Updated on November 30th, 2020
Travelling solo is a daunting prospect, especially for a woman. The big question on everyone’s minds? “Is it Safe?”. After 30 years & over 70 countries, many as a solo traveller, here are my 15 top safety tips for travelling alone as a woman.
I have been travelling for over 30 years independently, visiting over 70 countries. Many of these have been as a woman travelling alone. As a result, there are numerous tips & tricks I have learnt along the journey, often the hard way!
Check out my numerous Travel Stories to learn more about my scrapes.
I have to say that travelling solo is when I have seen the strongest display of human kindness & generosity to strangers. Of course, there are a few exceptions, but these are just that, the exceptions & not the rule.
For any woman who is considering taking the plunge & travelling alone for the first time, especially over 40 then this is essential reading. We have a tendency to be more concerned & cautious. Rightly so! I have compiled this list with the ultimate goal of making you feel secure. I hope it allows you to discover new worlds & experience new things without being struck completely with paranoia.
15 Top Safety Tips for Travelling Alone as a Woman
1. Travel Insurance
Do not leave home without this! If COVID has taught us anything it’s how important insurance & cancellation cover is. Many companies now include coronavirus cover in their policies too. When choosing an insurance policy, make sure it covers all activities & countries you have in your plan. My insurance provider of preference is Trailfinders & I have a 12-month multi-trip plan.
While we are on the subject of documentation, for all your important documents (passport, drivers’ licence, insurance, visas etc.) make sure you have copies with you just in case. I always carry a hard copy of the documents on all trips, but also take photos so I have a digital copy too. Then, of course, keep these separate from the actual items.
2. Do Your Research
Once you have decided on your destination, start to research the local customs, laws & religion. The more you know about the expectations & traditions of the locals the more you can blend in & stay safe. In particular, the acceptable dress code is key.
One of the top travel tips for women is to try NOT to draw attention to yourself. Therefore, avoid dressing in a way which is provocative or at odds with the local female population.”
In addition, make sure you are aware of any particular customs or No-No female behaviour, so you can be respectful to your location at all times.
Also, research should cover current travel scams. These are often well documented. Check guidebooks, internet & travel blogs of the local area to get an understanding of the current local “trends” on how to separate you from your money/stuff/safety.
3. Plan Your Arrival
If you have chosen to take the plunge & travel independently, plan where you will spend your first night. It is nice to stay “off the beaten path” occasionally. However, bear in mind that the safest places are often those in the tourist areas. For safety reasons, you want to aim for busy, well-lit streets. Also, consider your time of arrival. The last thing you want is to be hunting for a bed while carrying all your possessions as it starts to get dark.
In terms of the airport, ideally arrive during daylight hours. If you don’t have that choice with flights, then prebook the transport to your accommodation. If you book through your host, your pick up should know the directions. Facing a potential lack of taxis at the airport at night is no fun (I speak from experience!). Public transport is always a fun way to arrive in a city but often when I am travelling solo, I prefer to get a taxi for my first trip. As you build confidence, you can explore other options.
For additional safety when travelling on a budget, in hostels make sure you have a female-only dorm bed booked. Likewise, when staying in an Airbnb or Couchsurfing, select a property with a female host.
4. Keep in Touch
How to stay safe while travelling alone is not just your concern. Your nearest & dearest will be even more worried as they do not know what is happening. Keep in touch with friends & family along the way by creating a What’s App group for your trip. The more people who know where you are & what you’re doing the better. Back in the old days, I would send postcards with all this information which would take weeks to arrive. Now people can keep in touch with your movements in real-time…so much more efficient & safer!
5. Other Useful Travel Apps
Other Apps to download before you go are:
- TripIt. This allows you to build & share your itinerary as you go, with dates, times, address details & notes. It is invaluable for putting together an independent trip for personal use. If you also set up accounts for a few important people you can simply add them to share all the details.
- Maps.me. Very useful for offline maps which you can use for directions & to track a route without a connection (see taxi safety later). Make sure you download all the destinations you need before you travel. You can also put in a “pin” in the places you visit which is an excellent resource afterwards.
6. Social Media
Ideally, keep this vague & don’t necessarily publicise specifically where you are or make updates “live”. Nowadays you never know who is watching…
7. Money & credit cards.
One of the most important safety rules while travelling is to never keep all your money in one place. I always split mine up so if a thief wants to steal from me, they will never have everything. Cards & cash are separate too. I have a purse for the day in my bag & at least 1 other wallet, locked away for the rest of my cash & credit cards. In addition:
- Never carry more cash with you in the day than you actually need. If you don’t need to make a withdrawal, leave your cash card behind too.
- Always have an Emergency Credit Card & keep it separate to your usual ones.
- If you’re buying anything, use your credit card instead of your debit/bank card. This gives you more protection.
As I have mentioned earlier, the way to stay safer is not to stand out. Make yourself less of a natural victim than the person next to you. With that in mind, a top solo travel safety tip is to NOT take anything valuable in terms of cost & emotional attachment.
