Women travelling alone or with a friend do need to take a little more care than if they were travelling with a male partner. Try to blend in and not be an obvious tourist. Learn to say no firmly but politely in the language of the country your are visiting.
Be aware of your surroundings, and there are places where you may not feel secure so just be careful.
The best advice I can give is to try not to look like a tourist. If you need to consult a map find somewhere where you aren’t surrounded by people making yourself an easy target. Having said this When we were in New York, almost every other person seemed to be consulting their map right in full view and eventually we did the same. But for some reason we always felt safe in NY. I think the large police presence may have had something to do with it.
But there are places where you won’t have that security so just be careful.
1. One thing you must learn more than anything as an independent traveller is to trust your own instincts. It may sound a bit corny, but if something doesn’t feel right, even if you can’t put your finger on what it is, think twice before you make a decision. Sometimes we can absorb things subconsciously that influence our opinion. Listen to your inner voice.
2. Attempt to get a few key phrases in the local language under your belt before you go. If you get stuck in a difficult situation – say, something as exciting as getting your hire car towed away – even a few broken words will help get you somewhere with the locals, even if it does little more than soften them to you. Carry a practical phrasebook to help ease your way through misunderstandings.
3. Be alert to anyone asking if you are travelling on your own. The fact you are a solo traveller can make you seem more vulnerable that a couple or a group together, even if you think you are a force to be reckoned with! If you have to tell white lies, so be it. Suggesting that you’re meeting a friend may be all it takes to put someone off your track.
4. Have a method of getting in touch with friends and family back home that’s accessible and quick to action should you need to call someone in an emergency. This may be a mobile phone that works overseas (don’t worry about the cost – you shouldn’t have to use it much) or a phone card that’s local to your destination.
5. At the same time, be careful about who you trust. When on holiday, you should be more suspect and critical of everyone you meet. Sadly, it’s always the most friendly people that turn out to be the con artists. Check yourself and regularly remind yourself that you can’t truly rely on anyone but yourself during your travels.
Staying safe in hotels
6. Choose a secure hotel or hostel. While most decent hotels are likely to have reasonable security measures in place, such as a reception desk, secure room locks and CCTV, not all hostels are quite so savvy. If you’re unsure, book with reputable chains such as Hostelling International, who can largely be relied upon for having decent levels of security.
7. If you’re staying in shared accommodation, such as in a hostel dormitory or shared room, then you should reasonably expect there to be lockers for your possessions. Use them. Sadly, for most travellers that are the victims of crime, the perpetrator is another traveller. As nice as your room-mates may seem, it’s all too easy for someone to find their way into your room and help themselves to your things.
8. Most hostels and hotels will offer single sex rooms, where you will only be sharing with other women. You might well prefer to stay in one of these dorms, where you’ll find it easier to relax and enjoy the company of other women.
9. When you’re booking a hotel, give some thought to its location. Try and find out from walking around the area or doing some online research whether it’s in a safe part of town. Many hotels are set back from the main action down quiet side streets and while this might sound appealing, it’s worth considering whether you’d feel safe walking back there at night time on your own.
10. If you feel the accommodation is in an area with a high crime rate, do ask the reception staff for a room on an upper floor. Rooms located at basement or street level will always be the ones that are targeted by criminals, plus if your room is higher up, you might even get a better view!
Safety on public transport
11. Plan major transportation schedules in advance. One of my top tips is to arrange your flight, coach or train to arrive in daylight hours so that you can get a better sense of the area and there are more people around. At night time, you’re more likely to get disorientated, and there will be fewer transport options to get to your chosen hotel.
12. Buy a reliable guidebook that will describe in detail the public transport options in your destination. In particular, you should be very careful to use official, licensed taxis rather than random strangers’ cars. It’s quite surprising how easily you can be conned into what looks like a proper taxi.
13. Rather than using your luggage’s visible tag to record your name, contact number and home address, consider using a distinctive mark instead to make it easy to spot when it’s on the carousel. You could put your personal details somewhere on the interior, but it’s probably best not to make these things obvious from the outside.
14. Keep your valuable items in your hand luggage close by at all times. If you’re going to be travelling on overnight buses and coaches in your destination country, it’s worth investing in a wire and padlock which you can use to both close the bag and secure it to your seat. Although it won’t necessarily prevent anyone getting into your bag while you’re asleep, it will act as a good preventative measure and put off a lot of would-be thieves.
15. In some countries, it’s not uncommon for women – even the locals – to be hassled as they go about their daily business. To help avoid this, find out if there are women-only sections on board trains and female-only waiting rooms. Many solo female travellers advocate staying close to other families on public transport if you feel uncomfortable in any way.
