Updated post: 14/03/19 | March 2019
Are you thinking about solo travel for the first time but are feeling a little anxious about it? As a solo traveller, I understand that these concerns may prevent many people, and especially women, from travelling alone. Whilst I love going away with family and friends, there is something special about solo travel. Not only is it is empowering, but you also have the opportunity to meet great new people and have total freedom to do what you want when you want to do it.
But, equally, there are disadvantages to travelling alone. Not least of these are personal safety concerns and, for the first-time solo traveller, these anxieties can turn into paralysing terror. Staying safe should always be a priority for travellers, and never more so if you are travelling alone. And, sadly, travelling as a solo female requires extra vigilance.
The good news is that there are concrete, actionable steps you can take to keep yourself safe. Let me now share my 17 essential safety tips for travelling alone.
Safety tips for travelling alone: Before you go
1. Research your solo travel destination
Before you book that flight, find out if there are any safety concerns for your chosen destination. Potential threats to personal safety can assume different forms.
Terrorist threats or internal conflicts
Sadly, there are few truly safe destinations nowadays. Whilst I wouldn’t book a two-week trekking trip in Afghanistan, I take a slightly more relaxed approach to the risk now than I would have ten years ago. I take the view that I am just as likely to be the victim of an attack in my home city of London than overseas.
This choice is a highly personal one and will be determined by your personal circumstances and attitude to risk. But if you don’t want your holiday ruined or curtailed by civil unrest so it pays to do your homework. Good sources are the Foreign Office (or equivalent) websites of your country. As a UK citizen, I use the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office website but sometimes also check out the one from the US Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Also, you need to know if your potential destination is a hotspot for crime or tourist scams. Good sources for research are travel guides, blogs, news sites and speaking to people who have visited the destination.
If it’s your first solo travel trip why not dip your toe in the water and venture somewhere that is familiar? This could be somewhere that you have been before or a city-break in your home country. This will help you gain the confidence to travel solo.
2. Have the arrangements for your first night sorted
Regardless of how loosely planned the rest of your trip is, make sure you’ve booked your first night’s accommodation. Also, figure out how you will get there from the airport or train station.
3. Choose your accommodation carefully
As a solo female traveller, I cannot stress this importance of this step enough. Again, you need to put in some legwork with research here. For me, it really is location, location, location. The hotel needs to be in a good area of town and, where possible, close to transport and restaurants.
Be wary of too good to be true prices. I have found that if a hotel is cheap there is usually a very good reason for that.
4. If possible, arrive at your destination during the day
When day turns into night, a place can feel very different. I have made the mistake of arriving in a city under the cover of darkness and trying to navigate my way to the hotel. This can feel at best intimidating and at worst threatening. In the light of day, finding your way to a hotel is so much less daunting.
5. If you have to arrive late at night, use a taxi
Or better still, pre-arrange your transport. Although this will cost more, the peace of mind it brings is money well spent.
Before you head off, give a friend or family member a copy of your itinerary and flight details. If you don’t have a fully fleshed out itinerary, don’t worry. A rough idea of your movements is better than nothing.
And keep in touch whilst there. On the road, many people post social media updates and messaging to share their journey with family and friends.
7. Photocopy or scan key documents
I usually carry a photocopy of my passport ID page. There is also a scanned copy of this and my travel insurance documents stored in an email or on DropBox.
8. Try to learn a little of the language before you travel.
The ability to communicate with local people not only makes travelling more enriching but can also help you stay safe. This is particularly important if you are not venturing into a heavily touristed area. My go-to resource for a quick crash course is the DuoLingo app.
Safety tips for travelling alone: On the road
9. Lock up your valuables
For me, a key criterion for choosing a hotel is an in-room safe. One of the first things I do on arrival is to lock away my passport, documents, money and cards I don’t need, and other valuables. If there is not a safe in your room, the front desk will normally have one.
10. Don’t flash your valuables
I know that this is pretty obvious but in some parts of the world, it doesn’t pay to flash your expensive DSLR or smartphone. Be vigilant when you take them out to capture that perfect Instagram moment. This is where your destination research will pay off. Also, leave your diamond necklace and tiara at home.
11. Try to blend in
Wherever I travel, I try to blend in as much as I can. Now, I know that with my fair complexion I am never going to pass as a local in many corners of our globe. But there are other measures that you can take.
Respect local culture by dressing appropriately. For instance, shorts and vest tops are never a good idea in many Islamic countries for either gender and, for women, will attract unwanted attention.
Try not to walk the streets peering at maps. Instead, wander around freely or discretely use your map or phone to guide you.
12. Trust your instincts
I cannot overemphasise the importance of using common sense and trusting your gut when travelling alone. If somewhere doesn’t feel right, be it a shady street or a dodgy bar, leave.
Don’t walk down dark alleys alone at night carrying large stashes of cash. At times my instincts have been my best friend and I have learnt how to trust them.
13. Go easy on the booze
Don’t get me wrong, I love a cheeky glass or two of booze whilst I am away. But as a solo female traveller, I am responsible for my own safety and for getting myself back to the hotel.
Therefore, I don’t take any chances and limit the amount that I drink when away. For me, it’s not the right time to go out on the lash.
14. Avoid going out at night alone
Again, as a woman travelling alone, I am careful about where I go after sunset. Of course, this will depend on the destination but in general, I try to do all of my exploring during the day and then eat out close to the hotel.
15. Never, ever tell strangers that you are travelling alone
Don’t make yourself a target and over-share with strangers. Over the years, in many different places, I have been asked by strangers if I am travelling alone. My stock response is that I am meeting my friend/partner later and that they have gone back to the hotel room for a rest. I would like to think that most of these enquiries have been genuine, but better safe than sorry.
Hotel staff, who will know that you are travelling alone, can be very helpful. Particularly in smaller hotels, they can tend to keep an eye on you will advise on areas to avoid.
On some occasions, I have also worn a simple band on my ring finger to deter unwanted attention.
16. Be slow to trust
This goes hand in hand with trusting your instincts. Perhaps you meet someone in a bar, restaurant or on a tour and they suggest meeting up later that evening? It may sound obvious but don’t agree to head off to some isolated location with them.
Instead, suggest meeting up in a public place where there will be other people around. This is a bit tricky because part of the reason for travelling solo is to meet new people but just be wise about how you do this.
17. Be confident
Last but by no means least, strut your solo stuff. Even if you are quaking internally, don’t show it.
Convince others that you’re a strong, confident solo traveller. Very soon you will start to believe it yourself.