The view from here
Feel empowered to travel alone with these safety tips. Acknowledge and prepare for risks, and then conquer your travel dreams with confidence.
There’s no doubt it can be bit of a wild world out there. If you’re a woman who likes to travel - and particularly if you like to travel solo - you’ve likely heard a few of these common responses:
The truth is, your well-meaning but sometimes annoying friends and family making these comments aren’t entirely wrong. There are bad people out there, there is a (very miniscule) chance that you’ll get kidnapped, and if you’re setting off on an adventure alone, you’re probably fairly brave.
On the other hand, bad things can happen anywhere. Just because the world can be unpredictable, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get out there and see it. We are in the camp of going after every adventure on your bucket list, and firmly believe that being afraid of the unknown and wrapping yourself up in a ball of cotton is never the answer.
Fortunately, it is possible to soberly calculate the risks involved and enhance your personal safety without having to sacrifice the experience. We don’t think living a fearful life is even an option (lest you be so afraid you don’t actually live at all), but you should always be smart about looking after Number One.
We are working on some location-specific safety tips (coming soon), but for now, here are some universal tips to help you on your way.
Choose your destination wisely
Yes, crazy things can happen anywhere across the globe, but there are some destinations that are objectively safer than others, particularly if you are travelling as a lone woman. Australia, for example, is probably going to be a safer bet than the Congo. You heard it here first. But seriously, do your research and listen to the practical, clear-headed recommendations from those who have been there before (not the fear mongering naysayers who’d rather you just stay home). If you’re set on a particular place but have concerns, maybe it’s best to join a tour group or wait until your friends can join you for that destination.
Stay in a reputedly safe area
In the past, it could be hard to know whether or not your accommodation was in a more or less safe neighbourhood without some local knowledge. Luckily, we now have Google! Do a quick search on both your accommodation of choice and its surrounding area before you book. See what the locals, and actual travellers who have been to that place, have said. Tripadvisor and Facebook reviews are a great place to start. Remember, every destination has its quirks, and in some areas you can go from feeling ‘totally safe’ to ‘a little bit sketchy’ just by crossing the road - so it’s best to get the lowdown and avoid any surprises.
Planning is your friend
A little bit of planning goes a long way. I’m not saying you need to organise every detail of your trip before you even take your first flight, because spontaneity can be amazing, but put a bit of thought into things like your accommodation and transport. Taking a road trip? Before you head out on each new stretch, reserve your next block of accommodation online or pick up the phone and check out their availability. Catching a train or a bus? When does it arrive at the station? How will you get from there to your accommodation? Think these things through so you don’t end up alone at an empty bus depot at midnight.
On that note, when using public transport, I like to keep my wits about me. I’ll often sit next to another woman, or stay close to doors so I can run away from serial killers quickly. Just kidding. Kind of.
Sort your technology
Phones - preferably well-charged ones with plenty of data and credit - are your friends. Make an obsessive habit of charging your phone whenever you can. You never know when you’re going to need it for navigation, communicating with the friend who is picking you up somewhere or helping you translate to your taxi driver. A lot of planes, trains and buses now have USB ports so you can charge on the go, but then there are some transport companies that still act like it’s 1995. In such situations, it can be more than a good idea to have an extra battery pack on standby. Keep that one obsessively charged too.
Speaking of phones, there are some wonderful apps for solo travellers that can help give you that extra peace of mind. They might cost a few dollars upfront, but could save you a whole lot of drama.
Have a backup to technology
So, you’ve downloaded all the right apps, have an awesome data plan and have packed an emergency battery pack...but you drop your phone down the toilet while you’re on a cross-country train ride. Phones and computers are amazing travel tools, but they can only help you if they’re working. In the case of an accident or theft, make sure your phone isn’t your only lifeline. How? Pack some old school but oh-so-handy items, including:
Tell someone trustworthy where you’re going
It’s simple, but effective - tell someone where you’re going, and when you expect to be back. When you’re on the road, this person might be a hostel staff member, somebody staying at the same place as you, or even a friend back home who’s willing to chase you up if they don’t hear from you within a certain timeframe. Whether you’re headed off on a hike, out to a bar or simply for a stroll around the block, don’t forget to give someone a quick heads up.
Don’t lose all your marbles
We’ve all heard stories - and perhaps you’ve even done it before and survived to tell the tale - of people heading off overseas and doing things that are totally crazy. Getting out of your comfort zone is great, but diving from a 50 metre high cliff into the dark ocean after a night of drinking isn’t such a swell idea. Screw peer pressure - only do what you’re truly okay with, and use your common sense. If you don’t feel good about a situation, don’t feel like you have to go along with it. Definitely don’t worry about keeping up with the crowd - you can do what you want, leave when you want and change your plans when you want. It’s true, partying can be a part of travel, so let your hair down if you want to, but stick to your personal boundaries - you know you best.
Trust your creep radar
When you’re traveling, you meet people from all walks of life, and the vast majority of them are friendly and helpful. Usually, you get a gut feeling when you’re chatting to someone about whether they’re ‘okay’ or not. Trust your creep radar - if it starts going off, feel free to remove yourself from the situation. We hereby give you permission to release the ‘be a nice girl’ guilt.
When in doubt, keep your traveling plans close to your chest
Don’t feel the need to tell strangers in passing that you’re staying at X hostel for X days and you’re going to go hiking here and there. If you get a bad vibe from the person you are talking to, or just don’t trust the crowd around you, change details or simply don’t share that kind of information.
Fake it til you make it
You may be asked if you have ever been to X country before. This could be a taxi driver, salesperson, etc. Pretend that you have. Sometimes this is a question used to feel out your level of naivety. Of course this is not a hard and fast rule and most people probably just want to chat or give you some helpful advice. However, when dealing with those who don’t have your best interests in mind, you’re less likely to get ripped off with exorbitant fares and the like if you already ‘know the drill’. eg. Negotiating for taxi fares in Thailand.
Worst case scenario
You might find that even after implementing all of our advice, you would still feel more secure if you had a tangible form of self defence available to you. There are a number of options, such as carrying a small pocket knife, an item that can also come in handy in a whole range of situations. Always check local regulations, but in some countries such as the United States, you can purchase purse-sized pepper spray over the counter. You might even want to consider taking a self-defence course before you travel for a valuable confidence boost. Whatever you decide, just triple check what you’re allowed to travel with before you make your television debut on an episode of Border Patrol.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Lost? Hurt? Freaked out? Have absolutely no clue how to read the Chinese train timetable? Don’t be afraid to reach out for help from a friendly face. When you’re travelling, there are always going to be moments when you don’t quite know what to do or where to go - and that’s alright. Usually, it’s when we see the best of humanity - somebody willing to lend a hand or point you in the right direction just when you need it. So put that pride aside and reach out.
Have you ever been in a sticky situation while travelling? How did you get yourself out of it? Are there any safety tips you make sure to abide by while you travel? Let us know in the comments.