Solo travel makes you the captain of your ship, in a very real sense. It also makes you solely responsible for your own safety. Read on for 50 of the best travel safety tips every female traveller needs to know.
First up, no woman should ever have to think twice about fending off unwanted attention, or have to use the boyfriend or husband excuse to be safe. Let’s all agree that this article should not exist. But sometimes, and in some places, taking care of yourself – even when you shouldn’t have to – is just how it is. This list contains a few super practical tips to help ease some of the tricky bits of travel – like taxi scenarios. It also contains a few more hardcore, and decidedly un-feminist tips, like to wear a fake wedding ring in tricky situations. We don’t like these either, but keep them in your travel toolbox, just for incase? Oh, and leave a comment if you have tips to share, or want to improve any of ours!
1. PACK LIGHT
Add-Oning light can actually be a safety tip: Nothing says ‘target’ like someone wheeling three suitcases along the sidewalk. You’ll also be more mobile with a smaller bag in case you need to move quickly. Plus the less you’re carrying, the less you’re likely to leave behind or misplace. Our friend Brooke at Her Add-Oning List has every trip packing scenario covered.
2. KEEP SOMEONE BACK HOME UPDATED ON YOUR WHEREABOUTS, REGULARLY
Keep one or two people in the loop with regular updates on where you are. Make it a scheduled thing, like a daily WhatsApp message at 2pm, or a weekly email or Skype call. That way, if you don’t ‘show’ for your catch up, the person back home can check in on you. There is also a plethora of safety apps to lean on. Check out our round up.
3. SHARE YOUR ITINERARY AND PLANS
Email, WhatsApp, Snapchat or even fax copies of your flight details and hotel bookings to a trustworthy person back home. Ditto tour and activity bookings such as bike hire or skydiving.
4. KEEP PRINTED COPIES OF IMPORTANT PHONE NUMBERS AND BOOKINGS
This can include the number and location of your hotels, rental companies, anyone you’re meeting, an emergency contact, and your travel insurance policy number and phone number. Assume that at some stage on your trip you’re going to be without data, or battery.
5. KEEP TRAVEL DOCS SAFE IN A DROPBOX FOLDER
Safekeep copies of your passport, driver license, travel insurance, ticket numbers, reservations, hotel bookings etc., in the cloud. That way if you lose your printed copies AND your phone or laptop, you’re not without a paddle.
6. INTERNATIONAL PHONE PLANS ARE WORTH IT FOR EMERGENCIES, AND MORE
Buy a local pay-as-you go sim card once you land, or set up international roaming with your mobile provider before you travel (just be aware of the costs – there are options, ask). If you need to make a call in an emergency you don’t want to be stuck. For travel pros, keep an eye out for dual sim mobile handsets. They let you keep your Australian number, as well as insert a second sim. All things considered, being able to send messages, find addresses, do currency conversions, book a last minute hotel, call for help, etc, makes having a call and data plan overseas a golden safety – and convenience – tip.
7. TAKE OUT TRAVEL INSURANCE
Unexpected costs like hefty hospital bills or stolen valuables can put a dent in your wallet. In some destinations, hospital admission is not even guaranteed if patients are without travel insurance. If only for emergency medical treatment, don’t risk travelling without proper cover.
8. REGISTER WITH SMARTRAVELLER
Let the Aussie government know where you’re going and they’ll keep you in the loop if anything major goes down in the country you’re travelling in. They can also help make your general whereabouts known to family should you become unreachable in an emergency. Register at Smartraveller and follow them on Twitter for good measure.
9. DON’T KEEP ALL YOUR MONEY IN ONE PLACE
Keep some cash on your person and some in your bag and some back at your hotel, preferably in the safe. Carry just one credit card and photocopies of important documents. Keep a second, different credit card hidden in your suitcase. Divide money for small and larger purchases so you don’t have to expose a stack of cash. Get to know the foreign currency before you need to use it, and learn a quick way to do conversions, if you need to use the Aussie dollar as a reference on prices. Conversion apps are darn handy.
