5 Tips How to be Safe while Traveling Solo

In light of recent rape incident of a 51 year old Danish traveler in New Delhi, India I thought it’d be helpful to share some tips on how to travel safely as a single woman. I’ll admit I’ve done some dumb things in the past and been stubborn with my decisions. Luckily I’ve come out unscathed and only have stories to tell.
Pardon the bluntness but Shit happens. But it shouldn’t stop you from living your life.
For example I’ve followed through on travel plans to new Delhi 2 days after a bomb exploded in a popular market in 2008. In 2007 on my last day in La Paz, Bolivia 2 girls who just arrived in my hotel were robbed at gunpoint en route to the hotel. Drove through protests in Nepal. In October 2008, I entered Tibet when the border was closed for most of the year due to protests and unrest. Visited Alexandria days after the bombing and then left Egypt just 1.5 weeks before the uprising. Traveled through eastern Australia and experienced the aftermath of flooding, wildfires and heatwave. Someone drowned and died the day after my first time white water rafting in the same river – my raft had flipped and we all got tossed into the rushing waters. Then of course my own personal experience of getting robbed at gunpoint inside an overnight bus between Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro Brazil in 2013.
In contrast, people also get robbed, shot and raped in first world countries, close to home.  I am not diminishing the incidents but I am just saying anything can happen anywhere – at home or while traveling. So regardless whether or not you’re traveling it is just best to be prepared and stay aware. Yes it may mean not texting someone while walking or not listening to your headphones at night with your hoodie up.I just don’t want these type of incidents to stop women from traveling – period.
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1. Be aware of your surroundings
I don’t mean for you to be tense and constantly flinching at any sudden movement like you’re in a horror movie. Thinking Freddie Krueger or Jason is right around the corner. I mean when you get that guttural  feeling you’re in the wrong place, leave that place physically and immediately. Even if the church or whatever attraction you want to visit is right around the corner.

2. Pick and choose who you ask to help you
On my travels I have been lost numerous times. I have a tendency to lose my sense of direction even inside a shopping mall in Toronto. So maps are great.This past summer I took a bus from Singapore to Melaka Malaysia. Instead of going to a bus terminal, for some odd reason that I don’t understand, the bus driver dropped us off at the side of a busy street. Typically I heavily rely on the info desk at bus terminals, train stations and airports for maps and directions to my hotel. This time I had nothing. The others from the bus scurried on their way and disappeared before I could ask them for help. I was left to fend for myself.As scared as I felt, luckily it was early in the afternoon the sun was shining, actually baking hot is a more accurate description. I just started walking in a direction and found a store with a lady working inside. I showed her the address to my hotel and she pointed in the direction I have been traveling.  Well at least I know I was on the right track. My sigh of relief came when I saw my hotel across the river and noticed a footbridge not too far away.

So my advice – chose to ask for help from women, older adults, people with children, people in uniform or store clerks. When I was lost in Buenos Aires, I stopped at many newspaper kiosks to ask for directions. Remember, fellow travelers are great for help as well.

3. Blend in
When I travel I try not to look like a tourist. My camera stays inside my bag and not around my neck. But I do sometimes carry the camera with the strap wrapped around my wrist because I have a trigger friendly finger. I also have a Canadian flag stitched onto my daypack for easy identification. However, I do not fan out my map in the middle of the street. I keep it fold at a manageable size, to the area that I’m visiting that day. This is why most of my maps are shredded by the end of the trip. Also, I tend to step into a store or bank to look at my map, if I feel extra vulnerable. This way, I can also ask the store clerk or security guard for help.

4. Respect their dress code
Dress code is important in certain countries (due to religious reasons or otherwise) and it’s better to err on the side of caution. The risk may be getting slapped in the face – as experienced by my friend. She was in Egypt wearing skin tight, long sleeved yoga style clothing and a muslim lady walked up to her, slapped her across the face and lectured her. When I was in India, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, Thailand – I chose to wear the long sleeve cotton tunic style tops. They’re perfect for hot humid weather and saved me from applying sunblock every 5 minute! But they also allowed me to respect their dress code and deter curious eyes.

5. Keep expensive/sentimental jewelries at home in the safe deposit box
If you’re married or engaged, swap your diamond ring for something simpler. Do no bring the family heirloom necklace nor the earrings from your great-aunt Zelda. I’ve known friends who has a backup wedding band that’s cheap that they only wear when traveling. This way, no tears will be shed when you lose it or [knock on wood] when a robbery happens.

Let’s be honest – no matter how I say I will not shop or bring back a truckload of souvenirs. At some point, I will break down and buy something. So at most I bring 1 or 2 pieces of jewelry for the night on the town because I know I will return home with more jewelry.
OH OH OH ***
If you’re worried about getting questioned about your marital status – I HAVE told white lies before to deter unsolicited men!! I’ll tell them that my boyfriend/husband is at the hotel. In a few countries, I have worn a plain ring on my wedding ring finger. Men (old and young) in South America likes to strike up a conversation and within the first 3 question, it will be about my marital status! Men in Asia doesn’t even ask. So be warned!
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Extra Thought: How to deal with anxiety
Trust me, I’ve had my share of anxiety attacks while traveling solo. It may take a lot of deep cleansing breaths. Talking to myself aloud or inside my head or under my breath helps sometime. Sometimes I have to work myself into excitement and look forward to another day of exploring the world on my own. It’s worse if I’m not feeling well or if it’s that time of the month for me. So when it’s necessary just take a day off from the pressures of being a tourist.

Do not feel like you’re missing out. This is a big world you’re always going to miss out on something. I have missed countless social gatherings birthdays and other activities with family and friends while I traveled. Similarly I’ve missed out on very significant international events while I stayed in Toronto. So focus on what you have now. It’s a matter of gratitude. Whoever termed fear of missing out is horrible and creating more fear and anxiety than this world really needs.
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As an extra note – I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or because of population density or a bit of both – many places I have been to, they are not as respectable regarding personal space. I still remember when I was walking through the market in India after the bombing, men walked super close to me, intentionally, and peered into my tote bag. So be warned and remember to use bags and purses with zippers!! Preferably worn across the body or in front – especially in crowded areas.

Yes it can be daunting to travel solo but it’s all worth it in hindsight.

2 thoughts on “5 Tips How to be Safe while Traveling Solo

  1. That’s a good list! My addition to the list from my time as a solo traveller would be to think twice about the arrival time in a new place, especially if the accommodation is not booked, and also to think twice where and how to go out at nights.

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    • Thank you for your compliment! Yes I forgot to point out the importance of arrival times at a new destination and choice of outings at night. I think the method of transportation to and from the night out is important as well. I’ll probably have to do a follow-up to this post with additional tip. Thanks for your contribution!

      Like

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