According to a study from the British Psychological Society, solo travelers may be smarter than the average bear. Venturing out on your own can sometimes feel lonely, but there is something fulfilling and very freeing about doing whatever you want, without waiting to fit into someone else’s calendar. Meals seem to taste better, and since you are the DJ, every request gets played. I have enjoyed dozens of domestic and international travel journeys without incident, but getting pick-pocketed by airport security in Valencia, and getting robbed by two well-dressed people in Cape Town, taught me that there is no such thing as guaranteed safety. Availability of support diminishes greatly the further you are from home- replacing a bank card is a lot more difficult in a foreign country, as is replacing a phone or travel documents. And while the tips below are for solo women/femme travelers, they are applicable for ANYONE. People get robbed by love interests they meet while traveling, every day. Thieves see targets, not gender. The key is to be prepared before during and after your travels, and should something go wrong, it is important to know next steps to make sure your losses are covered, and that you can get back home, or to your next destination with as little hassle as possible. If you take proper precautions and trust your gut, traveling alone is no more dangerous than living alone in your home. Here are 10 tips to help you get ready to hit the road on your own, and feel safer while doing it:
1. Email yourself a photo of your driver license/photo ID and a picture of the biodata page of your passport. Gods forbid either one of these documents gets lost or stolen while traveling, having digital copies can verify your identity for replacement, and in some cases, even return travel.
2. Wearing headphones or earbuds is a lifesaver for situational awareness. Instead of looking at the map out in the open with your smartphone out on display, use headphones to listen to directions and put your phone in your purse or bag, which should be positioned in front of you, at all times. Keep this in mind when using public transit, as well.
3. Leave your valuables at home, hotel, etc in a LOCKED hard-side suitcase, and only take copies of your important paperwork outside. No hard-side locked suitcase? Ask the front desk to keep things in their main hotel safety deposit box, which is usually much more secure than the one in your room, and they usually are liable for anything that disappears from the front desk safe.
4. Keeping your valuables out of sight keeps away would-be thieves. Don’t leave cameras, electronics, or wallets out on a table, and don’t let them casually hang from your arm, no matter how safe it seems. If it isn’t securely in your grip or wrapped around your neck, PUT IT AWAY. I have watched travelers get pick-pocketed by restaurant staff AND by rogue monkeys because they weren’t paying attention
5. NEVER tell strangers you meet that you are traveling alone. Practice using phrases such as: “I’m traveling with friends.” “My housemate is meeting me later.” “I like the program I’m traveling with…” giving the illusion that people are expecting you, and that someone will notice if you aren’t there.
6. Share your GPS location or send a message via text or WhatsApp with a picture of the person(s) you’re with, and license plate, if applicable. Taking an usie with a group of new friends isn’t strange, it’s encouraged. And when available, share your cab/ride share ETA or journey with someone you trust, as well.
7. Print or download the offline map of places you are visiting, and the corresponding language for your translation app. This will prevent you from getting lost and having translations at the ready allows you to get help in a foreign city, even when you don’t have access to the internet
8. Keep your phone charged and carry an external battery/charger when you’re away from home, even if you don’t plan to be gone long. Whether your travel is domestic or international, you never know when you might experience delays, power outages, etc.
9. If you are staying in an accommodation with multiple floors, do not stay on the ground floor. Request a room on floors 2–4 whenever possible. Thieves target rooms closest to main exits (main floor), and if there is a fire, fire department ladders can still reach lower floors. If your accommodations include a concierge or property management, request wake up calls/alarms. It’s free, and they can double as wellness checks.
10. Always keep backup funding/emergency funds at the ready, and when possible, keep a spare debit or credit card hidden in the zippered part of a locked suitcase in your accommodation. As a general rule of thumb, it’s not a good idea to keep all your cash in one place! Withdraw money in well-lit areas, preferably at banks, during the daytime. I don’t use money-exchange services. They are notorious for exorbitant fees, and in some countries, the person counting your money might have a second job as a magician, because some of the bills they’re counting will disappear before they hand them to you. Get local currency from an ATM located in the airport when you land, and never leave the house with more money than you can afford to lose.
Personal safety is paramount when it comes to enjoying time traveling alone. This isn’t an exhaustive list, think of it as a head start. Experience is the best teacher, and if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. Feel free to share this information with your networks, and save a life. Bon voyage, keep your eyes open, and most importantly, have FUN!