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Safety is always a topic for travellers, especially if you are travelling solo AND a woman. Women have different sets of safety issues but don’t let that stop you from travelling.
People always ask what my safety tips are. I can think of a few basic ones like don’t wear flashy jewellery to attract unwanted attention, beware of pickpocketing in busy places and don’t hang out in dark alleys. These are just some basic tips for women even if you are not travelling. If there are certain things you don’t do in your home city, don’t do it in a foreign city.
There are a few other tips I can share with you in terms of travelling solo and safety. I learned most of these while travelling on my own for the last 15+ years. And I’m sharing my stories so that you won’t be making the same mistakes as I did.
So here we go! Here are some safety tips for solo female travellers (and I’ll keep adding more when I think of more).
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Choose a destination where you feel safe
Typically, I choose popular destinations where the city seems safe. Usually, big cities are pretty safe. Small towns and village of third world countries have their appeal too. But do your research and see if anything unusual pops up.
Part of my research includes googling to see if my destination is “safe”. And I’m usually pretty good at keeping up with current events so that I am aware if certain countries are going through a war, or if natural disaster just struck, etc.
Before I decided to go to Colombia on my own, I had a lot of doubts. I was mostly concern with my safety because I heard on the news how many tourists are kidnapped. It was only after talking to a few travellers who have actually been to the country and told me how safe they felt. So I decided to go base on their advice. I was nervous when I arrived in Cartegena. But my insecurities and safety concerns quickly went away as I met many friendly and helpful locals. Everything that was said in the media was not how I experienced Colombia. So to be fair, don’t purely believe and listen to what the media says. The news always highlights all the negative aspects and doesn’t promote all the positive ones.
So do your own research. Read travel guides, sift through travel blogs, and talk to people who have been to the places you want to go.
When you pick a destination you feel safe, you will have a better time and not be paranoid all the time.
Research your accommodation & location
Do thorough research on your accommodation and the location of your accommodation. It also helps if you read reviews of your accommodation. I find that most reviews are helpful because other people genuinely want to leave a review that will help other travellers.
Agoda is a website where you can book hotel and hostel accommodations. They have an extensive review section of each of the accommodation so you can really get a feel for what the accommodation will be like. The same goes for Airbnb. Definitely, spend some time reading the reviews of the places you want to stay. Also, research the location as well. Sometimes when accommodation is too cheap, too available or too something, something doesn’t line up. It might be in the middle of a seedy area that you don’t want to be in.
So always read reviews about the safety of your accommodation and also the area where it resides.
Arrive at your destination during the day
During my first solo trip, I arrived in Florence, Italy at night via a train from Rome. I felt nervous immediately because I was in a new city and it was my first solo trip ever. I felt intimidated because it was dark and I couldn’t properly navigate my way around. Somehow I managed to find my hotel after wandering around a bit near the train station. As soon as I woke up the next day, I felt so much better because I was on an amazing adventure and can actually see everything around me.
So at that point, I made a rule for myself: always arrive at a new destination during the day when I can see where I am going. It seems a little less daunting to be able to see your surroundings.
And if you have to arrive late at night, pre-arrange your transportation
The first time I went to South America, I flew directly into Lima, Peru. I arrived at night because that was the only flight from Toronto. And I felt a bit nervous because I had previously read about safety issues at the Lima airport and about cab drivers drive you away from where you are supposed to go and rob you in the middle of nowhere. Yikes! So I made sure to contact my hostel ahead of time and arrange for a pick-up at the airport. Even though it cost a bit more money (and it wasn’t even a lot more), I felt safe and that is worth more than money itself.
Sometimes it is really worth spending a bit more to pre-arrange your transportation from the airport to your accommodation just to get peace of mind.
Stay in a hostel dorm room
If you are concern about staying in a room by yourself, then stay in a hostel dorm. You will always be around people and you will never feel alone. Whether you stay in an all-girls dorm or mix dorm, you will be surrounded by other like-minded travellers. And we travellers always take care of each other and have each other’s backs.
If you stay in your own room, use a door stopper or a portable lock
And if you want some privacy or alone time, staying in your own hostel room, hotel room or Airbnb apartment is also an option.
However, if you feel paranoid or afraid to be in your own room, make sure you lock your door whenever you are inside. And if you want further security, buy a traditional door stopper where you can wedge the door from the inside of your room so people cannot uninvitingly come into your room. And if you want to get fancy, a door stopper with an alarm is also available.
I also learned about the Addalock, which is a portable door lock where you can quickly secure your door by placing the device between the door and the frame. The device prevents the door from opening on either side of the door. It is a pretty small device so it may be worth considering when you are travelling solo.
