Solo travel is one of life’s greatest pleasures!
It feels so freeing to be able to decide all by yourself where you are going to go and what you are going to do on arrival there.
Plus, you don’t have to deal with the moods and the whims of anyone else and you can dedicate as much time as you want to the things that interest you most rather than constantly negotiating what to see and do next.
I have always loved to travel alone. To this day, I am ready to leave at the drop of a hat and being by myself on the road always feels like one of the world’s greatest gifts. Travelling solo – no matter how short the adventure maybe – is my chance to be left alone with my thoughts and see the world from the exact angles that interest me.
Solo travel’s big plus (and, unfortunately, big minus at the same time) is that you only have yourself to physically rely on during the time that you are away. And, our world not being a perfect place, the topic of safety while travelling alone always presents itself.
- How to avoid scams?
- How to minimise the risk of pickpockets and muggers?
- How to sure proof your travel experience so that you return from it both physically and mentally complete?
These are all valid worries to have before heading out on a solo adventure. And it doesn’t matter if it’s your first or your thousandth. Both men and women travelling alone can attract the wrong type of attention. So it’s important to be prepared both to avoid potentially dangerous circumstances and to escape any situation which your gut is telling you to get out of here and now.
This is the right moment to put on the table my best 43 safety tips for safe solo travel. I have split them into three groups of things to do before you travel, while you are on the road and when you return home. All tips are bite-sized for ease of use and quick reference.
I hope that they will come useful to anyone either attempting their first solo trip or looking for encouragement to get back into travelling alone.
Read on and
Be safe on the road!
Solo Travel – 43 No-Nonsense Safety Tips for Peace of Mind When You Travel Alone
Before You Go
1. Make paper photocopies of all your documents and bank cards
Then think about a safe place to keep them in during your solo trip. When you are on the move, carry them in a different pocket, bag or infinity scarf with pockets to where you have your original documents and cards. Upon arrival, leave them in the safe at your accommodation. If there is no safe or you don’t trust it, then you can continue carrying them around on you or leave them in a securely locked suitcase which you can then padlock to the bed’s frame or another piece of heavy furniture in the room.
2. Scan your documents and bank cards
Then email them to yourself and a reliable emergency contact (parent, spouse or trusted friend). This way you can always access them, provided there is an internet connection.
3. Check if your travel insurance covers documents and valuables
Usually, documents are covered, unlike cash. You may also need to obtain a reference or a crime number from the local authorities in order to be able to claim on your insurance, so make sure you know in advance how well you are covered and under what conditions.
4. Buy travel safety products
There are many products on the travel market aiming to provide you with a peace of mind while you are exploring the world solo. Dedicate some time to research the best brands and see what would be a good idea to have with you. It could be something simple like an infinity scarf with a hidden pocket, a small padlock, or anti-theft straps. Or it could be something more advanced like a personal alarm, a portable door lock or strips to detect date rape drugs in beverages. In any case, don’t rely on just one thing for a particular purpose. For example, a wallet that can be attached to the inside of your bag so that it can’t be pickpocketed, won’t be of any help if the whole bag gets stolen or snatched.
5. Research the most common safety risks at your destination
You can use official travel advisory websites or read the forums of popular travel groups on Facebook and Reddit. Here are a few trustworthy sources to get you started:
- British Foreign Office Travel Advice
- Government of Canada’s Travel Advice and Advisories
- US Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council
- World Travel Watch
6. Pick accommodation with safety in mind
Think carefully about the type of accommodation you are going to book. Is the location safe? Will you feel comfortable being on your own in that particular hotel, hostel or rented flat? Will help be at hand or a short call away if the need arises? Is it close to the sights that interest you? Is it close to public transport? Do local taxis drive to it? Take your time to consider in detail all possible worst-case scenarios and how you would react if faced with any one of them. After all, this will be your home away from home (albeit for one or a few nights) and you can’t put a price on peace of mind.
7. Make an itinerary then send it to a trusted contact
This could be a parent, a spouse, a close friend or all of them. A rough itinerary with the names of the places you are intending to visit and the days on which you plan to be there can come in very handy. It will give you a very good idea of how you are going to use your time when travelling. On the other, one or more people who are close to your heart and care for you will know where about you should be and raise the alarm if you fail to turn up.
