We were sitting on a wooden bench outside my apartment almost two years ago – we refused to meet each other’s gazes and instead were met with awkward silences. Before he left the country (and subsequently ended our relationship), he gave me a piece of advice: to continue to experience other relationships and to explore the world. I took the latter half of his advice. I decided I wasn’t going to wait on family and friends to travel; if I wanted to experience everything the world had to offer, I needed to find the courage to do it on my own.
I often find myself getting quizzed by others about my safety when I solo travel:
How do you protect yourself?
Aren’t you nervous about men following you?
I recently booked my tickets to NYC and D.C., and I’ll be tackling those cities solo yet again. I thought it would be useful to take some time and space to address some of those concerns in a blog post. Although traveling solo as a woman should never preclude you from traveling abroad, I do think there are safety precautions you must take. Here are tips I religiously follow when I decide to travel solo:
1. Carry photocopies of important documents.
This is especially important when you’re abroad and not just for female solo travelers. You should always request a safe and key at your lodgings to store original copies of your passport, driver’s license, itineraries, etc. Only carry the photocopies once you leave your hostel, Airbnb, etc. At the very least, you should bring your own portable travel safe.
It’s a pricey option, but in the long run it’s not worth the hassle of losing such important travel documents. Photocopies are essential in the case of loss or theft while traveling. I met a girl in Belize that decided to cut her Central American backpacking tour short because her things got stolen when she was touring Xunantunich. It’s better to be prepared for the worst-case scenarios.
2. Follow your instincts.
To be blunt, I think one of the most terrifying possibilities traveling solo is the scenario for assault. Rape culture isn’t a unique phenomenon; you can experience it in any part of the globe. Your intuition will be the most powerful defense you have. You don’t feel comfortable with your roommates at your hostel? Request a private room and pay the extra cost. Did you feel lingering gazes on you while on route? Change your seat and be mindful of your surroundings. Or head to the nearest hotel and ask the hotelier to call you a taxi to get you to your travel destination. Create boundaries for yourself. You don’t owe it to strangers to be overly polite when rejecting their advances. If you’re uncomfortable, say no firmly. Be careful about who you ask directions and help from. I try to be as self-reliant as possible: I always carry cash, take screenshots of google maps, and alert a loved one of my travel itinerary for the day.
3. Never travel at nightfall without a companion (or two).
I’ve made the mistake of traveling at nightfall alone more often than I’m proud of. It was never an intentional or conscious choice either. You become a walking tourist target when you carry your luggage late at night: I’ve been cat called and followed as a result. I can’t stress enough it’s never the victim’s fault, and this is not the tone I’m trying to suggest in this post. However, you should do everything in your power to arrive to your destination before nightfall. You’re also in better shape of restocking on emergency supplies before it gets dark.
Experience the nightlife, but don’t tackle it alone. Hostels are fantastic because it’s a great way to meet other travelers. Go with the group of new friends you’ve made. Partying on your own is irresponsible; you’re putting blind faith in strangers when your inhibitions are lowered. Even traveling with a new friend can pose its own set of risks. We met a girl wandering the streets of Cancun because her male friend ditched her, showing a blatant disregard for her safety. We ended up asking her to come with us for the night and walked her home at the end.
4. Always have a backup plan.
Have a backup plan for your lodgings and itinerary. Be willing to be flexible if the situation calls itself. Have a prepared list of alternative places you can stay that are within reasonable distance. This goes hand in hand with following your intuition. Never sacrifice your safety.
5. Check out local communities.
One of my favorite groups on the internet is Girls Love Travel. They’re a group composed of nearly 300,000 international women that share the same passion for traveling. I’ve met so many savvy and intelligent women in this forum that offered recommendations and hosted meetups abroad. It’s a safe space to echo your concerns and research new places. In that sense, you’re never really alone while solo traveling. I’ve found a network of women through my travels thus far, a handful of which I still keep in contact with today. Request to join on Facebook and spark your wanderlust.
Traveling is an enriching experience and a unique form of education. Be cautious, but don’t be afraid to navigate the world by yourself. I would have never had these adventures if I stayed cooped up in my hometown. I still have so much to experience from my adventure bucketlist, and I can’t wait to knock them out one (solo) trip at a time.