There is a common misconception that traveling solo as a female is a sure-fire way to get kidnapped and sold into all sorts of horrific criminal organizations. (My mum probably has an up to date list which she knows off by heart )
I have travelled numerous countries alone and learnt a few tips which has helped me charge through solo traveling waters with confidence and ease.
A crime has three elements, a perpetrator, a victim and an opportunity. We can’t really control the first two elements, but the third can be eliminated or mitigated.
Here is a list of travel safety tips I always use when I travel alone.
- Always travel during daylight
Last year I decided to travel to Borneo. I found a super cheap ticket that landed into the airport at midnight. I arrived and hopped on the last bus into town and was busy congratulating myself until I realised I had to walk to my hostel in the middle of the night in a foreign country. I was approached by a group of young men and was TERRIFIED. Terrible things could have happened and I was very, VERY lucky that nothing did.
Moral of the story. If you are traveling alone, make sure your flight, bus, train, taxi, boat, whatever mode of transport you are using, arrives before nightfall. There will be people around who can help, you are visible and you will be less of an easy target. Even if it costs more, it’s worth paying a bit more for your safety. Which leads me to my next tip.
- Spend extra on staying safe.
I am all about the #budgetlife. The less I spend, the longer I can travel! HOWEVER, I am a big advocate of investing in your safety. So, if it means the accommodation you book costs a bit more, but it’s in a safe area, more central and easy to get to, or if your flight arrives before nightfall but costs a bit more, go for the safer option girls! No point saving on a few bucks but opening yourself up to unnecessary risks.
- Write your essential contact details on a piece of paper
Write the address and number of your accommodation on a piece of paper. Stick it down your bra. Just kidding! But keep it safe. When you arrive in a new country it’s good to have your accommodation details written down so you can show people if you need help finding it. It also prevents trying to retrieve the information from your phone/tablet, which could run out of battery. Also, you don’t want to start waving your valuable electronics around just as you enter a new country. You may as well hold up a sign saying #pleaserobme
- Buy a local phone SIM at the airport
Every time I arrive at a new airport alone, I make a beeline for the pop up phone shops in the airport. They are normally a bit overpriced but I buy the cheapest short-term sim card that has signal and more importantly: data. Why, you ask? Isn’t traveling all about disconnecting from the world and having eat pray love moments with no pesky Instagram posts reminding you that your eyebrows have grown out of control?
This is all true, but when I arrive at a new country alone I want to be in control and not at the mercy of the next Wi-Fi spot. Your taxi driver has no idea how to get to your accommodation? No problem, call your accommodation (which you wrote on a piece of paper and stuffed between your bazookas remember! ). Hand the phone to him, load the google maps up with your data and show him. Having a working phone with signal and data provides an extra level of comfort knowing that if you get into a sticky situation…. you can always call for help.
- Duplicate essential documents
Take a photocopy of your passport, the visa inside the passport and anything else you deem as an essential document. I remember I was in a hostel in Indonesia and a girl lost her passport on a night out. She was stuck at the hostel for AGES and couldn’t really go anywhere or do much as she waited for her new passport to be issued. If she had made a photocopy she would have been a bit more mobile.
The reality is, the less you need to handle your passport in public, the lesser the chance it will get stolen or go missing. Try and use the photocopy of your passport as much as you can.
- Bring loose clothing and a scarf
There will be occasions on your travel where it will be much safer to cover up your body to prevent drawing the wrong kind of attention to yourself or offending anyone. Pack some loose clothing and a scarf to cover your shoulders or head, so you can throw them on should the need arise. For example, I took a 36-hour sleeper bus from Laos to Vietnam that was full of men. I felt so relieved that I had loose clothing on. It just made me feel safer. We may not be aware or agree with local cultures and customs, but we need to respect them, so pack loose clothing just in case.
- Invest in essential travel gadgets
Carry a rape whistle, a door stop and a personal locater beacon.
If something bad is going to happen to you, make as much noise as possible! Your attacker needs to think, this is too risky, I might get caught. I bought a Rape Whistle on Amazon, it is small, can be hooked to your backpack and can be heard for more than a mile. The doorstop stops people barging into your room if the lock is a bit dodgy. The personal beacon is useful for when you are hiking in the wilderness alone (which I enjoy doing, especially in NZ). It ensures that if you break a limb, can’t move and have no phone signal …. you can be located and rescued ASAP.
- Be careful about how open you are
I have to reign in my chatty side with men when I am traveling alone. It’s unfortunate but in some cultures men will see your chattiness as an open invitation to #tapthatass. It sucks and took me awhile to get used to. I am not saying you shouldn’t talk to strangers, just reign it in initially until you have a full informed assessment of the situation and know it won’t get you into a sticky situation.