8. Have a clear idea on how you are going to travel between points of interest
Plane rides, a hired car, hotel transfers, taxis, public transport, train trips, even ferries from one port to another. Make sure that you know in advance what transport options are available to you at your destination. Find out how to get a bus or a train ticket, how to navigate the local underground system, how taxis operate there. Check how to reach the places you want to visit. It could be a museum next door to your hotel, or a lake that is a train ride away from the nearest large city. The easiest way to do it is to use Google Maps and/or Rome2Rio. A preliminary idea of how you can easily and smoothly move from one place to the next will save you lots of time once on site. It will also minimise any potential issues like missing a train connection, overpaying for a transfer or even getting into an illegal taxi.
9. Find out what the emergency number at your destination is
Then save it in your contacts on your mobile phone. Hopefully, you will never have to use it. Yet, it would be incredibly handy to have it if the situation calls for it and you find yourself too stressed or overwhelmed to search for it online or simply don’t have an internet connection.
10. Make sure that your mobile will work at your destination
And also that you will have uninterrupted internet service without paying crazy roaming charges. Staying connected at all times is worth it the extra expenses of buying a local SIM card, a mobile router, and a portable power charger.
11. Get to know the cultural norms at your destination in advance
What clothes are the norm there? Is it acceptable for the genders to mix? Do stores stay open on national holidays and/or religious celebrations? What are you expected to wear in religious places? Are shops open all throughout the day or stop for a long lunch break? Are museums and other sights of interest closed on Monday? Does public transport run all the way through the night? The answers to these and many more similar questions will make your solo travel experience so much smoother, safer, and enjoyable.
12. Find out what the local legislation says about carrying items for self-defense?
While it may be perfectly legal in your country to walk around carrying pepper spray or other forms of self-defense, this may not be the case at your destination. Try to find out before you leave what can be used freely from a legal point of view in terms of personal protection. If you are travelling by plane and you cannot take self-defense items with you (even though they may be legally allowed at your destination), see if there is a shop at arrival where you can purchase what you need.
13. Check the weather forecast for your destination a couple of days before you travel
Then adjust your luggage and your plans accordingly. With the weather wreaking havoc at so many places around the world, you don’t want to be caught out unprepared. You may need to add some last-minute items to your suitcase or work out a different way to reach your accommodation.
14. Make sure that you can lift and carry your luggage without any help
Pack just what you need and make sure that you don’t need any help to lift and carry your luggage even for a longer period of time. You don’t want to be stuck or to have to ask strangers for help especially when you need to move quickly and unassumingly through a destination you have never been to before.
While You Travel
15. Wear practical and unassuming shoes and clothes
You want to be able to move quickly and comfortably without worries that your clothes may get crumpled or your shoes may give you blisters. You also don’t want to attract unnecessary attention to yourself. Blending with the locals would be ideal but if this is not possible, then trying to not stand out too much is second best. Comfortable clothes and shoes will also make it easier for you to quickly put some space between yourself and a place in case you have a gut feeling that you need to leave asap.
16. Keep valuables out of sight
Leave expensive or dear to you from a sentimental point of you jewellery and wristwear at home. Although, a wedding ring (even if you are not married) can be useful to fend off unwanted advances for both female and male solo travellers in some places. If, for whatever reason, you need to carry large amounts of cash, split the banknotes and secure them at different places on yourself. If your destination is known as pickpocket heaven or petty crime paradise, minimise the risk by wearing a money belt or a concealed pouch under your clothes.
17. Ask about security issues
Ask at your hotel or at the local tourist information office about parts of town that are best avoided either after dark or during the day. You can also check any local newspapers or websites for any safety-related news. If you don’t know the local language, try finding information sources in English or use Google Translate to get an idea of what the local media is writing about. Your hotel and the local tourist information office are also the best places to ask for the telephone numbers of reputable taxi and transfer companies as well as tour guides and day trip providers.
18. Guard your personal space
If anyone is getting too close for comfort without any obvious need to be in your personal space, remove yourself from the situation as soon as you can. Don’t be embarrassed to simply walk away, get off at the next stop, change seats, move closer to the driver, alert someone to what’s going on.
