Our solo female travel trends survey revealed that 73% of solo female travelers worry about their safety. Even those who are very experienced solo travelers and have taken more than 10 trips on their own, still worry almost as much.
Traveling solo poses a lot of uncertainties and challenges and, for women, those unknowns are made worse by the fear of something bad happening to them. This is why we have put together this article with the most comprehensive list of solo female travel safety tips there is.
No matter where you go, whether it is a very solo female travel friendly destination, or an unusual one, the safety tips below will help you prepare and stay safe.
At Solo Female Travelers we advocate for women to travel solo on their own terms, and we believe women should be able to travel safely everywhere, whether that be in luxury or on a budget. However, we are also realistic and practical, so all the tips included here consider the independent traveler and prepare for the worst, even if we always hope for the best.
Navigation: See what's in this post
- 1 Research, research, research
- 2 Plan your trip with safety in mind
- 3 Use your common sense
- 4 Avoid common scams
- 5 Never leave home without insurance
- 6 Keep your money safe
- 7 Transit Safety
- 8 Keeping safe in the street
- 9 Animal safety
- 10 Road trip and car safety
- 11 Accommodation Safety
- 12 Food Safety
- 13 Drugs
- 14 Activity Safety
- 15 Safety outdoors
- 16 Self Defense Tips
- 17 Tools to Keep You Safe
- 18 Useful safety apps
- 19 Myth busting – Safety tips you may have heard and should ignore
- 20 Can money buy you safety?
Research, research, research
Any expert in the field of safety or security will tell you that preparation and risk prevention are the best forms of protection, so your safety starts before a trip, in the planning phase.
Solo female travelers know that it is important to properly research a destination to understand the possible kinds of dangers you could face. Once you know these, you can decide how to mitigate them.
Understanding the kind and level of danger of a destination used to be really difficult because there wasn’t a single place you could go to find safety data. We have changed that for good with our Solo Female Travel Safety Index where you can find all the potential dangers per destination from other solo female travelers like you.
Lastly, post in our Solo Female Travelers community and interact with locals on the latest developments, or get further insight from recent travelers. Find out what the dangerous or unadvisable parts of the city you will visit are and avoid them.
If your safety research proves that the destination you want to visit is more dangerous than you are willing to accept, consider joining a female-only group tour.
Do you worry about safety traveling solo? Join Empowerful, our Solo Female Travel Safety, Wellness and Sexual Wellbeing Festival with over 30 sessions and more than 35 experts on everything from martial artists to doctors, therapists, advocates and so much more.
Plan your trip with safety in mind
The planning phase can help you stay safe in the general sense of the word.
- Keeping your documentation safe is important and having a plan B in case your passport gets stolen is key. Always make copies of anything important such as your passport, drivers license, all your bookings and your travel insurance card and keep that away from the originals. This will be helpful in case you need to report them stolen.
- Email yourself a copy of all important documents so if you lose both your copy and the documents, you can access a copy from the internet. Include copies of your credit cards because even if they’re lost or stolen, you can still use them online to make purchases of emergency items like food delivery or even Amazon Prime if you are in your own country, or a flight back home, before cancelling the card. We recommend you cancel the card immediately after you have realized it has been lost or stolen.
- Leave a detailed itinerary with all your bookings and the places you are expected to be at with someone you trust and can check in with you daily, like your parents, your partner or a best friend. Even if you’re very independent, this means your closest contacts will know how to reach you in case of an emergency at home, and check in with you if something happens in the destination they know you’re traveling in, or alert local authorities if need be. This is not just for your own safety but also in case something happens to a loved one and your family needs to reach out to you.
- Leave all your passwords with a trusted friend so, in case you disappear, that person can track your last movements and online interactions. This can also be helpful if you need to resolve issues and have no access to the internet but can make a phone call, like that time Mar needed to check in online while at the back of a motorcycle taxi in Uganda. Consider including the passwords to your bank accounts too. We do recommend traveling with a VPN, and routing your internet through your home country, as many organizations like email providers and banks may block your account if they believe the location you’re logging in from is suspicious. This has happened to us before.
- Install a tracking app so a trusted person can track your location. Google Maps also allows you to share your location with others for free, you can choose who and for how long but bear in mind that some countries or locations don’t allow you to share or track your location (eg. Kosovo, Albania, etc.). More details on what countries are supported can be found here. We also recommend downloading a safety app such as UrSafe which has coverage pretty much everywhere in the world and allows you to share location and also call for help in case of emergency (more on that at the end of this post). We have an exclusive partnership with UrSafe and you can test the app for 30 days for free registering on this link.
- Stay connected. Buy a local SIM or carry your own international internet hot spot device. If you have internet, you can mitigate a large part of the risks of getting lost, not being able to find help if something happens to you, ordering a cab, being left without your documentation, etc.
- Be fully charged. Maps and other tracking GPS apps consume a lot of battery so we always pack a really heavy duty power bank (minimum 20,000 Mah) such as one of these, they can recharge your phone several times and some of them can recharge your laptop if it uses USB C chargers (like the new Macbook Pro – we have done it). A phone without battery is of no use.
- Set your phone to automatically back up everything to the cloud when you are in WiFi coverage so that if your phone is stolen, you don’t lose all your photos.
- Register with your embassy at the country you are visiting. Traveling for work to unusual countries where conflict or natural disaster was common, I always made sure that I let the embassy at that country know I was there. In case of an emergency that required the evacuation of all nationals, or in case of heightened security threats, they would know to contact me. This may also result in invitations to national events if you spend a longer period of time there. The US has a special program for this called STEP for you to enrol with. If you’re in Australia, it’s called SmartTraveller.
- Engage and book with a reputable company. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Travel scams are far more common than we would all like to think. Research travel companies you may have never heard of before, ask friends, look at review sites, ask in online communities, do your due diligence. Then see where the company is registered and investigate further. The Federal Trade Commission has a handy list of signs of scams in travel companies.
Use your common sense
There are some pieces of advice that would apply even if you were in your own country, or going out in your hometown. Common sense applies when traveling solo too and is one of the best ways to keep yourself safe.
- Follow your intuition. If a place or a situation feels off to you, get out of there if you can. Avoid places that feel sketchy and if a person looks untrustworthy, avoid dealing with them. As world renowned expert Gavin de Becker explains in The Gift of Fear, our raw instincts and unexplained fear are right and will know when something is off before we can rationalise it.
- Don’t divulge your location. This includes where you are, where you live, or where you’re staying. Don’t tell strangers, or share it on social media. Post content online after you have left a place so nobody can show up looking for you. This is not only for your own personal safety in an overseas location, but if you’re a homeowner, social media posts may also alert local groups that your home has been left vacant. As bloggers, we always share everything on social media about 2-3 days after we have left.
- Don’t say you are alone, always pretend someone is waiting for you or is on their way, and if you see someone is asking too many questions and is too interested in you, excuse yourself and leave. Sharing that you are lonely implies nobody is waiting for you and you are an easy target.
- Blend in. Most crimes are crimes of opportunity and scammers and thieves will always look for easy targets, as a woman traveling alone, you can appear as the perfect victim. Blend in as much as you can and avoid drawing attention to yourself. If you are going to India or Pakistan where local women wear long tunics and leggings, do the same. If you are visiting a country where the vast majority of women cover their heads (Afghanistan, Somalia) consider doing the same to avoid standing out. Anything you can do to blend in and show that you belong, or that you live in the place and know your way around, will be helpful to avoid presenting yourself as an easy target.
- Dress modestly for temples and places of worship where you should show respect to the local culture. This will help you avoid offending the locals and reduce the extra stares that being out of place or doing something questionable may attract. For example, when I visited Somaliland, I was quite covered up, dressed in the same way I did in Pakistan or India, but that was not enough and I started to notice the locals, mostly women, were quite upset they could see the bottom part of my leggings, so I decided to go to the market and buy a long tunic that covered my entire body.
- Be respectful of the local culture and laws. Needless to say, being safe also implies following the rules and laws, especially when it comes to women in conservative countries where there are regulations on clothing or appearance. For example, in Iran women must cover their heads and in Saudi Arabia women should wear an abaya (though this is changing).
- Be polite but firm when saying No. Martial artist, wrestling champion and self-defense expert Yunquan Qin, tells us that “one of the first circles of self-defense is to build boundaries, you should do that with the way you walk and with your tone of voice. Don’t apologise if someone keeps harassing you with a sale, keep repeating “No, thank you” with a firm and loud voice. You don’t have to be rude, but you can be both firm and polite.”
Avoid common scams
Through the Solo Female Travel Safety Index you should get a good understanding of the kinds of scams that you could be a victim of, but there are also some universal tricks thieves everywhere try.
