“Did you feel safe?”
… the most common question I get asked when people find out I travel solo.
Generally speaking, my answer is always yes! I’ve been fortunate enough to never run into any big issues; theft or otherwise (knock on wood). I’m always very aware of my surroundings, people I encounter, and I try very hard not to put myself in vulnerable situations, i.e. walking alone at night in a dark or dingy spot. I will always do research, and take locals advice that I know I can trust (generally, a friend who is from that place, or people I personally know and trust who have been there personally). I don’t like the hearsay stuff, and rather speak to someone who has first-hand experience. We all know how the telephone game ends – so rumours or the “I have a friend who knows someone who knows someone…” blah blah doesn’t go over well with me. I like facts!
There are also some places I wouldn’t travel solo to, simply because I have no desire to challenge my safety to that level, nor do I want to deal with it. I know my tolerance levels, and that’s different for everyone – it’s a very personal thing! Just because someone else feels safe somewhere doesn’t necessarily mean that you will, so finding your balance for what you feel is acceptable and what isn’t is essential, and I encourage you to do your own homework on that one. Nevertheless, if you do choose to travel solo – whether it be for the first time or not – I’ve gathered some of my useful tricks to stay safe!
Safety is definitely a top priority when traveling the world, especially when you’re solo… and even more so as a woman. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where women’s safety is a huge concern and oftentimes fall victim to many unfortunate incidents. Many of these, however, can be avoided. Of course, we could all be the most careful we can, and still run into safety issues, but by using some simple tricks and common sense, we can definitely minimize our chances of being a target!
Below, I give you some of my favourite pointers and tips I use (and have heard other use successfully) to remain safe while solo traveling. Many of them are simply common sense, while others are tricks I’ve learned along the way, or learned by other traveler who have passed along their wisdom! It can almost become second nature when you put these practises to good use on a regular basis – even at home!
Read below for some good tips, and if you think of any other valuable ones that need to be added here, email me here! I’d love to hear from you!
How To Stay Safe As A Solo Traveler
Buy a local sim card.
This is one of the first things I do when I land in a foreign country is get my phone all setup. There’s a certain comfort in knowing I have service on my phone, even if it’s to find my way around or call the police or emergency numbers if needed. I don’t like solely relying on wifi, because you never know when you’re going to find it. I like knowing I can reach the outside world if needed, and even more so if an emergency should arise.
Research the local emergency numbers before leaving
and have them handy in case you need to access them. This includes the local embassy of your country and the local police department. There are also certain apps you can download on your phone as well for the location you’re going to that can help with this. For example, in Iceland, there’s an app called 112 Iceland that you can send your GPS location to if you’re in an emergency situation. You can also check in to a location as well and it stores the information should anything happen. Best of all, it’s free.
Set-up the SOS feature on your Smartphone
I recently learned through our active assailant training at work about a feature that apparently all new smartphone have now (at least iPhones and androids): the Emergency SOS feature. now I can’t speak for Androids as I have no clue how they work, but with iPhones it’s super easy to setup. Go into your settings and type in SOS, and that should pop it up. Basically, it means that if you find yourself in an emergency situation, all you have to do is tap one of the side buttons 5 times in a row (quickly) for it to trigger a call to the local emergency number. Apparently, this also works if you dont have a SIM card inserted or a network, as one of my peers had their child accidentally do this on an iPad and only realized it when the first responders came knocking at the door (oops!). it apparently works when you’re abroad, as the phone somehow will be able to call local emergency numbers! The info can be fond on the apple website for this with iPhones. I don’t know the system for Androids, so you’ll have to look that up if you have one. Needless to say, this can definitely be a lifesaver in multiple situations, so make sure to set it up properly in your phone! you can also dedicate emergency contacts too through those settings. Hopefully you’ll never have to use it, but better safe than sorry.
