Is solo travel safe? Or is that just something that only our overprotective parents, mainstream news and cute li’l granny should worry about?
It’s way more complex than a simple yes or no answer, so I have written a guide with 32 essential safety trips for travelling alone for those on the road who prioritise their safety and welfare.
I was frustrated recently when I told a female acquaintance that I was going to write this article for both men and women, as she thought that it was completely asinine to give safety advice to the male of the species.
Contrary to popular belief, men are no strangers to being the victims of violence, and it’s that word “stranger” that is key here as men are more likely to be killed by a violent attack than a woman by someone they don’t know.
It’s no secret that women fall prey to a lot of violence too and as I’ve no experience of what it’s like to travel as a woman, it made sense for me to get a female travelling friend to write the second half of the article.
That being said, a lot of the advice in both sections acts as good advice for all, I am simply trying to cover as many angles as possible here so that the worst “Holiday From Hell” story you return with is the hilarious chronicles of your dastardly Delhi Belly.
I’ve put a great deal of thought into this article. After visiting over 100 countries I have had considerably more positive experiences with hospitable and welcoming locals than I have had negative ones.
There have been a handful of sketchy moments and close calls when I prayed to all of the Gods, but I consider my personal intuition of sensing danger to be excellent and due to my upbringing I’m pretty street-smart and I would say hypervigilant (for better or worse).
Here is the ultimate guide of vital safety tips for travelling alone, not to scaremonger you but to keep you out of harm’s way during your adventure.
Safety Tips For Travelling Alone as a Man
The “male ego” is often overused as a dismissive (and lazy) reason why men are a victim of violence and crime. I don’t like this thoughtless theory too much and I find it to be the male victim-blaming equivalent of, “Well, she was wearing a short skirt so she was asking for it!”
That’s not to say we men don’t get ourselves into trouble with our chest-thumping at times, but speaking as a man for whom violence was an unfortunate second nature due to the atmosphere I was exposed to as a child at school, up until I was a young man living in my village of birth, many of my brutal beatings were a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I consider myself more of a pragmatist than an idealist, so some of these choices of words might not land well with you. I won’t self-censor here as I try to fully armour men with as much information as needed to get back home in one piece (preferably not in a coffin).
1. You’re not THAT good-looking. Sorry, mate. Maybe you actually are blessed with the hunky genetics of Chris Hemsworth or are often mistaken for Idris Elba.
You absolute bastard.
But if you’re anything like the rest of us, mere mortals, she may be coming on a little too strong because you’re in a honey trap, you foolish little fly.
That’s not to say that a beautiful exotic woman won’t genuinely fancy you because you’re different to locals and are fun to be with, that WILL also happen (you can stop crying into your passport now). I’m just saying that if it seems too good to be true, approach it with caution.
2. Be privy to the Tinder Honey Trap. Staying on the topic of those damn hustling honeys, I want to hammer home how serious it can get. I knew a wealthy Mexican guy who was doing horizontal jogging with a tasty Venezuelan woman. After three weeks of dating, a gang of thugs proceeded to follow him all over town and extort money from him and his family.
He ran away to (can not disclose destination) and is still there in hiding. There was no absolute way to know this was going to happen – and I’m not saying avoid Venezuelan women (good luck with that, they’re gorgeous) – again, play it safe and just be aware of what can happen if the immortal voice in your pants becomes louder than your logic upstairs.
3. Keep strong, opinions to yourself. Leave them at home. If you are in a country where the dominant culture is for the thing you are against, you will do nothing by causing a scene. That’s not to say let the fire within you die – take it back home with you and try it use it for good.
4. Don’t be afraid to seem like a rude arsehole. If your intuition senses danger, you have a right not to feel that way for the sake of your well-being. If you are worried about being too dickish and less polite than usual when someone is being pushy, forgive yourself and do all you can to get out of the situation. Maybe you were wrong, and the other person only had good intentions. That sucks, but your safety is your priority.
5. Don’t casually chat with women in cultures of enforced modesty. It’s a different set of rules in countries that have deeply conservative or religious values.
Even if a woman is with her husband, in some traditionalist countries it’s seen as weird/disrespectful to talk to her without invitation. If she wants to shake your hand or talk to you, she will. It doesn’t have to be awkward, just be aware and allow her to take the lead if she wants to. Even if you don’t get into trouble, you could get her into problems.
6. Lie about your sexuality if you’re gay in homophobic countries. I’m straight and have been pro-gay rights way before all the giant corporations pretended to give a f**k after all the hard work was already done.
As much as I love the “I am what I am” philosophy I don’t care if this tip ruffles your rainbow-coloured feathers – I care more about my gay friends and family members coming home safely. So it may be pragmatic to do this in places where due diligence has been done and you’re in a non-gay-friendly part of the world (i.e. the dominant culture is violently homophobic or it’s illegal to be gay).
The flower-powered idealists will say, “But I want to live in a world where this shouldn’t have to happen”, and while I echo this sentiment, safety wins over romanticism.
