10 Simple Tips to Keep Yourself Safe on a Solo Adventure Abroad

| July 1, 2013 | 10 Comments

By Megan Hettwer

Solo adventures have a bad reputation – especially for women. But, there’s no reason that us girls shouldn’t enjoy a trip abroad by ourselves. In reality, many destinations abroad are just as safe (and sometimes safer) than our hometowns. If you use the common sense and street smarts that you’ve likely acquired over the years, you can easily have a fantastic solo trip.

But, there are a few tips and tricks to help newly minted travelers and seasoned veterans alike stay safe while on the road. Here are a few basics.

1. Plan ahead and know your preferences.SafetyTips_City

While you don’t need to pre-determine every step of your itinerary, it does help to have a basic idea of where you’re going and what you want to do when you get there. Spend the most time planning your arrivals. The moments when you step out of the airport or off of a bus are going to be the times when you’re most confused and vulnerable.

Think about what makes you comfortable and what you enjoy. Don’t go to Paris just because it’s a popular destination, especially if cities innately make you sweat. Likewise, don’t head out on a multi-day trek by yourself if you’ll be a nervous wreck about navigating the trails the entire time. Fear and discomfort shouldn’t stop you from stepping outside of your comfort zone, but know your limits. It’ll be difficult to project an air of confidence if you’re consistently on the verge of a panic attack. Speaking of which…

2. Look and act confident.

SafetyTips_ArrivalWalk around like you know where you’re going and what you’re doing. Shady characters will be far less inclined to mess with someone who acts self-assured. This is especially important when you first arrive in a new destination, when you are likely tired and disoriented. Another reason why planning for your arrival is so important.

3. Equip yourself with peace of mind by bringing along a few safety essentials.

Many solo female travelers pack certain safety items when they travel abroad: a doorstop, whistle and locks. Use the doorstop at night to prevent the door to your room from being opened and carry the whistle in case you need to draw attention to yourself – even if its just because you accidentally locked yourself in a train bathroom. Use a longer cable lock to secure your bag to your seat while on a train or bus. Mini combination locks are great for locking zippers together when you leave your bag in your room for a day of sightseeing.

4. Learn how to say “no” in the local language.

Certain countries are known for having a very forward and aggressive male population. Their advances and catcalls are usually benign, but a forceful “No” in the local tongue can get your point across quickly. While you’re at it, memorize some other helpful phrases in the local language.

Remember that what might be considered friendliness back home could be taken as flirtation abroad. Smiling at strangers and making eye contact isn’t a common female behavior in many places. There’s no need to be rude, but not engaging can save you hassle later on.

5. Don’t keep all of your valuables in the same place.

SafetyTip_cash

Try stashing your cash in your bra.

Spreading your valuables out ensures that, if you were to get pickpocketed, mugged, or simply misplace your purse, you won’t lose everything. You can store money in your bra (sports bras are especially good for this), shoes and the front pockets of your pants. Carry small amounts of cash in your wallet or purse, only what you think you’ll need for the day.

Likewise, don’t carry all of your ATM/credit cards in the same place. If you lose one, you’ll still have a backup.

Similarly, if your hotel or accommodation has lockers that you can use, take advantage of them and lock your passport and other essentials up. You typically don’t need to carry important documents like that at all times (make photocopies and carry that with you when you’re out, instead).

6. Try a walking tour.

One of the easiest ways to quickly become acquainted with a new city is to do a walking tour. In many major cities, especially in Europe, they are often free/donation based. Even if you usually scoff at organized tours, these quick introductions are extremely useful. Plus, when you’re familiar with a place, you’ll naturally be more confident.

7. Carry the address of your accommodations with you.

SafetyTip_ThaiAlways know where you’re staying and have the address handy. If you’re traveling in a place that doesn’t use Latin script then have local staff write down the address for you, or grab a business card. This ensures that you’re always able to make it ‘home’ at the end of the day, even without a grasp of the language.

8. Stay in touch with friends and loved ones back home.

There’s no way around it: traveling alone as a woman can make the people who care about you a little uneasy. It may feel like a nuisance, but send sporadic emails and updates to people back home. They’ll appreciate knowing that you’re okay and safe, and you’ll appreciate knowing that they aren’t worrying.

