Solo travel is something I truly enjoy and something I would encourage anyone to do at least once in their life. Besides the soul searching experienced while traveling alone, it’s also lovely logistically. I’ve said in many other posts, the main reasons I love solo travel; I can do things at my own pace, and better yet, there’s only one budget to worry about; MY OWN. That being said, solo travel can be a pretty daunting challenge–Even for seasoned travelers. Every destination and experience is different so you never entirely know what to expect. So I’m here to share with you my solo travel safety tips because safety is always our number 1 concern when traveling abroad. I hope you find them helpful. And one day, with the help of these lessons, you will venture out on your own as well!
Related: Belize Solo Travel: 7 Reasons You Should Go
Stay in touch with friends & family back home.
Both for their sake and yours. Don’t let your family & loved ones worry about you while you travel solo. Touch base every other day or so to let them know you’re okay. I use Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger since they work with wifi. Whatsapp for my friends and FB Messenger for my parents.
Share your itinerary with someone back home.
Someone back home should know where you’ll be staying, their website and contact information. Hopefully, they’ll never have to use this information but if worst case scenario happens, you don’t want your loved ones having no idea how or where to begin looking for you. I email my itinerary to my parents. Nothing too fancy. Just where I’ll be staying what days, the name & contact info of the transport company I’m using and my flight information. Include websites as well.
Know where your embassy is and its contact information.
Again, this is only for pretty severe scenarios but this is not some information you want to be without if you find yourself a victim of a crime abroad or in need of other emergency assistance. This is also where you’ll need to go if your passport is lost or stolen while abroad.
I would also recommend enrolling in STEP if you are a US Citizen or National. It’s free and easy, and hopefully you’ll never need it! But an extra layer of precaution never hurt anybody. You can learn more and enroll HERE.
Know local emergency numbers.
In the US, for emergencies, dial 9-1-1. In the UK, it’s 9-9-9. Also know that local law enforcement may not be the most trust worthy. I’ve heard stories from women traveling that when they were in trouble, calling local law enforcement did absolutely nothing. Why? Likely because they’re corrupt or maybe just incompetent.
If you live in the US or UK, even with all the issues we have with the police, they’re still light years ahead of much of the rest of the world and you may realize we take that for granted while you’re abroad. If you’re in a true crisis or emergency and local law enforcement can’t or won’t help you, you need to contact the Embassy.
Forget the money belt and opt for a secure crossbody.
Money belts are secure, but there’s nothing that screams ‘TOURIST’ like seeing you go under your garments to grab something out of it. Avoid that and just opt for a crossbody. Something like this below works quite well. Make sure it has a zip closure and isn’t something that just has a magnet or no closure at all. And always carry it in the front of your body, never the back, as this will make you vulnerable to pick-pocketing.
I tend not to use backpacks since they are more vulnerable to theft (because they’re behind you). If I do use a backpack, I always keep it zipped and have started using a mini lock on the zipper closure. Something like these work perfectly. Feel free to use one on your crossbody as well!
Don’t look like a victim… Or a tourist.
I’m not gonna’ lie, there’s something extremely satisfying about someone asking you for directions while you’re traveling. This happens to me all the time and it’s because I look like a local. The trick is to walk with confidence… Keep your head high and at least look like you know where you’re going. I usually plan my route when walking to a destination and only briefly glance at Google Maps when I have to. Even if you don’t feel it, just fake it ’til you make it! Obvious tourists are easy targets for criminals.
Tacking on to this, if you have severe anxiety issues like I do, panic attacks while abroad, can be commonplace. It’s essential you know how to cope before your trip. Crying in public, looking flustered, etc. can make you a target for bad people. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or panicky, stop somewhere close like a coffee shop and take a beat.
While I was in Costa Rica, I had a panic attack while walking back from the beach one day. It was about a half mile walk back to my hostel on open road. I had no where to stop and gather myself and knew that area was common targeting ground for petty theft and muggings. In a scenario like this, you just HAVE to pull it together for those few minutes until you can get somewhere safe. THEN you can let it all out! I truly can’t stress this enough; DO NOT LOOK LIKE A VICTIM OR YOU MAY BECOME ONE.
Separate your valuables.
