As a solo female full-time world traveler, often a lot of the questions that I get asked are about how to stay safe as a female. We ladies of wanderlust often need to be a bit more prepared than the traveling men, maybe a little more vigilant, and probably a lot more bold. Here's how.
So here are some travel tips that I would give to any newbie traveler of any sex really. These are all things that I wish I'd known, or tricks I've learned that have helped me out along the way, like things to do before you travel and tools I use to travel full-time.
Traveling can be easy, fun, and liberating, and there's absolutely no reason to be afraid or intimidated or find excuses not to go just because you're alone. In fact, sometimes it's better to be alone, because all you need is yourself to get started.
“The man who goes alone can start today, but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.”
1. live like a local
First, do your homework. Research and gather information about your destination ahead of time. It's super easy to get print or digital guidebooks from Lonely Planet or Amazon that will tell you everything you need to know.
Read some travel blogs of people that have already been there and see what experiences they had. Know what to be aware of, what the expected travel experience can be, and if there are any known travel scams to be prepared for.
Learn some words and phrases of the local language, or even locally specific terms of the area (like these British ones). Be able to acknowledge and exchange some pleasantries without standing out too much. Try Duolingo to get some basic language skills down in a fun, and free, way.
Do what the locals so. Walk as much as possible. Use local transport, dine at local, non-touristy-type restaurants, check out local cafes, local markets, basically anything not designed for tourists.
Live like a local. There’s no better way to do it then by living in their houses! If you love animals (who doesn't!?), then you can housesit and live for free. And if you’d rather a home to yourself, without the responsibility, then you can book a private airbnb home.
2. hide in plain sight
Blend in. Dress similar to the locals. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you’re the only person in a crowd dressed bizarrely differently, especially if you have all the tell-tale tourist or backpacker signs, like harem pants or (gasp!) a front backpack.
Dress simply and conservatively. You want to look like a local or a long-time expat. Or anyone that hasn't just gotten off of a plane.
Try your best to mimic the local customs. If you need to cover your head, shoulders, knees, and toes, then do it. If you don’t have the appropriate clothing, no problem, just buy it. You’re already there.
To be extra divergent, buy a cheap simple ring, wear it on your ring finger, and then you can tell anyone that's making you uncomfortable that you’re married and your husband is just in the bathroom or waiting outside. Throw in a ‘we’ if you feel like it. Is it your first time here? ‘No, we love this city.’
Noone's asked you anything? Use your acting skills to answer a fake phone call and tell the fake caller that you’ll be right there. Now you've just magically created a storyline where you're expected to be somewhere by someone, and the creeper bothering you is thwarted away.
I'd like to thank the Academy.
3. travel light
Pack, travel and live light. In one simple bag or backpack only, ideally, because then you look just like anyone else that lives in and commutes around the city on public transportation. With one bag, you're effortlessly blended right in amongst the locals.
If you’re dragging around a gigantic 40L backpack with 80 carabineers dangling off of it or wheeling around obnoxious rectangular luggage with a handle and wheels, then everyone already knows you’re a tourist no matter how you’re dressed.
So, don't do that. Plus, those things are a huge pain to carry around and you definitely don't need all that stuff. I travel the world full-time with only 11 pounds. It can be easily done.
4. don't be an easy target
Most petty theft is only opportunistic at best. So you can easily avoid this - just don’t be an easy target. Don't carry a purse or camera bag or anything that signifies it holds valuables, because that’s the number one thing a theif will try to get from you. They know you won’t put up much a fight. It's just an extra, extremely visible, high value object that makes you - you guessed it - a big ol' target. I gave up carrying a purse years ago and never looked back.
For more security, you can carry an extra dummy wallet to hand over in the event of a robbery. Or, hide cash in a hollowed out chapstick tube or tampon because if you do get robbed, it's unlikely anyone is gonna steal those.
If you're traveling safe and staying in a home by housesitting or airbnbing, then you have a set of keys on you, which is great because if someone gives you the heebie jeebies, you have an instant weapon.
Just carry the set of keys in the palm of your hand and then spike the keys through your fingers like Wolverine. If someone gets up in your personal space intending to harm you, you can scratch or stab them with the keys and they’ll never see it coming. At the very least, you'll seem totally nuts, and they'll move on to an easier victim that doesn't put up such a weird x-men-like struggle.
If you stay in a hotel, always keep the do not disturb sign on the door, and even the tv or radio on while you’re gone. Hide, cover and/or lock up your valuables either by using a cable lock to secure them to stable furniture or put them in a safe.