- Stay in touch via social media
Social media is great at making your travel pictures look sexy #tannedbootyfilterplease, but it’s also good at keeping your friends and family connected and informed about your whereabouts and can alert them if you suddenly go M.I.A. They can alert authorities send a search party if necessary.
I normally tell my sisters where I am, where I am going and for how long, so if they don’t see any dramatic photos of me looking into the distance on my Instagram, they assume the worst and call to check if I’m still alive.
- Small pack, big pack
Put all your valuables (phone, bank cards, passport, accommodation details, medication) in a small backpack, and put everything else in your big backpack which you can carry on your back. Wear the small one in front of your chest and poke anyone in the eye if they come too close to it. Never let it leave your sight. When you are going on planes, trains, buses, you can afford to let your big backpack be stored away (if it gets stolen they are welcome to your dirty laundry J). But keep your small pack safe and within reach.
- Prepare for the worst
I am not trying to scare you but take a second to imagine you were robbed or lost your bag with your phone, cards and passport.
What can you do to mitigate it? It’s better to mitigate it ahead of time instead of being stuck in a foreign country at the mercy of strangers. I have two bank cards for two separate bank accounts, one is for my travels and the other is my emergency cash fund in case I lose my other card. Put the spare card in a separate bag to your travel card e.g. in a trouser pocket tucked away so it’s not easy to find. Your passport photocopy will help you travel around while you wait for a new bank card. Also, tuck cash away in separate parts of your luggage. Maybe one in the small pack, one in the big one and one in a pocket in the clothes you are wearing. In a lot of countries, cash is king, so have enough to see you through a few days in case you lose your bank card.
- Get travel insurance
I used to hate travel insurance and was pretty sceptical at having to hand over my hard-earned cash for something which may or may not happen. But then I climbed up to Everest base Camp and realised that if I got altitude sickness (highly likely) and needed to be helicoptered off the mountain … I wouldn’t be able to afford it. Then what? I would be stuck up the mountain and potentially die. I can’t say I liked the option of expiring prematurely so I shopped around online and bought the most flexible but most reasonably priced insurance provider called World Nomads.
Once I bought it, I realised I had not only saved me the risk of having to fork out a large sum of money in the future, but I also bought myself peace of mind, which was invaluable. For example, when I launched myself of a slide at a river side waterpark, burst my eardrum and went deaf in one ear. Or had a motorbike accident in Vietnam or when I burnt my leg on the motorbike exhaust pipe and it got infected. In all these situations, I wasn’t worrying about medical costs or whether I could afford to get treated because I had already paid a fixed cost upfront buying travel insurance!
- Research, research
Before I arrive at a new place, I find out where to get food, how to get around and common scams. It also pays to know where the nearest medical centre is, common public transportation links, the costs and which neighbourhoods are safe. Also, are there any health issues to be aware of? Is the water quality drinkable? Will you need a filter or water tablets? I arrived in Laos when there was a malaria outbreak and spent the next week sweltering in long sleeves and trousers terrified I would be bitten by mosquitoes. If I had been a bit more sensible I could have taken necessary precautions, it would have given me peace of mind.
- Be confident
Traveling alone is such a privilege. How many people get the opportunity to experience the beautiful wonders of the world, WHEN they want and HOW they want? Too often we hide in our comfort zones waiting for other people to experiences life’s adventures with. The very fact that you have taken the plunge and decided to explore alone makes you AWESOME. It’s going to teach you wonderful life skills and quite honestly, its life changing.
When you arrive in a new country hold your head high, puff your chest out like a robin with a worm and BE CONFIDENT. And if you don’t feel confident, fake it. Pretend you are a duck, gliding serenely over the water’s surface effortlessly, but the duck’s little legs are furiously paddling underwater! Your confidence will be a great deterrent for unsavoury characters on the lookout for vulnerable, scared females to take advantage of.
- Make an effort with other female travellers
Women are wonderful creatures, some of us are nut jobs (ie me) but generally we are pretty awesome! Make an effort and get to know other female travellers in your new country. Sometimes it can be daunting, and you don’t want to come across as Milly-no-mates and too eager BUT just make the effort to smile and ask questions. Chances are they are in the same boat as you! It’s always good to have a network of females wherever you go. They can look out for you and vice versa.
Traveling solo will help you experience weird and wonderful pleasures of the world. You will make a bucket load of new friends who will help you see the world from a unique perspective and most importantly, you will discover to truly love your own company.
Have I missed anything? What do you think are other tips to help women travel solo, I’d love to hear in the comments below!
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