We asked our community about some of the scams they have been a victim of or heard about and compiled the list below:
- Currency exchangers: Make sure to always check the quantity you receive from a currency exchanger and make sure to pay attention to the notes you give so they don’t try to short change you or pretend you gave them a different amount.
- Old / ripped notes: If you carry internationally accepted currencies such as USD or EUR make sure the notes are new and have no damage to them, clever money changers may try to give you less for older notes and USD notes of certain years (typically older than 2009) are not accepted across many African countries because of higher risk of forgery.
- Check for forgeries. Ensure the notes you are given back are not forgeries, a common scam is for the taxi driver to pretend to give you back a large USD note you were going to pay with claiming no change, and taking a smaller amount instead for you to realize later on that the note he returned to you was a forgery. Do some research in advance of your trip so you know how to identify a forgery.
- Pushy guides: It is not uncommon for local guides to offer to take you to “their cousin’s business” or to the business of someone they know and who gives them a commission to bring them tourists. In some countries like India, this can be a real nuisance as your guide will insist over and over and once you enter the store, you will be victim of all sorts of tried and tested sales techniques to make you buy, from guilt tripping you to more dangerous situations where you may not be allowed to leave. In Thailand, it is common for the tuk tuk driver to take you to one such shop, drop you there and leave, pretending that is where you wanted to go. Be firm in your negative, make sure you are dropped where you needed to go before leaving he vehicle.
- Inflated restaurant bill. A common scam across Southeast Asia is for a friendly local to befriend you with the excuse of wanting to practise English. He shows you around then takes you to eat to what looks like a small local restaurant, lots of his friends come up, order lots of food and drinks, you have a good time and when they leave you are left with an inflated bill and an angry owner who demands you pay.
- Be careful of distractions aimed at making you vulnerable to theft. For example, a lady approaches you carrying what looks like a baby bundle, when close by, she pretends to trip and drop the baby, to what you respond by trying to help catch it and when you drop your bag to have free hands, her co-conspirators rob you and run. There are many variations of this scam, including drunken men pretending to trip, or anything that would distract you from your belongings.
- Don’t take cigarettes from strangers. Since spiking drinks is something lots of female travelers will be aware and alerted to, scammers have moved to spiking cigarettes. You are invited to one which is spiked with drugs and will make you feel dizzy, then get robed or assaulted.
- Don’t lose sight of your credit cards. It is not uncommon for scammers to copy or take photographs of your credit cards to fraudulently use them online. When paying by card, always ask them to bring the machine to you or go to the cashier to see it being swiped or used. If you can use wireless payment options instead of swiping your card, even better.
- Don’t take gifts from strangers, even if they appear innocent and harmless, such as flowers or bracelets or twigs, they will use it to ask for money and then a mob of their friends will turn up to scare you and coerce you into paying for the “gift”. If you cant get away because they are holding your hand and not letting you go, this is the time to sound your personal alarm or shout “No!”. They look for easy targets and are unlikely to harm you but the harassment is very unsettling.
- Avoid buying tickets from unlicensed sellers or non official places. It is possible that the ticket is fake or not for the service you wanted to buy. This is common in train stations where a friendly local may offer to help you buy tickets from the machine claiming it does not speak English, it all appears to be fine, the ticket comes out, he gives you the change and when you go to take the train you realised he bought you a child ticket and pocketed the difference. Buy from the counter to be sure to get what you needed or use Google translate.
- Beware of anyone spraying paint (or even poop!) on you from behind to then get their scammer friends help you clean up and in the process steal everything they can from you while you are being distracted.
Never leave home without insurance
Staying safe also means making sure that you have the right coverage for travel and medical emergencies.
- Buy refundable tickets or travel insurance that protects you from unexpected emergencies that prevent you from traveling and losing thousands in unused bookings. Read the fine print to understand what you are covered for. For example, are you covered in case you fall sick and can’t travel? What if you miss a connection? Would the insurance cover you in case of luggage stolen or lost and by how much? Some credit cards include travel insurance which is why we recommend you always use a credit card and check with them what the coverage is.
- Never travel without medical insurance that covers you at the destination, if anything was to happen to you, the medical bill could bankrupt you. Given how affordable medical travel insurance is, it is is not worth it to take the risk. Read more about travel insurance here.
- Make sure you have bought travel insurance for certain activities such as diving or adventure sports. Diving insurance is usually purchased via specialists such as DAN and covers you annually.
Keep your money safe
As previously mentioned, when we asked women who travel solo for their worries when traveling on their own, safety came at the top. But beyond safety, one of the most commonly mentioned concerns was the fear of being robbed or of running out of money.
When you don’t have a travel companion to rely on in case of emergency, you need to be self-sufficient. Here are some ways to make sure you don’t run out of money:
- Theft-proof bags. Carry your bag across your body and not on just one shoulder where it can be easily pulled from or at the back where a thief can can easy access. Consider using theft and slash proof bags that cannot be easily stolen such as those from Pacsafe, the expert in anti theft technology. They make excellent bags that are slash and theft proof and also can be converted from backpack to handbag and are especially designed for women.
- Spread your money in various locations and don’t keep it all in one place. This way if a stash of cash gets stolen, you still have the rest. Do the same with credit or debit cards and always leave one behind in a safe place (locked, safety box) when exploring in case you get robbed.
- Keep the larger bulk of your money safe in your hotel. If you do not trust the hotel safe or are staying at a place you don’t feel comfortable in, put our money in a ziplock bag and duct tape it under the night stand, hotel staff rarely looks there. Set a reminder on your phone for the time you will be checking-out to make sure you don’t forget it there!
- Keep money or credit cards in unusual places nobody would look into such as tampon cardboard applicators or pads. Or get a bra pouch, a money belt, or a diversion water bottle (more on that further down). If you store your cash inside your trousers, be careful not to flush your money down the toilet!
- Always keep an emergency stack of USD and / EUR depending on your destination, for cases when everything else gets stolen. These two currencies are always usually accepted and exchanged across the world.
- Be alert to ATM theft. Card skimmers and pin collection devices are used by scammers to steal your information. Always wiggle the card slot to see if the green protector that usually covers the card slot has a card skimmer placed on top of it. The same may happen with the pin pad. Look for extra contraptions designed to capture your PIN as you enter it and then send it via the internet to the thief.
- Be alert and vigilant, particularly of your wallet and money in crowded places or where you are distracted such as if you stop to watch a street performance, look at a souvenir stall, take pictures, etc. Always make sure your bag and wallet are in front of you in those cases, and hidden or difficult to access.
- Don’t divulge where your hidden money is. If your money is hidden somewhere, avoid constantly touching it to make sure it is there as you would be alerting thieves of its location. Be particularly cautious not to do that when looking at signs that call for the public to be careful of their belongings as they naturally and unconsciously prompt us to reach for them and then alert thieves nearby of where we hid our money.
- Notify your bank of your travel. This ensures your credit cards don’t get blocked abroad or trigger security checks that could temporary block them and require you to call the bank to reactivate them. It is not just an inconvenience but it can also be very costly to make an international call on roaming and be put on hold or through various automatic response systems.
Many of the safety threats occur when we are on the move, be it in public transportation, at the airport, at a train station and more. We get distracted or are paying attention to others and with the crowds, it’s easy for thieves to be at play.
Safety tips on a plane or airport
Airport are generally very safe spaces with lots of people and cameras everywhere. However, the general risk of distraction puts travelers at a higher risk of something bad happening to them, primarily theft. Here are some solo female travel tips to keep you safe in airports and in planes:
- Prepare for the journey. We have written a detailed guide to flying for the first time which will help you get situated and know what to expect on that first flight.
- Remove your name tags from your luggage as soon as you get it off the belts (but keep the tags until you are through as some airport staff will check you got your bags and not someone else’s. This is because thieves may check your name from the tags and pretend they are your pick up then drive you off and try to extort you or threaten you.
- In airports, do not leave your luggage unattended and lock it, not just because it could be stolen but also because something could be slipped inside. There is a reason why airline staff will confirm you packed your own bags during the checkin.
- Lock your belongings. If you plan to sleep at the airport, even if it is just for a nap, carry a long lock, like the ones used for bicycles, so you can attach the bag to yourself around your belt or waist, or to the seat armrest or a pole.
- Keep your valuables under your seat and not in the overhead lockers and keep an eye on anyone trying to open the locker where your belongings are throughout the flight. If you have to place anything of value above, take an aisle seat. Window seats in the 3 – 4 – 3 aircraft configuration make it hard to keep an eye on the overhead bins all the time during a long flight.
- Close or even lock your bag with a locker when you place it in the overhead bins. I have lost valuable items twice because they fell off my bag during a flight and ended up at the bottom of the overhead bin and I did not notice when taking my bag. On that note, aisle seats always have a metal ledge on the outer edge for the cabin and cleaning crew to climb up and check the bottom of the bin for any misplaced items. You can use it too to make sure nothing fell off your bag mid flight.