9.  Dress appropriately.

Your trip-planning phase should include a bit of time to look into local customs regarding clothing. It’s impossible to completely blend in as a foreigner, but dressing conservatively when necessary will be truly appreciated by the locals. In many areas, what you wear back home is perfectly acceptable. But it never hurts to have a few modest pieces on hand: long skirts and dresses and tops that cover up all of the important bits being key.

10. Have fun!

After you’re done researching, prepping, studying maps, creating the perfect packing list, and everything else that can go along with travel… just let it go and enjoy yourself. Remember that it’s totally okay to be a little apprehensive, but don’t let it stop you from enjoying your solo trip abroad. Be open to meeting new people, enjoying new experiences and challenging your worldview.

After all, letting fear and paranoia take over will undermine that confident appearance you’re so comfortably wearing!

Still feeling a little uneasy? This post has compiled a ton of inspiring articles written by veteran solo female travelers who have successfully traversed the globe on their own and returned to sing the praises of their journeys.

Do you have any tried and true tips for staying safe while traveling abroad by yourself? Share them in the comments below and help spread the word that women can have wonderful experiences traveling abroad solo.

A Michigan native, Megan has been traversing the country and world in search of adventure since 2008. Her love affair with international travel began on study abroad trips to Ireland and Australia, and she has fulfilled her obsession with wanderlust by moving around the U.S. and traveling pretty dang regularly. Austin, Texas; Chicago, Illinois; and now Boulder, Colorado have all earned the title of “home base” at one point. A huge proponent of travel (and solo female adventure travel, specifically), Megan blogs about her adventures at MeganHettwer.com, and she’s always willing to talk travel on Twitter (@megkhet).

Category: International, Travel

Women's Adventure

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Comments (10)

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  1. Great advice–I want to add a few things that I have done (or would do). When I was walking through Amsterdam’s red light district many years back, I made sure not to do so alone. I didn’t join the small groups ahead of me, but I tagged along close enough so that I would not be seen as easy prey. When on dark streets (which it’s best to avoid, but sometimes you can’t), I walk in the middle of the street rather than between cars and buildings. Don’t be afraid of hurting people’s feelings–if you feel uneasy about getting into an elevator, etc. with a stranger, follow your gut feelings and don’t get on.
    Having said all this, I have never had a bad experience traveling solo–except for my own worrywort tendencies!

  2. SuzieD says:

    I think the important thing for a solo traveller is not where u go, but what options are available.

    I *really* recommend going on a trip with Exodus or Explore or one of those adventure companies. They are excellent and a great way to meet other people.

    However, I have also gone *full-solo*, so to speak. If u decide to do that my main tips would be…

    1. Stay in hostels, they are THE BEST place to meet other travelers.

    2. If there are no hostels, go on 1 or 2 day activity outings, e.g. diving, climbing, canyoning, etc. They are another great way to meet people.

    3. Carry your smartphone with you and join websites like Wandermates.com or AirBnB to help meet other people (like me http://www.wandermates.com/profileview.php?profileuserid=6 🙂 None of them are perfect, but they are useful.

    4. Go on a backpacker-type bus tour. They are brilliant also and a great way to hook w guys:)

  3. Eartha says:

    Great tips! It helps to know a little self defense too! Check out article written on Self Defense for Female Travelers here http://www.earth2eartha.com/2013/02/Blog-Travel-WeGoSolo-Self-Defense.html 🙂

  4. afg says:

    also email yourself copies of your itinerary and passport!

  5. We also recommend reading the English language newspaper of the area you are visiting ahead of time, and talking with female hotel staff about their sense of the area. Other no no’s are reading a map on a street corner, wearing clothes that identify you as a tourist ( even a NY Yankees hat), jeans or sneakers, and generally getting your research done before you leave your room.

  6. worldromper says:

    Awesome article! Also, be aware of certain body language that is harmless is some places but a total come-on in others. Example: The hair flip.

  7. Phyllis says:

    Also talk to the women flight attendants on your flight. They often know the area well.

  8. Love it except that for some reason, being overly safe can equate to being paranoid throughout your entire trip. They say women have the best intuition, so I would trust that whenever it starts to tingle!

  9. dariahloy says:

    Great insights. It never hurts to err on the side of caution whether you are female or male. It has always been helpful for me to do my research before heading out, trust my gut and never ever give the impression that I am not completely confident. Dariahloy@ http://www.MightyTravels.com

  10. Eileen Lynch says:

    Great post, it help me take a plan to my trip..First time travel alone. sr with my english:)

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