7 Tips for Staying Safe Abroad from a Solo Female Traveller
Don’t let your fears stop you from travelling solo; let preparation empower you
How do you feel about the idea of travelling solo? Does it scare you or excite you?
I was pretty apprehensive before my first trip. I knew that my family wasn’t keen on me travelling solo but I wanted to be independent when I travelled. Going solo was the best choice for me.
After 5 years of sauntering around the world, I no longer hesitate when booking a solo trip. I know how to stay safe and I have come across hardly any problems as a result of being alone. All the worries that my family voiced and the negative stories that the media share about other countries are but a drop in the ocean of what solo travel is really like.
Along the road, I’ve picked up a variety of tactics that keep me safe and hence relinquish the worry from my parents. I’ve found that through preparation and common sense, it is pretty easy to stay safe abroad as a solo traveller.
Utilise apps on your phone
We all carry a multi-tool in our pockets. Our phones can be our companions, our portal to maintaining relationships, and also a device to keep us safe (no matter if we’re at home or abroad).
My favourite hack is to download offline maps for the places that you’ll be visiting (with Google Maps or Maps.Me). That way if you have no internet, it’s still possible for your phone to figure out routes between destinations. I find this invaluable when I hail a taxi in a new place. We’ve all heard horror stories of taxi drivers taking advantage of tourists by lengthening journeys or more sinister attacks that happen on an unplanned route, so I prefer to know exactly where I’m going. I plug in the route and track our movements.
In the case that your taxi driver did deviate from the route, if you have a SIM card for the country you’re visiting then you could immediately call emergency services. SIM cards are usually pretty inexpensive and, besides being able to upload pictures to Instagram whilst you’re chilling on the beach, you can also feel more at ease that you have no obstacles to call someone or use the internet. Surprisingly, airports often sell SIM cards at a reasonable price!
There are also some nifty safety features that come straight out of the box of your smartphone. The iPhone, for example, has an emergency call feature that can be activated easily without logging into the phone. It’s quick, easy, and could be very useful in sketchy circumstances. So be sure, to Google how to activate the emergency call setting on your phone. It’s very unlikely that you’ll need to use it but it’s wise to know about it.
Useful gear to add to your backpack
Backpack space is at a premium when travelling — it is for me at least. Maybe my insistence on lugging around my full scuba diving gear (which I hardly use unless I’m doing conservation work) is part of the problem. Unlike me, you’re probably a tad more conservative but the bag still fills up quickly. Hence, prioritising items is really important, and I would argue that there are a few useful extras to add to your bag.
My first suggestion is a first-aid kit. Like my scuba equipment, you may not use it often, but it will be worthwhile when you do (if you scuba dive you should relate to the unpredictable quality of rental gear). When in a foreign country it can be hard to know where to find a pharmacy. In addition, it can be wise to attend to any scratches or ailments quickly so as to prevent the risk of infection. I’ve carried a first aid kit around with me for almost as long as I’ve travelled solo: It was recommended on the kit list of one of the projects that I’ve worked on and it’s been useful for myself (and others) ever since.
Next up is a padlock. Not to clamp onto the nearest bridge when you fall for a fellow travel buddy (I mean, that would be a great story), but to help secure your belongings. I use my padlocks on my backpacks to deter thieves when I’m travelling between destinations and I also use them to secure my belongings at my accommodation.
I choose to stay in hostel dorms, which often provide lockers for security. However, many hostels don’t provide locks so you either have to buy one in the nearest 7 Eleven or trust your roommates. I opt for always having one on me.
Something else I always have on me is my bumbag. I used to hate bumbags. My parents insisted that they were a great way to keep my belongings safe, and they were correct but I just felt like they were out of fashion. Lucky for you, bumbags are now quite stylish — especially the bulky ones that I always felt embarrassed wearing.
If like me, you don’t care to follow the fashion, then I’d recommend getting a money belt (which is close to the body). It fits sneakily under my t-shirt, adding even more security to my most precious belongings (money, accommodation keys, and passport).
On the topic of money and passports, there is a chance that these may get stolen — even if they are always on your person. I recommend carrying backup credit cards/money in different bags, as well as having a photocopy of your passport. You can even email a scan of your passport to yourself.
Tell family/friends where you’ll be and when
When you’re solo travelling it can be very easy to go off-the-grid. And that could be dangerous. Most people are absolutely fine on their trips but on the odd occasion, bad things can happen. To alleviate some of the risks, it can be wise to make sure that someone, anyone, knows where you are and when.
Choose a friend or family member with whom you can share your itinerary, and also make sure that they’ll be happy to touch base every so often. Obviously, if you will be in an area with a sketchy signal then let them know and also make them aware that you may get caught up in the thrilling experience that is solo travel and so you may not always remember to message. But as long as they know where you’re staying and which bus you’ll be on, then you’ll be doing all you can.
If you travel spontaneously then you can update your chosen person by forwarding booking emails or sending screenshots via WhatsApp as and when you have them.
