Solo Travel Safety Tips
By Chelsea La Near
An avid adventure-seeker shares her best safety advice for solo travelers.
As someone who has spent the last decade traveling abroad, I’ve learned that the world is generally a safe place for tourists. After all, tourism brings in money, so local governments have a vested interest in providing a safe environment for travelers.
I’ve also often learned the hard way that bad things can happen - both at home and abroad. Once in Los Angeles, my phone was stolen right from out of my hands. Another time in Italy, my wallet was snatched from my (admittedly) open bag.
Nothing can ruin your trip quite like being robbed, scammed, or finding yourself in a dangerous situation, so travel safety should be a priority when planning new adventures. Whether you intend to travel solo or in a group, these tips can help keep you protected.
Do your research. This starts before you even decide where you’re going. While most locations are likely safer than media would have us believe, there are definitely places you might want to skip this time around. Government databases can help you find the safest places to travel and avoid the most dangerous countries. For example, the US State Department issues travel advisory levels for every country. Level 1 is considered safe, level 2 requires increased caution, level 3 urges travel reconsideration, and level 4 should be completely avoided.
Prepare. Once you’ve decided where you’re going, but long before you arrive at your destination, these precautions can prevent the worst of travel woes:
Register with your embassy.
The US State Department has a Smart Traveler Enrollment Plan - a free service that provides safety updates to help you make more informed travel decisions and makes it easier for the Embassy to contact you in case of an emergency.
Print extra copies of your passport to keep in separate bags or compartments.
Having copies on hand makes the process of replacing a lost or stolen passport slightly less of a hassle. This will also help you secure accommodation as many hotels require some form of identification. It’s a good idea to keep a photo or scan of your passport saved and easily accessible in a cloud storage service like Google Drive.
Learn basic communication. This can be a daunting yet rewarding one. A compromise if you plan to spend only a short amount of time in a country is to write or print helpful emergency phrases (“I need help,” “I need a doctor,” etc) on a small card to keep in your wallet. If you plan to stay for a longer period of time, booking a one-week language vacation with Parlay Vacay can help you quickly acquire the communication skills you need to stay safe.
Get travel insurance. I’ll be completely honest, as a young, budget traveler, I avoided travel insurance for years, but after hearing some of the benefits from fellow travelers, I decided emergency medical and evacuation assistance, as well as 24/7 support, would bring me and my family peace of mind. If you’re younger and plan to travel a lot this year, ask for it as a birthday gift. Parents will be happy to know that you’re safe.
Look up local tourist scams. Broken taxi meters, fake transport tickets, and “free” goods a services are just a few examples of tourist scams that can burden your travels, both financially and emotionally. Familiarizing yourself with common lures and traps can help you identify and avoid them.
Safety in numbers. You know the dilemma: you’re a solo traveler at a bus or train station and you need to use the bathroom, but you have all of your belongings with you.
You’ll need Herculean quad strength to hover over a squatter toilet while simultaneously carrying your hefty backpack. Be careful that none of the straps fall in the toilet. Alternatively, you could risk putting your bags on the dirty floor. Then carry around whatever fun bacteria you pick up.
This is really one of the worst things about solo travel that those who travel in groups don’t have to worry about - there’s always someone there to safeguard your things. Group travelers are less vulnerable than solo travelers for a number of reasons, but there are still plenty of ways to use numbers to your advantage when traveling alone:
Stick to busy areas. Walking an extra 20 minutes on the main road to avoid back alleys can definitely be worthwhile if it keeps you safe.
We’re all in this together. If you’re a solo female traveler, look for other women alone or in groups to be near. I have been in several situations where I was seated with a man who attempted to harass me. Now I always choose a seat next to a woman even if it means I have to get up and move.
Make friends! The best (and most fun) way to stay safe when traveling alone is to make friends with fellow travelers. Hostels and guest houses with common areas are great places to find travel partners. If you prefer hotel rooms, you can meet new people by signing up for group activities and tours offered by local travel agencies.
Get to know your neighbors and surroundings. As soon as you arrive to your first lodging, locate yourself on a map (or ask a local). Find the nearest police station, pharmacy, hospital, and ATM. Try to walk by them during the day if you get a chance. You can also introduce yourself to people who work near where you’re staying, especially if you plan to stay there for more than a few days.
When I was traveling alone in Columbia and staying in a less-touristy part of Medellin, I introduced myself to some of the staff at a restaurant on my street. Their greetings every time I walked by made me feel much safer, like someone nearby had my back - plus I got invited to hang out with them and watch soccer games, so that was fun!
Get a sim card. It’s fairly common for airports in other countries to have kiosks where you can buy a local SIM card as soon as you arrive.