- Get to your stuff first. I know, I know, I also find it annoying when people immediately crowd the aisles when the seatbelt sign goes off after landing, but getting to your things before someone else does, intentionally or by mistake, is a great way to avoid your stuff being stolen. You have our permission to be “that” traveler.
- Keep it all safely. If you plan to sleep, make sure that all your valuables (money, wallet, phone) are kept somewhere safe. Either in your money belt, a portable safe, a scrunchie with hidden pockets or in a travel scarf which will also come in handy to keep warm in the usually cold aircraft. I like the Zero grid ones which can be turned into an infinity scarf or converted into a blanket.
Staying safe in trains, stations, boats and ferries
Trains and train stations can be very dangerous places if empty. Some of the same tips provided un the airport section apply to stations too, especially around locking your luggage or belongings around your body or a fixed piece of furniture if you plan to sleep.
Here are some other great safety tips:
- Don’t stand on empty platforms but rather go back into the station and stand near the station supervisor or staff.
- Don’t stand too close to the track.
- Beware of the scams mentioned before, a lot of them can occur in stations as much as they occur in the street.
- Lock, lock, lock. Inside the train, make sure all your valuables are on your lap or between your feet and not easily accessed. If you have bulky luggage that you need to place out of sight, lock it with a travel lock to the luggage shelves. Make sure your luggage is locked too.
- Avoid empty train carriages. If you are the only passenger and a stranger joins, try to move to a car that has other passengers.
- Research ahead of time for women-only train compartments. For example, in India, many trains have specifically reserved compartments for women, they are usually the first ones. Such exclusive public transportation spaces exist in Iran, the UAE, Japan, India, Brazil and others. Use those if traveling solo to avoid uncomfortable crowded spaces.
Safety tips on cruises
Cruising can be a fantastic way to travel, as it allows you to wake up in a new destination each morning, without the hassle of coordinating your transit, and you’re always surrounded by people whether you’re wanting to be social, or need to seek some form of help. However there are a unique set of safety considerations when you’re cruising.
- Check your travel insurance covers you for cruising. Many travel insurance policies exclude cruise cover from their main policies, and you’ll need to purchase it as an optional extra. Yes, there are medical staff and doctors onboard, however cruising also means you’ll have many days at sea, and if something happens where you need a medical evacuation in an emergency, that helicopter flight will be quite expensive.
- Read your cruise ship’s safety plan as soon as you get onboard. There’s always an evacuation map on the back of your cabin door which will lay out a route to your lifeboat station. Familiarize yourself with this so you know how to get there in an emergency situation.
- Similarly, pay attention to the muster drill. On your first day on a cruise, there will be lifeboat and safety drills each passenger needs to participate in. These can feel like an inconvenience, but are incredibly important, and could save your life in an emergency. Actually having taken in this knowledge, as opposed to letting it go in one ear and out the other, also means you will be able to react calmly if an emergency does take place.
- Never jump overboard on a cruise ship, regardless of whether it’s an emergency situation, or you’re anchored and you think it’s a good idea to swim. You’ll actually find that this is against the rules of your ship, and if you survive, will find yourself in a lot of trouble with the captain (possibly even legal trouble), however it’s usually a much farther way down than you think, and hitting the water when you’re dropping like a stone can cause serious physical damage.
- Don’t disclose your room to other passengers. As mentioned above, we recommend you avoid letting strangers know where you’re staying, but especially in the context of a cruise ship, where you’re all staying on the same ship, it’s best to avoid letting other passengers know which room you’re staying in, so they can’t easily harass you. Allegations of sexual assault on cruise ships that left or returned to the United States jumped 67 percent in 2019 between July and September, according to statistics released by the Department of Transportation. Of those, the vast majority were allegedly committed by passengers (though crew are not immune).
- Stay in your cabin during storms. The best place to be during a storm out at sea is inside your cabin. It’s not in the restaurants, where there are chairs and tables which can go flying, and it’s not out on the deck where the high winds can throw you around like a ragdoll, and possibly launch you over the edge. If you are moving throughout the ship during a storm, use the handrails provided. Falls are one of the biggest causes of injury on a ship (worthwhile using hand sanitizer directly after if you’ve been using the public handrails).
- Pay attention to all ship announcements. All cruises have daily announcements from the Captain and senior crew. Not all of them will be important, but it’s still helpful to pay attention as they usually contain information about your day to come, things like weather, what’s happening, and logistics around the days events. Remember, knowledge is power when it comes to safety.
- Don’t lean over the edge. We know you want the Titanic selfie moment, but never lean over the edge, or treat the railings of a cruise ship casually. If you fall overboard when the ship is moving, the chances of your survival are quite slim.
- Employ the same common sense safety advice at sea as you would on land. Cruise ships are floating resorts, so you should take the same common sense precautions as you would on land (thieves cruise too). In the same way that you avoid dark or isolated areas, and don’t leave your bags or drinks unattended, act in the same way on a cruise ship.
- Be cautious of your alcohol intake. Cruise ships often have free flowing alcohol, and it can be very easy to feel caught up in the moment, being that you don’t have to drive, and you feel as though you’re in a safe place. However being intoxicated on a cruise ship presents an immense amount of risk, especially if you stumble or trip, or are empowered to act more irrationally around the railings of the outer deck.
- Wash your hands frequently, even more so than you would on land. The reality of cruising means you’ll be sharing confined spaces with sometimes hundreds, if not thousands of other people. You’ll be touching the same hand-railings, breathing the same air, and eating from the same plates. There are usually hand sanitizers in most public spaces on cruise ships, however it’s worthwhile carrying your own. It may also be worth getting a flu shot in advance of your cruise too.
- Never enter crew-only areas, even if you’re invited to. Crew are not permitted to fraternize with passengers, and it is strictly prohibited to invite passengers into crew only areas. This could place you in a very vulnerable situation as a solo female traveler, increase your risk of sexual assault, and unlike in a land based setting, it’s not always easy to avoid people if something does go wrong, and their presence becomes triggering for you. Be firm in saying ‘No Thankyou’, and always maintain your social activity in public spaces.
- Know the symptoms of motion sickness, and be prepared for how to handle it. The key to prevention for any type of sickness is in knowing how to recognize the symptoms. Symptoms of motion sickness include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, sweating, and a sense of feeling unwell. You can pack motion sickness medicine like Dramamine in advance, and other ways of dealing with motion sickness include finding a source of fresh air, not reading or closing your eyes, and avoiding foods with strong odors will help to prevent nausea. If you’re on ship, you’ll experience less motion on lower levels near the center of the ship.
- Avoid food poisoning by using hand sanitizers and being wary of food buffets. Remember you may be vigilant with hygiene but other passengers may not. Food buffets are one of the biggest ways gastro spreads on cruises.
- Pack a pair of low-heeled shoes with rubber soles to reduce your risk of slipping on wet decks.
Staying safe in taxis
Taxis are a notoriously scary place for women traveling solo; you are in a confined space, cannot control the destination and the driver may lock the doors and trap you. This is why we have collected a lot of taxi safety tips for traveling solo as a woman:
- If available always book a taxi via a reliable app. Flagging a taxi on the street exposes you to unnecessary risks. Apps have added accountability and safety measures put in place and are much safer alternatives. Depending on where you are in the world you will be using a different app so researching is key. Use Lyft in the US, Uber across the world, Ola in India, Careem in the Middle East, Grab in Southeast Asia, Yandex in Central Asia, etc. finding out what the right app is and downloading it ahead of time. Then read about any safety measures available. For example, Ola cars will not start unless you give them the password provided by the app, so you know you are not getting into the wrong car, they also come with free WiFi you can use to track the ride. Grab and Uber let you share your ride with someone who can track your movement.
- Take a picture of the driver and the plate before getting into a taxi, and, if available like they usually are if it is an official taxi, take a picture of their license and send it to a friend of yours. Make sure the taxi driver sees you doing that. Then share your location with a friend and ask them to track you until you arrive at your destination. This will dissuade them from doing anything sketchy.
- Negotiate the fare before getting into a taxi. If flagging a taxi down, agree on the fare before getting into a car. If you see the dialogue with the driver is already sketchy, pass.
- Track the route and let him know you are. As soon as the taxi moves, start tracking the route with Google Maps and turn the sound on so he can hear you are tracking it too. This will not only ensure you aren’t taken for a ride, literally, but also that the driver knowns he is being watched.
- Sit in the back seat, out of reach of the driver. Once you get in the car, quickly open and close the door as though it was not closed properly. This allows you to check straight away if there is a child lock on the door.
- If you cannot use the local app or you are out of its coverage but at the hotel, ask the hotel to order an official taxi for you. They know reputable companies that will have more accountability.