19. Be aware of your surroundings
Daydreaming is a lovely state of mind, especially when you are on holiday. However, it can make you blind to dangerous people or situations. Look around yourself confidently and always give the impression that you know where you are going, even if you are simply strolling around enjoying the sights and culture of a new city. If you really need to walk off the main well-lit and full of people street down a smaller alley, have a good look first all along its length to see if there is anything you should be aware of or prepared for. Seeing several times the same stranger in close proximity to you without an obvious reason for it should raise a red flag in your head. Don’t ignore it if someone gives you an off vibe or gets too close to you once or repeatedly.
20. Don’t stereotype
Don’t let your guard down just because someone doesn’t fit your mental image of what a pickpocket or a trouble-maker should look like. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, don’t think that nothing is going to happen just because he or she doesn’t seem to be the type. Someone in expensive branded clothes is constantly pushing into you while you are waiting in a queue? Someone in a sharp business suit doesn’t take no for an answer in a social setting? How they look doesn’t mean anything. Be aware of their actions and how their actions make you feel and might affect you.
21. Keep walking
If someone tries to stop you for whatever reason, keep walking. If they are particularly persistent, look straight ahead and don’t make eye contact. If they still wouldn’t leave you alone, walk into a nearby shop or cafe. It could be someone trying to get you to sign a petition, to offer you cheaply a gold ring they have just found on the street (both of these are known scams), to ask you for money or to sell you something. You don’t have to be nice and polite at all costs, especially not at the cost of your safety. So, just keep walking!
22. It’s OK not to be friendly
We (especially women) have been conditioned to be friendly and polite. So, we feel like we have to stop, smile and engage in small talk even with perfect strangers so as not to offend them. When you travel alone though and you are in a place you have never been to before, your safety comes first. If someone tries to engage you in a conversation you have no interest in, it is OK to walk away. If someone pushes into your personal space, when there is no reason for it, it is OK to grab your bag with both of your hands and hold it tight. It is OK to turn around to see who is behind you, then wait for them to pass in front of you before you continue to walk. When you walk around a city you barely know, it is OK not to smile, not to make eye contact and to look unapproachable. And, if someone is really persistent, it is OK to make a scene and scream: ‘Police! Fire!’ or whatever pops into your head.
23. Be mentally prepared to make a scene
If you are not feeling safe and someone won’t leave you alone, make yourself heard. Be firm, don’t smile, don’t explain yourself. Raise your voice. Shout if need be. Don’t be embarrassed to make a scene. This attracts attention and the person who is making you feel unsafe doesn’t want to be seen by other people. As soon as you can, walk away towards a populated place. It could be a shop, a cafe, anywhere with people will do. You can then do one or several of many things: ask for the onsite security personnel, call the police, call a taxi and leave as soon as the taxi arrives.
24. Don’t rely on other people to help you or stand up for you
People are inherently good. Unfortunately, at times of confrontation, people have many things to consider before rushing to aid a stranger in distress. People may have serious reasons not to want to get involved, they may not see the situation from your point of view or, simply, they may not have been brought up to help others in need. In addition, several cultures traditionally suffer from bystander apathy. It sounds quite mean but it is what it is. The important thing is to not leave your safety in the hands of other people. Ideally, always try to avoid situations in which you will be at a disadvantage and try to walk away as soon as possible from a situation that makes you uncomfortable.
25. Download all photos and videos at least once a day
Make sure that you download all photos and videos from your smartphone and/or your camera onto your laptop and/or online backup service each day. Then delete the images from the device you used to take them with. This way, if something happens to it, you will not lose a large cache of precious personal memories or beautiful professional shots.
26. Don’t wear your bag on your back
This applies both to small backpacks and bags with long straps designed to be worn across the body. Once on your back where you can’t see what’s going on, it is very easy to unzip them and take what’s inside them. If you wear a bag with a long strap across your body, not only keep it in front of you but also have your hand on top of it as often and for as long as you can. This way, you will be immediately aware if someone tries to unzip it underneath a petition that has been pushed at you to sign or while you are busy looking around.
27. Don’t walk and talk on your mobile phone
It makes you oblivious to what is happening around you. If you need to deal with a call, check a map, have a look at your emails and so on, walk into a shop and do it there while you browse. If need be, make a small purchase and politely ask the sales assistant if they would mind you spending a couple of extra minutes inside to use your phone. Alternatively, go to a coffee shop and for the price of a small drink, do what you need to do on your phone in the relative safety of its surroundings.