Make sure you never keep everything on you at once. Often times, cash is king while abroad. So it’s common to have a bunch of cash pulled out. Keep some in your purse, some in your suitcase, and an emergency stash hidden somewhere totally secret like in a sock or something. Also, separate your cash and cards between bags. If going out, just take one or two cards with you and leave your passport in the room. For an ID use your Driver’s License or State ID card.
Lock up your belongings.
Especially if you’re staying in hostels, your belongings should stay locked in one of the lockers they provide. If you’re staying in an AirBNB or hotel, see if the hotel has a safe or keep your valuables in your suitcase and put a lock on the zippers. While staying in hostels, NEVER leave your valuable belongings out in the open if you aren’t in the room.
Talk to your host, as well as the locals.
When checking in, your host should give you a run down of the area, their contact information, public transit info, etc. This is the perfect opportunity to ask them what you should check out in the area. Any secret beaches? Local restaurants that are a MUST? What areas are safe? Which are not?
Listen to your gut.
Often people–especially women–ignore our instincts in life and abroad. Listen to your instincts! If someone is giving you an icky feeling, kick ’em to the curb! Got a feeling you can’t shake that you should stay in tonight, rather than go out? Then stay in! This is so important. Trust your gut.
Check travel advisories.
You can search your destination here. (United States site).
If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford travel.
Like many others, I use World Nomads Travel Insurance. Only once I had to file a claim, which was for my phone that was damaged beyond repair in Costa Rica. Their customer service was speedy and polite. The only reason I didn’t move forward with the claim was because I also have phone insurance with my provider and they were even faster and cheaper to get a replacement.
Many credit cards offer travel insurance, and you should also check your health insurance at home to see what you’re covered for, if anything, while abroad. If you need to purchase separately, World Nomads has fair prices and lots of coverage. They also have two different plans depending on your travel style and what you need covered. The site breaks this down comprehensively here.
Thoroughly research your destination.
Look up maps, read what others have to say, ask for feedback in a FB group. (This has been invaluable to me!) Also research typical cons in that destination. If you’re going to Mexico, for example, hop and Pinterest and type in ‘what to avoid in Mexico,’ or ‘what NOT to do in Mexico,’ etc. Forums on TripAdvisor are helpful, as well.
Research your public transit options and don’t forget about checking those travel advisories!
I’m a huge podcast and music addict. While at home, I have headphones in my ears, probably 90% of the time. However, when traveling, it’s important to leave them in your locker. Why would you want them in anyway while traveling?? You might miss something great! Stay aware of your surroundings… Keep your ears and eyes open.
I won’t be the one to tell you that you need to stay sober while traveling solo. That would make me a massive hypocrite. But you need to be smart and alert and never let yourself get shitfaced. (It’s also just not a good look, ladies). Dosing drinks is a very real danger and sometimes even the people running the bars are behind it so be extremely careful.
Personally, I never go to nightclubs alone while traveling, I usually have made a friend I go with and it makes me a lot more comfortable. With my panic disorder, it’s also not smart to put myself in that situation alone because I get easily overwhelmed. Not fun!
Don’t look too flashy.
If you’re staying in a 5-star resort, this may not be something you have to worry about. But I’m a backpacker usually staying in hostels or guest houses. I also own and wear a lot of expensive jewelry. (It’s my weakness!) I leave that at home while traveling. Instead, I opt for a few staples that I basically never take off anyway. Don’t make yourself look like a target for pick-pockets and robbers.
Don’t put anything in back pockets.
Remember what I said about backpacks? You can’t really monitor what’s behind you so avoid putting anything in your back pockets which are easy targets for petty theft or simply falling out and getting lost. Learned that one the hard way!
It’s okay to be “rude.”
Yes, always be polite and start with kindness but if someone makes your spidey senses tingle or if you see someone needing help, it’s okay to say no or keep walking. Feigning victimhood or needing help is a trick Ted Bundy used to get women in to his car! (My true crime nerdiness is showing, I know). But seriously, if someone really needs help that badly, call the police or get a local to help them. Don’t leave someone bleeding out on the street! But if a guy wearing a cast asks you to help him load his canoe on to his car, do you really think he wants or needs YOUR help? Probably not…
Bring a backup form of communication.