- Call the hotel for help if you are out and about and find yourself without access to a taxi app and concerned about flagging down a taxi. Check your location, find a safe place (cafe, store, etc.) and call the hotel to ask them to send you a taxi or hotel car. When you check in, it’s worth taking a hotel business card from the front desk, and carrying it with you throughout your trip, so you always have the address, and phone number.
- Only take licensed airport taxis. For airport taxis, make sure you get them from a designated taxi operator in the airport and avoid unlicensed taxis who may try to scam you or lock you in the car and demand higher payment. Check the fare from the official listing and confirm what would be a normal rate with the hotel concierge ahead of your trip. You can also use Rome2Rio or Google Maps to estimate the cost.
- Get visibility. If you feel in danger, trapped or the driver has locked you in the car and you think you are being taken somewhere else, call the police, put the phone on speaker and tell them the plate number driver name and license number and everything else. If the police are not reachable or you don’t speak the language, go live online on social media or get on a video call with a friend or family member. Make it clear to the driver you know what he is doing and others do too. If you have a personal alarm, sound it too.
Safety tips for hitch-hiking
Hitch hiking alone can increase your risk of danger, the same as getting into a stranger’s car. If you do make the choice to hitch-hike, the following can decrease your risk significantly.
- Stay safe on the road. Make sure to stay away from the edge off the road when waiting for a ride and that you are in a visible place without any risk of a car running you over. Wear bright clothing or a safety vest to stand out.
- Double check the car door opens from inside by pretending to have closed it wrongly. If it is not, you may want to consider getting off.
- Don’t be afraid to decline. If a person or situation looks sketchy decline the ride, your instinct is usually right.
- Avoid getting into a car with more people than the driver, higher chance of you being outnumbered.
- Like with taxis, take a picture of the car plate before getting in, make sure the driver sees you doing this. If he or she has a problem with you doing that, something could be off. Send the picture to a friend or family member and allow them to track your location. let them know where you are going and have a pre-established plan B in case you deviate from the route. If there are people around where you get into the car, you could pretend to wave goodbye to them so the driver thinks someone knows you got into their car.
- Put your bag last in the car and first out of the car, this way you ensure not to forget it in the car or for the driver to speed off with your belongings. Avoid putting your luggage out of reach or in the trunk.
- Wear your seat belt, the driver could intentionally break so you hit your head and become unconscious or hurt.
- Pretend you’re sick. If you want the car to stop because the situation is making you feel uncomfortable but you are not sure if it’s reason enough to call for help, tell the driver you are feeling sick and for him to stop for you to throw up, then run away. If it’s a male driver, you could pretend to have your period. The last thing they want is an unknown female bleeding in their vehicle.
Keeping safe in the street
One of the biggest fears women have when traveling solo is the fear of being harassed, robbed or worse in the street. The good news is that there are several precautions you can take to prevent anything happening to you:
- Never have both of your headphones on or the music so loud that you can’t hear the traffic, you could be run over or robbed, so always be aware of your surroundings.
- Always keep an eye on your back and pay attention to notice if anyone is following you. If you are unsure, you can take a pocket mirror out to pretend to look at your face, or take your phone out and flip the camera to selfie mode to see behind you.
- Look for cover. If someone is following you, get into a store and let them pass. If stores are closed or there isn’t any business you can get into, reach out for a personal alarm, stop abruptly and turn around, it is likely the person will be startled and not expect you to do that, this breaks their pattern. If you see imminent danger of an attack, sound the alarm, this will not only attract attention and bring neighbours to their windows but possibly also affect the assailant’s ability to carry out any ill-intentioned act.
- Walk towards oncoming traffic and not in the same direction so you are aware if a vehicle is coming your way and you don’t get surprised from behind by a snatch and run incident.
- Download offline maps of the area you are at and mark the location of your hotel so you can always return. Get a business card of the hotel with the address in local language so you can show it to a taxi driver.
- If you find yourself walking and come across a pack of street dogs, one of the best ways to scare them off is to pretend to pick something from the floor and throw it at them. Or if you can, actually pick a rock and wave it in the air.
Safety tips for motorbikes and scooters
Scooter accidents, scams or other dangers are common, especially in Southeast Asia where they are a cheap and common way for travelers to get around independently. Below is a list of travel safety tips for solo female travelers:
- Purchase the right medical insurance in case you have a motorbike accident and insurance for the scooter in case it gets stolen or damaged. It is not an uncommon scam for the bike rental shop to come damage your bike at night then pretend you did it and threaten you with a high bill. Don’t tell them where you’re staying unless it’s a safe hotel.
- Put all your valuables inside the bike seat when driving and only have non-valuables in between your legs (grocery, water bottle, etc.). This will avoid a slash and run or theft at traffic lights.
- Use hands-free map directions and a headset. If you need to use Google Maps to get somewhere, don’t have the phone visible. Put it inside your money belt and connect your headset to it so that Google Maps can tell you driving directions and you don’t have to look at the map while driving. Only have one headset in and keep the other ear free to remain alert to the traffic and aware to your surroundings. Hands-free phone holders for the bike are not advisable in most places because of the high risk of theft.
- Always wear a properly fitted helmet that is in good condition, it could safe your life.
Animals can pose a high risk to your personal safety when traveling if you don’t know what to do. Below are solo female travel safety tips to consider against wildlife.
- Never feed wildlife. It is bad for them and it poses a risk for you if they get too close or band together towards you. They can become aggressive and bite you.
- Stay away from monkeys, they look funny and friendly but they are some of the most dangerous animals to encounter. Their claws are sharp and can really harm you not to mention the risk of contracting rabies. Monkeys are pervasive across Asia where they are very used to humans and incredibly smart. It is not uncommon for people to train them to steal from tourists and you should always keep your belongings close to you and attached to avoid them pulling your handbag away. I saw them stealing phones and battery packs from tourists in India and monkey attacks at the popular Monkey Forest in Bali are frequent. If you come across a pack, look down, avoid eye contact and keep your distance, then simply walk at a brisk pace and get away. Avoid getting close to babies or females who will become aggressive and protect their own.
- Research your destination in advance, and be aware of specific danegrs local wildlife may pose. In Australia, this may be poisonous snakes or spiders, that may seem harmless but could kill. In the USA, this could be brushing up on your bear safety skills. There will be destination specific wildlife safety tips for each country, city, and region. So research is important, as the same considerations won’t apply universally. Checking with the locals is always best.
- When on safari, always follow the instructions of the guides and never get out of the safari truck unless instructed to. Animals are used to cars and perceive them as larger than them so will rarely attack, but once you get out of the car, you will appear small and unthreatening.
- Never touch or turn your back on a wild animal to take a selfie. This puts you at incredible risk of danger, and there are an increasing number of deaths from animal attacks, where the traveler was posing to take a selfie. You’re also endangering the life of the animal, who will likely be hunted / put down in the event of your injury / death. Never treat wild animals as if they’re in a petting zoo.
- Give wildlife plenty of room and never approach or corner them. As a general rule, wildlife will typically only attack if they feel threatened, or if they have no other route of escape. For the most part, you’ll probably find animals are non aggressive, and don’t want anything to do with you. Even with snakes, most snakes would choose to slither away than fight a human, and don’t aggressively bite things out of malice. Snake venom is used to subdue prey which would otherwise be impossible to eat, so they don’t generally like to waste their venom. That being said, if their only escape route is a past a human with a shovel they are likely to react aggressively. The same applies to most other animals. If a wild animal approaches you, back away, and give them an escape path.
- Make noise if you’re approaching potentially dangerous wildlife, and they will typically stay away from you.
- Females with young are the most dangerous wild animals. They are fiercely protective of their young, so it’s important to give them ample space.
- Avoid attracting animals, with food, or smell. If you’re camping, make sure your food is properly locked away, not left out in your tent, and properly disposed of once you’ve finished eating.
- Insects are a common safety risk across the world, and avoidance is the best approach. The biggest threat is mosquito bites when visiting subtropical and tropical countries, especially in regions where malaria is a major concern. Always apply insect repellent on top of your sunscreen not the other way around, wear proper clothing like pants, long sleeves, and a heat net, and inspect yourself every day for bites. Install a mosquito net that has permethrin, impregnated. Rooms with air-conditioning also minimize mosquito bites.
- Shake your shoes and clothes out before putting them on. This will avoid any bugs, insects, scorpions, snakes, or spiders, which may have crawled in overnight.
- DO NOT RUN from carnivores (for instance, lions and tigers). Try not to surprise them, do your best to appear big, make a lot of noise, and pay close attention to their body language. Like pet cats, carnivores like mountain lions will instinctually chase anything that runs and are triggered to stalk potential prey from behind.
