The comment I hear most often when I tell people that I’m a dedicated solo traveler is that I need to be careful. People ask if it’s safe for me to venture out into the big, bad world all on my own. They tell me that I’d be better off with a partner.
I hate that. I really, really hate that.
Women traveling alone are not delicate flowers that need extra protection. We are not crazy, and we’re definitely not stupid. We are women who won’t let other people’s personal definitions of gender roles define us.
The idea of a strong and capable woman is not foreign now that we are well into the 21st Century, but that seems to go out the window the second the conversation turns to talk about solo travel. I’m in the military. When I joined the Air Force, I did so with a full understanding of the dangers of my chosen profession. Society has accepted (for the most part) that women are capable of serving their country and can die while doing so.
So why is it that I can be shot at but can’t travel on my own? Riddle me that, Batman.
I could go on and on about my opinion on this, but I know I’m not alone in my feelings on the issue. Instead, I’ll give you the reasons why I choose to travel by myself and how I stay safe while doing so.
Why I Choose to Travel on My Own
I’ve traveled on my own and I’ve traveled with others. Neither way is right, just as neither way is wrong. At one point in my life, I wouldn’t have ever dreamed of going out to explore a new city on my own. The mere thought of it had me frozen with fear. I’ve found that I’m becoming more and more independent with age, which has made me so much more confident than I was in my early 20s. It has also made me not want to compromise with anyone else over travel plans. This is a pretty harsh and ugly reality, but I’m just trying to be honest here. I’m going to go where I want to go and do what I want to do when I want to do it.
I’ve also realized with age that I am indeed an introvert. I need quiet time to decompress and recharge, so being stuck on a boat or in a car with someone who needs to talk all. the. time. is exhausting for me. More importantly, it makes me hella cranky. I’m not nice when I’m cranky, and I don’t like subjecting my friends and loved ones to that. I’m sure they don’t like it either, but I’m not going to take a poll to confirm my suspicions.
Most importantly, though, I want to savor every moment of my travel experiences. If I’m with someone else, I don’t feel that I can linger a little longer than would be considered sane over the beauty of a reflection in a puddle. I want to revel in the sounds of a city waking up for the day without someone breaking the magic by asking what I want for breakfast. I’m always worrying that I’m keeping travel companions from enjoying themselves and feel pressure to make sure that they are having a great time. That means I’m NOT having a great time. That’s not okay.
Another thing that’s not okay is not minding your safety while traveling solo, especially as a female. I know that this is not “PC” for me to say. I heard that collective intake of air as all the other female solo travelers read that. It’s cool; I can take the backlash. Again, I’m just being honest.
“But how, Megan, do I mind my safety?”
I’m so glad you asked!
Solo Travel Safety for Women (AND Men, because I’m Equal Opportunity like that)
1. Research, research, research. I can’t stress this enough. A well-informed traveler is a safe traveler. You want to know the current political and economic situation in any country you are considering visiting. A good source for this information is the US State Department‘s travel advisory site. The Government of Canada has a great one as well. These two sites are geared toward US and Canadian citizens, but the info is (mostly) universal.
You will also want to research the specific city you will be visiting, and even the specific area of that city in which you will be spending most of your time. If you find that your hostel or hotel is in a shady part of town, pony up the extra cash to stay somewhere safer. Paying for safety is a wise investment. You aren’t going to care that you’ve saved a few bucks on the cheaper option if you’re afraid to set foot out the door. You’re really not going to care if you find yourself waking up to the creepy girl from the bunk next to you counting your eyelashes. Seriously, don’t even consider a place in a questionable area. Just move along to the safer option.
2. Plan your travels so that you are arriving at your hotel/hostel during daylight. You don’t want to be trying to get your bearings in a new area at night. If you can’t manage to do this, plan on taking a taxi from the airport or train station to your accommodations.
