7 Ways to Stay Safe When You're Traveling Alone
By Kristin Wong
It’s fun to travel with other people, but going solo can be an exciting and enriching travel experience. When you're on your own, you can set your own schedule, pursue your own interests (rather than following the crowd), and set aside time for individual reflection.
But without a travel buddy, you also become more of a target. All solo travelers, but especially women, should keep additional safety precautions in mind when in a foreign place. We asked travel experts and writers how to stay safe when you travel alone.
1. BLEND IN.
You want to fit in as much as possible when you travel, and that’s especially true when you’re traveling by yourself. Travel writer and blogger Ashley Christensen, who has been on multiple solo trips, including to New Orleans and Cambodia, tells mental_floss, “For safety’s sake while traveling alone, I try to be as inconspicuous as possible. I dress modestly—that means no short shorts, no cleavage, no high heels." She also avoids wearing jewelry and expensive items.
But fitting in is about how you act as well as how you look. "I talk in my indoor voice at all times," Christensen says. "I don’t run around, act a fool, or behave in a way that would make people look at me. In all honesty, this means I don’t get drunk.” In fact, Christensen says she rarely drinks at all while traveling, and most of the travel experts we talked to echoed this advice.
2. RESEARCH WHERE NOT TO GO.
You want to conduct a fair amount of research before any trip, and when you’re traveling alone, that means knowing which areas might be off-limits. “When I check into a hotel, the first thing I ask is what neighborhoods I should avoid and what the area’s safety is like,” says travel expert and Forbes correspondent Katie Lara. “I ask what time I shouldn’t be on the streets alone after. Cities vary widely on this. I have been in hotels where the desk staff told me to never really wander alone after dark in neighborhoods that I would have never guessed [were dicey].”
3. BOOK YOUR HOTEL STRATEGICALLY.
Speaking of hotels, you want to vet carefully, says travel writer Suzanne Wolko. Depending on your location, some hotels or lodging hosts will take care of coordinating nearly every aspect of your trip, from transportation to activities. “I like to book hotels or stays in the center of town so I can walk to attractions,” Wolko says. “I have the hotel book airport transfers in various countries so I don't have to deal with language barriers or late night worries ... I take the hotel business card and take photos of the hotel and landmarks in the area so I can easily find the location or the taxi can.”
Beth Santos, founder and CEO of Wanderful, suggests booking a room on the hotel’s third floor. “This way it's easy to evacuate in case of emergency but difficult to climb up from the outside.”
4. MAKE SURE SOMEONE KNOWS YOUR PLANS.
You want to stay connected to friends or family back home, and that means more than just Instagramming the sights. Keep a point person apprised of your travel plans so they know where to find you in case of an emergency. In the U.S., the State Department makes it easy to do this with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). You register your trip with your nearest Embassy or Consulate, and STEP not only helps friends and family reach you, but will also keep you up-to-date on travel alerts and advisories for your destination.
And before you head out to explore on your own, “make sure someone always knows where you're going,” Santos tells mental_floss. “If you're taking a walk by yourself, tell your hostel or hotel concierge, especially if it's at night. Give them an estimated time of when you'll return. Never walk around at night to discover an area—make sure to explore it on foot during the day to get a feel for your new neighborhood.”
5. TRUST YOUR GUT.
If you get a sense that something isn’t right during your solo travels, it’s best to err on the side of caution and follow your intuition, says Diana Edelman, a travel blogger who has visited more than 30 countries alone. “If a situation doesn't feel right, remove yourself from it,” she says. “Your gut instinct is something you should trust ... Keep your eyes open and remember that generally people are kind and want to help; but avoid putting yourself in situations that can be avoided, like walking alone at night." Edelman also recommends taking the time to read up on common local scams, and what you can do to foil them.
Lara agrees that it's important to keep your wits about you. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of visiting a new, unfamiliar place, but “common sense is always the most important thing to bring with you on any trip,” she says.
6. SPLURGE ON SAFETY.
We all like saving money on travel, but one area you shouldn’t be afraid to spend a bit extra on is safety, Wolko says. If you feel significantly safer at a pricier hotel, for example, it's worth it to shell out more for your lodging. Or, instead of taking the subway at night, you might consider hiring a driver.
Wolko says she also books private guides to show her around unfamiliar areas. “It's nice to have a driver and meet locals,” she adds.
7. BE PREPARED FOR THE WORST.
“The first thing I do before any trip is Prepare for the Worst,” Lara adds. “Make sure you have copies of your passport or ID card, credit cards, and any other important documents. Also send yourself electronic copies, so even if your bags are lost, your life line is only an internet cafe away.”
She suggests keeping emergency contacts on hand, too, as well as bank and credit card information in case your wallet is lost or stolen. “I keep this in my email as well. That way, even if I lose everything, I’m just one internet connection away from having all the information I need.”