Every so often I come across good postings of safety tips for women traveling solo, which got me thinking of what I’d tell fellow women looking to go out and see the world.
So, here are my tips for being safe while on the road:
Know the culture – do your research about the norms for the country or place you are visiting. Everything from knowing whether the culture is female friendly to clothing basics is extremely important.
I’ve always been a fan of the Rick Steves “through the backdoor philosophy”of traveling close to the locals and really experiencing a culture. But, some cultures just simply aren’t going to be as enjoyable for a woman and particularly a woman traveling solo. I’ll admit there are places I’d like to visit, but without a group I’m not willing to risk it. Know before you go.
In some cultures, short skirts, sleeveless tops and the like can cause unwanted attention or worse. Always dress for the culture you are visiting and leaning on the conservative side is always a little safer.
Research your hotel zone – make sure the neighborhood where your hotel is located is safe and has good access to dining options, or easy access to taxis (see next item). You’re a woman alone and you’ll be out and about in the daytime as well as the evening. Unless I’m taking a taxi, I tend to have dinner close to my hotel.
Read as many reviews as possible to get the best idea of where your hotel is located. I’ve bypassed many a good deal because the hotel was reviewed as being a little dodgy in the evening.
Always use a Taxi stand – make sure the cars/taxi’s you are using are legitimate! Never accept rides from drivers wandering airports or train stations. There will always be an official taxi stand. Use it. Your hotel will also call cabs for you as will restaurants.
If you don’t speak the language the word “taxi” has become universal. I always carry the card for my hotel with me to give to the driver and as a backup if the hotel doesn’t have cards I prepare an index card ahead of time with the hotel address.
Ask questions – seems simple but if there’s an off the beaten path location you’re looking to explore ask your concierge or someone at your hotel their opinion of the area and the best way to get there.
I also continue to ask other locals their opinions. But you also need to not disclose too much (e.g. don’t share your itinerary or hotel information with others).
I also ask for restaurant recommendations as well, sometimes they’re the best experiences. Being an independent traveler doesn’t mean not soliciting input!
Don’t wear expensive jewelry or carry expensive handbags/luggage – just because you may have it, don’t flaunt it! This includes any fakes! Expensive looking items (including electronics) mark you as a target, and being female – an easier target. Leave the valuables at home.
Don’t carry all your eggs in one basket – never carry all your cash, credit cards and the like in one place. If heaven forbid and you are pick-pocketed or robbed in any way you need to have alternative sources to funds. This may mean leaving back-ups in your in-room safe, carrying a money belt or spreading your money around on your body.
As an aside to this, always use the ATMs in full daylight and if possible inside one of the bank ATM lobby areas. Or at least in a busy area. Be as prepared as possible and organized before using the ATM (don’t loiter around with your bag and/or wallet open pulling out your card and putting away your money). I always tuck away my money, card and secure my bag before turning away from the machine.
Make eye contact, be confident but trust your instincts – you’re traveling solo so by nature you’re confident! Pay attention to your surroundings and make eye contact so people know you’re alert and paying attention to your surroundings.
While I’ve always found the major cities of Europe to be safer than those in the US that doesn’t mean I leave my common sense at home. Avoid unpopulated areas, dark streets and the like. If you find yourself in that situation (and I have) then proceed with as much confidence as possible (and speed) to a safer situation.
On one recent trip (with a friend) we found ourselves in a not so great part of Manhattan for a few blocks. While striding confidently I happened to casually relocate my wallet and cell phone from my handbag to my inside coat pocket without even my friend noticing. Figured if we were going to be mugged, they could grab my bag and I’d still have the important stuff!
Have a good time, but not too good of a time – good food and wine is simply one of the reasons I travel, but don’t get carried away! Being an inebriated woman out and about isn’t safe anywhere. Just don’t do it!
If you do find you’ve gotten a bit carried away somewhere never accept rides from strangers (and knowing someone for a few hours still makes them a stranger). Have your restaurant, pub, bar or wherever call a taxi for you.