Solo Travel: Safety Tips and Benefits
If you've never traveled alone, you're missing a unique experience. For some, a solo journey is about learning self-confidence, or taking time to discover your life's purpose. For others, it's a chance to see and do only the things that interest you, without worrying about someone else. Just take some precautions with you-- tips like these, to stay safe and make the most of your trip.
Why Go Alone?
You’ll see more.
Life is full of distractions, from cell phones to crowded tourist sites. When you’re not making conversation with a companion, your focus grows sharper, and you’re free to really take in the scenery and new experiences.
You’ll get to know yourself better.
When you set your own itinerary and follow your heart, you look inward. Maybe you’ll decide to spend the morning watching sandhill cranes migrate, instead of shopping for souvenirs. Making choices helps you discover things about yourself and your life’s purpose.
You won’t have to please a partner.
Best Phone App for International Travel: Viber
"Calling, texting and emailing while abroad can rack up thousands of dollars in fees. However, there are great apps like Viber that you can use for free with an internet connection. Viber users can send free text messages, photo messages, video messages and more with other users, and it’s compatible with iPhone, Android, and other major mobile and desktop devices." -- Brian Kelly, The Points Guy
A road buddy might balk at eating panang gai (red chicken curry) from a street vendor in Thailand, or staying at a youth hostel in Israel. But playing it safe, with familiar foods or hotel chains, can mean missing out on deeper, richer experiences.
You can make new friends.
Traveling alone bumps you out of your comfort zone, and you’ll find yourself chatting up the locals for tips on things to see and do. Maybe you’ll even exchange info and stay in touch after you’re home.
You’ll gain self-confidence.
Think about Cheryl Strayed, author of "Wild," losing a hiking boot on her solo trip along the Pacific Crest Trail. Coping with the unexpected helps you develop a sense of yourself as an independent, capable human being. Once you realize you can handle whatever happens, a lot of fears vanish.
You’ll save money. Well, you’ll probably save money. At the very least, you’ll feel free to stick to your budget when you don’t have to worry about what someone else wants to do.
Special Tips for Solo Women Travelers
In some parts of the world, smiling at a man and making eye contact comes across as an invitation. Consider wearing sunglasses and even a fake wedding ring.
If you're waiting on public transporation, hang out in a nearby cafe or other public spot. Avoid being alone in nearly-empty train or bus stations. You might even ask for a female roommate, instead of staying alone in the sleeping compartment of a train.
Dress modestly, and follow the cue of what the local women wear.
Even if it's more expensive, book your lodgings where there are lots of other people around. Don't choose isolated areas.
Always be aware of your surroundings, and know your limits if you're drinking. Don't leave food or beverages unattended when you get up from your table or seat at a bar.
Keep walking and ignore catcalls, or strangers who try to engage you in conversation. If you accept an invitation to someone's home, or you share a room or adventure, make sure others are around to hear if you scream or cry out for help. Don't hitchike.
How to Stay Safe
This one is vital: let someone know where you're going. Whether you’re in the Outback or simply off the grid, it’s essential to leave your travel plans and contact information with someone trustworthy. Give a friend or family member your flight schedule, hotel details, and itinerary. If you know someone in the area that you'll be visiting, tell the folks back home how to contact that person. Sure, your plans may change, but at least they'll have a good idea of where you should be at any given time.
Touch base when you arrive. Call, text or message someone each time you arrive at a new stop on your journey. They’ll appreciate knowing you got there safely, and it’ll help them reach you if an emergency comes up at home.
Do your research before you leave, and be sure your smartphone will work wherever you’re going. Find out about roaming charges, which can be prohibitively expensive. It may be cheaper to buy a local SIM card after you arrive.
Consider buying travel insurance, and make sure you understand what it covers. It may not pay for your expensive electronics, but it should help cover things like lost bags and emergency medical expenses.
Be careful when using public Wi-Fi while you’re traveling. This isn’t the time to do your banking. Make sure the network you're on is legitimate and trusted. Turn off file sharing on your device, and look for HTTPS, to be sure your browser is locked and secure. Opt for two-factor authentication on Gmail, Twitter and other services. When you’re finished, log off from all the sites and services you were using and set your device to forget the network. You don't want it to connect automatically the next time you’re nearby.
Use ATMs only in the daytime and in public places, and don't flash your cash. Don't let bystanders see you enter your PIN number.
If someone demands your valuables, give them up. Insurance should cover many things, and your personal safety comes first.
Make copies of your driver’s license, passport and other important papers. If your accommodations offer a safe, lock up your originals when you’re out, and carry the copies in your purse or pack. Leave copies with a trusted person back home, too.
Try not to look or act like a tourist. Yes, it's hard to avoid when you’re snapping pictures at the Eiffel Tower, but leave your good jewelry at home, and keep valuables safely concealed. Walk with a purpose, even if you lose track of where you are. Keep a map handy, but stop in a busy store or restaurant to look at it, so you don't signal that you're lost or in an unfamiliar place.
Watch for pickpockets. Read up on travel tips and advisories; the U.S. Department of State website is a good place to start. Also see safety and security info under Learn About Your Destination. A crossbody bag, worn in front of your body, can deter thieves. Avoid putting things in your pockets—especially back pockets.
Trust your instincts. If you've got an uneasy feeling about a person or place, you may be picking up on subtle cues. Don’t do anything or go anywhere that doesn’t feel right.
Don't walk around listening to your iPod. You need to be able to hear sounds when you're crossing the street, and to stay aware of who's around you.
Enroll your trip with STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, before you go. This free program lets the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate contact you about travel conditions and emergencies at your destination, like civil unrest or natural disasters. It also helps friends and relatives reach you if there’s an emergency at home.
Be aware that even if you stayed home all the time, unexpected things can happen, so don't let needless worries and anxieties spoil your fun. Relax and enjoy the trip.