5 Safety Tips for Female Solo Travelers: Over two decades, I have explored the remote islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki, skied an active volcano, dodged a cholera epidemic and navigated a low-grade civil war. I fought off muggers in broad daylight in Europe and barely missed being a feast for crocodiles in the Zambezi River. Aside from the latter, many safety issues worldwide are the same as those that exist at home. However, when jetlag combines with an unfamiliar setting, a traveler may become easy prey. Unfortunately, we can face additional issues, especially in cultures where it is uncommon for a woman alone to be on travel.
Although I have come through my travels unscathed, we women solo travelers need to be realistic about safety. From my repeated trips, I have gleaned a list of practical tips to share.
5 Safety Tips for Female Solo Travelers: Arrival:
For arrival in areas with political unrest or high levels of crime, before leaving home, plan transportation from the airport to your hotel.
- When booking a hotel, arrange for an airport pickup. Not all taxis are a safe option. I was surprised to learn this in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. In that case, I noted how carefully my hotel noted the license plate or car number of the driver that picked me up. A couple I met while in SE Asia told me a harrowing story of their experience with a cab in HCMC/Saigon. They were returning from dinner with their two children when the driver would not let them out. Finally, when the car stopped at an intersection, each parent jumped out with one child. They found a restaurant/bar where they were able to split up on two motor cycles to try to get back to their hotel safely. It worked out but was a real warning to me as a female solo traveler to be careful.
Choose a place to stay carefully.
- There have been security issues. Having stayed in a hotel that had been bombed, it was comforting that their enhanced security rivaled an airport’s.
- Guestroom levels are open to the public or do elevators require key access.
- ATM’s or check cashing facilities exist within the hotel.
- Room numbers of guests are available to anyone on staff or visiting/calling the hotel.
- Restaurants or room service serve 24/7 so you are not left wandering the streets looking for dinner.
Even if you have a hotel with a top restaurant, eating-in every night misses the point of sampling the cuisine and nightlife of a new destination. Traveling alone in Cairo, I was able to pay a cab to wait for me while I had dinner. This is not often affordable: In Paris or New York, for example, this could equal the cost of a domestic flight.
If a taxi leaves you at a cafe, arrange a return pickup, and get the driver’s mobile phone number.
Carry your hotel’s phone number as well since they can generally call a cab. Be prepared for a delay so don’t wait until closing.
5 Safety Tips for Female Solo Travelers:
Don’t go alone to remote locations.
- Seeing ancient ruins or waterfalls off the beaten path are a real joy as I found standing alone at the Boer War Memorial in a vacant park in Johannesburg during the mid-90’s. Not a great idea as you have no back-up: When in doubt, take a reliable local guide. Beyond crime, if you go it alone and your rental car breaks down or you sprain your ankle in a canyon, how do you get help?
- If you are planning to walk around at night, check with women that work at the hotel if there are areas to avoid. Staying in a crowd is usually the best protection. However, if you are suddenly stuck in an empty street, making noise can ward off attackers. I carry a sailing whistle on my keychain. Its shrill screech would draw a crowd whether of rescuers or local residents enraged by the ear shattering sound.
Split up your cash/credit cards before putting them in hard to reach places (and watch out for currency controls).
- Be sure to use a money belt and in cold weather wear a shoulder bag under a coat or sweater. Pickpockets often work in tandem; one distracts you while the other robs you. In both Barcelona and Buenos Aires enterprising pairs spray a liquid on a tourist’s jacket. They then point to low flying birds as the culprits. One traveler I know experienced this same scheme in both countries.
- Remember that unlike airports, the open access in train stations makes a tourist encumbered by luggage a target for petty robbery.
- Another way your travel funds can disappear: In a foreign airport transit lounge, I found that having failed to complete a currency form I could lose almost all my cash as a fine. Having never left the airport, this was really curious. Don’t fall into this trap: check out currency restrictions before arriving.
5 Safety Tips for Female Solo Travelers: In Turbulent Times:
Don’t wander into political protests to avoid a stay in the local jail.
- In countries experiencing political unrest, it is hard to know when a crowd will become violent. If you choose to be a spectator, give yourself room to get away.
- In Russia, I followed a band of other tourists crossing the icy Neva River enroute to the famous Fortress. I later discovered it was illegal so don’t assume what you see others doing is the right way to go.
- Before a business trip in the Middle East, I found on the Internet that 200+ drugs, even prescriptions, could result in a jail term. Do a little research before traveling not just about what to bring but also what to leave at home. In any case, my greatest travel hazard was dodging crocodiles in Zimbabwe when a small bridge broke beneath my feet. That unique experience aside, I encourage other women to explore as many diverse cultures as can be crammed into one lifetime. (However, always let someone else try out the gangplank first!)
For more personal advice on staying safe, take a look at 10 Safety Tips for Women Solo Travelers | Solo Trekker | Solo Trekker (solotrekker4u.com). For more official advice, check out the State Department’s recommendations for women travelers.