Road trip and car safety
Driving is one those areas where male and female solo travelers have similar experiences. We have written an extensive article on planning a road trip for solo female travelers that greatly complements this section and below are a list of safety tips from our dozens of road trips and from the expert road trippers in our community.
- Get your car checked before a road trip to avoid any last minute issues. Take it for a check up to make sure the tire pressure, air, oil and all other technical bits and pieces are in top condition. If you are renting, make sure to do so from a reputable company so that you know their cars are in good condition and they would help if the car broke down.
- Carry enough water, possibly a water filter and snacks such as nuts or granola if heading off for a long drive in an isolated road, for example in parts of Africa or in the US. Also bring caffeine, Red Bull or gum to stay awake in long and boring drives. Gum or chewing something is remarkably efficient at keeping us awake, more than caffeine.
- Carry extra petrol if you plan to go off the beaten path and will not be near a station. If you are carrying extra petrol, be aware of the safety requirements for traveling with fuel; don’t store fuel containers inside your vehicle where the vapours can be inhaled. Smelling fuel can cause nausea, drowsiness and headaches. In some cases, the fumes can even be poisonous.
- Make sure someone knows where you are and when you expect to be back. Check in regularly to update them on the progress on your route and give them instructions on what to do if you don’t get in touch.
- Always have a way to call for help, even out of cell phone range, for example by carrying a satellite phone / messenger or communicator. This can save your life if your car breaks down in an isolated road or if you get lost in the wild and no experienced hiker or road tripper will leave home without. Garmin inReach mini will allow you to send messages or get the more advanced communicators for a complete mapping and geolocator. Alternatively, you can also get a satellite phone from Iridium.
- Practice for common inconveniences, like knowing how to change a tire. If your car breaks down, or a tire bursts, you need to be able to get it sorted out on your own. YouTube has lots of views on this, practice before leaving the house.
- Prepare for the weather. If you will be traveling to icy places, bring an ice scraper, tire chains and a shovel, and if you are heading into the desert make sure to have the right tires.
- Triple check your gear list and make sure you carry all the important items: a hands-free phone holder, extra batteries and chargers as well as a solar panel charger if you plan to be out of reach for a while, GPS device with downloadable maps, paper maps as a back up, air compressor / tire pump / spare tire and jack, jump pack, road hazard signs, lighter, matches and fuel to light a fire.
- Research the specific driving rules of your destination. While driving rules are generally universal, there are differences from country to country. for example, in Spain you cannot drive in flip flips or other unattached footwear; in Germany Autoban there are no speed limits; In Australia, driving at night can be dangerous because of jumping kangaroos and other wildlife that are blinded by the headlights and can cause accidents.
- Beware of local dangers at the destination. For example, car jacking is a real threat in South Africa and you are not expected to stop at a red light at night or if you see someone looking for help; police stopping you to ask for a bribe can be common across Latin America and parts of East Africa, so decide on your stance and if you choose to pay these “fines” have cash at the ready. Use Waze to anticipate these nuisances.
- Keep your car doors locked, even when you’re driving. For the same reason as above, you should keep your car doors locked even when you’re inside the car. Most countries won’t present a threat of car jacking, however it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Whether you’re staying in a hotel, hostel, resort, or making use of the sharing economy, there are some tips that apply to all types of accommodation and others that are specific to the type of place you are staying at.
Here are our general safety tips, before diving into specifics for hotels, hostels, couchsurfing, house-sitting, and home exchange:
- It’s important to keep safety in mind before you book accommodation, and that means researching. When booking accommodation, pay close attention to things like the property’s security measures, whether the desk is staffed 24 hours, if there are surveillance cameras, or whether you have to have a key to access guest floors.
- Properly research the neighborhood. One of your biggest considerations should be location. For instance, are you staying in an upscale neighbourhood, or a seedy commercial district? Is it a safe area to walk around after dark; are there any services nearby, like a police station or embassy? You can easily find neighbourhood information online, or by looking at recent hotel reviews on sites like TripAdvisor. Google Street View is a great resource for checking out a neighbourhood and seeing what it actually looks like. Keep an eye out for any mention of safety concerns when reading reviews.
- Share the address, and room number if relevant, and any other contact details of the property / host with whom you’re staying, with a close family member or friend. This can be shared with them in advance when you share your itinerary, and updated once you have a room number.
- Regardless of whether you’re at a hotel, Airbnb, house-sit, or hostel, check where your exits are, and familiarize yourself with escape routes, like elevators, emergency exits, and the like.
- Stay with your luggage when checking in. How many times have we heard airport security barking instructions not to leave our luggage unattended? The same logic applies to accommodation, whether you’re meeting someone in the street for keys to an apartment rental, leaving your suitcases in the driveway of an Airbnb, or checking in at a hotel lobby.
- Once you’ve checked in, whether you’re in a hotel, hostel, or private house, place a tissue into the peep hole on the door if there isn’t a cover. It’s also a good idea to take a towel and wedge it under the door so you can’t tell from the outside if the lights are on.
- Take a door wedge with you to slide under your door once inside your room. Consider also bringing a door stopper or an alarm that would ring if someone tried to break into your room. Note that you will not be able to use a door stop if staying in shared accommodation like a hostel dorm room. And keep in mind that if you are sick and requesting assistance, no-one will be able to enter your room. Below is feedback from one of the group members and recommendations on the best products.
- Use the shared pool or shower facilities with flip flops and don’t walk around wet areas with bare feet to avoid catching fungal infections and other diseases.
- “I will literally fling open closet doors ready to punch. And if there’s curtains I punch through them too because if someone is there they won’t be expecting to get punched before being revealed” – Group Member
- Bed bugs pop up all around the world, and aren’t limited to tropical countries. They are flat, reddish-brown, small insects and infestations have become more common in developed countries. Never put your luggage on the bed. It’s what most people do when entering a hotel room, but you should use the luggage rack, or a bathroom counter instead. And before you start unpacking, inspect every corner of the room for bed bugs signs. They may be small, but they’re not invisible. Take off all bed linens and check the edges of the box spring, mattress, chairs, sofa and bed head.
- If you notice anything that looks suspicious simply ask the hotel manager, the home owner, or contact your host for another room or move to a different accommodation. If your gut is telling you something is really wrong, it’s far better being out of pocket and paying for a new place to stay, than it is to put yourself in danger.
- Sleep with a pair of sneakers next to the bed, so that you’re up and ready to go in an emergency situation.
- When you leave, make sure your door is completely shut, and locked properly. Test this by trying to enter before you walk away for the day.
- Use a VPN if you connect to the internet. Free WiFi is something we’ve come to expect from accommodation, but that doesn’t mean that it’s safe to connect. You’re ultimately still connecting to a public hotspot, which means anyone on the same network (which could be thousands of people inside a hotel) can easily see your data: usernames, passwords, credit card numbers etc. A high quality VPN like Express VPN, which is the one we have used in China, Turkmenistan, the UAE and more, is one of the most useful tools you can have to keep your information secure when connecting to hotel WiFi. It encrypts your traffic so that cyber criminals using the same network won’t be able to access your information, or even detect your presence.
Hotel safety tips
Our accommodation is where we will be spending the most time on a trip, so it is key to make sure we feel safe. These tips are specific to hotel stays.
- Choose a hotel with a 24 hour reception. This makes it less likely someone would follow you into the hotel or to your room. If someone around the hotel does seem to be acting suspiciously, you can easily contact the front desk at any hour and they can handle the situation for you by contacting the appropriate authorities.
- Request to stay on a middle floor, avoiding first floor or the top ones. The first floor has easiest access by anyone trying to break in. The top floors pose a fire hazard and would make it harder for you to be rescued. Usually, floors 2nd to 10th are best as most truck ladders can reach up to the 10th floor in case of an emergency in the building.
- Ask for a room close to the elevators, or at least, as far away from the end of the hallway as possible, unless there is an emergency exit there. Yes, the closer you are to main public areas, the more noise you risk having to put up with, however being by the end of a dead end hallway means you’ll have fewer options of escaping in case of assault or building emergency. Also try to avoid rooms near vending or ice machines, as these offer criminals a great place to loiter.
- If you are uncomfortable with your room once you arrive, don’t be afraid to go down to the front desk and request a new room. Do this immediately, before unpacking, as they will be more able to assist, especially if fully booked, if house-keeping doesn’t have to go in and clean the room.
- Like cruise ships, most hotels have an emergency evacuation plan / details on the back of the door. Read this, and familiarize yourself with the evacuation procedures / information in case of an emergency.
- If you happen to invite someone back to your room for a hookup, ask the front desk to check up on you in an hours time.
- Don’t answer the door unless you are expecting someone (like room service). If it’s house-keeping, you can politely instruct them to please come back later, or that you don’t need service today. If they are being insistent about entering your room, call the front desk before deciding whether or not you will admit them.
