female solo traveler you don’t want to end up at a creepy guy’s basement room.
The same goes for organized tours. Have a look at websites such as Tripadviser and see if people used the company before. Maybe there are several recent reviews pointing out significant safety issues with a cruise, sport or hiking company. Evaluate carefully if you want to take the risk.
16. Don’t Be Too Talkative
The stranger on the train ride or the guy at the bar might seem trustworthy but there is no need to share too many private details.
Be careful to not hand out information, that can get you into trouble. You shouldn’t tell them the address where you are staying, what exactly you do for work or how much you earn, what kind of travel equipment you carry around with you, your visa details, or what your exact next plans are.
You can have great conversations with strangers without giving out too much sensitive information.
17. Pretend to Be Married
This one doesn’t work all the time, of course. But sometimes it will help keep annoying men at distance.
Wear a wedding ring and keep your hand visible. On your phone, have a screensaver photo of you and a guy and show it casually. If you are talking to someone and you don’t feel comfortable with the situation, talk about your husband and that he is just around the corner and will surely be back in a second. Pretend to look for him.
That also works great when you don’t trust your taxi driver. Get your phone out and pretend to call your husband saying something like “Yes, honey. I’m in the taxi right now. We are already at xy, so I will be there in 5 minutes. I meet you at the entrance.”
18. Stay Sober
You want to go out and have a fun night. Nothing wrong with that. But stay away from too much alcohol or drugs. It will affect your judgement and you won’t be as aware of your surrounding as when you are sober.
Even if you are experienced with drugs, you never know what you are really getting. As a drunk or drugged solo female traveler you are a super easy victim. Bear in mind that you are not with your close friends who can take care of you or help you out. It’s just an unnecessary risk that you should stay clear of.
19. Watch Your Drink
Unfortunately, this is a problem in almost every country today. People secretly slip pills, powder or liquids in your drink to drug you.
Make sure to always keep an eye on your glass or bottle. When you are out at a bar or club, finish your drink before you go to the toilet and get a new one when you come back. Don’t leave it there or trust strangers to watch it.
20. Don’t Walk Alone During the Night
Watching the sunset at the other end of the city and exploring the nightlife are definitely great things to do. However, you should plan ahead and know how you will get home.
Is the public transport still operating late at night? Are taxis safe to use? Will you have to walk? Maybe you can make friends with someone in your hotel or hang out with your Airbnb hosts?
Of course, this depends on the city you are in how safe or dangerous it is. But when possible, try to avoid walking alone during the night.
21. Know When To Be Polite
I’m a very smiley, friendly and polite person. And that is important when you are traveling. Not only because it makes you and others feel better but it will also get you friends. If locals or other travelers like you, they are more likely to help you out of certain situations.
On the other side, some people might misunderstand your friendliness. That probably happened to all of us at some stage. While it usually only leads to uncomfortable situations, it can end up dangerous in other cultures. In some countries, eye contact and bright smiles towards men is not the best idea.
Do your research and watch local women to find out how they act in public.
22. Be Confident
If you are scared and think you are going to get attacked, you are an easier target. Bad people can smell your fear and are more likely to take advantage of your situation. Also if you are scared you might not have the power to defeat yourself in case you have to.
Keep your head up, stay focused and know what you are capable of. Don’t look like you are going to cry in a second. Look like you are no one to mess around with.
23. Know Self-Defense Techniques
In my 10 years of traveling I never had a single situation where I had to physically defend myself and I hope you won’t ever need to do either. But just in case, you should know how to hurt your offender more effectively.
- Instead of punches in the face, aim for the throat.
- Use your fingers and stick them in his eyes (I know, gross, but it can safe you).
- When attacked and hold from the back, bent forwards and down to grab one of his legs and pull it towards you to make him fall.
Check out this guide on Lifehacker to learn more easy to apply self-defense techniques every female solo traveler should know.
24. Know When To Cooperate
Although you should stay confident, you should NOT act big and try to fight anyone. If you are threatened with a weapon on the street and that person wants your money, simply hand it over. There is no need to challenge your luck.
Maybe you are able to run away, maybe you are not. Maybe the person who threatens you is only bluffing and wouldn’t hurt you. However, you don’t want to test that. It’s often better to simply give him your money instead of risking anything.
25. Learn How To Get Help
When you arrive in a new country, make sure to memorize the most important emergency numbers for police or ambulance. Check if your phone is working in those countries.
Also have your insurance policy handy. You never know. In some places you might only get help if you can prove that you can pay for it.
It can also help to know a few words of the local language, for example “help” or “need police”.
Bonus Tip: Write down the emergency numbers of your phone, credit and debit cards. In case they get stolen, you can quickly contact them to freeze your accounts.
26. Carry Contact Details
Let’s hope not, but just in case something happens to you and you have to go to hospital, not able to talk – How should people know who they need to contact?
Make sure to carry an emergency card with the name and contact details of your parents or other family members or close friends with you and place it where it can easily be found in case of an accident.
27. Common Sense
This one is not exactly your gut feeling. Because your gut might tell you that it is a fantastic idea to drink until 4 in the morning when you want to bike down the most dangerous road in the world only 3 hours later. But common sense tells you it is not.
Out to explore a gorgeous waterfall and want to jump down although you can’t see the ground and there are rocks everywhere below the surface? Not the best idea.
Of course you want to have fun and be adventurous. But don’t be tempted to do things that are obviously too risky and downright stupid. Use your common sense.
Stay Safe AND Have Fun
I know, this list got longer a bit than I expected. But luckily all of these tips are fairly easy to implement.
Just to add one more thing: You should stay alert and be aware of what is happening around you all the time, no matter how great things go and how safe you feel. Don’t get inattentive.
But don’t be scared either. Solo travel is a great thing and for most, the world isn’t as dangerous as you might think. So go out, explore and have fun!
Do you have any other tips for solo female travelers? Let us know in the comment section below!
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