10. STASH SPARE CASH IN THE BOTTOM OF A PAD OR TAMPON BOX
No one is going to go digging there! Also, keep a second credit card hidden somewhere equally as ingenious. Empty roll-on-deodorant containers and make up kits also make clever hidey-holes.
11. BRING A PORTABLE PHONE CHARGER
Portable phone chargers – the kind that fit in your handbag – work miracles with phones that are dead after long haul flights, or in times where you can’t get the local power supply to play nice with your device – e.g. not having the right adaptor, or an electricity supply that is slow or cuts out. Check out 30 of the best, here.
12. BRING THE RIGHT ADAPTORS AND A POWER BOARD
Keeping your devices charged is critical, so research the adaptors you’ll need and buy them before you land. Carrying a spare adapter, or three, makes sense, as does bringing along an Aussie power board that you can plug multiple gadgets into. Bonus points: stick neon tape on the side of your power board and adaptors to make them more visible, and less likely to be left behind in the hotel room.
13. DRESS LIKE A LOCAL OR A LONGTIME EXPAT
It will prevent you from getting a lot of unwanted attention. And if you don’t look like a tourist, you won’t be the first target for crims and pickpockets. Pay close attention to dress codes in conservative and religious countries.
14. WEAR A FAKE WEDDING RING IF YOU’RE NOT MARRIED
In some cases, being seen to have a husband can save you from unwanted advances, or worse. In more conservative countries (i.e. pretty much the rest of the world excluding USA and Europe) it’s also common for female travellers to be asked if they’re married by curious locals, or prying taxi drivers, so have the answer ready.
15. BRING A SLASH-PROOF BAG
Especially if you’re staying in a backpackers or shared airbnb or you’re bringing expensive electronics like a computer or a camera, a locked, slash-proof bag will help you feel more comfortable leaving your valuables in the room while you head out.
16. PACK A PORTABLE DOOR OR WINDOW ALARM
These are cheap, easy ways to make any accommodations feel safer. Some door alarms also double as a jamb, which can make shared bathrooms more private. Another trick is to bring along a rubber doorstop, for an extra deterrent.
17. WEAR A THIN ONE-PIECE COSSIE
Take extra precautions when in crowded areas, like street festivals, if you think the party atmosphere could turn ‘grabby’.
18. CARRY A SELF-DEFENCE KEYRING
Bring a DIY self defence keychain along that’s equipped with a mini-flash light (USB, or with working batteries), a whistle and a cat keyring or the like. Secure hotel room keys – that are often easy to lose – onto your chain. Go for a bright keychain that can clip into your bag, as an added safekeep against losing your keys. If mace or pepper spray is legal in the country your travelling in, keep one of these on your keychain too.
19. PACK EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION
In some countries it can be hard or impossible to get. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it, it never hurts to be prepared.
20. BRING A SELFIE STICK
When you have no one trustworthy to hand your phone or camera to, a selfie stick will make photo opportunities less of a crime opportunity.
21. RESEARCH THE HOTEL AND ITS HOOD
Use TripAdvisor to dig for details on the hotel’s suburb. Travellers will often share stories about neighbourhoods or streets that didn’t feel right. Aim for a well-trafficked street (restaurants and late-night stores mean traffic, corporate offices mean darkness).
22. ONLY STAY AT AIRBNB’S WITH TONS OF POSITIVE RESEARCH
Any place that’s newly listed with zero reviews does not need you to be the guinea pig. Also check the reviewers’ profiles to make sure they’re the real deal and have reviewed more than one airbnb.
23. GO FOR SMALL HOTELS
Smaller is smarter: you want the staff to be familiar with guests and with you. The smaller the lobby, the more noticeable the loiterers. However, there should be privacy for guests checking in: no one should be able to overhear a name, room number, or other personal information. Keep that in mind when speaking with hotel staff.