- Do not give your credit card details over the phone, even if the phone shows it’s the hotel front desk who is calling. A common scam in hotels is to call the front desk and ask to be put through to a specific room number. Because it’s an internal transfer, on your phone it looks like the front desk calling. The con artist tells you they’re from the front desk and that they’re having issues with your credit card. They’ll ask you to repeat it for them over the phone. Tell them you’ll bring it down to the front desk instead, and hang up the phone.
- Become friendly with the hotel staff, and learn their names. Introduce yourself on check in, and head over to the concierge to ask for recommendations for your first day’s activities (or ask the receptionist if there is no concierge desk). Say hello to them each time you walk in and out of the building so they remember your face, including the staff in the restaurant, and in the halls who are housekeeping. Follow up with them the next day letting them know if you visited the places they recommended. This is a good way to meet new friends, but also ensures they’re invested in your safety because they feel a connection with you beyond other regular guests.
- Leave a note of your plans in your room in case something happens and you don’t return as planned.
- Lock your valuables in the hotel safe. Protect your valuables by using the hotel safe. Travelers are divided on whether you should leave your passport in the hotel room, or always carry it on your person, but if you decide to leave it behind, make sure it’s secure, along with electronics, important travel documents, and anything else of value, in the in-room safe. That being said, hotel safes are usually hidden inside the closet and out of sight when you’re packing up at the end of a stay, so make sure you don’t forget to retrieve your things but setting a reminder.
- Check that the safe is actually safe before you use it; some hotels don’t change the default unlock code, which is there as an override if you forget the code. For most hotel safes this is 000000 or 123456 – not exactly an original passcode!
- Bring a portable safe. You can usually attach those to closet bars or other fixed places.
- Leaving extremely expensive valuables with the front desk may be a better option than your in-room safe. Hotels generally are not responsible for items left in rooms, but you may be able to get a written receipt or confirmation that you have left your goods at the front desk.
- Leave the TV or radio on while you’re gone. This is a great way to deter break-ins when you’re out, as well as by hanging the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door; both of these tricks deter thieves by giving the impression that you’re still there (though note that if you do leave the “Do Not Disturb’ sign on, you won’t receive housekeeping unless you call the front desk when you are back and request it).
- If you lose or misplace your electronic key (hotels which have modern electronic guest room locks are generally safer than those which operate off a traditional key), ask the front desk for a new one straight away, and request that they wipe any previously issued key cards (this usually happens by default when new cards are issued).
Hostel safety tips (dorms)
Shared accommodation is generally very safe, but they are a lot more communal than a hotel and sharing a room with others has a higher potential to put both your safety and the safety of your belongings in jeopardy. As such, we recommend the following safety tips for solo female travelers:
- Consider booking a private room. Many hostels offer private room types, which allows you to enjoy the social atmosphere of a hostel, and make new friends, while maintaining a higher level of personal safety. Keep in mind that not all private rooms come with a private ensuite, and you may still be sharing a bathroom.
- Book a female-only dorm. If private rooms aren’t available, or you really want the dorm experience, many hostels around the world now have female-only dorms. You’ll pay a little more than you would booking a mixed dorm, as they’re usually in higher demand, but will be cheaper than a private room.
- If you don’t feel comfortable at any point during your stay, request a room change, or be willing to find a new place to stay. The nature of shared dorms in hostels is that many people may come and go during your stay. And you’ll usually be staying in bunk beds, with someone else sleeping under or above you. If someone checks in, especially to a mixed room dorm, and they make you uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to request a room change, even if you’re halfway through your stay.
- Read customer reviews from other females. It’s one thing to read reviews, but make sure you’re specifically looking at reviews from other females. What was their experience? Did they feel safe? The hostel experience is very different for men than it is for women, so it’s important to ensure the reviews you’re reading have relevance and context. Looks for high ratings for security/safety, staff/customer service, and cleanliness, as well as positive references to solo female travelers (you can CTRL F or use the search bar to find specific keywords). As a general rule, if a hostel manager is replying to reviews, it means they care about their guests.
- Choose a hostel in a central location, even if it costs a bit more. This means you’ll be closer to transport, food, and assistance services. Cheaper isn’t always better if it sacrifices a safer location.
- Choose the top bunk if you’re staying in a dorm. A ladder just puts an extra challenge or barrier between someone crawling into your bed when it’s dark, or when they’re drunk, or because they felt lonely and wanted a cuddle. It also makes it harder to snatch any valuables you have on your bunk.
- If you’re staying on the bottom bunk, create a privacy curtain with your towel, with a sarong, or potentially even with a spare sheet. It’s not impenetrable, and it’s not permanent, but it can be a courtesy to other room mates, and give you the sense of privacy which could help with anxiety.
- Dress appropriately when you’re sleeping. Especially if you’re in a female only shared dorm, it’s important to have appropriate sleepwear, and cover yourself as much as possible. Dorm rooms are not the place to sleep in the nude, or even in your bra / underwear. You may also prefer to get changed in the bathrooms.
- Pack a small flashlight (or use the light on your phone) if you need to move around in the middle of the night and don’t want to wake up the entire dorm by flicking on the main light.
- Don’t leave your belongings out. Make sure your things are packed up at all times, whether this is when you’re out for the day to prevent theft, or even when you’re sleeping, meaning you can quickly grab your bag if you’re feeling unsafe in the middle of the night. And don’t unpack in front of everyone if you can help it – they don’t need to see what type of stuff you’ve got.
- Use a locker if it’s available. Most hostels will have lockers available, some for free, some for an additional cost, where you can secure / keep your belongings and valuables. This is still a good idea, even if you’ve got a bag lock. Travel with your own lock, as these can be an additional cost again, though some hostels won’t provide one. Even if they do, it could be quite flimsy, so it’s always worth traveling with your own – combination locks are best. Some hostels now provide lockers with an electronic lock, where you won’t need an old school style padlock. It’s best to travel with one anyway just in case.
- Make sure your bags are secured with a luggage lock. Especially for any luggage which is not being stored in a locker (but even when it’s in a locker this is still a good idea too), make sure your bags are secured with a luggage lock. Buy one with a slightly longer cable so that you can attach your luggage to a bed frame.
- If you have to keep your bag loose in the room, put it under the bed and actually attach it to a bed post. A thin, steel cable cord will work for this purpose, or a bike lock.
- You’ll likely have to share a bathroom, so investing in a hanging toiletry case will be really handy for keeping your toiletries organized, clean, and free of any shared bacteria it could pick up off surfaces. I have used one (which I never unpack when I am home) for over 10 years.
- Always keep your valuables on your person, even when you leave the room to go to the bathroom, or quickly step outside to take a phone call – regardless of what you’re doing – don’t leave your valuables unattended for even a second. When you’re sleeping, place valuables like your phone, your passport, and your wallet, inside your pillowcase, and face the opening towards the wall.
- If you’re storing food in shared kitchen facilities, bring reusable bags or your own small containers to prevent cross contamination with other travelers foods.
- Bring your own travel utensils for meals you make / eat in the hostel. While most hostels will have a range of utensils available for you to use, hostel kitchens are on a self clean honesty basis, and you can’t guarentee how well someone has cleaned the fork you’re about to use. Also, carrying your own means you can eat street food with your own utensils and not only remove some of the risk of contamination but also eliminate single plastic use, including plastic straws. The below rose stainless steel range weighs only 250 gr.
- Drink responsibly. This is covered in our food safety, and general safety sections, however it’s important to re-emphasize for hostels. Most hostels will have a bar which serves alcohol, and this is often the social hub where you hag out and meet people. There is a lot more social pressure to drink in a hostel, but also a lot higher risk of being vulnerable to sexual assault, being that you may be sharing a room.
Food is one of the main sources of concern for many travelers. Be it because of the infamous Delhi Belly or because of food allergies, eating safely is important.
Did you know that 40% of travelers will suffer from travelers diarrhoea on their trips? Out of the hundreds of trips I have been on and 120 countries visited, I have fallen sick to it in Fiji, India and Somalia. Even the hardiest travelers will at some point fall prey to it.
The good news is that there is a lot you can do to minimize the probability of experiencing and there are proven steps you can follow to treat it and make sure you get over it as soon as possible so you can go back to enjoying your trip.
Firstly, you should know that traveler’s diarrhea depends on where you live and where you are going, the length of your trip (most events happen within the first week), the travel style and what type of food you eat, and your pre-existing conditions.
Additionally, depending on where you go, the type of toxin, bacteria or virus that could cause your diarrhea will also vary. Here are the expert food safety tips from the guest doctor at our Empowerful solo female travel safety course, Dr. Mireia Roca.
- With food, the rule of thumb is: Boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it! If what you are about to eat does not fulfils this rule, you are best avoiding it.
