Staying Safe on Your Solo Trip
Part of taking a solo trip is pushing your boundaries and feeling a little uncomfortable at times. But even experienced thrill-seekers should take steps to stay safe when traveling to new places.
To stay safe on your solo trip, all you need is to take some basic preparatory steps, have some street smarts, and trust yourself.
Get Your Bearings When You Arrive
When you first arrive to a new location is often when you are most at risk of getting lost, being taken advantage of, or being the victim of a crime.
When it comes to travel planning, I remain a minimalist. But doing a little bit of prep before your arrival can go a long way in keeping you safe and comfortable.
The first things you are going to need when you arrive are money, transport, and accommodation. If it’s your first day in a new country, book your accommodation in advance, know how you are going to get there, and know how you are going to pay for it.
When available, I find rideshare apps like Uber or Lyft help to eliminate any ambiguity about the destination or the fare. If there are no rideshare apps, make sure you will be able to get cash and check that you understand the currency. Really, check. Some currencies are confusing with a $1,000 note and a $10,000 note that are indistinguishable to the unfamiliar eye.
If you’re using public transit or taxis, head straight to the info booth if there is one—even if you think you know where you’re going. Ask for directions and an estimated cost—check this against the price your driver gives you.
As a next step to getting your bearings in a new place, take a walking tour. Lots of cities have free tip-based walking tours or low-cost options that make for an ideal way to get familiar with your new environment. Another benefit of these tours is that they are often a great way to make some new acquaintances. Making travel friends isn’t only a great way to enjoy experiences with new buddies, it also helps keep you safe as groups can share knowledge, look out for each other, and are less appealing targets for criminals.
Navigating New Territory
Just because you’ve taken the city center walking tour it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to take on the locale alone. If you didn’t already ask your local tour guide, ask staff at your accommodation for recommendations on areas to check out, and areas that are best avoided.
Luckily, we live in the age of hand-held internet. Personally, I am a lot more confident and ready to adventure if I know that I can check Google Maps, make a phone call, or call a taxi whenever I need to. If you are going to be in a country for a week or more, the best and cheapest way to get cell service is almost always to pop in a local SIM after you arrive. Do a quick search of the most reliable telecom providers, and plan an hour or two to get your phone sorted out. Generally, you can simply ask for a tourist or data SIM and this is an easy chore.
Note, don’t do this at the airport kiosk unless you are prepared to pay 2-3 times the normal asking price.
If you don’t want to spend the money or you think getting local data is overkill, you can download location specific Google Maps or use MAPS.ME for offline navigation.
On the other end of the spectrum, some people want to use their holiday as a time to disconnect and don’t want to use their phone at all. This can be a great way to recharge and really become immersed in the local experience. But if you’re leaving your phone behind, be aware of the additional challenges you may face and prepare for them. This includes having actual paper maps and studying the routes you need to take, having a phrasebook to help you overcome language barriers, keeping a paper list of vital contacts such as accommodation along your route and emergency contacts at home.
Part of your transit plan could include hitchhiking. In many places, this is acceptable and expected. Ideally, you will have researched where people have been successful hitchhiking and where it may not be a good idea.
To reduce the chances of a mishap, take some basic precautions and trust your instincts.
In Medellin, (now drastically safer than the murder capital it once was), locals and tour guides will tell you “Don’t give papayas. If you give papaya, someone must take papaya.” Essentially, this means that if you give criminals an opportunity, they will try to capitalize on it. On the other hand, if you are careful, you are much less likely to be the victim of a crime. Basic precautions include:
Leaving extra cash and cards in a safe place— not in your pocket
Carrying a copy of your passport—not the original, unless required
Recruiting a travel buddy (or buddies) to accompany you on outings—especially at night
Keeping your phone or camera in a waist pack or otherwise attached to your body
Letting family or friends know where you are and where you plan to go
Take photos of your credit cards, passport, and visa to create digital copies to save in your email or secure cloud storage. Digital backups can be a life-line to swift replacement should the originals get lost.
Trust Your Instincts
Even experienced and prepared travelers can feel uncomfortable at times—this is a good thing. That’s your instincts telling you to be on guard.
If you get one of those feelings in the back of your mind or the pit of your stomach, don’t bury it, listen to it. If you’re feeling unsure, get someplace where you feel safe ASAP.
This is especially important for solo female travelers. Unfortunately, in certain circumstances, women do need to be a little bit more aware and cautious. In addition to all the precautions suggested above, solo lady travelers can consider the following measures to maximize their comfort and safety:
Blend in— dress like a local or at least avoid looking like a tourist fresh off the plane
Let reception at your accommodation know where you are going
Take a taxi instead of walking
Look for other female guests or service staff at bars or restaurants
Watch your drink, and be careful not to get too intoxicated
Activate a location tracker on your phone and make it available to a trusted contact
Of course, you don’t have to be a woman to benefit from taking these precautions. Remaining aware and leaning into your instincts goes a long way in helping any traveler stay safe.
Solo and Safe
We always feel more comfortable and safe surrounded by people we know in a familiar place—but if you want to see the world, you’ll have to part with these coddled conditions. By taking the measures I’ve discussed, you can enjoy your solo trip and stay safe:
Do some prep
Know how you will get around, how you will pay for things, and how you will communicate.
Don’t make yourself a target
Avoid bringing things of value on your person and make digital copies of important documents. Blend in when you can, avoid areas that could be risky, don’t get wasted, and recruit a buddy for nighttime excursions.
Give information, get Information
Ask locals where to go and where not to go. Notify someone of your plans, including family at home and staff at your hostel or hotel.
Lean into your instincts
If something feels off, maybe it is. Get someplace safe.