We are constantly browbeaten to believe we should just “respect” all ideas different to our own. I disagree, and I’m not a fan of cultural relativism, but the one person you should respect is yourself and your right to be safe. Easier said than done for some people, but take that fire home with you and use it for good for the people that don’t have the same rights as you.
7. Drink less. I didn’t say completely abstain as I sure do love a bit of local booze on my travels, but you’re considerably more vulnerable when you’re inebriated. A walking, wobbly, target with dumbed-down senses for lip-licking predators to exploit. Drink and be merry I say, just try and cap it before you lose control of your surroundings.
8. About drugs… As above, I’ve been no angel with this one over the years (sorry, Mam) but I’ve calmed down now. Even in my wildest days I never took drugs in a country where it was punishable by death. Neither should you.
Sometimes I’m a fool, but an educated one.
Also, newsflash… People who sell drugs are usually sketchy characters who are only financially motivated. They are not your friends and don’t have your best interests at heart. Be realistic about this.
9. Men get spiked too. I have been spiked once as a young man in England and I’ve heard a few horror stories recounted by other men travelling solo.
The one that freaks me out the most is an Amazonian plant called Scopolamine aka “The Devil’s Breath.” It’s turned into a powder and blown into the face of the victim (or rubbed subtly around their earlobes) which then renders them semi-conscious for around 24 hours and devoid of free will. Here is a fascinating documentary about it, aptly called ‘World’s Scariest Drug.’
10. Only wear headphones in your room. No brainer, but my mate got a little too comfortable living in Medellin and before he knew it he had a handgun in his face in broad daylight outside a mall when he forgot this unwritten rule.
11. That super-cool party that the stranger you just met told you about? Forget about it. Not worth the risk, especially if just upon meeting they are inviting you there.
I lived in Mexico for two years and Mexicans are actually this friendly and are legitimately inviting you to a party because they’re awesome. But 9 times out of 10 around the world you should forget about this one until you know the person better.
12. Study local travel scams. It’s wise to be prudent and study this. Try your best to pinpoint the popular scams in every country before you go.
13. Have good travel insurance. This is more of a reactionary tip than a precautionary one but the time you wish you had it is when you don’t have it – trust me! I switched to SafetyWing and I’m more than happy with them.
14. Don’t leave valuables hanging out of your back pocket. Duh. My comprehensive article on the best men’s travel gear will give you a helping hand here.
15. Get fit and strong! We should want to feel healthy and strong anyway but being fit on the road means can get you out of scrapes, run faster and generally be more alert. I am back in love with fitness big time and I try to make sure I incorporate functional fitness into my regime as opposed to getting mirror muscles. They may look great, but they don’t serve me as well in real-life circumstances.
16. Meditate before you leave your room. I know it still gets a suspicious giggle in the Western world and it shouldn’t. It’s been good for me, and your senses will become more heightened the more you do it – especially situational awareness which is key to staying safe.
17. Learn self-defence. Uh oh, I haven’t been practising what I preach with this one but I plan to. In fact, I wish that I learnt a long time ago. I like how Joe Rogan explains why he did exactly that; to paraphrase, he said, “I was being bullied and I wanted to become exactly what I was afraid of”.
I am trying to work this into my callisthenics training; tough gig but may be worth the effort.
18. Walk/run away. This tip is pretty self-explanatory. Yes, learn self-defence but to defend yourself, not to start fights! But let’s be real, you’re not Jason Statham and when it comes to a rabid guy invading your personal space, self-defence should be a last resort. Always choose to run or walk away – even if you think you can “have” him… Your ego is not your amigo in this instance.
Safety Tips For Travelling Alone As a Woman
Women of course fall prey to a different kind of evil – sexual assault – and they are much more than likely to be a victim of domestic violence although that is usually from a “loved one” or someone that they know, females are also at risk from violent attacks and crimes by strangers.
To reiterate, a lot of the advice for solo travelling men can help solo travelling women and vice versa, but as I have never travelled the world alone as a woman there will be blind spots on my behalf and there are limitations to advice that I can give.
The major part of the article is written by Christina Petrides from WorkingOnTheRoad.com and I also asked a couple of other trusted women in my life to contribute.
Over to the ladies…
If I had a penny for each time someone asked me if I was afraid to travel alone, I would be a very rich woman. Yes, I do think about my safety – who doesn’t? I think about my safety on a daily basis, even when I’m in my hometown. To me, it’s just common sense.
When I’m preparing to go travelling or find myself in a new place, I take that a couple of steps further so that I am confident that I can stay safe and avoid problems.
As a blonde, it’s hard to blend into most places. So, I have come up with a few tips and tricks that help me stay safe travelling solo and give me peace of mind that I’ve prepared as much as I can.
There’s a fine balance between being so over-prepared that you forget to have fun and so laid back that you open yourself up to danger or hassle, and part of that is learning through experience – at the end of the day, you need to feel comfortable in a place or situation and you need to set your own limits.