Research the country that you’re visiting
Even if you’d like some spontaneity about the destination that you’re visiting, it can be wise to do some research. Travelling is refreshing for the novelty that you encounter. Every place has its own nuances, customs, and traditions. And knowing them can be incredibly beneficial. As the old adage goes, knowledge is power. Use it purposefully and prepare (like you’re doing now by reading this article).
An important tip is to always have your first night’s accommodation booked before you step foot on a plane. Knowing that you’ll have somewhere to lay your head that night, that’s reasonably priced, will help medicate the overwhelm of arriving in a new country.
In addition, it means that you can research the various options of how to travel to your accommodation, including prices and routes so that you’re fully prepared even if you can’t connect to an airport’s wifi. This is something that I do (almost every time). I forgot to do so when I rocked up at Phu Quoc airport (Vietnam) and so I ended up paying over the odds for a taxi. But hey, we can’t do things perfectly every time, right?
It is also wise to look up various customs that you will need to respect in the country. For example, did you know that it isn’t customary to tip at a restaurant in South Korea (and the server might even take offence if you did so)?
You can also check out various websites that tell you where not to go in a country or city. Everywhere has no go areas. Even London, the capital city of my home country, has dangerous spots where gangs reside. Being aware means that you can prevent yourself from ‘being in the wrong place at the wrong time’.
Have your wits about you
There are things that I won’t do when I’m alone that I wouldn’t hesitate to do if I was in a group of friends. I assume a heightened sense of my environment; I try to be more aware of my surroundings and I trust my gut. I also try to assume an air of confidence, even if I’m a little bit lost. You don’t want to attract the wrong kinds of people who might take advantage of you.
I also try to avoid venturing too far at night (and depending on the area, I may not leave my accommodation at night). As a female, this is something that I practice in every city unless I know them very well (I would quite happily walk back from a club alone at 2 am in Oxford because there were so many students around).
Unfortunately, we need to be more vigilant, particularly at night. In a touristy area, I would be quite content in walking around a night market, sampling a range of food (which I did in Melaka, Malaysia) but if there are only dimly lit streets with the odd pedestrian, I’ll be sure to have eaten before nightfall.
Anyway, I prefer to get up early to enjoy a full day of exploring.
Talk to others who have solo travelled
I’ll admit that although I fancied the idea of solo travelling, back when I was in my late teens, it also seemed pretty intimidating. My inner circle consisted of people who warned me off solo travelling or people who hadn’t solo travelled before. Especially not women who had solo travelled. Although I had watched youtube videos and read blogs about female solo travellers, there’s nothing better than getting first-hand advice from someone who’s done it themselves.
On my earlier travels, I met a few ladies who shared stories of their solo travels. They had felt safe and had no qualms about the idea of solo travelling again. I admired this and felt that if they could do it, why couldn’t I?
One thing I noticed is that both of the women had solo travelled in Thailand and I saw that as a relatively safe place to go for my longest stint travelling alone. Thailand is great because it’s so popular and this means that you’re very likely to meet like-minded solo travellers. I’d recommend that if you are worried about safety then you choose to travel to more popular countries.
You’ll still have an incredible travel experience and you may become braver and more travel safety-savvy so that you can venture to countries that are more off the tourist track next time.
Expand your horizons by meeting fellow travellers
Even though you planned to solo travel, it’s inevitable that you’ll meet people along the road. Some of the people will be ephemeral presences in your journey, others might tag along for a bit. And whilst you can’t decide where and when you’ll find a travel buddy, there are safety benefits to finding other people to hang out with.
If you’d like to go further afield whilst exploring a country, it can be wise not to go alone. When I was in Thailand I was lucky to meet a few adventurous Europeans who wanted to explore the waterfalls and beaches of the islands by moped.
If I hadn’t explored with them then I wouldn’t have seen as much as I did because I didn’t want to risk learning to ride a moped in a foreign country (even though many people do).
In order to meet people, I highly recommend staying in hostels, joining a tour group, and striking up a conversation with the people around you. All it takes is announcing to those you meet what your plans are for the day and there’s a chance that someone will join you.
Although safety should be a concern when you’re preparing to solo travel, if you plan ahead, utilise the tools, bring the gear, and have your wits about you then you’ll be as safe as you’ll ever be. And after travelling to 23 countries (11 of which were solo trips), I can say that all genders can have a fabulous adventure without a problem.
As I write this article, I realised that many of these points are valid even if you venture beyond your well-known turf. If I drove 50 miles from my home to another city and I was solo then I’d probably use the same tips and tricks to remain safe.
Every country has less savoury areas but they all also have beautiful, safe parts too. By following these tips you will have little to worry about on your trip, besides catching your flight on time.
Don’t let the fear of danger stop you from pursuing your dreams. If you wish to travel solo then do it! And once you do, make sure to share your experience with others so that they know it’s achievable too.
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