Taking care of your documents and valuables
16. Make copies of your your passport, important travel documents and credit cards and keep them in a separate and secure location to their original counterparts. You could even slip copies of such documents under the insoles of shoes. They may not smell great, but they’ll be there if you need them! Some countries will require tourists to carry their passports with them at all times, in which case find somewhere safe to leave the photocopy at your hotel instead.
17. Leave all the details of your documents (passport numbers, flight ticket bookings, travel insurance references and phone numbers etc.) with a reliable friend or family member at home. Even if you lose everything, then one phone call to them will give you all the information you need to sort it out. Alternatively, email everything to yourself so that a five minute visit to an internet cafe will get you back on track.
18. If you decide to wear a money belt, use it for storage only and not as an everyday purse. If you’re constantly reaching under your shirt for money, you’ll be drawing attention to something that is meant to be a secret! Carry a purse too, with a small amount of cash in it for general spending purposes whilst keeping your passport, extra stores of money, and other important documents tucked away out of sight in your money belt.
19. Don’t take anything valuable with you in the first place. The general rule of thumb should be not to take anything with you on your trip that you couldn’t bear to lose. Leave expensive jewellery at home and bear in mind that anything from designer sunglasses to big label clothing brands could be very desirable in your chosen destination.
20. Make your kit look less valuable if needs must. Most travellers are going to want to take certain gadgets – such as cameras and MP3 players – with them on their holiday. If you’re going somewhere that your research suggests could be high risk for theft, you might even consider making your electronics look less attractive, by deliberately covering them in tape, for example.
21. Try not to look like a tourist. The best thing you can do for your safety and enjoyment of a new place is to blend in with everyone else. Obviously that’s easier said than done in some destinations, where you might look very different to the locals. However, dressing in local clothing, and not carrying a camera around your neck will make you less of a target for scam artists and pick pockets.
22. Walk with confidence wherever you go. Hold your head high and throw those shoulders back. Simply looking like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going will set you apart from the tourists who look baffled and confused. If you want to stop and read your guidebook for example, don’t just stop in the middle of the street. Wait until you’re in a cafe or find a spot where you can review your plans more discreetly.
23. Buddy up. Especially if you’re travelling alone for an extended period of time, you can get lonely and may benefit from travelling with someone else in a certain area or for a particular period of time, for example, during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro – a place to party and a notorious crime hotspot. If you’ve met another woman you get along with well, don’t be afraid to ask her to travel with you for a few days – you might get a lot more out of it than you think.
24. Plan your day in advance and get a good idea in your head of how you’re going to go about it. Carry the most detailed, smallest map you can and don’t stand in the middle of a busy street, unfolding it fully and staring at it in confusion: there will be a line of people queuing up to take your money and pose a threat to your safety.
25. If you are wandering around and have got yourself completely lost, then there’s nothing wrong with asking for directions. However, try not to ask someone on the street but walk into a shop, hotel or cafe and ask someone there to help you. It might be best to approach a woman in a family group – the sort of person least likely to be on the lookout for a tourist to con!
Health & well-being
26. Read about the culture of your destination before you go. Understanding something about the customs and body language will be a vital asset in making sure your actions are not misconstrued. In some countries, for example, seemingly benign gestures such as shaking hands or making direct eye contact may be interpreted as a come-on – not ideal!
27. Ensure you have had all the jabs you need before you set off and get the medication you require, such as personal prescriptions or malaria tablets, before you leave home. If you’re taking a prescription with you, write down the generic name of the drug in case you lose your medication on the road and need to visit a doctor overseas to get some more.
28. Have a contact back home that can be relied upon to take a call from you in the middle of the night and be willing to call you back, should you need them. Keep their contact details somewhere safe and on your person at all times – you never know when you might need their help.
29. If you’re hoping to meet a dark, handsome stranger (or two!) during your travels, then it might be worth thinking about having some additional injections before you leave. Hepatitis A and B are often presented to travellers as an optional choice at clinics and you should think about whether they apply to you. Both are serious diseases that can be caught through sexual contact.
30. Think very carefully before you hop into bed with someone. If you’ve met them whilst travelling, chances are you know very little about that person and you are about to go to a private location with them. They’re effectively a stranger and so you will be putting yourself in a very vulnerable position. It’s easy to say, but try not to get caught up in the heat of the moment and think sensibly about the risks involved.
Just remember to use common sense and be aware of what is going on around you, and you will have a wonderful holiday to look back on.