10 Safety Tips For Traveling Solo
Greetings from Florence! I have a few extra minutes between stops around town this morning, so I thought I’d pop in with a little post today about…yes…traveling! Specifically, tips on traveling alone.
This is especially dedicated to all of you single people out there, whom I highly encourage to get out there and travel if you’re not doing so already. (I may even do a follow-up post about my 10 favorite and least favorite things about traveling alone — would there be an interest in that?) But this post also definitely also goes out to anyone who’s going to be traveling alone for an entire trip, or even part of a trip like I’m doing this time around in Europe.
When I sat down to think about it, I realized that I actually have quite a bit of experience traveling completely solo. I have done plenty of the typical solo business trips around the States, but I have actually been traveling internationally on my own since the age of 16. And it has been great! But as a single, young, and (notably when visiting many other countries) blonde girl traveling on my own, I’ve also learned a handful of tips over the years about how to travel smart and safe. Because while most people and places around the world are totally trustworthy, (close your ears, Mom) I have definitely found myself in numerous situations over the years that felt less-than-safe. And I have learned the importance of knowing good strategies beforehand to make it out of those situations (hopefully) safely if needed.
So for anyone planning a solo trip in the future, here are 10 tips I’ve learned for traveling safely (with a few special pointers for women). It’s a quick list, because I’ve gotta take off in an hour (yes, on my own) to meet up with my sister at the Uffizi. So if you have extra tips to share, please add them in the comments below. The more the merrier!
Safe travels, friends!
10 Safety Tips For Traveling Solo
1. Trust your gut.
And more than that, follow it. I think this is probably the best safety advice anyone can offer. If a situation or a person seems “iffy”, don’t spend a ton of time trying to analyze or rationalize why — just steer clear. If a situation or a person seems trustworthy, then go for it. Sure, there may be times when your gut leads you astray. But more often than not in my experience, my instincts have proven to usually be pretty darn spot-on. (Or at least, more spot-on than my logical brain might always like to admit.) So use your head when making decisions, but also trust your gut.
2. Act confident. (Even if it’s an “act”.)
I learned this one back when I was a 16-yr-old traveling alone amongst crazy cab drivers, whistles and cat calls on the streets, and the bustling markets of Central America. Even if you’re not feeling confident, act the part. I’m convinced it’s the best way to (a) not alert people that you’re a tourist (b) fend off any creepsters who might be looking for insecure victims and (c) actually help yourself to genuinely feel more confident if you’re anxious about being in a new place. So even if you’re not feeling it at first, act the part. And look the part. Hold your head high, throw those shoulders back, walk with purpose, speak with authority, you know…act like you’ve got Very Important Places To Go and People To See. Because hey, you probably do. :)
3. Be prepared and know where you’re going.
Any former Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts out there? If so, you were probably taught all about the “be prepared” motto as a kid. (Or had nightmares about the scary villain singing it in The Lion King…anyone?) Either way, the message holds true — being prepared is always good advice, especially when traveling alone. It’ll help you feel confident and knowledgable about where you’re headed, and also minimize the need to rely on strangers when you arrive. A good place to start is always with directions — knowing the directions to where you’re heading (always a good idea), the best mode of transportation and where to find it, approximate cab fare if that’ll be needed (or ask them this before you step in the car to avoid being “taken for a ride”), etc. And then of course, all of the other good stuff about the place you’re going that might relate to safety — whether the food/water is safe to eat/drink, getting across borders, cultural norms, etc. We all know this. But it’s a good reminder that the more time you invest ahead of time preparing for your travels, the more you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the experience.
4. But if you don’t know where you’re going, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Ok, let me just admit it up front. That whole last paragraph?? I’m not always the best at taking time to prepare ahead of time. :) But from experience having asked literally hundreds of people over the years for help with directions, or museum recommendations, or help translating, or whatever the need may be — I have found that most people are awesome and more than willing to help a kind traveler. Especially when you greet them in their local language when traveling abroad (even if you have to launch into English afterwards). And especially if you are kind and smile and express appreciation. And when it comes specifically to recommendations, usually locals are the best at being able to steer you in the direction of the best sights, restaurants, transportation, or whatever the question may be. So rather than stand on a busy street corner with a huge map blocking your face trying to map out directions, duck into a shop or find someone sitting quietly in a cafe and ask them. Or rather than wander the streets looking for a place to eat, ask a local or someone at your hotel. Just be smart about it and ask people who seem trustworthy (see #1).
