Safety tips for solo female travelers are – thankfully – not a rare topic of discussion on travel blogs, forums, and websites. But as someone who has a fair bit of experience with traveling solo (especially in destinations in South and Central America) I wanted to add my 2 cents into the mix.
This post is not to scare anyone, or to discourage females from traveling alone.
That’s the last thing I want to do! I love traveling solo. It has brought so much joy to my life, and has no doubt made me a more confident, positive person.
Personally, I think it’s complete bullshit to think that women can’t or shouldn’t travel on their own. The thousands of women from around the world who do exactly that and love it prove otherwise!
That said, I also think it’s bullshit to assume that traveling alone as a woman is exactly the same as traveling alone as a man. Like it or not, many cultures still don’t view women as equal, and believe that it’s okay to be disrespectful towards women. Not to mention, the average man is physically much stronger than the average woman. It’s not a fair fight, and that makes women the easier target.
I also think it’s bullshit when people say that “traveling is just as safe as being at home.” Not because foreign cities are inherently more dangerous, but because when you’re in your home city you know very well which areas of town you should avoid, whether or not the public transport system is safe to use at night, and which bars attract the sketchy crowds.
It’s important for me to be honest with my readers, so I can’t in good conscience say that traveling alone as a female is perfectly safe and that nothing bad will ever happen to you. In my opinion, if you’re traveling alone with that mindset, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.
But with some basic street smarts and a few defensive tricks up your sleeve, it’s entirely possible to travel alone frequently and avoid those bad experiences.
And with that, my brutally honest safety tips for solo female travelers:
1. Check in with someone from time to time.
Even though my sisters and I live in separate states, we’ll still sometimes text each other things like “I’m going on a run in a new area, if I don’t text you in 30 minutes I probably got kidnapped!”
It’s meant to be lighthearted, but there’s a practical reason behind it too. If you’re putting yourself in a situation that you feel nervous about, let someone know!
When I’m traveling alone, I may go several days without checking in with anyone back home…so it’s not weird for them to not hear from me for a few days. But that could be a problem if I’m doing something that has a higher risk than my normal day-to-day travel activities.
A quick text to someone back home to say, “Hey, I’m taking the train from A to B and then the bus from B to C, I’ll text you when I get there around 8:00pm” lets that person know that they should be hearing from you within a certain amount of time.
Hopefully that person knows not to panic if it’s 8:30pm and they still haven’t heard from you (maybe the bus got delayed, or the hostel’s WiFi is down), but if they still haven’t heard from you by the next day? At least someone out there who cares about you knows that you might be in trouble.
2. If you get mugged, don’t resist.
No valuable is worth more than your life. Period.
I remember hearing a story about a carjacking that took place in Houston, just a few blocks from where I used to live. According to witnesses, it was late at night outside a club when a man who was getting into his car was approached by another man carrying a gun.
The man with the gun told the man with the car to give him the keys. The man with the car said no, and the man with the gun shot him on the spot, took the keys, and drove off. There was no second chance, no opportunity to fight back or change his mind or run away. He could have just lost the car, but instead he lost his life.
If I’m walking down a street anywhere in the world and am asked for everything I have on me – even if that includes my passport, my wedding rings, my credit cards and cash, my ID, my laptop, my camera, and my phone – I’m going to hand it all over.
Adventurous Kate has a post where she recaps her experience getting mugged in Boston, where she lived at the time. She wrote: “Fighting back was a dumb, dumb mistake. Always give attackers what they want. You don’t know what weapons they have. They could kill you, disfigure you, paralyze you. Replacing the iPhone was a pain, and I had to get a new phone number through my mom in order to avoid paying another $600 to replace it, but material items can always be replaced.”
On that same note…
3. Carry a dummy wallet.
Quite often when I’m traveling I’ll carry a “dummy wallet,” i.e. wallet with old, expired credit cards and a small amount of cash that will satiate a robber. (Pro tip: Put one bigger bill in the front, to fake the appearance of more cash.)
Obviously it’s not ideal to lose your credit cards and cash while abroad, but responding to someone who wants to steal from you with “I don’t have any money” probably isn’t the best move.
Very few people walk around with absolutely no form of money on them, so even if it’s true, they may not accept that as an answer and resort to violence.
Having a dummy wallet allows you to hand something over – thereby protecting yourself – without losing out on your actual valuables.
