In 2008 I traveled around the world solo for a year, which included 6 months in India and Nepal. I had many people ask me before the trip if I was scared to go alone. I felt I had no choice, I was ready to go and didn’t know anyone else who just happened to be available and cashed up for a year travel. I figured if I waited for someone else to join me I would never go.
After spending the first 3 months of my trip visiting the U.S, Canada, UK, Spain, and the Middle East meeting friends and family, I remember sitting on the plane to India feeling nervous. I wasn’t sure why I was scared as I had already visited 32 countries prior to that. I think the nerves came from hearing other people’s horror stories, who I later realized weren’t really that prepared.
Fortunately as an experienced traveler with good tools, throughout the whole year of travel there were only a handful of times I felt unsafe and even then it was only in a minor way.
There are so many benefits of traveling solo, including having the freedom to go where you choose without asking anyone’s permission and the ability to form strong bonds with other travelers. Even the few mishaps along the way will never stop me from continuing to travel solo.
To stay safe, I found being sensible, logical and a little more planned goes a long way.
Here are some tools you can use to feel and stay safe as a woman traveling alone.
Use your intuition as a guide
During my trip I sometimes had to make quick decisions, which could have potentially been life threatening if I made the wrong decision. A few of these experiences included getting rides in the car with local people I had just met. Using my intuition to accept a ride with a local couple in Transylvania, Romania and Amman, Jordan led to some of the most joyful and fulfilling travel experiences I’ve ever had. When I first arrived in Delhi I was tired and over stimulated and had to make a quick decision where to go to next. I met a German guy who had just spent 7 months in India and recommended I go to McLeod Ganj next. I felt his advice was right so I went there next and met a crew of people I continued to travel across India with over the next few months.
Exploring Jordan with my new friends
Always let someone know where you are
During all my trips I’ve made it a safe habit to text my mum before I get on a plane and as soon as I arrive in a new destination. If I don’t have mobile access, I make it a priority to email her as soon as I check in at my hotel. I also send an itinerary of my flights and some hotels before I leave, so she can keep track of my voyage. Although I was never paranoid about anything going wrong, I believe it’s better to be safe than sorry and always let someone you trust know where you are. A partner, friend, or other family members are also good options..
Check first, don’t assume
If you are unsure whether a place or activity is safe to do as a solo woman don’t ever assume, ask first. If you can’t get a reliable response then don’t do it. My most common concern was determining if it was safe to walk at night alone. When I lived in McLeod Ganj in India, I wasn’t sure if it was safe to walk to the next town alone. I was advised it was safe during the day and not at night. Staying safe also means preventing yourself from getting too sick, so always check if the tap water is safe to drink. If it’s not don’t touch any salads either as the vegetables are washed by the undrinkable tap water. As a rule of thumb, if in a developing country don’t drink or brush your teeth with the tap water or be prepared to spend a lot of time on the toilet the next days.
They say if you drink from the water fountains in Sarajevo, Bosnia you will one day return
Keep your awareness
Engaging in activities where you lose your awareness or control, such as drinking or taking substances increases the potential for harm even when you are not traveling. So engaging in these activities on the other side of the world, while alone, in a culture you aren’t familiar with, is something to think twice about. If you want to go out to a party go out in a group and make sure you are all accounted for throughout the night. Keeping your awareness on your possessions while in busy places such as train stations, markets, and cafes is also smart to avoid theft. Some places are safe such as Tokyo and others are rife with pickpocketing such as Romania and Barcelona.
Partying water fight style with local Thai’s during Songkran Festival (Thai New Year)
A lot of developing countries have successful scam rings going on such as selling supposedly valuable gems, hotels burning down or trains or buses not running. Although these scams are more about ripping you off and taking your money, being alone with people of such low integrity is never a good or safe idea in general. These people often hang out at train stations or airports and upon delivering you the bad news that you can’t get to your destination the way you planned, they offer to give you a ride that costs up to 10 times the real price or recommend a run down hotel that’s overpriced. If for example, you get told your hotel has burned down, either ask someone else to confirm or use a public phone (not their phone) to call the hotel and check. When I arrive in a new destination I confidently walk past and politely decline all offers of taxis and accommodation from people standing around. Instead, I march straight to a more credible mode of transport, such a prepaid cab or taxi stand and head to my pre booked hotel. If visiting a new place in a bigger city or a place that is known for harassment, prebook a hotel before you arrive so you have a destination to head straight to. If possible arrange for someone from the hotel to pick you up on arrival.
Don’t be afraid to set your boundaries with people you don’t feel comfortable with or you feel may have an ulterior motive. As a solo woman there will never be a shortage of local men that want to ‘show you around’. While taking up some locals up on their offer to see a temple or site in Luxor, Egypt and Varanasi, India, I soon learned they had other motives and I felt uncomfortable. In both places I found it challenging to meet other travelers and trustworthy people so I chose to see the sights alone. Remember you always have a choice who to go with and what you do and sometimes being alone is the safest and best option. If it doesn’t feel right with your new ‘best friend’ or ‘local tour guide’, politely thank them for their offer and say you would like to discover a few places alone before your husband gets there. Some women even go as far as wearing a fake wedding ring.
Checking out the Valley of the Kings and Queens in Luxor, Egypt solo my first out of three trips there
I’m not traveling alone
Often when arriving in places I’ll get asked if I’m traveling alone. Letting people know you are alone potentially makes you a perfect scam victim. From their point of view it’s much easier to convince one person they need their help to continue their plans, than two or more people. This often comes with a large unexpected fee disproportionate to the rest of the prices in the country. Although I don’t necessarily think it’s unsafe to say you are alone, it can prevent ‘new best friends’ and ‘free tour guides’ with ulterior motives. Honesty is an important virtue to me, however on very occasions like this, I feel it’s better and safer to say I have a friend or partner coming to meet me soon.
Scott my fake husband of two days keeping Heidi and I harassment free in Luxor, Egypt during my second of three trips there
Have you used any of the techniques above in your solo travels? Do you have anything to add? If so, please comment below.