Many the joys of travel are to explore the beauty of a particular land and the people who live there. Having a companion to share in this adventure is not always possible or desirable. Solo travel can be liberating and self assuring. With passport in hand and common sense leading the way, I keep myself safe by following the same set of guidelines whether my travels take me to Newton, Kansas or Nairobi, Kenya.
Prior to departure, be certain that you have a mobile device that has service in the part of the world to which you are traveling. Know how to use the local phone system to place both local and long distance calls and how to contact emergency services.
Phone a Friend
Always make certain that someone is aware of your itinerary, flights, hotels, meetings, or scheduled tours. If your travel is less structured, pre-schedule dates and times to communicate. Texting, calling or shooting off a quick e-mail lets people know you are well and is an important aspect of personal safety.
Arrive in Daylight
If it is at all possible, arrive at your destination while it is still daylight. If flight and ground transportation arrangements don’t allow for it, pre-plan your ground transportation from your arrival location to your final destination. Many hotels can recommend shuttles or private car services which are safe and reliable. If neither of these options are possible, stay close to the airport and head to your final destination in the morning.
Walk with Confidence
Walk with a purpose -- head high, eyes forward, self assured -- even if you haven’t a clue where you’re actually going. If you need to reference a map, don’t pull it out on a street corner and appear obviously lost. Duck into a store or restaurant and ask directions. Always circle your hotel on the map and use that as a point of reference. If your hotel is not on the map, write the name and address on the map for reference in case you need directions.
Before straying too far from your hotel/hostel or bunk house, take a photo of your surroundings. Start with your hotel room number as the number is no longer on the majority of hotel key cards. Pick up a business card for the hotel at the front desk and tuck it in your wallet. If you are taking public transportation, take a photo of the train station or bus stop at which you are boarding.
Get a Sense of Direction
Carry a small compass or hand-held navigation system and note the location of the hotel in relation to the city, mountains, clock tower or other landmarks. If you have a navigation system, pre-program it with the airport and hotel addresses. This way, if you become too tired or disoriented to recall whether you booked at the North or South location, it is all at your finger tips.
Hire a Driver
As a female solo traveler, you must depend upon the kindness of strangers along your journey. Follow your gut. If you get a particularly good and secure feeling from a driver, ask him for his card. Many drivers, particularly the airport-based ones, will offer special half, full, or multi day rates for tourists. In addition, when you have “locals” looking out for your personal safety and security, they will usually keep you free from danger. You also minimize the possibility of falling victim to random crime as you are being watched over by someone who has your best interest at hand. Remember, the local driver wants to get paid at the end of the “tour”! Taking a chance on a gut feeling has repeatedly enhanced my travel experiences and provided me with a much more authentic view of my destinations, people and traditions of the land.
In some countries, western women may be viewed as promiscuous due to the manner in which we dress. Do your research prior to packing and look around once you are on the ground. I always pack a scarf or cotton “wrap” to be prepared. Observe; if all the women have their heads covered, you should as well. If yours are the only exposed shoulders for miles, cover them up. Knees may need to be under wraps, and finally, exposing toes with open-toed shoes may not be acceptable. (You are actually not permitted into certain religious buildings or government facilities if any of these body parts are exposed!) Remember the children’s nursery rhyme “Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes…” and you’ll be safe not to offend.
Bags, Purses, and Belongings
Wearing a cross-body hip pack keeps your valuables close and secure. Large bags are easy to reach into, and items can easily disappear, especially in crowded areas. Shoulder bags can be cut, and handbags can be set down and forgotten. Solo travel is no time to wear your finest jewels or even carelessly expose the latest electronic device without securing it to your wrist or belt strap.
Limit Your Intake
Solo travel is no time to test the limitations of your alcohol or controled substance consumption. Overindulging can lead to a whole host of awkward or dangerous situations. You can easily become prey to unwanted advances as poor judgment lessens your control of a situation. If you wish to partake in an adult beverage, buy it yourself and always keep it in your sight,. This is true whether you’re at a coffee bar in Amsterdam or the hottest new club in Cuba!
Attracting or Avoiding Men
If you want to limit unwanted male advances, try wearing a simple wedding band. Don’t make direct eye contact as this simple gesture is often seen as a sign of aggression or sexual advance. Know what the social norms are for the area in which you are traveling. In many areas of the world, single women are not allowed out at night without an escort. Simple social knowledge can provide significant safety to the female solo traveler.
Solo travel makes you more approachable, less intimidating, and is the best way to increase self-confidence. Each trip I take along a good book and an open mind. I safely return home to share my adventures with the ones I love, and by following these tips, you will as well.
Gabrielle Bartusiak, RN
President/CEO Rescue Nurse International. Has traveled solo to more than 70 countries world wide and has repatriated 100's of patients over her career.