If you’re like me and an occasional solo traveller one of the most important things to consider when heading to a new destination is your safety. For this reason, it is crucial to prepare for the worst (and try to avoid it). Although some destinations may be unfairly stereotyped as dangerous, it is important to always be aware of your surroundings.
Here are some tips I’ve gathered after having started travelling more than 12 years ago
(I am also extremely paranoid! Which has worked in my favour)
1. Stay in a good neighbourhood and avoid others (especially at night)
Although some tourist agencies organize group visits to neighbourhoods/zones where crime may be prevalent, this is something you need to think twice about if you are a solo female. Research which neighbourhoods are the best to stay in and then choose a hotel based on the neighbourhood (Booking has this option). It is better to pay more than to feel unsafe. Avoid hotels and Bnb’s far away from the city center. If something were to happen, you want to be surrounded by people in case you need help. Recently, fellow traveller Carla Stefaniak was murdered in her secluded Air Bnb in Costa Rica. Now, I am not saying you need to avoid suburbs or countryside cottages, but if you’re alone, it’s better to stay in a bustling city.
2. Don’t tell people you meet about your exact itinerary
The best part about travelling alone is getting to meet people from around the world. Most travellers you meet will have similar interests to you and may be able to offer tips about places they’ve already visited. However, I avoid telling my exact itinerary to people I meet, especially men. If someone asks “Where are you staying? How long will you be here? Where are you going tonight?” I change my story a bit. There is no reason a complete stranger needs to know exactly what time you will leave/enter your hotel room or the exact address of the apartment you are sleeping in. Although most people are genuinely interested in knowing more about you out of curiosity, it takes one bad apple to ruin your trip.
Additional Tip: Always say hello and goodbye to the receptionist and doorman. If you are memorable they will notice if you haven’t returned.
3. Use hairspray as an alternative to pepper spray
Unfortunately, it is illegal to carry pepper spray in many countries. Hair spray, however, is completely legal and will burn the eyes just as much (especially the cheap kind). You can get a travel sized bottle of hairspray and put it in your coat pocket (not your purse as thieves go for that first).
4. Separate your money and identification
Never carry everything in one purse. If you travel with more than one credit or debit card, make sure to leave one of them behind in the hotel, and take the other one with you. Same with your ID’s. Put one ID in your purse, and leave others behind. In case your wallet/purse gets stolen you won’t be left without identification or cash.
5. If someone is following you, make an abrupt stop and change your direction.
If you notice someone following you, try to stop abruptly, enter a shop/restaurant/ etc and let them pass. If you feel very uncomfortable, notify the person inside of the shop or restaurant, and call a taxi to take you home.
6. Share your Uber Route with friends
Uber now allows you to share your route with your friends and family while you ride. If you have an Iphone, turn on your location settings and share them friends.
7. Check in with friends and family regularly
Inform your loved ones about your daily itinerary and plans. Let them know what time you expect to return to your hotel and what activities you are doing/who you are with. In case they don’t hear from you, they will know exactly where you were beforehand.
8. Don’t wear expensive jewelry
If you can avoid showing your valuables while walking alone at night, you can avoid attracting unnecessary attention.
9. Create a decoy
I started doing this while I was living in the center of Barcelona (a pick-pocket heaven). I would carry a small clutch and firmly hold it against my body while taking public transportation or walking on crowded streets. Always wear the band across your chest and not just on your shoulder. Meanwhile, I would take an empty wallet that I would put in my jean pockets. This way, if someone tries to pickpocket you on the crowded bus or underground, they will most likely take your empty wallet than try to take the purse out of your hands. Keep the zipper of the purse always facing you.
10. Put a bell on your door.
If you are staying in a hostel or apartment, put a small bell on the doors and windows. This way, you will wake up if you hear a noise.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: If anything makes you feel uncomfortable, leave. Don’t accuse yourself of being paranoid or exaggerating your behaviour. If you find yourself in a situation with people that make you feel worried, don’t worry about being nice. It is better to go home early, cut a conversation short, or avoid going out rather than staying and possibly proving your instincts right.