24. ALWAYS ASK FOR TWO HOTEL KEYS
Keep one in your bag and one on your person. That way if your bag gets nabbed, you’re not locked out. Also find out who to contact for after hours access, should your hotel not have a 24 hour lobby.
25. MAKE OUT THAT YOU’RE NOT ALONE SHOULD YOU ORDER ROOM SERVICE
Pretend that you’re ordering for a second person, and if you have to, say the other person will ‘be right back,’ or only open the door partway, with the TV on in the background.
26. LEAVE THE ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ SIGN AND TV ON
When you leave your hotel room these signals will deter thieves. Conversely, the ‘please make up this room’ sign tells everyone you’re not there. Call housekeeping instead.
27. WRITE YOUR HOTEL ADDRESS ON PAPER FOR TAXI DRIVERS
If you’re facing the language barrier, a written address, in the local language, can speak volumes on your behalf.
28. ARRANGE A PRIVATE TRANSFER FROM THE AIRPORT WHEN YOU ARRIVE IN A NEW PLACE
Dealing with aggressive airport taxi drivers can be a bit of a nightmare after a long flight, especially if you’re arriving at night. Uber is not always available at airports, so pre-arrange a transfer through your hotel or a private company to get you to your accommodation conveniently, and safely.
29. UBER IS NOT AVAILABLE EVERYWHERE, BRING CASH
Once even slightly off the beaten track, even in places where you’d think Uber would operate, you might find there are no cars available, or that waiting times are ridiculous. Always have small bills ready for taxi and tuk tuk drivers, which may be your only option.
30. DISCUSS THE TAXI FARE UPFRONT, OR ASK FOR THE METER TO BE TURNED ON
Taxi drivers, hardened by years of ferrying tourists around, can unfortunately become a bit greedy. Make sure you have an idea of what a ride should cost, and then lock that in before you get in the taxi. Alternatively, if you see a meter on the dash, ask for it to be turned on, to help make the fare more legit. Don’t ever rely on paying for cabs by credit card, it’s often unlikely that cabs can take credit cards, even in major cities like Bangkok or Cape Town.
31. TAKE A PICTURE OF THE TAXI LICENSE PLATE
Before you get in, covertly of course! Both for safety and also in case you leave something in it: Having the license number makes it much easier to track the car down.
32. TRACK YOUR CAB VIA GOOGLE MAPS
Google maps is a real pal. Start by downloading the map areas you’ll need for offline use. Then, ‘favourite’ or ‘star’ all the places on your itinerary, such as your hotel and places of interest. Once on the road, you now have a way of double checking your route and maybe even helping the driver out with finding your address.
33. MAKE A FAKE CALL, INSIDE THE CAB
Once on the road, make a real (or fake) phone call to say ‘Yep, I’m almost there. I’ll be there in x minutes’, etc, so the driver thinks you are meeting someone at your destination.
34. HIRE A GPS IF YOU’RE RENTING A CAR
Looking at a map or your phone in an unfamiliar place is dangerous and time-consuming. Car rental companies offer GPS hire at daily rates. Better yet, if you’re frequently renting cars, or you use a GPS at home, invest in global maps and BYO GPS on your travels. You’ll be way more familiar with your own device, and the newer models are really cool in letting you sync your mobile with the GPS itself – allowing you to preload addresses using companion apps.
35. IF YOU’RE DRIVING, NEVER LET YOUR PETROL TANK RUN PAST HALF EMPTY
The last thing you want is to run out, or need to refuel at night, or in a sketchy place. Finding a petrol station is not always a guarantee anyway, so don’t run the risk.
36. ALWAYS GO IN A TRAIN CAR THAT HAS OTHER PEOPLE IN IT
On buses or trains, sit close to the front and close to other women.
37. DON’T SLEEP ON TRAINS
And don’t take night trains alone if you can help it.
38. IF YOU’RE LISTENING TO MUSIC, DON’T WEAR BOTH HEADPHONES
That way you can always stay alert. You can also wear headphones with no music on as an excuse for not listening to unwanted conversation, and as a way to eavesdrop and overhear anything dodgy that might be going on.
