Five Safety Tips For Solo Travel First-Timers

So your mom doesn’t have to worry herself to death

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

There’s a first time for everything, and your first solo travel experience should be an adventure of a lifetime! Solo travel has a lot of benefits and can be a real confidence-boosting experience. It has a lot to teach us as we explore the world around us.

Throughout all of my travels, I’ve rarely encountered an issue and only felt unsafe just a handful of times. What eased my mind is taking the necessary precautions to keep myself safe.

Being in an unfamiliar place with a different culture and language can be, mildly put, intimidating. Being prepared is your best bet in staying safe, and it’ll give your loved ones the peace-of-mind to go to sleep at night while you are out there, making the world your oyster.

1. Research where you’re going

I would hope that not only do you know where you’re going but that you’ve done some research on the place. Knowledge is power, and in this case, knowledge is safety.

If you are traveling to a foreign country, look up cultural customs, learn a few key phrases in the local language, and find tips on how to stay safe in that particular location. I do this by reading up on Lonely Planet and Wikitravel. They often have excellent advice from other travelers who have valuable experiences that can benefit you. Here you can learn about what to expect in public transport, behaviors, and attitudes from the locals and how to avoid scams.

One of the first things I do once I know I’m traveling abroad is to register with the embassy. Your local embassy will be able to assist you in the event of a local emergency. They can provide you with the necessary information to make the best travel decisions while abroad. If you’re American, check out STEP. If you hold citizenship from another country, get in contact with your foreign affairs department for more information.

A little trick that I taught myself is to create a list on Google Maps full of locations that you plan on visiting within your destination. These locations can include your accommodations, sites you’d like to see, local police stations, public transport stops, and others. That way, you already know where you are going and have an idea of the layout of the city.

2. Give a trusted loved one your deets

Traveling alone does not mean you are alone. I’m willing to bet that you have people back home who are eager to help you out if you’re ever in a tight spot! But in order to help you, they’ll need some necessary information from you regarding your trip.

Select a trusted family member or friend back home and give them the address of where you plan on staying and give them whatever itinerary you have mapped out for yourself. They’ll have an idea of where to look for you and contact you if an emergency happens.

Something that my parents taught me early on is leaving a copy of my passport with them. You can do this by taking a picture of the first page of your passport with your phone (make sure it’s clear enough to read) and emailing it to them. While you’re at it, go ahead and email a copy to yourself so you have it on hand in case you need it.

3. Stay smart

Not all of us are born with street smarts, and there are only so many things you can learn from listening to gangster rap. When you are traveling alone, you have to have your own back and practice a level of self-awareness that you might not practice at home.

Keep your belongings close to you and don’t them down in public, and especially out of sight. It can take only a small distraction and just a matter of seconds before your things get snatched. If you have an inner pocket in your jacket, use that to store your valuables: your phone, some emergency cash, and whatever keys you have on you. It’ll be harder for pick-pockets to sneak away with your things.

Keep your wits about you when strangers approach you. Learn how to say no in the local language and keep walking. Be especially mindful of the ones who are asking something of/from you.

This one isn’t always easy, depending on what your plans are, but try to avoid super large crowds if you can. Go to the attractions you want to see a little earlier or later than most people would. It’s a win-win, you stay a little safer, and you get to enjoy the attractions without being rushed.

Look like one of the locals (or at least a long-term expat resident). How are the locals dressed? Try to look a little more like them if possible. Sticking out like a sore thumb screams that you aren’t from around, and you’re more likely to be taken advantage of by scammers and people with ill intentions.

Walk with a purpose and remain confident. Even if you don’t totally know where you are going, try to look like you. This is the time to pull out your resting bitch face. She’s never failed me yet.

4. Avoid getting too wasted — whether it’s alcohol or drugs

I’m not here to police you on what you put into your body. As long as you’re not hurting anyone or yourself, then have a good time!

But keep in mind that not only are drugs illegal in most countries, you could also get in serious trouble if caught carrying them. You aren’t at home, and the local judicial system at your intended destination could be very different than what you’re used to. Don’t be stupid in your pursuit of a good time. Study up the laws, know what you can, and cannot do legally. Did you know that marijuana is actually illegal in Amsterdam and the Netherlands? It’s merely tolerated by local authorities, and can only be consumed in the designated coffee shops around the city, in a controlled setting with a controlled amount.

Drinking on a solo trip, let alone abroad, is not like how you do at home. You have to practice awareness while out drinking. And I hate saying this, but especially if you are a female. Always watch your drink; never let it leave your sight. Do not get overly drunk to the point where your judgment becomes poor, or you cannot take care of yourself and get yourself back to your accommodations in a safe manner. There are a ton of low lives out there who prey on drunk people, but especially vulnerable individuals like solo travelers. Stay smart while having fun.

5. Find other solo-travelers to hang out with

Look, I know that probably defeats the purpose of solo travel. After all, isn’t the word solo a whole part of the experience? But things can get lonely experiencing everything alone. Meeting people from all across the world and getting to know them is one of the many benefits of traveling alone.

But fellow travelers also can help keep you safe. They know what it’s like to be a little extra hyper-vigilant while traveling and can share some of their insights and experiences with you.

If you’re staying at a hostel, don’t be shy about talking with the other tenants. If you have other accommodations, like a hotel or Airbnb, I recommend looking up a solo traveling community online and seeing who else is traveling at the same time. I used r/solotravel on Reddit for most of my pre-travel research, and I regularly saw others posting and asking if anyone else was going to be in town and willing to meet up.

While traveling alone in Paris, I didn’t plan on meeting other solo travelers. I incidentally found them by signing up for a few Airbnb Experiences through shared group outings hosted by a local. There I met other girls like myself who wanted to get out of their comfort zones and see what the world had to offer. We made memories for life as we explored the City of Lights together where we went bar-hopping and even ended up at a French Christmas party. It helped me feel a little safer, knowing I had others around me that were on the same journey I was on.

In conclusion, traveling solo can be one of the greatest experiences if done right. Going to new places, meeting new people, eating new food, and seeing how other cultures are different from your own; are memories that are for life. The kind of memories you’ll tell your grandkids one day.

With a little preparation, practicing awareness, and keeping your wits about you, you can make your trip just as safe as if you were traveling with others.

Happy travels!

Bonus Tips:

  • Make sure you have valid travel insurance. This has saved my butt many times with lost luggage, canceled trips, and medical emergencies. I can’t recommend it enough.
  • Call your bank and credit card issuers and let them know where you will be traveling, so they don’t flag your activity abroad as fraudulent.
  • Keep a piece of paper with the address where you’re staying in your pocket at all times in case something happens to your phone.

If you wish to follow my journey outside of my writing, you can find me on Instagram and Twitter, where I share snippets of my writing and photos from life here in Norway.

Texan expat in Norway since '02.

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