Lock your valuables away including your passport
Some travellers may not agree with me but this is what I always do. If there is a safe in my room, I would put my passport, extra money and other valuable things inside the safe. If there isn’t a safe, I would put all my valuables deep inside my backpack. The idea is to not bring everything out with me. I feel there is a bigger chance for me to lose my wallet and passport when I’m out. So for me, it is safer to leave most of my valuables at my accommodation.
When my bag was snatched in Ho Chi Minh City, I lost my laptop and mobile phone. I had my wallet with me and my passport was sitting in my Airbnb room. So I was lucky I didn’t lose any money and my passport but sadly lost the two pieces of electronics that I really needed. But hey, I wasn’t hurt and still had money with me.
Use a small backpack as a day bag
Continuing from the point above, whatever you are bringing out with you during the day while you are roaming around the city, put it inside your backpack. Chances are your bag will not be snatched if you have a backpack. It is harder for someone to rip a backpack away from a person than a messenger bag. I would avoid any handheld type of bags.
Typically, I use a messenger type bag during the day if I am not carrying around a lot and sometimes I will switch to a small backpack if I’m going on a day trip or a hike. But the best option is to use a backpack as your daypack. Having both straps secure on your body will deter crooks from stealing your bag.
Don’t take out too much cash from the ATM
This might be something that I do because I get paranoid when I carry too much money. I feel like other people would know that I have wads of cash in my bag. Ha!
Typically, I carry enough cash for the day when I am out. And also a credit card (depends on where I am. i.e. if I’m in a city where I can buy things, I will need the credit card. But if I’m on an island or desert somewhere, the little plastic card is pretty useless).
Plus if you are anything like me, any time I have a lot of cash, I tend to forget where I spent it. So in my mind, I think I either lost money, or someone took it from me. Ha!
Don’t linger at the train station
I’ve read a lot of tips about not lingering at train stations. It is one of those places that are not very friendly or appealing, especially the older train stations. Some travellers are targeted at train stations because they usually have all their belongings with them and don’t really know where they are going or what they are doing.
Generally, I research ahead of time, go to the train station before my actual departure date and purchase a ticket in advance. The idea is to efficiently buy a train ticket when I don’t have all my belongings with me. I’m in and out of the station. And on the day of my departure, I am already familiar with the layout of the train station so I don’t look like I am completely lost and don’t know what I’m doing.
Download Uber, Grab, Lyft or other apps before you leave for your trip
Check if your destination city has either Uber, Grab, Lyft or other peer-to-peer ridesharing options because it is an efficient way of moving around in a new city.
First of all, you can enter your destination into the app and avoid any language barriers with your cab driver. Second, the app will tell you exactly how much your ride will cost and you can avoid any miscommunication with taxi fare and scams. Third, these are regulated programs so you don’t have to worry about your safety and the driver will ensure you arrive at your destination safely. And finally, you don’t need to fumble with cash as you can set your app to pay directly with your credit card. So even if you don’t have local currency, you can pay directly through your credit card.
Make sure to download some or all of these apps before you leave for your trip.
Don’t listen to music with your headphones when you are wandering in a city
I was walking around Valencia, Spain with my headphones on because I wanted to listen to music. But my intuition sensed something was wrong and that someone might be following me. As soon as I took off my headphones and turned around, someone was following me. Luckily nothing happened, but I shouldn’t have worn my headphones as I appeared as someone who is not aware of my surroundings.
So if you are roaming around in a new city, don’t listen to music or podcasts while you are walking around. It is so much nicer to hear the city and nature (or wherever you are at), and you can be aware and alert at all times.
Don’t drink too much
Ladies, you can have fun and enjoy a glass of vino or two. But don’t drink too much as you may appear to be a target. And watch your drink at all times. Don’t leave your drink unattended just in case someone slips a mysterious substance in it.
Stay alert at all times (but not paranoid)
If you are travelling solo, you will have to be alert at all times. But don’t be too paranoid about things that can potentially happen. There is a delicate balance between the two.
I’ve been travelling for so long that being alert is just second nature to me now. It is just a way of life for me. And I don’t travel or go anywhere with any mace, and I don’t know any self-defence moves either. I trust my intuition fully and be on my game at all times. Which leads me to my next point…
Always walk with confidence
Walk at a steady pace (even if you are lost), so at least it looks like you know where you are going and there are fewer chances of someone disturbing you.
It works for me! If you exude confidence and show that you know where you are going and what you are doing, chances are nobody will bother you. Even if you are lost, keep walking at a good pace. Then find somewhere away from the crowd, or somewhere you can stand with a wall behind you, then look at your map and figure out where you need to go.
Seriously, being confident helps with solo travelling.
What do you think of these safety tips? Do you have any of your own that you would like to share? Comment below!
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