Do your research before heading out for the day,
and have a general idea of where you’re going. Common sense of not walking down dark alleys, or walking alone at night… but also, don’t look at your phone while you’re walking, as this is a huge distraction on your end and you become an easy target. If you have to, walk into a store or cafe if you need to look something up. Be aware of your surroundings. I suggest having a tether or lanyard like this one to your phone that you can wrap on your wrist. It’s easy for someone to walk by you, grab your phone and run off. Also, Google maps is really handy, and area maps can be downloaded so you can use if you don’t have phone service or wifi.
Don’t bring with you anything you wouldn’t want to lose.
May be better to wear a fake wedding ring (or a cheaper one than your original) just in case. You wouldn’t want to lose that precious thing if you’re married. Also, don’t wear anything flashy or of great value – monetary or sentimental! I know, I know. You want to wear your new watch or carry your new expensive bag, but they’re best to be left at home! My rule of thumb: don’t wear or travel with anything you wouldn’t want to part with. For this reason alone, I don’t travel with brand name anything. My wardrobe is basic, my shoes are basic, and my jewelry is minimal (or almost non-existent).
I also use my judgement for when to pull out my phone or camera gear. It attracts unwanted attention if, say, you’re in a poor area or a place that’s known for pickpockets, and you pull out your brand new camera or newest iPhone! Not a good idea! I like to feel out a place first. As mentioned above, there are some good ways to hold onto your stuff should you need to use your phone or really want to get that great shot! Anti theft gear is the best option, like PacSafe. Most can be found on amazon and reasonably priced.
And speaking of wedding rings…
I wear a band on my ring finger when I’m traveling solo. I find it helps with the “are you single/traveling alone” questions… I get super annoyed by these. I hate answering to people “why don’t you have kids”… blah blah stupid questions. It’s no-one’s business why I choose the lifestyle I do, and they aren’t entitled to knowing my life story, so I find wearing a ring avoids those questions on a general basis.
This brings me to my next point…
Don’t volunteer too much information,
such as answering questions like “are you traveling alone?”. Even if the person seems innocent, you never know! It could be a way of finding out if you’re an easy target. Always be vigilant and on guard. If you have to, say “No, I’m not alone. My friend/husband/whoever is meeting up with me”, or whatever fits the moment and story.
Take travel insurance.
We insure everything else in life – car, home, health- so why not insure your travels as well? You wouldn’t want to end up in a hospital in , for example, the US and end up with a 10K bill at the end, would you? Neither do you want to have to pay the hefty fees of being med-evaced out of a remote area should something go terribly wrong during that hiking trip. Take the insurance. Your life is worth insuring.
Check your credit cards, most of them include travel insurance! Also, many health insurance plans also include it! Blue Cross is a popular one, as well as CAA/AAA. For longer journeys and digital nomads, World Nomads is apparently a good one to go with.
To avoid pickpockets, I suggest getting an antitheft purse or bag.
Pacsafe is my go-to brand of choice for all my anti-theft gear, but there are many others out there as well. I usually wear a cross body purse for my day to day activities. The strap is slash proof, the zipper tucks in so it can’t be easily opened, and it has RFID to prevent people stealing credit information with a scanning device. If you’re crafty, you can also sew pockets into your pants and sweaters so you don’t need to carry a purse or bag. I recently saw this and thought it was a genius idea, especially if you’re like me and dont like wearing those traditional money belts.
This one is similar to what I use when I don’t have much to carry, this one for my camera gear, and this one for my carry-on.
I love Pacsafe products and they have never let me down so far.
Always lock your gear/backpack/suitcase, especially on buses and trains.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say “my stuff got stollen on my overnight bus while I was asleep”. Lock up your stuff if it’s out of sight or not within arms reach. I’ve recently also heard this to be true on flights! Get yourself a few locks. It may not be the perfect solution to avoiding getting your stuff stollen, but it’ll be enough of a deterrent for a quick theft.
Check the ATM before taking out money.