4. Sometimes, it’s okay to be rude.
This is something I’ve ALWAYS struggled with.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m a female, because I’m a bit shy, or because I’m a nice person, but I seem to have a tendency to attract creeps, and then not be able to shake them off.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting alone at a restaurant or a bus stop or airport, only to have a man come up to me and ask if he can sit with me, and for whatever insane reason I SAY YES. Aaaand now I’ve set myself up for being pestered for the next however long it takes me to grow a pair and excuse myself from the situation.
While nothing bad comes from these situations the vast majority of the time, there have been a handful of instances where me opening myself up to a stranger has led to be being harassed or followed, to the point where I start to feel legitimately worried and creeped out.
It should be perfectly acceptable for me to say, “Sorry, but no,” right? But then I feel rude, and apparently – based on the reactions of some guys that I have turned down – that’s the worst thing you can be as a lone female.
But you know what? There have been several situations both at home and abroad where I absolutely should have spoken up with a firm “No thank you” or “I’d rather be alone right now” or “I’m not interested” or even “Please leave me alone.”
It’s important to remember that you never owe anything to anyone, especially if you get an “off” feeling from that person or if they’re not responding to hints that you’d rather be left alone. If you’re getting a bad vibe from someone, don’t be afraid to respond defensively, including yelling or running away.
If that person is actually a decent human being, the worst thing that happens is that you offend them or they think you’re a crazy person or are overreacting. But if you’re right in feeling afraid of that person and DON’T react, the worst thing that could happen is…well, a lot worse than that.
Bottom line: Ignoring your intuition for the sake of “not being rude” could put you in a position to be assaulted or raped. If someone is legitimately making you feel afraid, fuck that person’s feelings – make a scene or do what you need to do to get yourself out of there.
5. Ignore catcallers (most of the time).
Ah, catcallers. From Houston to Honduras, I’ve run into them in just about every corner of the world.
I could go on an entire 2000-word spiel about catcalling…but for now, I’ll stick to my main point: In general, catcallers are harmless. Annoying as hell and fully capable of sending me into a temporary rage, but harmless nonetheless.
While being yelled at by a man on the street – or worse, a group of men on the street – is unsettling, in my experience it’s best to avoid reacting at all. Don’t make eye contact, and don’t respond verbally.
While traveling in Central America I occasionally made the mistake of making eye contact and smiling at my catcallers, as if to say “Appreciate it, but no thanks” which backfired spectacularly. In fact, they seemed to interpret that response as “Oh yeah, she wants more, maybe I should follow her now.”
And depending on where you are in the world, getting angry at catcallers or yelling back at them could potentially put you in a dangerous spot, especially if you’re in a place where women are seen as second-class citizens.
Of course, if catcalling escalates to something more, make safety your top priority. Beelining for the nearest cafe or restaurant should shake off anyone who’s following or bothering you. Finding someone to talk to – whether it’s a police officer or fellow traveler – should also stop the harassment, since most catcallers target lone women.
6. Be careful of your drinking.
While drinking and partying don’t have to be a big part of traveling, they are for a lot of people…which is totally fine. I’ve indulged in party scenes around the globe, and for the most part, there haven’t been any issues.
But the fact is that being drunk puts you at a higher risk for danger. It allows you to put your guard down (which is great for things like busting a move on the dance floor or starting conversations with fellow travelers) but can also make you too trusting.
After a handful of sketchy experiences, I have a new rule: Never get tipsy on my first night in a new place. Some travelers might have a rule of never getting tipsy while traveling period, but for me, it’s nice to let loose and celebrate now and then.
But in my experience, it’s better to hold off drinking too much until you’re at least a little familiar with a place, i.e. until you know the answers to questions like: How strong are the drinks here? What’s the party scene like? How well-lit are the streets at night? Is if safe to walk home, or do you need a cab? Do the people I’m with seem trustworthy and in-control? Where can I go or who can I tell if I run into trouble?
I truly believe that drinking beyond your limits is one of THE riskiest moves you can make as a solo female traveler. Even if you still feel in control, being drunk makes you LOOK like an easier target, which increases your risk for problems significantly.
And getting drunk to the point where you black out or get sick is just a bad idea period.
The bottom line?
It’s not about being paranoid – it’s about being prepared and aware.
Travel is an amazing thing, and I’d hate for anyone to shy away from it out of fear. If anything, learning about the risks and how to handle them DECREASES your chance of bad things happening abroad, since you’ll know how to make yourself less of a target.
From one solo female traveler to another: Go out there and see the world, live your life without fear, see amazing things, be confident, trust your instincts, stay aware of your surroundings, and remember that your safety is in your hands – value it above all else!
What safety tips for solo female travelers would you add to this list?