Don’t bring any designer clothing or expensive jewellery with you. The less you look like you have, the less of an attractive victim of crime you will be. In addition, if it’s not with you, you can’t lose it. Be prepared that anything you carry with you on your travels is dispensable or replaceable. If it’s not, leave it at home.”
9. Travel Accessories
There are loads of travel accessories available now which can help you to protect yourself, your money & your stuff. Have a look & treat yourself to anything you believe will help you to feel safer. Here are a few things you may want to consider:
- Locks. Always use a safe if it’s available in the room. If not, then make sure you have a couple of locks. Taking 2 locks then gives you a spare if you ever need it e.g. one for your valuables, for lockers, handbag etc if you feel particularly vulnerable.
- Many travellers swear by the use of money belts, neck wallets or bra clips to keep their cash safe.
- Handbags. I have to admit that I use an old-fashioned crossbody handbag. I carry it on the front & keep my purse in a zip pocket inside. Ideally, it will fasten with a zip & even better if it’s concealed. I work on the principle that if someone is that determined to steal from you then they will. The trick is to make yourself a less easy victim that the next person.
For a list of all my must-have travel accessories check out My Top 12 Essential Things To Pack For Travelling
10. Learn Some Skills
Most important is being able to communicate to stop you feeling isolated along the way. This is especially important if you are alone in an area where they don’t speak good English. Find crash courses to learn a few key phrases which will be useful on your travels. The minimum I always learn is “No, thank you” (always useful & overused!), “Yes, please”, 1 to 5, “Do you speak English?”, “Sorry, I don’t speak….”. Also, you may find a few phrases like “I’m meeting my husband” useful (more on him later!). In addition, why not take a few self-defence classes to give you that extra little bit of confidence?
11. Safety tips for travelling on public transport
Getting around on buses, trains & trams are some of the best ways to see the people & culture of a new location. A few extra safety measures will make any trip more enjoyable.
- Keep valuables with you at all times when you’re in transit but don’t have them on display. I carry my laptop with me but no matter how long my bus journey, I never get it out. Instead, I use a paper notebook, or occasionally my phone. This reduces the temptation for anyone wishing to try their luck.
- When you’re not moving from one place to another, never carry your passport with you. Leave it locked up back home. The less you have on your person, the less you need to worry about.
- Keep body or eye contact on your stuff at all times. Never use the overhead luggage racks or put your bag under the seat. Ideally, try & get a double seat for yourself & sit in the aisle with your bag next to you in the window seat. Keep one hand on it. If you need to sleep, use your bag as a pillow. If you are in a single-seat, keep it on your lap.
- Choose your seat wisely. Sit towards the back so fewer people will be passing you during the journey but not totally isolated so there are plenty of people & eyes around. Also, try & sit where you have a view of the luggage hold & can watch them load & unload the main bags at each stop.
12. Taxi safety
When using a taxi, sit in the front passenger seat, photograph the ID badge of the driver (& make sure he sees you doing it) then share this with friends. You can use Google Maps (or Maps.me) to track the route so you know you are being dropped at the right place & heading in the correct direction. You may feel happier using Uber & the good news is that most cities now have access to the service too.
13. Being Alone
In terms of solo female safety tips, use the same principles overseas that you would at home, with a bit of extra caution thrown in. Don’t walk alone late at night, drink alcohol moderately & don’t take drugs. If you are alone, you need to keep your wits about you at all times. Don’t accept drinks from strangers unless you have seen it being poured & don’t leave your drink unattended. If you are planning to meet up with new friends or fellow travellers, then make sure it’s in a busy public place.
Solo female travel safety can also involve tactics to deter unwanted advances. Just because we may be older, it doesn’t mean we are immune. In addition, there may be many reasons why you want to avoid getting into the “why are you travelling alone?” conversation. Why not put a ring on your wedding finger to protect yourself? Or carry a photo of the “husband you are meeting later” with you, in case you feel you need them.”
14. Be Alert & Aware of Your Surroundings
I feel that since I have travelled so much solo, I now have eyes in the back of my head! I never wear earphones while travelling as I want to keep an awareness of what is happening around me at all times. In addition, I never like anyone walking too close behind me. If this happens, it makes me uncomfortable. I will stop suddenly, walk in the opposite direction, go into a shop or pretend to look at something. Most of the time it is innocent & either way, they are forced to just walk on by, slightly surprised!
15. Fake it until you make it
Even if you don’t feel confident, look like you do! I walk everywhere as if I own the place; shoulders back, bold stride, eyes in front…even if I know I’m going in completely the wrong direction! Never study a map or examine your phone while you’re walking. Find a spot where you can sit, stop in a doorway, rest with your back to a wall. Check your map, plan your route & then walk equally confidently in the correct direction. Again, there will be far easier & more obvious victims than a woman who clearly knows where she’s going & is moving with a purpose!
I am aware that this all sounds like hard work & a horror story. I do not want to put you off or make you scared to go out there & explore the world on your own…just be more alert! However, after 30 years of travel, the biggest advice of all is FOLLOW YOUR GUT! If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If you don’t feel safe, stop. Listen to your instincts. They are rarely wrong.
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