3. Leave an itinerary with a friend or family member back home, along with copies of your passport and credit cards. If you are in a pickle, you want someone to figure it out in a few days as opposed to a few weeks. I have a friend that insists I post something on Facebook every day that I’m traveling. This way she knows that I’m safe (and that I’m eating because it’s usually pictures of food). Bonus points are given if I post a selfie or three. Instagram also works well for this purpose.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have lost your passport or it has been stolen, it’s so much easier to get a replacement if you have a copy. Credit cards won’t be replaced so easily, but having a copy of the front and back serves two purposes: a) you have the telephone number you need to call the fraud alert team at your bank to cancel them; and b) you have the account number just in case the fraud alert team asks for it. It seems silly that they would ask for the account number, but I’ve had it happen!
4. Be aware of your surroundings. Seriously, put the damn phone down. Better yet, chuck it into the bottom of your bag. You are traveling to experience new things, and that’s pretty hard to do if your technology is getting in the way. It’s also a pretty terrible idea to walk around with headphones on. You need to be able to hear if someone is approaching you from behind or if you’re about to step out in front of a bus.
5. Dress appropriately. As a liberated woman, it pains me to tell anyone that how they dress may cause bad things to happen to them, but it does happen in some parts of the world. This goes hand-in-hand with researching the area you will be traveling to. If you’re going to a country that has a history of treating women poorly, try not to attract attention to yourself by baring your belly, cleavage, or too much leg. I look at it as being respectful of my home country’s culture and that gets me past the irritation of having to dress to suit someone else’s standards.
Another part of dressing appropriately is considering the function of what you are wearing. If you can run in stilettos, more power to you. Most of us can’t, so I recommend a low heel or flats with pants or skirts that won’t make you trip like J. Law at the Oscars (twice, girl!).
6. Use common sense. Common sense doesn’t seem to be so common these days. If your Spidey Sense doesn’t tend to tingle when it should, you may want to get some companion travel under your belt before setting out on your own. If you tend to get those “gut feelings” about things, trust that your gut will tell you when something is not right. I’ve backed out of a few deserted public squares when the tingles told me to. It may have been nothing, but I’d rather err on the side of caution.
Part of using common sense is avoiding drinking too much. Drinking dulls the senses. ALL of them. Even Spidey Sense and gut feelings. I personally stick to one drink at dinner and then cut myself off. If you can handle more than that, do what you want. It just personally makes me nervous, and if I’m not afraid of solo travel boogeymen, I’d think my advice on drinking is good advice.
7. Don’t flaunt your valuables. I travel with a pretty nice DSLR, but it stays safely stowed away in my bag until I’m comfortable with the area I want to photograph. I also tuck my money in different places on my body and in my bag. No one needs to see you open your wallet with all of your cash for the day peeking out. I keep smaller bills on me in places like the front pocket of my jeans, the inside pocket of my jacket, and the inside zipper area of my bag. I only pull out my wallet in private (such as in the ladies room stall) to move cash to those other areas when I run out.
This is not the time to be playing fashionista either. Leave the Prada sunglasses and Coach bag at home. I travel with a large tote in a neutral color that doesn’t attract attention. I recommend you find one that can be worn cross-body style. I do this and keep it to my front at all times. Don’t make yourself a target for the sneaky pickpockets in the museums.
8. Walk the walk. Walk like a man. No, really. Do it. Head up, shoulders back, make eye contact, take purposeful steps. If you are timid or are prancing around like a ballerina, you’ll make an easy target for thieves. Get your strut on.
My 2 Most Important Pieces of Advice!
1. Do NOT let fear keep you from traveling solo. I was afraid at first, but it is so empowering knowing that I have conquered that fear. I have had some amazingly rich experiences traveling on my own. I want you to be able to have experiences like mine.
2. Do NOT let anyone tell you that you can’t travel solo. Anyone who tells you that you can’t is wrong. Anyone can travel solo. Don’t let someone else determine your ability to do anything. Ever.
I hope that this has been helpful to you. I have many, many, many more tips on solo travel, but I believe that these were the most important to share.
Do you have a question or anything to add? Leave it in the comments below!