5. Dress modestly (according to the local customs, not yours).
This one is really important, and hear me when I say that it’s not at all an ethical/moral statement about how you should dress. The whole reason behind dressing modestly when traveling is to (a) respect the local norms for dress and (b) most importantly, not draw extra attention to yourself. This goes for both guys and girls, but as a girl I’ll be the first to point out that it’s especially true for women. And it’s especially true if you’re traveling in a different country that has a more modest dress standard. So dress cute, but dress smart. And for what it’s worth, my rule of thumb is to always try and dress at least one step more modestly than the general population, even when traveling in the States. And in addition to modest clothes, I’d also avoid flashy clothes that might also draw unnecessary attention.
6. You know that whole “looking like a tourist” thing? Yeah, avoid that.
Going along with point #5, I’m a big fan of trying to avoid looking like a tourist anytime. (And I’ll admit I get a ridiculous amount of satisfaction when I’m mistaken for a local and people start talking to me in the local language or tourists ask for directions.) ;) But here, I’m talking about the obvious things. Like walking around with a huge camera hanging around your neck? (Keep it in a bag when possible.) Having a huge map in your hands? (I’m a big fan of using cell phone maps — which work without wifi/data if you’ve saved a map in advance — to minimize attention.) Wearing a big ol’ hat with an American flag on it? (Ok, more realistically, leave the shirts with big text in English or the name of the city you’re visiting at home.) It’s awesome to be a tourist. Just try not to advertise to the entire world that you’re one.
7. Carry ID in multiple places and tell someone where you’ll be.
This is a basic tip for traveling 101, but also especially important if you’re traveling alone. Be sure to make multiple copies of your passport and travel docs, so that you can stash a copy in your purse, suitcase, coat pocket, etc, just in case any of those go missing. Also, I know it harkens back to middle school when you had to tell your mom exactly where you’d be when going out with friends, but tell someone where you’ll be. You don’t have to go into crazy detail. But whenever I travel alone, I always send the contact info for my hotel to a family member or friend. And then when I can, I also try to email/text/call someone at least once a day so that they know I’m ok (and usually having a fabulous time somewhere).
8. Don’t be afraid to lie.
I know, I know, this may be a controversial one to share, but I stand by it. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, don’t be afraid to lie. I, of course, do not encourage this in everyday life. But when it comes to personal safety, especially when caught in a situation in a foreign place completely on your own, I don’t think it is always best to tell the truth when asked a compromising question. Or at least, not the whole truth. Sometimes it can be a simple as saying that you have a meeting you need to get to, which might be just me “meeting” up with my hotel room safely that night. But there have been a few times in the past I’ve flat-out “embellished” the truth. For example, if a creepster starts hitting on me, I’ll mention in conversation something about how I can’t talk because I need to get back to my husband. Or if a prying cab driver asks my profession, I’ll say that I work in law enforcement (learned that one from a friend). Or if I’m walking through an iffy part of town, I’ll whip out my cell phone and do the whole “pretend” talking thing. You can judge away, but I’m telling you — at least in my personal experience, stretching the truth has ended a few creepy conversations that made me uneasy, and I would guess even fended off a few potential creepsters in the past.
9. Use common sense
I have to admit that this is the tip I most often see people disregard when traveling. At times I want to walk up and tell people — please use your common sense! Do not walk through a dark and scary part of town by yourself if possible. (Stay on main, well-lit streets.) Do not drink a lot if you’re at a bar or anywhere in public by yourself. (Be smart about your limits so that you can stay aware.) Do not go anywhere one-on-one with a stranger you’ve just met. (Again, stay in public places.) And if you ever get in a situation where you feel unsafe, common sense is to do absolutely whatever it is you need to do to feel safe. (Even if that means being rude and leaving, or seeking out an employee or a local or a cop for help, or literally screaming if it came to that and you needed to fend someone off.) Again, it’s like trusting your gut. Follow basic common sense, and it will likely keep you much more safe.
10. But all that said, let enjoyment — not paranoia — define your trip.
Always. I have known way too many people over the years who have let fear and paranoia dominate a trip, leading them to miss out on some truly wonderful experiences, which is too bad. Sure, I absolutely want friends (and myself) to stay safe when traveling. So it’s extremely important to be aware of your surroundings and make the best possible decisions you can to be safe. But the world is mostly filled with people who are kind, generous, helpful, trustworthy, and awesome. And they will most likely be happy to make your traveling experience a good one. (Just as you, I’m sure, would do if you were in their shoes.) So travel smart and travel safe. And most importantly when you have the opportunity — just travel! :)