Here’s my take on how to stay safe, enjoy your trip and meet people along the way.
1. Do some basic planning and preparation for arrival and getting about. Before you get to a new country or place do a little research on the local scams or your transport options. For example, what are the best ways to get around? If you need a bus ticket do you buy that in advance or on the bus?
If you want to take a taxi from the airport is there an organised system in place or is there a rank with a first come, first served system? Looking completely lost and not being able to speak the language opens you up to unscrupulous locals taking advantage of you and ripping you off. Not a good start to your trip!
2. Have your first night’s accommodation booked. I know a lot of travellers who prefer to rock up and find a room or bed for the night by shopping around on the ground. I prefer to have my first night’s accommodation booked, especially if I’m arriving late at night.
Tiredness, delays, and not knowing your way around will all work against you and lugging your bags around isn’t fun either. One night is all you need and if you like the place, you can probably extend your stay. If you don’t, you have had some rest and daylight to look for a new place.
3. Arrange a pick-up on arrival if necessary. When arriving late at night at an airport, bus or train station, it’s a good idea to have your hostel/hotel arrange a pick-up for you. You don’t have to mess around with finding transport, negotiating a price, or figuring out where you’re going.
4. Download an offline map app. I have Maps.me and use it to follow the route a driver takes in a new town, especially at night or when I’m new to a place. That way I can track that we’re going in the right direction and they are not taking a long way around to rip me off.
5. Let people know your travel plans. When I’m travelling my friends and family would love to know where I am at all times. I compromise by letting them know when I’m on a travel day. If I’m going from A to B on a bus or train, I will let them know the departure time and estimated journey time and confirm I’ve arrived.
If I’m travelling by plane, I will send them flight details, and again confirm I’ve arrived. I also give them a rough itinerary so that they don’t worry unnecessarily. But it’s also good for me because I know that if something were to go wrong, they could mobilise a search party or know that I’m safe and not caught up in a problem or situation somewhere.
6. Get tipsy, but don’t get legless. Sound obvious? You’d be surprised. I’m all for having fun when travelling, but you don’t want to find yourself in a situation that could have been avoided if you had had your wits about you. Drink responsibly. And when you are drinking, keep an eye on your glass. It’s easy for some scumbag to slip something into it even while you are talking to them, so be vigilant.
7. Avoid drugs. Again, sounds obvious, but ignored by many. Not only do you not know who you are buying from (they could and often are undercover cops or working with the police for a kickback), you have no idea of the quality of what you are getting or how you will react to it. And in many countries, the crime is punishable by death. Not. Worth. It.
8. Don’t tell strangers where you’re staying. Most of the time people will ask out of simple curiosity, but they don’t really need to know, do they? If you’re arranging to meet someone, pick a neutral, preferably busy, spot instead.
9. Listen to the locals. They know their town and what is safe for foreigners to do or where they can go. If they say you shouldn’t be out after dark, either stay in your room or hostel at night or find a group to go out with so that you are not alone.
10. Join a tour group. If you are uncomfortable being alone or are not yet used to it, joining a group is a great way of getting around, seeing the sights and maybe even making new friends. This could be a day trip or a longer one, depending on what you want to see, where you are and your level of comfort in being alone.
11. Carry a travel cash card. Before you leave your home country it’s worth setting up a travel cash card account. It lets you transfer money into it that you can withdraw from an ATM anywhere. The benefits are that you don’t carry around your debit or credit card that could be lost, stolen, or cloned. It also means that if anyone ever forces you to withdraw money and hand it over, there is a limited amount that you can take out, leaving the bulk of your money safe.
12. Spread your money around. By that I mean keep bills in different pockets, bags, your shoes or your bra. Often, thieves know to look for money belts so having your money somewhere else – and ideally in a number of places – means you can hand over a purse, belt or pouch without compromising all your funds.
13. Carry a doorstop and whistle. Small and easy to carry, they can be a great way to help you feel and stay safe. A doorstop will secure a flimsy hotel door and a whistle can attract attention or frighten someone off if you are feeling threatened, either in your room or when you are out and about.
14. Learn to trust your gut. Listen to your instincts. If your gut tells you that something doesn’t feel right, do something about it. Get yourself out of a situation before it turns into a situation. You may get it wrong but isn’t it better to err on the side of caution? Never worry about appearing rude if you need to make excuses and leave. Your safety is your first concern. The more you travel, the more you will fine-tune it and soon reading about a new place will be second nature.
Anthony here (the male half of this travel safety guide) to wrap up the article. So, there you have it. Is solo travel safe? It can be a lot safer by being more aware and I truly hope that these safety tips for travelling alone whether you’re a man or a woman help you to feel more confident on the road and to avoid any dangers.
I don’t enjoy writing overly-cautionary posts but this is an important topic. Feel free to write to me regarding anything that I have missed out and I’ll happily update this article with your nuggets of wisdom.