10 Safety Tips for Solo Travelers in Any Country
I can’t count the number of times people have warned me not to go somewhere for fear that I will be kidnapped and sold into the sex trade a la Hostel, mugged, drugged, scammed or worse. In reality, these are things that happen all over the world, regardless of how nice you think the city you live in might be but our (or our family’s) apprehension might be a little higher when we announce that we’re about to trek off across the globe. And truth be told, the safety tips that I’m going to share today are probably things that you have done at home already.
I was eighteen when I decided to go on my first solo backpacking trip and seven years later, I continue to travel solo (mostly). Along the way, I’ve done some pretty naïve things and when I look back to eighteen-year-old me, fresh off the plane and lazily counting my money at a random outdoor ATM with my wallet tucked under my arm, I am amazed that I’ve never personally encountered a dangerous situation abroad. I’d like to think I’ve learned a bit since then and am wiser for it, although it may not be true. Either way, I am able to offer up some practical safety tips for traveling alone in any country.
1. Arrive In The Day
If you can, try to arrive to your new destination while it’s still light out. The risk of crime can rise when the sun goes down plus it can be difficult to get your bearings when you arrive to a new city in the dark. If you are arriving in the middle of the night, have at least that night’s accommodation booked and hail a taxi to take you there straight from the airport.
2. Be Discrete
If you’re a white traveler and traveling in a country that is not primarily Caucasian, people are going to assume you’re rich even if that might not be the case. In fact, I don’t travel with a giant Canada flag badge on my backpack because people tend to assume that because I’m from North America, my bags will be loaded with expensive stuff (sadly, all you’re going to find is a jar of peanut butter and some dirty clothes).
One of my biggest safety tips is to divvy up your money – don’t keep it stored all in one place. Keep some in your wallet, some in your luggage, your money belt, sneakers, etc. This way, if someone manages to steal your bag or your wallet, you won’t have lost everything. On another note, be discrete when dispensing money from an ATM. Don’t follow my example and stand there counting out all of your money in front of watchful eyes.
3. Carry Only The Necessities
Try not to go out for the day with everything on you. You don’t need to be carrying all of your cash, your passport, all of your credit cards, etc. Take one piece of ID, money that you think you’ll need for the day and a debit card. The rest can be left locked up in your luggage, wherever you’re staying. On this note, also make copies of all of your important documents – just in case! I tend to make two hard copies: one, I leave at home with a trusted family member, the other I keep tucked away in my backpack, plus I have the scanned documents on my laptop. You might never need it – and that’s fantastic – but it’s better to have it just in case; having copies of my documents saved my life when I lost my passport in Thailand.
4. Use Anti-Theft Accessories
There are some wonderful travel accessories that you can use to minimize theft and stay safe abroad. One thing that I always travel with are a money belt or bra pocket. I can easily keep some extra cash on me without keeping all of it in my wallet. I prefer the bra pocket or the money pouch that you can wear as a necklace, hidden beneath your shirt, rather than the money belt that goes around your waist. Additionally, keep a luggage lock on your luggage to prevent theft. There are also zippered clothing that can discretely hide a passport as well as anti-theft bags with slash-proof straps.
5. Keep Your Bag In Front of You
When you do carry a bag, keep it in front of your body. Pick-pocketers can easy unzip a backpack on your back without you noticing or can slide a hand into a purse that’s dangling on your arm. Wear backpacks on your front and choose a purse with a cross-body strap that lets it rest on your hip, which you can easily rotate to be resting in front of you (and always keep it zipped!). I’ve become used to naturally walking around with my hand resting on the zipper of my purse as an added deterrent.
6. Know The Language
As always, understanding how to communicate with others is useful. You don’t need to be fluent, but do have a few helpful phrases under your sleeve so that you know how to ask for help.
7. Be Confident
If you’ve got nothing else, be confident. If you look lost, confused, scared or vulnerable, you may become an easy target. Even if you have no idea where you’re going or what to do, pretend otherwise. Walk like you know where you’re going until you get yourself somewhere where you feel safe enough to collect yourself and figure out your next move. For me, this is often a cafe with other customers where I can sit down, nurse a cup of tea and get my shit together. Or planting yourself into the nearest group of people and pretending that they’re your friends.
8. Trust Your Instincts
If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If you’re couch surfing and it feels uncomfortable, leave. Always have a backup accommodation in mind. If you’re walking and you suddenly get the feeling that you might be in a shady area, leave. You get the point.
9. Stay Connected
Yes, you’re traveling solo and you want to feel free and potentially disconnected from “the real world”. But always make sure that someone knows where you are and roughly how long you plan to be there. Have a plan to reach out to someone from home every week and let them know that if they haven’t heard from you in however many days, then something might be wrong. I typically tell my family where I’m staying at any given time – including the phone number and address.
10. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Wherever you go, be aware of your surroundings. Have a general idea of the people that are around you, where a safe spot might be, where your exits are, etc. Plus, on top of all of this, have the phone number and address for your accommodation and your country’s embassy in case of emergencies. Ask your accommodation staff to map out what areas of the city are more risky so that you know beforehand. Research your destination so that you don’t make any easily avoidable faux pas. For example, pointing at people in Thailand can be considered rude and various other countries find it offensive when you give a “thumbs up”.
“Everyone has oceans to fly, if they have the heart to do it. Is it reckless? Maybe. But what do dreams know of boundaries?”
– Amelia Earhart
While these safety tips can be for all travelers, safety as a solo female traveler especially is the number one comment and question that I get from those around me. I’ve been called crazy for going out into the world alone and I’ve been called brave. Truthfully, I don’t think I’m crazy or brave for wanting to experience everything that the world has to offer. Are there risks? Of course. But many of the common risks that enter people’s minds have been sensationalized by the media. In reality, every risk that presents itself around the world can occur right here in our hometowns.
People say I shouldn’t go to places like Colombia and India because of the drug history, rebels and violence towards women. They say I shouldn’t go to Europe because of the risk of terrorism. People say I’m safer here at home. But what about the Colombian tourist that was recently murdered just down the street from my workplace? Here, in our “safe” country of Canada.
I don’t go out traveling with the naïve notion that nothing bad could ever happen. There’s no guarantee that I won’t end up in a dangerous situation but I also won’t live my life from a place of fear. So we go out with these safety tips, prepared for anything, and leave the rest in trusting the world.