Any added layer of safety makes it that much more of a hassle for a criminal to enter your room and steal your stuff when they can just go to the next one where everything's out on display.
5. don't overshare
Watch what you share. Don’t tell people where you are staying, whether it’s a hotel or a house. It’s noone’s elses business, it’s not safe, and it’s definitely not at all secure or recommended especially if you do happen to be housesitting or airbnbing in someone else's home. Duh.
You don’t want someone following you, or showing up uninvited, or sending you unwelcome gifts. If you really feel like being Sharey McShareson, then you can name a town, a village, or even a neighborhood, but always be vague. Ambiguity is your friend here. Not strangers. They are not your friend.
On the flip side, you definitely should tell some close friends or family where you are or share your itinerary with them to keep safe, but don’t post where you are or where you plan to go on any location-dependant social media.
Don’t (ever!) geo-tag or instagram yourself in specific location, because if you do, then guess what, you’ve just told the entire internet exactly when and where to come find you.
Check out my instagram feed; you can still hashtag locations in your comments without location tagging the photo itself. And if you simply must location tag it, then fret not, because you can also go back and tag it later after you've already posted it.
“When you’re traveling with someone else, you share each discovery, but when you are alone, you have to carry each experience with you like a secret, something you have to write on your heart, because there’s no other way to preserve it.”
shauna niequist female travel quotes
6. try not to be a vampire
Sure, it’s a bit depressing and a lot cliched, but that doesn't mean it's not true. Try not to wander around alone roaming the city streets and lurking around alone in alleys after dark. As you do.
If there is less visibility, less lighting and less people around, then you have less reliance on the community to deter any crime or potentially help you if something happens.
This doesn't mean you have to immediately have to go home at sunset, it just means to be more mindful of where you're at, who you're with, and know your way back home or have a plan to get there safely.
Whatever you do, don't straggle around, by yourself, in the dark, illuminated by the brightly glowing map on your very expensive smartphone. Because then you are just a mobile, very brightly lit, billboard.
Keep in mind that if you do feel threatened or under attack, remember to always yell 'fire'. Never yell 'help' or 'rape', because no one will come. But screaming fire will alarm people that they might also in danger.
What's worse, if there is a crowd, then, sadly noone is likely to help you. Then you have to try to make eye contact with and single out at least one person to directly ask for help.
And yes, this is the same humanity that you cannot trust to save you. I don't have much faith in them and neither should you. Ultimately, you're responsible for your own safely. That's why you have to watch your back. And be extra vigilant at nighttime.
7. get travel insurance
In case everything gets stolen, in case you need to go to the hospital, if you need any medical attention, get travel insurance or make sure that your regular health insurance will cover or reimburse expenses abroad. Better to be safe then sorry.
8. know how to phone a friend
Know who to call and how to call them if you need help. Keep local contacts, emergency numbers and your embassy on hand.
If you’re a US citizen, enroll in the STEP program so your country knows when and where you will be in case of any alert, disaster or emergency. They'll keep you up to date with any safety information about your current location and travel plans. This information has been crucial to me more times that I can count.
And, definitely get a global sim card so that you never run out of cellular service or data when you need it. Absolutely essential.
9. trust your gut
Essentially, always trust your instincts. Women are lucky to have natural intuition, thanks to thousands of years of evolution, we can tell in our gut if something is off, amiss or just not right. So, use this skill. That's exactly what it's there for. To help and protect you.
If you’re in a weird situation, just leave. Walk away. Run away if you have to. Get an uneasy feeling about a person or a group? Cross the street, change your course, pop into a cafe or shop for a few minutes. Wait it out. Use your judgement. Trust those guts.
"I have no reason to go, except that I have never been, and knowledge is better than ignorance. What better reason could there be for traveling?"
10. act as if
Be confident, alert and present in your surroundings. Be mindful. Notice the details. Your brain needs all the information.
If you wear headphones, don’t put both buds in each ear, only use one. You always want to be able to hear what’s going on in your environment. You want to hear if someone is talking to you, and you want to hear train, bus or plane announcements, or sirens. You never want to be completely oblivious. That's a recipe for disaster.
Always act confident, whether you really are or not. Hold your head up, speak up, walk tall, be strong. Confidently walk your path, even if your path is wrong. Be assertive. Project bravery and boldness. Be the strong bad-ass woman you are.
Or, act as if.