Check the machine and especially the part where your card is inserted (give it a tug, and if it looks sketchy, go to another one). Scammers use fake devices that cover the original one and look very similar, but thats’ how they steal your information! You can YouTube this and see so many examples! Make sure you’re not in a secluded area or dodgy alley when you go to take out money.
Blend in like a local.
Act like you belong (even if you have no clue what you’re doing). You don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb in a foreign place. That’s a good way of attracting unwanted attention. Obviously, sometimes this is unavoidable, but in most cases you can manage. This also brings me to my next point as well…
Be respectful of the local customs
especially in more conservative countries. And when visiting sacred places like temples and mosques, wear the appropriate attire even if you don’t like it. This is especially important if you’re a woman… When I went to The Maldives, it was important to follow their conservative nature even though I was dying of heat most of the time! You can read up about that experience here. When visiting the temples in Thailand (and many other places), knees and shoulders need to be covered. I’ve seen many tourists not care about it and walk into them with their bikini top and short shorts, which is just downright disrespectful. If you’re not sure, ask. If you can’t manage to do it, then don’t go. Doing research about these things is crucial.
And for those who say “Well In Canada, there’s no need for that”.. well guess what! You’re not in Canada anymore, so suck it up or stay home. It irritates me to my very core, whether I’m in my home country or abroad, when I hear that. If you’re not in the country you’re referring to, then it doesn’t apply. End of story. Adjust to where you’re at or don’t leave your house if you can’t comply.
Always follow your gut feeling.
If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust yourself. Take a detour. Walk into a coffee shop, or a crowded area if you feel followed or like something isn’t right. You can even walk up to someone and tell them you feel unsafe right now because of XYZ reason. It’ll be enough to ward off the unwanted attention from that particular individual. You’d be surprised at how willing people are to help in desperate situations!
Do research about local scams before going.
There are scams everywhere you go, even in your home town. However, when you’re traveling, you’re more likely to fall for them just because you’re outside of your regular comfort zone and in a foreign land. Ask travel groups and forums for advice and if there are any known scams happening in the area you’ll be traveling to.
Give your itinerary to someone back home, including ID photocopies.
Let someone know where you’re going if you’re going on a hike or in a remote location. It’ll not only give them peace of mind, but also work as a backup if something does go wrong. Also keep photocopies of your ID’s separate from the originals. If for some reason you lose any of them, you’ll have copies to show the authorities and it could help speed things along!
Give copies of everything to a trustworthy source back home i.e. your parents of best friend! It’ll give them peace of mind knowing where you are and how you can possibly be reached, and it’ll also give you the sense of security knowing that someone has the info for your trip.
Carry a homemade ID card
Include in it your name and date of birth, emergency contacts, your nationality, your blood type and any allergies. If something happens, the authorities will not only be able to save your life, but will be able to contact your family and the appropriate embassy abroad.
I also carry this in my purse even when I’m home. Should I get into an accident, they’ll know who to call right away. They’re easy to make and can be a life saver.
Most of all… remember it’s all about energy!
I’m a true believer in energy, and what you put out into the world is reflected back at you. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but it’s a good base to go on, I find. Although there are definitely risks in traveling throughout the world (and in our own backyards too!), there are so many good things about it too. Yes, there may be scammers and people out to hurts others, but the opposite holds even more true: there are plenty of good-hearted people willing to step in and help, who aren’t out to get you and who are genuinely good people. Of course, I always have my wits and guards up, but I don’t allow myself to get paranoid. I believe if you put out that energy, you’re only going to attract scenarios that give you reason to be. I trust my gut, and lead with that.
That sums up my top tips that I can come up with, although there’s so much more out there! I’m sure I’m missing a ton, and will update this post as I learn more!
Facebook groups – like The Solo Female Travel Network – are great groups to be a part of to gain insights and learn from others. Definitely worth checking out!
I hope you found this to be useful, and if you have suggestions, send them my way!
Stay safe out there, and travel well! For the most part, the world is a fabulous and safe place… just use common sense and you’ll have a grand time!
Love & Light,