Safety can be a big concern for female travellers, especially when you’re travelling alone. When my sister and I first started to travel overseas, we would get a lot of advice from well meaning friends and relatives that we used to refer to at the time as ‘scaremongers’.
While I think you can take many of the nightmare travel stories you hear with a grain of salt, there are some precautions you can take which will make you feel more prepared for any situation and in control of your safety.
After many years of working as a travel agent and flight attendant, I have done more than my share of solo travel. These are some of the tips and tricks that I’ve picked up along the way.
1. Don’t advertise your room number – whether you’re arranging to meet friends later, or charging something back to your room in the hotel restaurant, be careful who is within earshot when you’re giving out your room number or the name of your hotel.
2. Use your do not disturb sign – if you have valuables in your room, leave the do not disturb sign on the door when you’re heading out to help prevent theft. Lock laptops, cameras and any other valuables in the hotel safe or your suitcase.
3. Be social media savvy – in a world where our private lives have become very public its a good idea to be cautious about sharing your travel plans online. If you’re posting on Instagram or Facebook turn location services off and don’t advertise your plans for the next few days.
4. Blend in – nothing screams ‘I’m a tourist’ like a backpack, belt bag and a map. Try to blend in with the locals and dress as you would if you lived there to avoid unwanted attention. As convenient as a day pack is, they are easier for an opportunistic pick pocket to access when you’re distracted. Instead, opt for a cross body bag which will still fit everything you need, but can be worn towards the front so you can keep a good eye on it when you’re walking around or on public transport.
5. Check in with family or friends at home – it’s always a good idea to leave a rough itinerary with a friend or family member at home. If you’re travelling alone arrange to check in daily with someone – a quick text message or email to a friend or family member is all it takes to keep them up to date with your movements.
6. Use trusted taxi companies only – when you’re running late to get to the airport or you’re tired and just want to get back to your hotel it can be tempting to jump into any taxi that’s available. Always check which are the reputable taxi companies in your destination and use their cars only. It can also be a good idea to make a habit of noting the licence plate of the taxi you’re in, in case you leave any of your belongings in the taxi.
7. Respect local customs – do your research on local customs before you travel. Abide by local dress codes and respect their values to avoid causing unnecessary offence and confrontation.
8. Always take out travel insurance – insurance can be one of those things that seems like just another expense, especially if you are travelling on a budget, but with medical costs being so high for non-citizens in many countries, it really is essential. Most travel insurance will also cover you against loss or theft of your belongings.
9. Language barriers – in a country where you don’t speak the language, it is always a good idea to get one of the hotel staff to write the name and address of your hotel in the local language on a piece of paper for you to pass to taxi drivers in case you have trouble communicating.
10. Trust your intuition – if your gut says no, don’t do it. When a friend and I were visiting the pyramids in Egypt a man offered to show us a spot where you could get the best view. At the time it didn’t feel right and we didn’t go. We later heard that it is a popular scam to lead you away from the main tourist area and rob you. Nine times out of ten your intuition will be right, so listen to it.
11. Research scams – ok so it’s not the most exciting thing to research before you travel abroad, but as they say forewarned is forearmed. Just do a quick google search for common tourist scams in your destination so you know what to watch out for. Chances are you won’t come across them, but it’s a good feeling to be prepared.
12. Wear a fake wedding ring – I wouldn’t suggest that you need to do this all the time, however, if you’re travelling to an area where you feel that you may stand out and attract a lot of unwanted attention from the opposite sex, a fake wedding ring can help to avoid the problem. In saying that, the mention of a fiancé or boyfriend may well have the same effect.
13. Carry only what cash you need with you – work out roughly what cash you will need for the day and leave the rest in your hotel safe. Keep a separate coin purse for tipping and making small purchases so you’re not having to get your wallet out more than necessary. Keep some spare cash and a credit card hidden somewhere in your suitcase for emergencies.
14. Check the location of the nearest fire exit from your room – when you check into your hotel room, memorise which direction the nearest fire exit is and how many doors that you need to pass to get to it in case visibility is limited. I once woke up to a fire alarm in a hotel in the middle of the night, and was so disorientated that I struggled to remember which city I was in, let alone where the exit was. Luckily it was a minor fire, however, had it been serious I would have struggled to find my way out.
15. Don’t wear expensive jewellery or carry designer handbags – it can be tempting to want to look as good as possible, especially in fashionable destinations like Milan or Rome. You can still look great, but avoid the temptation to draw attention to yourself by showing off your best designer gear and jewellery.
16. Get your bearings – whenever I’m in a new city I tend to do some sort of city tour on my first day to get my bearings and give me a feel for the areas that are safe and others that are perhaps best to avoid. The hop on hop off tours are great as you generally get a 48 hour ticket, which allows you to spend more time visiting any of the sights that you didn’t have time to visit on the first day.
17. Make friends with other female travellers – day trips are a great way to meet other travellers and make friends. When I was visiting Los Angeles alone, I met two lovely ladies on a day tour and ended up meeting up with them for dinner that evening. I always find dinner time to be quite lonely when I’m travelling alone, so if you can find other ladies in the same situation it can really make a difference.
18. Drinking – I have been unlucky enough to have had my drink spiked while in a bar in Melbourne and it was not a pleasant experience at all! Thankfully, I was with a group of girls who soon realised what had happened when I collapsed. If you’re out in bars try to order bottled drinks that are opened in front of you, and never leave your drink unattended. It sounds like an obvious one, but when you’re travelling it can be so easy to get caught up in the excitement of the moment and let your guard down after a couple of drinks.
19. Budget extra – when you’re planning your trip budget a little extra to allow you to change accommodation at the last minute if you feel unsafe, or hail a taxi rather than walking alone at night.
20. Register with your governments, relevant travel safety authority –
UK Citizens: follow the Foreign Office on Twitter: https://twitter.com/foreignoffice
US Citizens: register with U.S. Department of State
NZ Citizens: register with Safe Travel
Australian Citizens: register with Smarttraveller
Canadian Citizens: register with Registration of Canadians abroad
I’d love to hear any of your top travel safety tips in the comments below.