Solo travel can be the most amazing, life changing, memorable experience of your life. It definitely was for me.
But especially after a few too many repeats of “Taken” – how do you reassure your loved ones at home (and maybe even yourself) that you’re going to be safe?
Nothing in life comes with a 100% guarantee, of course. But there are a few simple tips you can follow to increase your security while traveling solo.
I’ll admit that sometimes, choosing safety isn’t fun, and sometimes it is more expensive and inconvenient. But your life is more precious than any potentially raging party could ever be.
7 Tips for Solo Travel Safety for Women
1. Learn self defense
Both preventative and reactionary self defense can be life saving.
Do you know how to free yourself when someone holds your wrists? How about when they begin choking you? How do you escape when a much larger man is pinning you down, on top of you?
You need self defense.
Enroll in an online or in-person course (I highly recommend jiu-jitsu). You’ll learn and practice strategies that will eventually become instinct, and can help you react in a dangerous situation.
Self defense can help you feel more confident and prepared, even in your every day life.
2. Don’t get schwasted
Getting really drunk lowers your inhibitions. You’re more likely to make iffy decisions while drunk, and more likely to ignore your intuition.
Combine these lowered inhibitions with an impaired motor control, and you’re easier to take advantage of – both mentally and physically. Drunk women are more likely to be robbed or assaulted, and being visibly drunk makes you appear an easy target.
3. Intruder-proof your room
Whether you’re staying a super sketchy guesthouse or a nice hotel, traveling solo can be most anxiety-causing while you’re trying to sleep.
What if someone tries to sneak into your room?
Get yourself some peace of mind with an easy door stop or door alarm. They are super light, cheap, small, and provide invaluable protection.
4. Avoid isolating situations
Don’t put yourself in isolated situations with strangers – especially hitchhiking or taking rides from people you don’t know. Even if they seem nice and even if you are in a “safe” country. Only ever ride with licensed taxis after dark.
Don’t go to a party far out of the city with a man you don’t know and who you are relying on for a ride. What happens if he turns pushy or things get weird? Miscommunication and misinterpretation happens easily, especially between cultures. Don’t strand yourself at the mercy of a stranger.
5. Become an early bird
Try to trade in your night owl ways, at least for your trip.
Always arrive during the day to any new place, so that you can scope out your surroundings and also get your bearings.
Plan activities for the day time as much as possible. More crimes happen at night, influenced by the cover of nightfall, alcohol, and by potential criminal’s decision fatigue.
6. Don’t be flashy with your valuables
Discretion is key. Hide your money away (like in a money belt, my new favorite bra secret stash, or a wrist wallet).
Don’t make yourself an easy, obvious, valuable target by showing off expensive items, a wad of cash, or bragging about your big budget. This should all be common sense.
That might mean leaving your expensive earrings and designer handbag at home, but it is a worthwhile inconvenience.
7. Trust your intuition
If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
Sometimes your subconscious picks up on cues from others that you wouldn’t otherwise notice – strange wording, aggressive or nervous posture, negative energy or too much adrenaline.
Trust your gut (and read the Gift of Fear), in many cases women who were attacked later realized there were “signs” they couldn’t put a finger on, signs that predicted something was wrong.
Hola. As a solo female traveler, with emphasis on Latin America, I find that it is unusual to meet other solo female American travelers. I have met countless female solo travelers from Germany and Australia where their cultures encourage travel and adventure, rather than the American culture of fearing travel and adventure. Definitely use common sense, follow your gut, and don’t get drunk out late at night.
Not to be overlooked, I think it’s necessary to dress more conservatively than at home in the US. As a solo foreigner, you will already stick out and draw attention. My first time in Italy, I was shocked by the constant cat-calls and sexual comments on the street. This is normal in many cultures and you do not want to draw more attention to yourself. I am tall and blonde and stick out like a sore thumb.
There are some basic tips I use to draw less attention to myself, look put together, and stay comfortable in every climate:
-I always wear a hat. It helps to hide some of my blond hair, and serves as excellent sun protection. Pull it down to avoid stares on public transportation, or to try to catch a nap. I bring a baseball cap and usually buy a cheap local hat from a street vendor in whatever country I am visiting.
-I do not wear makeup. Many women in other countries do not wear daily makeup either. I had a tinted lip balm I used a handful of times that also serve as blush. You are on a travel adventure, it’s refreshing to get away from your makeup routine you do at home.
-I always cover my shoulders. I never wear camisoles or tank tops. This is way to much skin to show and in many countries you will not be allowed in some museums, or places of worship if your shoulders or knees are exposed. I use button down collared shirts, often with a tank underneath. I get them from travel supply companies like ExOfficio or outdoor supply companies like REI. I have one in black and one in white. You can dress them up with a bright scarf (or even tie at the waist for a night of salsa dancing), or wear them on a 4 day trek to Machu Picchu. They not only provide modesty, but provide sun and bug protection. Roll up the sleeves if needed during the day, and roll down in cold AC, or in the evening.
-No bikini. I wear a long sleeved surfing rash guard. While I have gone topless in Europe along with the locals, it’s good to stay covered from painful sunburns and sand flies. The rash guard can be worn as another shirt option for your wardrobe too. You also will not need a cover up to walk around town, just tie a sarong or turkish towel around as a skirt.
I don’t wear shorts. Shorts are not common in other countries other than on a sports field. I wear leggings (I have a great pair of jeggings) or for tropical weather, breezy linen pants. It’s more modest, and again provides sun and bug protection. If needed you can roll the pants up to capri length.
I just returned from 12 weeks in Chile and Peru. I hiked the Inca trail, and the deepest canyon in the world, and went to a few nice dinners, and countless museums. I was in the Amazon jungle, the city, and the cold Andean mountains. I only travel with 3 outfits. Yes, including the one I’m wearing. There is no use carrying around a pack of dirty clothes. Simply wash your clothes out every night or every other night. I buy all quick dry items, that are high quality from outdoor supply companies like REI. Roll the wet clothes in a towel to ring out extra water. Hang up before going to bed and you have clean, dry clothes in the morning. I wear mostly black, with some white and tan, and have a colorful scarf. I often buy a local brightly colored scarf or textile to accessorize.
I travel with a 30L pack. I am a light packer, but met many Australian women traveling for a year or more with only a 10L school-book style backpack. The more I travel, the less I carry. There are many ultra light world traveling backpackers packing tips on youtube.
As you mention, every trip you become more and more minimalist in traveling, as it makes the process easier and allows you more freedom. With 3 tops and 3 bottoms you will be ready for anything. The point of being a traveler and not a tourist is to experience the culture. Not worrying about your wardrobe or making a fashion statement will help you be a better traveler.