“So who are you going with?”
The question that is always asked upon the announcement of an upcoming trip. The question that every experienced solo traveler dreads. The question that is asked with an assumption that you’ll answer with “oh my boyfriend and I…” or “I’m meeting my friend…” The problem isn’t the question itself. The problem is the concerns and a million questions that follow when you tell them no one.
“Yes, it’s safe. No, I’m not crazy. And yes, I’ve seen the movie Taken.”
But, I suppose, how can you blame them when their phone alerts and the news are constant reminders of how big, bad and scary the world is?
The good news is they just care about you and your safety. The even better news is you can travel to the other side of the world and still be safe. Now, I’m not here saying that traveling to Nairobi is as safe as walking the streets of Denver but everywhere you go there is bad people and bad things happening. What the news alerts don’t tell you is that there are so many more good people and amazing things happening out there than there are bad. You must remember there is more to these places than what you read or see on TV.
No matter where you are going, you should take it upon yourself to find out how to be as safe as possible especially since you are traveling alone.
Research your destination.
You have to find it in you to really research, study and find the ins and outs of where you’re going. Read other travelers blogs, lonely planet books, online, and recent news articles about the place you’re going. Stay updated on events. Reach out to people who have traveled there for a few extra tips. Know where you want to go and know where you shouldn’t go. Book your hostel for the first few nights to give yourself some time to talk to the receptionist, locals, or roommates to get some details about the places you are visiting, updates on events happening and pointers about the country you’re in.
Be prepared for any scenario.
Photocopy all documents before your departure. This means passports, birth certificates, credit cards, prescriptions, license, plane tickets, visa, and required vaccines. It is also a good idea to have a written list of your friends or family members cell phone numbers just in case. Store these in a separate area than your actual documents to protect yourself in case your bag is stolen or an airline lost your luggage. Keep out some extra cash and hide it in socks, under a hat, bra, in a tampon wrapper, etc. Don’t think that you are exempt from these things happening to you because you’re not. Theft and lost luggage can happen to anyone and it is better, in the long run, to just be prepared for it.
Be aware at all times. As much as you want to trust the next traveler, don’t. Study the faces of the people that you’re sharing a room with. Keep your valuables close to you or secured away in a locker at all times. Always travel with a lock. No matter where you are items get stolen and it doesn’t matter who you are. If for some reason you are concerned about your roommates or your safety, do not hesitate to ask the receptionist to switch rooms or to spend a bit of extra money to get a private room for a few nights. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
As you walk down the streets looking through the shops, walk with confidence and always be aware of your surroundings. Look at people in their eye. Never announce that you’re alone. In conversation, don’t be afraid to say that you’re going to meet up with your boyfriend or that he’s back at the hostel. Use nouns like “We” when telling stories. Be vague about where you’re from, where you’re going, where you’re staying, how long your trip is and any personal information. And last but not least, try to blend in. Dress appropriately for where you’re going, don’t pull out all your valuables in public, don’t look lost and vulnerable because you may just become a target to a criminal. Look confident, head up, shoulders back, look determined and like you know exactly where you’re going. If you do become lost, slip into a cafe, restaurant or bathroom to pull out a map before you keep going.
- Don’t go out exploring at night by yourself.
- It’s not a bad idea to carry pepper spray with you.
- Take self-defense classes before you set out on your trip.
- Don’t go out and get blind drunk, just don’t do it.
- Don’t be afraid to spend a little extra money if it makes you feel safer.
- Check in regularly with friends or family members whenever you can. It’s a good idea for at least one person to know your itinerary for your trip.
- Watch out for staged mishaps such as someone bumping into you or dropping something. It’s often just a way to get you distracted.
- Know the number of the police where you are and always know where the closest hospital/doctor is.
- If you’re not comfortable with it, don’t hitchhike, couch surf or share taxis with strangers. No, they are not always cereal killers or rapists but it’s always better to not take the chance.
- Use ATMS during the day when it’s light out and there are people around.
- Keep the expensive jewelry and clothes at home. You don’t need them where you’re going.
- It’s becoming more common for travelers to carry ‘dummy wallets’ which is just a wallet that has a few dollars in it and fake credit cards or old hotel room keys that they can hand over if they’re stopped by a mugger. This way you have something to hand over without giving them your real wallet and you can walk away safely. (I don’t do this but I know some travelers who do)
- If you feel uncomfortable where you are or if you feel like you’re being followed. Draw attention to it. Scream. Tell as many people as you can. Don’t be scared to ask for help. Don’t be scared to put up a fight with anyone.
- If you’re going somewhere that doesn’t speak English, carry a book that’ll help you translate.
- Read ALL the reviews of the hotel or hostel that you’re staying at.
- And don’t ever feel guilty about saying no.
And always go with your gut feeling. Your safety is always number 1 while embarking on a solo adventure but I’m not here to scare you into being completely closed off. You’re entering a new country and a new culture for a reason and that reason isn’t to sit in your hostel room thinking everyone is a bad person or something bad will always happen to you. You’re there to see the beauty of a new country, meet new people, try new foods, and open up a different side of yourself.
I hope that if you’re debating whether to travel or not because you have no one to go with, that you choose to go. Go because you will meet people as you travel that can continue on to be life-long friendships. The world is a big place and there is beauty, heartbreaking beauty everywhere and something inside of you changes once you see it.