- Avoid high-risk food items such as shellfish, fruit that is not peeled/washed, salads, mayonnaise, unpasteurized dairy or fatty / cured meats, leafy greens, pulses, sparkling drinks, coffee or chocolate all of which are diuretic foods or more prone to being contaminated. Favor of low-risk food items such as bread, well cooked white meat and fish, hot dishes, fruit with intact peel, boiled vegetables and pasta.
- Don’t drink tap water, including when brushing teeth or having a shower. Instead, drink only bottled water or water that has been boiled for at least 3 minutes or treated with purification tablets.
- Wash your hands frequently to avoid touching contaminated surfaces then putting your hands in your face or mouth. Carry hand sanitizer when water and soap are not available.
- In hotel rooms, always wash the glasses or cutlery before using them with soap and warm water, these are never properly cleaner by hotel staff.
- Take probiotics. Even though their role in reducing diarrhea is not medically proven, they are generally considered a good idea and are largely harmless. It is best to try different types of probiotics to find the brand, mix and volume of good bacteria that best works for you ahead of your trip so you don’t feel unnecessarily bloated.
- Stay hydrated. Most adults will be fine with just plain water, soups and liquids but severe cases can experience dehydration which is the the most dangerous consequence of diarrhea. Carry Oral Rehydration Solution sachets and use them if you do not recover quickly. If you don’t have ORS, you can prepare your own mix with 1 liter of water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and 4 tablespoons of sugar.
- Carry activated charcoal with you and take it straightaway if you eat something that you feel may be off.
- If your vomiting does not stop, you experience high fever, severe abdominal pain or you don’t improve, seek professional advice which will usually involve rehydration and antibiotics.
Traveling with food allergies or restrictions
If you have an allergy, you will be familiar with the limitations and restrictions this can pose. However, these can become more difficult to manage abroad where you don’t speak the language or know the local cuisine as well. Below are some tips to consider:
- Cook your own. If your allergies are severe, you may opt to rent apartments instead of hotels and cook your food to avoid any risks. This is what Meg does because of her husband’s allergies, better safe than sorry and while this just requires a bit more planning, it also gives you the chance to check local groceries everywhere you go.
- Research, research, research. Like with pretty much any other section int his list of solo female travel safety tips, researching is your best friend. Understand what the local cuisine main ingredients are and what sort of commonly found foods you would have trouble eating so you know what not to order. for example, of you are gluten intolerant you may have issues in Italy where wheat is commonly eaten but may have an easier time in Southeast Asia where rice is more pervasive or even in Mexico where corn is the main staple food.
- Learn the words for your allergy and for the foods you cannot eat in the local language including the common foods made off it. Get it written down, ideally in a full sentence that says you are allergic to that food and everything made of it and that it is dangerous for you to eat anything with it. You could also create your own card with the foods you cannot eat, pictures of them and red crosses over them. Add ingredients as well. These are universal pictures and hopefully understood. Throw in a skull to emphasize the risk
- Carry back up antihistamine in case you accidentally consume something or if you think you may have, depending on how severe your allergy is you will probably have them always with you.
- Check expert advice. For example, for gluten free travel, Legal Nomads has a lot of resources and her own travel cards you can purchase and bring with you.
Safety tips for drinking alcohol
Sadly, one the common travel safety tips for women traveling solo is to not abuse alcohol. This is something your mum probably told you and which is particularly more important when you are in an unfamiliar place where nobody knows you.
- Drink within your limits. You are more vulnerable to anything happening to you (being robbed, drugged, raped) if you are not at your full capacity so excessive drinking will put you at risk.
- Never leave your drink unattended or let someone else order a drink at the bar and bring it to you. It is best if you watch the bartender pour your drink in front of you.
- Don’t sit at the same bar alone for too long to avoid others noticing you are by yourself. Have a drink at a place then head somewhere else for the next one.
In this section we are referring all kinds of drugs including those which require a medical prescription.
You should always make sure to research and abide by the laws of the destination you are visiting and this particularly true when it comes to drugs, as penalties can be very severe and involve prison or the death penalty in popular destinations such as Bali or Singapore. This handy and updated map on drug criminalization around the world is useful.
If you have to travel with your own prescription drugs, you should make sure that you carry a medical report along with a prescription for the exact type and quality of drugs you are carrying in the language of the destination. You should carry them in your hand luggage and declare them at customs.
If you live in a country where regulations are more relaxed around recreational drugs, you should make sure to research the destination and if you consume, leave enough time for your body to process any residues left prior to your trip.
Also check your clothing or luggage to make sure that there is no residue left that could be picked up by airport sniffing dogs.
If you are going to partake in any supervised activities, there are a few things to consider to make sure you stay safe:
- Always make sure you have the right insurance coverage for the type of activity you will participate in. Some adventure activity providers will include insurance in the price of the activity (eg. bungee jumping) while others will require that you have purchased separate insurance coverage (eg. diving). Check ahead to avoid disappointment.
- Follow instructions of tour guide. They know better and have experience dealing with the possible risks. If the white water rafting instruction tells you to let go if you fall off the boat and not to hold on to it, do that, he knows that is the best strategy.
- Don’t stray from the group to avoid getting lost or getting left behind.
Spending time at the mercy of the elements can be quite punishing if you are not prepared. Stay safe as a solo female traveler by being prepared and anticipating what could happen in the outdoors.
Safety in extreme environments like deserts
Deserts and other extreme environments have their own set of challenges to consider. In the desert, the main concerns are protecting you from the sun and from the risk of dehydration.
Hence, the best advice for solo female travelers is to carry enough water, sun screen and a hat to protect from the direct sun rays. It is best to wear long sleeves and loose clothing than to wear skimpy clothing that exposes you to the elements and to the sun.
There is a reason why the desert Touareg tribes wear long white tunics and head scarves that cover their heads and faces except for their eyes.
Staying safe at the beach
Spending time at beach is one of the most popular activities for travelers but when you are by yourself there are some extra challenges around your belongings that you must consider.
- Bring only the essentials, the fewer items you can lose, the better, and always keep. an eye on your belongings. If you leave your towel closer to the water you will be able to watch it more easily.
- Put your belonging in a water-proof pouch you can take with you into the water. Waterproof phone bags are often large enough to carry your room key, cash and phone.
- Consider carrying a personal safe. If there are fixed metal posts or legs you can attach a safe to, you can store all your belonging there. Some are theft and water proof and even have motion sensors that would alert you if anyone gets close by.
- The same advice given for desert conditions applies. Some of the biggest health issues when traveling after diarrhea are heat exhaustion, heatstroke (which can be lethal) or sunburns. Make sure you protect yourself from the sun with the appropriate sun screen, hat and hydration and avoid the most dangerous hours of the day between noon and 3pm as the sun is strongest and the risk of sunburn and skin cancer highest. Be a more environmentally respectful traveler by buying and using reef-safe sunscreen that does not damage the marine eco-system such as Coola and Sun bum, two brands we love and us..
- If the beach is rocky or has lots of piece of broken corals consider wearing reef shoes or strap on sandals to protect your feet from cuts. I like and use Teva shoes which are also widely recommended by group members, because they are sturdy and work from beach to mountain to park to water and aren’t too clunky or ugly (I have the model above for 10 years). Beware of warnings on strong sea currents, bad weather, deadly jellyfish, shark attacks or other marine threats.
Safety in the cold / snow
I will always remember the briefing I received as a young exchange student in Canada when I arrived: “Never go out into the cold alone because if something happens to you there is someone to get help”, that still rings true today.
How do we translate that to solo female travel safety advice?
- If you can’t find a companion and don’t want to hire a guide, you should try not to stray too far from populated and popular areas when the temperatures fall below freezing point.
- Beyond that, the main threat to your safety when it’s cold is the cold itself. Dress for the occasion and buy technical gear such as thermal underwear, snow boots, or even hand and feet warmers (which saved me in Iceland!). We love Icebreaker’s merino wool thermal underwear which is extremely durable, very high quality and moisture wicking. You can wear it for several days without washing and without any smell, tried and tested in all terrains.
- Electronics may not work as well in the cold and that your camera or phone may switch off if left exposed to the cold for too long. Check the manufacturer to ensure you don’t get stranded in the wild assuming your phone would work and then find it witched off. Tip: the hand and feet warmers also work on electronics, just wrap a scarf around them to avoid direct heat, or keep them inside your pockets.
- Adequate footwear is key not just to keep warm but also to avoid slipping and falling on the ice with the subsequent risk of breaking a leg. I swear by UGG boots, have used them for years and you can never have cold feet with them. Add the hand & foot warmers when you are walking on snow for a while in temperatures that are well below freezing and you are safe. Only downside, you need crampons because they have zero grip. Or opt for more professional options like the pretty Columbia boots below. Depending on where you travel and what you plan to do, crampons may be required regardless.