And never carry both at the same time. I had to learn this the hard way in Costa Rica. I only brought my phone with me and after it got damaged, I was up shit creek without a paddle. If I had brought my iPad or laptop, my life would’ve been so much easier my last few days there and my parents back home would’ve been much less worried. Carry your phone with you during the day. Leave the iPad or laptop LOCKED UP back at your accommodations and only bring it out if/when necessary. Don’t bring it out in public.
If you’re going out, have a plan.
Have you noticed most of my solo travel safety tips come down to planning…?
Don’t be wondering how you’re going to get home at 2:00 AM after last call at the bar. Know how to call an Uber (or if it’s available in your country), if not, know where you can find/call a taxi before going in to the club.
Don’t tell people where you’re staying.
Just like you should be protective over your home address, you should behave the same with your accommodations while traveling. I don’t let guys pick me up for first dates because I don’t know them and I don’t want my address falling in to the wrong hands. Take this mentality with you abroad as well.
Make sure you have these apps
- Google Maps
- Find Your Phone
Enough said. They’ll come in handy more times than you can count and absolute essentials while traveling abroad.
Keep a portable charger with you.
I can’t count how many times mine came in handy! Never be without this. End of story. I have the one pictured below and I love it. It works extremely well for the smartphone. In fact, I only recharged it once while in Costa Rica and got several full charges on my iPhone out of it. For my iPad, I get about 2 charges out of it.
Always. Pack. Condoms. Seriously!
Sexual safety is often an overlooked part of many articles you’ll find online discussing travel safety and that’s a shame. Sexual safety is a HUGE part of physical safety and ought not be overlooked while traveling! Take charge of your reproductive health and never entrust it in another’s hands. Hooking up abroad is fun and lots of people do it. There’s no shame in that! Have all the fun, but safe fun! Because you know what isn’t fun? STI’s and unplanned pregnancies.
Never assume or make plans based on the preparedness of others. Be smarter and protect yourself.
Be prepared to leave if you have to.
We don’t want to focus on the negative scenarios when discussing solo travel safety but we simply must discuss it. In absolute WORST case scenarios you may have to cut your losses and head back home. This is a sucky and difficult decision and something I’ve heard of only a few times after talking to hundreds of travelers who’ve taken hundreds more trips. But let me give you a story that is a perfect example of a time when you should leave the country immediately…
A woman I’ll keep anonymous shared her story in one of the Facebook travel groups I’m a part of. A truly terrifying situation that happened to her while traveling in Mexico. Long story short, several of her friends were drugged by both bar-goers, as well as the bartenders, and were then followed for miles before managing to lose the car tailing them and making it home. Her friends became violently ill. She made several calls to get the police to come to their aid, to no avail. She asked the group the next day if they should risk going out again or just lay low for the few days they are there.
The group advised neither course would be smart. Some experts chimed in and informed us that after reading all the details of the incident, was confident this was ‘tagging’ for human trafficking. And the fact that law enforcement failed to show up after 3+ calls shows they are likely in on it. (Even if they aren’t in on it, they’re obviously unable or unwilling to assist in a true emergency situation)! While it seemed that the people following them didn’t manage to see where they were staying, that could also be untrue. This is a rare scenario where you need to contact the embassy and get them to evacuate you out of the country immediately. Yes, it’s a HUGE bummer to spend all that money and to have your trip cut short and ruined by some evil assholes but it’s not worth your life. Sometimes you need to just cut your losses. It’s your job to educate yourself and know what to do when that extremely rare situation arises.
Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.
Don’t worry, I won’t end this article on doom and gloom. My final solo travel safety tip would truly be as said above; Hope for the best and prepare for the worst. If you follow these guidelines, you’re protecting yourself, but don’t forget to keep your heart and mind open! I’m a believer that the human mind has a lot of power to manifest the reality we experience. Is it so hard to believe that if you’re going on a trip and anticipating terror and a horrible time, that’s exactly what you’ll get?
In truth, the world is probably the safest it’s ever been in all of human history–especially for women. While it’s certainly not perfect, we’ve come such a long way! Take advantage of this time and embrace the world and all its wonders. Allow yourself to be a bit vulnerable and take that jump in to a solo trip!
If you found this article helpful, here are a few others you might enjoy!
- How to Travel More Without Giving Up Your Job
- Costa Rica Itinerary (10 Days Solo)
- 11 Untold Tips for Women Traveling in Costa Rica