28. In the same line, don’t walk and eat
If you buy a tasty morsel from a street vendor, lean against a wall or find another place that allows you to keep an eye on people around while you finish your quick meal. This way, you will be immediately aware if someone tries to approach you without an obvious need.
29. Don’t discuss personal details
Keep important personal information to yourself. What’s your name, where are you from, where are you staying, is someone with you, does someone know where you are and when you are supposed to be back… No-one but you need to know the replies to all these questions. If someone keeps pestering you for your name or other such details, feel absolutely free to give fake information. Like, my name is Maria (when in reality is Louise). If need be, practice a bit beforehand so that you have ready-made answers that you are skilled in delivering smoothly.
30. Stay in public
Avoid deserted streets, as well as staircases, corridors, and bathrooms that are isolated. If you need to take the lift in a building that you are unfamiliar with, avoid going in the cabin with people that give you that awful gut feeling. Just turn around and walk away without feeling socially embarrassed. On a train sit in a carriage with other people.
31. Be careful with quick friendships
It’s lovely to meet new people during your solo travels. You learn new things and get close to amazing individuals you wouldn’t have otherwise met. Yet, be careful with people who get too friendly too quickly, who ask you probing questions and who try to take you places where there will be just the two of you.
32. Withdraw cash only from ATM machines inside bank branches
If this is not possible and you are on your own, keep checking behind yourself during the operation to see if anyone is uncomfortably close to you. Don’t hesitate to cancel the transaction and walk away if need be. If anyone taps you on the shoulder just as you are waiting for your money to come out of the slot, fight the urge to turn around. Grab your cash and your card and walk away as fast as your legs would carry you.
33. Carry a bank card with only a small amount of cash in it
Transfer more money to it via online or telephone banking every night once you are back to the relative safety of your accommodation. This way, if your card is stolen by someone who had glimpsed your PIN when you withdrew money from a cashpoint, you won’t lose a big amount.
34. Don’t leave any valuables on the table or the counter in a cafe or restaurant
Especially if you are seating outside or if anybody can walk into the establishment off the street. It takes a split second for an experienced pickpocket to swipe off the top of the table a mobile phone, a wallet or a camera. Or they can distract you by asking you a question while placing a newspaper on top of your valuables on the counter. While you are replying, they lift their newspaper with your items underneath and walk away as fast as they can.
35. Know your weak spots
Think carefully about the following things:
- What makes you stop paying attention to your surroundings? For example, when you take photos, it’s easy to get in a world of your own. Thinking about composition, lighting or simply how to snap the best selfie ever, takes your focus away from who is getting uncomfortably close to you. Plus, your hands are busy with your camera or mobile phone, which leaves your bag uncovered.
- What makes you feel uncomfortable? Is it something like having coffee or lunch on your own. Or telling an insistent stranger to back off. Or finding it lonely to travel alone.
Once you are aware of the actions and emotions that make you vulnerable, you can find solutions to deal with them. For example, when you want to take a photo, you may start positioning yourself against a wall, so that no-one can approach you from behind. Or you may consciously start choosing to stop in the middle of an open space (like an empty square) so that you have some distance between yourself and other people and see and/or sense them approaching.
36. Listen to your gut
You may also call it a lizard brain if you wish and it all may sound like big hogwash, yet inside all of us, there is a sixth sense which at times may help you escape a potentially tight situation. You know that feeling of tiny uncomfortable prickles at the back of your head? Or when your stomach, for no apparent reason, seems to be tied in a knot? Apparently, this is our dormant sense of danger (a vestige of our prehistoric past) talking to you. Being modern people we have largely divested ourselves from it and often refuse to act on it out of social fear that we may appear silly or rude. Still, if your whole self is telling you to not go there or not to do something, it is a good thing to learn to listen to it.
37. Don’t base your judgment on how things are at home
You may live in a large city and hence think that all large cities are the same. You may have lots of great experiences of spontaneously socialising with strangers where you live. You may have trained for years and have advanced self-defense skills. Yet, don’t let all these great assets of your personality and life cloud your judgment when you travel alone. Having life under control at home is a great thing but can lull you into a false sense of security in a new place where you don’t know anyone and have no-one by your side. So, always have a plan B.