Self Defense Tips
The best self-defense technique is the one you never have to use, and the best self-defense class is the one you never have to put into play.
Our advice and that of the experts we collaborate with, such as Nicole from Girls Fight Back, Jennifer Cassetta and Yunquan from Kapap Academy, is to avoid getting into a dangerous situation and to escape as fast as possible to avoid a fight.
Self-defense is not about what you should do but about what you can do, so let’s get started with some of our solo female travel safety tips:
- Read a situation and be aware of your surroundings so you can identify danger before it occurs. If a situation does not feel right, leave, you don’t have to be polite and stay.
- Set boundaries with your body posture and your voice. Be firm, don’t apologize and insist on others respecting your boundaries. Sometimes, breaking someone’s pattern and expectations is enough to make them rethink an attack on you. Assailants usually look for easy targets if you make yourself difficult they might abandon the idea.
- Use the least amount of force with the highest impact to get away from a situation and to give you a chance to run to safety. Learn about pressure points and about identifying vulnerable spots like the groin and aim for that.
- Take a self-defense class where you will learn basic techniques anyone can use, even those in a wheel chair. Our Empowerful festival has 3 sessions on the topic and will teach you the basics you need. But it does not end there, continue practising the moves you learned so you have muscle memory and do not freeze when you finally need to use what you learned.
- Don’t stay to fight unless you absolutely have to or are trained to do so. As mentioned, the objective with self-defense is always to get away from the situation and hurt your assailant in a way that gives you an opportunity to leave and get to safety.
Tools to Keep You Safe
So now that you have all these safety tips, let’s take a look at some of the tools you can carry to help keep yourself safe. Some we have already mentioned above, some are new.
- Use a theft proof bag. Having your bag, wallet, phone or other valuables stolen from inside your bag in a crowded space is one of the most common nuisances traveler face in most crowded cities. Even the safest countries have popular pickpocket areas where thieves operate. PacSafe is a highly recommended and rated company that spealizes in this. Their products are uniquely designed not to be slashed, they have safe locks and zips and will keep your belongings safe. With so many other distracted and unprepared travelers, you just need to be a bit better not to be the easy target and Pacsafe will definitely make you a tough target. Plus nowadays, they make cute and fancy bags that don’t look like your high-school backpack.
- Diversion items. The best way to keep money away from thieve is to hide it in plain sight in places that are not appealing to anyone. For example, in a plastic water bottle, a packet of tissues or a market. Stash-it makes diversion items of everyday products that no thief would want to steal so you can keep a stash of emergency money in case of need.
- A door wedge alarm or a door lock bar are designed to stop someone from entering into your room. They are light, easy to fit anywhere and very successful. Alternatively, you can get a wedge alarm or a door alarm both of which will be useful if you want the sound alarm to pair with the physical barrier. The door and wedge alarms displayed above are from Sabre, one of the most reputable safety companies in the world in business for over 40 years.
- A personal alarm is useful in the wild, in a crowded space, in a remote area you may find yourself in, or even in your hotel room if you need to draw attention to yourself. In a moment of panic you may not be able to scream or blow a whistle but pressing a button or pulling a cord as shown in the Nathan alarm, is easy and these alarms emit a 120 decibel noise that will scare anyone away. Nathan’s alarm can also be easily clipped on your clothes so you can wear it when out running or exercising and have it handy and within reach in case of emergency.
- Bear spray. If you plan to spend time in the wild in areas where there might be bears, bear spray may be useful. Note: Please always triple check that you are allowed to fly with bear spray if you carry it with you as the penalties if you aren’t could be severe.
- Travel scarves or travel scrunchies are both great ideas for keeping your valuables close to your body and safely disguised.
- Money belts and bra pouches. We like the fashionable and easy to conceal money belts that can keep everything important handy and hidden. Make sure they are also RFID so details of your credit cards cannot be stolen.
- Bra pouches. For the items that you are not going to use much (eg. emergency money stash), a bra pouch is useful. Clip it around your side and put your passport and credit cards inside, wear loose shirts or a jacket and nobody will know.
- We highly recommend portable safe boxes which prevent anything being stolen from your room, the beach or a public space. You just need to find a fixed bar to tie them too and they are practically unbreakable. Especially useful in hostels where you can attach them to your bunk bed, or at the beach..
- A first aid kit is one of the most basic yet important parts of your luggage. Minor ailments such as a cut, a migraine or a cold can put a damper on your trip, make sure you travel with everything you need in case of an accident or a small health problem. In this article we talk about what you include in your first aid kit and the one above has all the basic items, you just need to add the drugs you need and use.
- Water bottle with filter. Especially if you know you are traveling to a destination where the water is not drinkable, carry your own Lifestraw filter water bottle and make sure you don’t drink contaminated water. If you will be in the wild, you can also get your own straw system to drink directly from streams.. Bonus: You will also save plastic and help the environment.
- A GPS communicator. If you know you will be in a place without internet connection or phone signal, get a GPS phone / messenger. For $300-$400 you are guaranteed support in case of emergency, this device could literally save your life. Some send automatic distress SOS signals with your GPS coordinates, others let you talk or message emergency services, if you like spending time in the wild this is a must.
- Locks. Not the most exciting item, but you can never have too many locks. Carry combination locks to lock bags or lockers in dorms, and cable or bike locks for when you are sleeping in public places and want to secure your bag or to tie it to a larger thing or to lock bags in public transportation.
Useful safety apps
We have mentioned a few of the apps we recommend and use already but here is a comprehensive list of apps you might want to download and refresh before a trip:
- UrSafe is the best personal safety app that we have found, and we have tested many! The app comes at an affordable rate of between $2 and $4 a month and has global coverage and lots of useful safety features for solo travelers. One of the most useful ones is the Follow me feature which allows your contacts to follow your journey. UrSafe also offers the option to set up a Fake call in case you are on a blind date and want to have a way out. But perhaps the most important and useful is the SOS voice-activated emergency button that will alert the police or other private security organization (depending on the country) and start streaming live through your camera if you say the safe word you have set up. All our readers get 30 days free trial of the app (instead of the standard 7) if they sign up using this link.
- CDC (former TravWell is no longer being maintained), the US Center for Disease Control, provides detailed information on vaccines needed for a destination, health warnings, medications, etc. and is a genrally useful app to check before and during a trip.
- Smart Traveler was created by the US State Department, the same one that gives the Travel Advisories, and it is a very useful app even for non Americans to stay alerted of recent news, conflicts or weather changes.
- Sitata Travel Safe is a site that monitors events across the world and provides alerts on events that might affect or disrupt your travel. If you need a doctor, Sitata can also put you in touch with one virtually or direct you to a nearby hospital. Their upgraded Sitata Plus also tracks flights and
- Safetypin is similar to Geosure and has been deployed in several cities in India helping out women to stay safe in a country where it is most needed. The appprovides visibility on safe walking routes and will give you details on well lit a street is, if there have been crimes reported, if ithe area is safe, etc.
Myth busting – Safety tips you may have heard and should ignore
Solo Female Travelers will often hear advice from other travelers that is commonly passed around but that, in our opinion, should be ignored.
- Wearing a wedding ring in the hopes that it may dissuade potential predators is something that we have never seen work and don’t think has any positive effect on your personal safety when traveling. It is more important to pay attention to the way you show up and present yourself than to whether you wear a ring or not.
- Pepper spray. The experts will tell you that the chances of you actually being able to use pepper spray successfully on an assailant without hurting yourself are slim. Moreover, pepper spray is illegal and can land you in jail in many countries including most of Asia, the Pacific and Europe. We strong advice you to take a self-defense class instead as, carrying it in your handbag may provide a false sense of security.
Can money buy you safety?
In general, there is an inverse correlation between money and safety, that is, money can buy you safety in most countries, especially when traveling solo.
As a rule of thumb, the higher your budget, the higher the protections you can organize and the lower the risk of something happening to you; The more independent you are on your travels, the higher the risk of danger.
For example, in the extreme, you can hire a driver and a car to take you around, stay at luxury hotels with security guards and CCTV cameras, and even hire guards or armed escort in dangerous places or conflict zones.
When I was working in Nigeria, the client organized armoured cars, armed escort and other security measures to take us from the airport to the hotel every week. If you are traveling to Somalia, the tour company will keep the group small and provide as armed guards.
However, it is worth remembering that you can keep yourself safe in almost every country by booking escorted travel or planning ahead, from a taxi pick up to a reputable hotel, to a guide and driver during your stay, everything has a price and safety is no different.
For those new to solo female travel or who prioritise safety over everything else, you can also join a group trip to have the benefit of safety without the high price tag of a fully-escorted private solo trip.