39. IF YOU GET LOST, DON’T LOOK AT YOUR PHONE OR A MAP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET
Just duck into a café or shop and check your maps or apps there.
40. IF YOU STOP TO BUY TICKETS OR ANYTHING WHERE YOUR ATTENTION IS AWAY, PUT YOUR BAG BETWEEN YOUR LEGS OR IN BETWEEN YOUR BODY AND THE COUNTER INSTEAD OF BESIDE YOU
That way your bag is harder to swipe. It’s incredibly easy to get flustered and distracted, so find full-proof ways to keep your bag close to your body. Clip-on straps and even cable ties are great ways to secure your bag to a belt loop, etc.
41. IF YOU GET IN A SITUATION WHERE YOU FEEL ALONE AND UNSAFE, START TELLING STORIES USING “WE” ABOUT YOUR (REAL OR IMAGINARY) SIGNIFICANT OTHER
It creates a sense of partnership and security. Mentioning ‘my husband’ is also recommended.
42. DRINK IN MODERATION
Know your limits. Keep your wits about you while you’re having fun.
43. TALK TO LOTS OF PEOPLE!
If you’re out and on a tour, or walking around, talk to people and get a sense for what’s happening and where. Plus making friends is the best way to see cool things you wouldn’t find on your own.
44. DON’T FEEL GUILTY ABOUT SAYING NO TO ANYTHING
It’s OK to turn down help with your bags, an invitation to dinner, a shot of vodka from a guy named Boris. Don’t be afraid to be rude if it means feeling safe. And trust your instincts about when to accept help. Sometimes a male escort is a good way to feel safe, and there are plenty of nice strangers who are willing and able to help you.
45. BEWARE PICKPOCKETS ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Public city transportation is ripe for pickpockets. Never carry anything in your back pocket, and always be aware of your surroundings. It’s not just young men that pickpocket, either. Sometimes it’s a group of women who will kindly bump into you or cram around you on a bus. Be wary when getting off a bus or train, or riding stairs and escalators; that’s when pickpockets tend to strike.
46. CARRY YOUR GEAR IN A NON-TOURIST BAG
Opt for a weathered looking shoulder bag or market style tote bag, to carry your wallet, passport and devices. If it’s a bag that has been torn and patched many times and never signals “expensive things are inside” then you’re less likely to look like a tourist. On sidewalks, keep your handbag and other valuables away from the street side (and on escalators, away from the opposite ramp).
47. MAP OR APP CHECK OFF THE STREET
If you need to look at your map, never do it in a street. Pop into a store or restaurant—anywhere but on the corner. Better yet, study a map before going out; once on the street, use a pocket-size guidebook to avoid looking like a tourist. Your hotel’s concierge or a female employee can mark any dangerous areas on your map.
48.TAKE YOUR BAG WITH YOU TO THE BATHROOM EVERY TIME
Even on buses and trains. Keep your passport, wallet and phone close to you on the plane too. In public bathrooms, use the corner stall.
49. GET TO WHERE YOU NEED TO BE BEFORE NIGHTFALL
When you’re traveling long term it is often difficult to keep track of time as each day, week, and month all blurs into one. But the golden rule for solo female travellers should be to always arrive at your destination before nightfall. That way you can ensure you A) know your surrounds, B) can get emergency supplies before it gets dark and unsafe, and C) aren’t walking the streets with all your luggage and an invisible ‘tourist target’ on your forehead.
50. TRUST YOUR GUT
Even if this makes you a bit panicky and seemingly over-cautious, go with your instinct. Your senses might be on high alert in a new spot, of if you’re new to solo travel, but honour that feeling as essentially it’s telling you that you’re not comfortable, yet. This means your confidence is low, and this alone makes you more prone to problems. When your spider senses are tingling redhot, get out. No matter how much you’ve already paid, or how far you’ve already travelled, a dangerous situation calls for immediate action.