38. Always know where the exits are
This applies both literally and figuratively. In a hotel, shop, bar or a night club, make sure that you can easily leave at all times. Things happen and being caught in a panicked crowd looking desperately for an exit to escape through, is not an experience you wish to have. Figuratively, always think in advance how you are going to deal with things. From the simplest – how to get from A to B in a place you have never been to before – to the more complex – how to ditch someone who wouldn’t leave you alone.
39. Always lock the car doors as soon as you get in
It’s a simple thing but may mean the difference between a great experience travelling alone and a very traumatic memory. If you have hired a car during your solo travels, be aware of your surroundings when you are getting in and out of it. Park only at well-lit places where there are other people around. Check your backseat before getting in the car. Once in, make sure that you lock the car doors immediately.
40. Be aware that you may fight, flight or freeze
When your adrenaline is running high and your body senses danger, you may either fight, flight or freeze. These are completely normal reactions and it’s not easy to predict how exactly your mind and your body are going to react when faced up with extraordinary circumstances. You may need to make some snap decisions in the heat of the moment. You may need to run or simply put some distance between yourself and a situation that is about to escalate. Think safety first and act rationally. You matter, your life matters. Do what needs to be done.
41. Don’t discard safety advice
It’s only too easy to think ‘This won’t happen to me! What’s the chance?!’. The chance, in fact, maybe a tiny one. But it pays to be prepared mentally that things may not always go smoothly. And, above all, a bit of preparation and forethought can minimise or completely eliminate some risks. While the world is a beautiful and exciting place to see, it also has its challenges. Being ready to deal with them or, even best, to avoid them, makes for the best trips.
After Your Return
42. Share your story
There are many popular places that attract millions of people and where pickpockets and petty crime are rife. Yet, the authorities seem to do nothing about it. If you have been to one such place and have seen first hand how unpleasant and even dangerous things can be for tourists and travellers, be vociferous about it. Write a letter to the official tourist board and make them aware of your experiences there. Share your story on social media (ideally with tangible proof of what had happened). And above all, vouch to vote with your wallet and not to return to said destination until the local authorities take serious steps in securing their visitors’ safety.
43. Seek help
If your safety has been compromised for whatever reason during your travels, don’t be ashamed or scared to seek help when you are back home. Even small incidents can lead to long periods of time of feeling down, insecure, of constantly questioning yourself what you did and/or didn’t do wrong. This can significantly affect your enjoyment of life. Seeking and accepting help during such difficult times is important and is a great step towards recovery.
Solo travel is a great experience to have at the different periods that make up our lives. People travel alone on a gap year, to seek clarity in their middle age or simply to enjoy life after retirement. The world is big and beautiful and there are so many wonderful things to be seen and fully enjoyed.
At the same time, before embarking on a solo adventure, you need to think carefully about how to guarantee your safety all throughout it.
I love travelling solo! I have done it for many years and in different ways since my early 20’s up to this day as a married woman and a mother.
The road – albeit exciting – has presented me with a challenge or two. I went through an attempted violent mugging in Barcelona. A few years after that – an attempted carjacking in England of all places. So, I fully understand the importance of safety and the consequences one can suffer if safety advice is not taken to heart.
In the above blog post, I have summarised my most no-nonsense safety tips for the solo traveller – be it a man or a woman. I hope that they come in useful when you consider exploring a corner of the world alone.
Have fun while travelling and
Do you like solo travel? Which was your favourite destination to visit alone? Have you had any safety issues when on the road by yourself? How did you deal with it? Let me know in the comments below!
More Helpful Links
- 18 Life Lessons I Learned Travelling Solo, as a Couple and as a Family
- The Joy of Travel – 20 Reasons Why Travelling is Good for Your Career, Personal Growth and Soul
- 10 Towns in England You Have Never Thought of Visiting but You Should
- 18 of the Best Cities to Visit in Northern Italy (With Travel Tips and Nearest Airports)
- Top 15 Places to Visit in the Veneto, Italy – The Ultimate Guide
- Best 12 Towns to Visit around Lago di Garda – Italy’s Largest Lake
- Day Trips from Verona – 16 Destinations in Italy to Fall in Love with (With Travel Times and Train Tips)
- Day Trips from Padua, Italy – Over 25 Unmissable Destinations in the Veneto, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna
- Day Trips from Vicenza, Italy – Over 90 of the Best Destinations
- 11 of the Best Day Trips from Venice (With Lots of Photos, Travel Times and Italy Train Tips)
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