Here are some top tips to help you stay safe when traveling alone, whichever country you’re going to, whether you’re staying in a hotel or a hostel, and with bonus pointers for women
Today more than ever before (and especially on #SinglesDay!), solo travel is cool. More and more of us seem to be doing it — going where we want, when we want, without compromise. Many attribute their personal growth to their experiences as a lone globetrotter. Yet, there is a low-lying general conception that traveling alone isn’t safe, especially for women, and it’s understandable that some people are put off by this.
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While it’s true that you need to exercise an extra degree of caution when exploring somewhere unfamiliar on your own, at the same time, you shouldn’t let your worries prevent you from discovering more about the world and about yourself. Whether you’re traveling alone for the first time, or you’ve done it before and now you want to see somewhere a bit more off the beaten path, these safety tips will keep you savvy and reassure you that you can do it!
The top 20 safest countries in the world
First off, if you’re new to solo travel and you’re wondering where to go first, here are some ideas: these are officially the 20 safest countries in the world according to the 2022 Global Peace Index. The Global Peace Index measures the extent of ongoing civil and international conflict, the degree of militarization, and the general level of societal safety in every country.
2. New Zealand
Remember that no vacation is risk-free when it comes to your personal safety. Naturally, the level of vigilance that you need to maintain varies depending on where you are — from country to country, from city to city, and even from neighborhood to neighborhood — but the universal principle is that you can’t be too careful. So, let’s get to it — here are 35 top safety tips for solo travelers.
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1. Check your government’s official travel advisory pages online. They tend to have lots of country-specific information on things like entry requirements, current warnings, local customs, and what to do in an emergency. This is the travel advisory landing page from the US government, and this is the equivalent from the UK government.
2. Familiarize yourself with the currency in your destination country to ensure you understand how much things are worth, and in turn, to lessen the risk of you being scammed.
3. Learn at least some basic phrases in the language of your destination country. Useful ones include “I don’t understand,” “Please tell me how to get to…” and “Do you speak English?”
4. Make a note of the emergency service phone number(s) in your destination country.
5. Kit yourself out with some pickpocket-proof clothes, namely, bags, jackets and pants with hidden zipped pockets. A waist bag is also a good idea, and you can even get small clip-on pockets for bras!
6. Study a map of the area that you’re going to and pay special attention to landmarks, so you have a better chance of not getting lost.
7. Take out comprehensive travel insurance, especially if you’re traveling a long way away and/or for a longer period of time.
8. Make a paper copy of your passport in case of loss or theft. It might also be worth leaving a copy with someone you trust at home.
9. Plan your journey as meticulously as possible, particularly the part between your arrival airport (or station) and your accommodation. Be aware that it might be more difficult at night to get to where you’re staying.
10. This is more of a worst-case scenario, but learn some self-defense techniques to use in case you’re physically attacked. It’s also a good idea to carry pepper spray, so long as it’s legal to do so in your destination country.
11. Pay particular attention to the security measures at the accommodation options you look at, especially if there’s a front desk that doesn’t operate 24 hours a day.
12. Share your itinerary, in detail, with someone you trust at home, so you can rest assured that someone knows where you’re supposed to be at any time.
13. Never let your luggage out of your sight when checking in or out. If a porter insists on carrying your luggage to your room for you, go with them.
14. Use the safe in your room to store the valuables you won’t need with you when you’re out and about.
15. Keep your room door locked, even when you are inside. When you go out, leave the room as if you were still there, for example, by leaving a light on and by placing the “do not disturb” hanger on the door handle.
16. Familiarize yourself with the hotel’s emergency exit plan in case of fire or natural disaster.
17. Use a locker to store your valuables, even if you’re in a private room.
18. Don’t let your belongings that aren’t locked away out of your sight.
19. Make friends with your roommates, but don’t be overly trusting from the get-go. Drink any alcohol responsibly and try not to let go of your inhibitions too much.
20. Read profiles and references carefully on couchsurfing.com; only stay with hosts with verified profiles.
21. Ask your prospective host plenty of questions before you meet in person (for example, “What level of privacy should I expect?” “How many times have you hosted before?” “What are your house rules?” “What’s your neighborhood like?”). If something doesn’t sit right with you, look for someone different.
22. Have a plan B in case you end up feeling unsafe or if it otherwise doesn’t work out. Look for alternative accommodation options close to where your host lives.
Out and about
23. When you’re on the go, make sure to take with you only what you need. In other words, don’t carry around excess cash, documents that are only of interest to the authorities in your home country (such as a social insurance card), jewelry, or other valuables.
24. Don’t drink too much alcohol, and if you do drink in public, keep an eye on your drinks at all times. Unfortunately, drink spiking remains a common means to take advantage of tourists in much of the world.
25. Look streetwise and dress modestly. Walk with your back straight and your head held reasonably high — not so much like you’re on the catwalk, but just enough to appear confident. Try not to look too much like you’re not a local, and be especially mindful of not looking wealthy to avoid becoming a target for pickpocketers or muggers.
26. Be constantly vigilant. Have your eyes and ears open to your environment at all times, staying aware of the demeanor of people around you.
27. When possible, stick to well-lit streets and areas where other people are walking.
28. Don’t be too honest with people you’ve just met. If someone asks you where you’re staying, be deliberately vague; and if someone asks you if you’re traveling alone, tell them that you’re going to see your friend, family member or partner.
29. Be wary of people who approach you to ask for something. Of course, there are plenty of reasons to approach a stranger and lots of them are innocent, but trust your instincts, and if you reject whatever the advance may be, be polite but firm.
30. By all means, use Maps on your phone, but try not to be overly reliant on it — pick up paper maps as well. (I had my phone stolen abroad once and it left me completely stuck. I had no means of navigation, I couldn’t contact anyone, I didn’t even know what time it was, and the boarding pass for my return flight was also on there. I wasn’t traveling alone so my friend helped me out, but I definitely learned my lesson.)
31. Get enough sleep between days. When you’re tired, you’re less likely to pay attention to your surroundings and more likely to misjudge situations.
For women in particular
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32. If you’re staying in a hostel, ask for a bed in a women-only room.
33. Sit in the back seat of any taxi, ideally with your bag next to you, in case you ever need to make a quick escape.
34. Use the Tourlina app to connect with other female travelers in your area.
35. Another one for a worst-case scenario, but consider carrying devices with you that enhance your personal safety, such as a small alarm and a tactical pen, as well as the aforementioned pepper spray.
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