So when I was doing some research for this post I came across a tonne of articles on solo female travel and the advice seems to fit into one of two categories. You’re not safe anywhere, wear a burqa at all times, have pre-paid transport and lodgings and never leave the room at night or talk to strangers. Or be self-aware and use some common sense and you’ll be fine. Any guesses what camp I’m in?
You see I often feel safer when I’m travelling than I do at home. You know why? Because I’m always aware of my environment when I am in a new place. I don’t “she’ll be right mate” and take shortcuts I don’t know at night or have that extra drink or leave my open bag lying around. When you are familiar with a place you take little risks and fall into bad habits. In a new place I am constantly trying to absorb my environment, I take the time to look around and have researched the do’s and don’ts of the area.
I believe in being safe don’t get me wrong, but for the most part the same precautions that keep me out of trouble at home work on the road. I don’t believe in living in fear, as long as I use common sense I am less likely to get mugged then run over almost anywhere in the world. If leaving an expensive laptop in a café while I slip to the bathroom would be a bad idea at home, why would I do it on the road? The same with getting blackout drunk. Most crimes are opportunistic and if you can take a few reasonable precautions your chances of getting in trouble are minimal.
Here are 15 common sense safety guidelines that have kept me out of trouble on my travels:
1. Do some research – a few minutes on the internet can have you informed on the local conditions, common scams, reputable accommodation and dress code. There are some interesting laws relating to female conduct in some parts of the world but they should be easy enough to find online or in your guidebook.
2. Dress like a local - somedays you need to skip the fisherman pants and bikini tops, dressing like a local ensures you are being respectful of local customs and is a big step in not setting yourself up as looking like a rich tourist target.
3. Know where you’re going – I often pre-organize my first two night’s accommodation in a new location so I can get the lay of the land. If this doesn’t happen I make a plan of where I’m going and if I have to, consult my phone instead of wandering around with my nose in a guide book.
4. Don’t drink too much – only take drinks directly from the bartender and watch your consumption, consider if you really feel safe enough to lose control before you indulge too much.
5. Leave a social media trail – check in with someone at home, I don’t always pre-plan my itinerary but I usually leave a message when I’m doing things like heading out for a solo hike, so if I don’t show up online within a few days at least someone knows where to start looking.
6. Trust slowly – it can get lonely on the road but be careful to make sure you are truly comfortable with someone before you start giving out details of where you’re staying. Likewise when asking directions or advice from strangers, it pays to ask a few different people. Even the friendliest locals get it wrong sometimes but “location closed” and “come to my shop” scams are prevalent.
7. Make local friends – weather online, female staff at your hostel or on networks like Couchsurfing, someone that can tell you the areas to avoid, the cost of a cab and where to get the best value for money is a great asset.
8. Pickpocket proof – I hate money pouches, nothing says tourist like scrambling around inside your shirt every time you want a cup of coffee. Buy a slash proof purse if you have to, carry money in inside pockets, chain you wallet to your belt or even disguise your valuables in a local market bag.
9. Day pack planning – when in transit put everything valuable in your day pack, never under a bus or check in. Guard that day pack, wrap a strap around your legs and keep it on your lap while snoozing, generally never let it out of your site. Once you arrive lock the majority of your valuables in a locker or safe, only take what you need out with you just in case. Also make sure your main baggage is manageable, if you can’t lift it or move quickly you can feel quite vulnerable.
10. Back ‘em up – have copies of your passport, insurance and credit cards in a cloud folder, and a photocopy of your passport comes in handy too. Keeping copies of your documents and splitting you money over several hiding places means you have a backup if the worst happens.
11. Lock your doors – if you’re hiring a car or camper keep your doors locked and valuables out of site. This goes for hotels as well, if your items are packed away they’re less likely to be the target of casual theft.
12. Keep supplied - medical and sanitary items can be hard to come by bring the pill, pads, meds etc. with you. I recommend a menstrual cup if you’re going to be away long term.
13. Trust your gut – if it doesn’t feel right leave, don’t worry about offending anyone or saving money, if you don’t feel safe get out of there. It pays to have an emergency money stash in case you have to leave in a hurry.
15. Insurance - the number one thing you can purchase to keep you safe is travel insurance. Including theft and illness anything that might go wrong on the road has an extra safety cushion if you have insurance. If you can’t afford the insurance seriously consider if you should be travelling.
Try this trick to understand how simple it is to know what to avoid, go to a public place in your local area and watch the women, who draws attention to themselves? Who is obviously a tourist? Who looks wealthy? Most petty crimes are opportunistic and if you appear to be a hard target a thief will likely move on to an easier mark.
In about 6 years on the road I have only been robbed twice, both times I left my gear out and unattended in a public place and though I’ve dealt with my share of sleazy guys I’ve only really felt threatened once. Considering the adventures I’ve had and the stories of break-ins and car thefts from my friends back home. I believe if you practice self-awareness and common sense you are as safe travelling as you would be anywhere. Life is full of little risks and having the lifestyle I want is for me well worth the small chance of being parted from by belongings, after all I have backups anyway….