11 Things You Should Always Do to Stay Safe While Traveling Solo
There's practically no better way to discover the world (and yourself!) than by embarking on a solo trip. It's the vacation of a lifetime, but for many, the thought of going stag in a foreign country is straight up intimidating. But it doesn't have to be. Follow these tips from seasoned solo travel bloggers for a trip that's as safe as it is rewarding.
Learn emergency phrases in the local language
While you may have already mastered basic words like “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you,” learning terms and phrases that could help you communicate with locals in the event of an emergency is also essential. “Whether you need directions to the nearest hospital, or need help calling the police, knowing some key phrases will expedite your ability to get yourself help,” says Kiersten Rich, aka The Blonde Abroad. Here’s a list of emergency phrases to get you started.
Don’t be afraid to lie
Getting to know locals along your journey can be rewarding, but if questions are making you uncomfortable, it’s OK to bend the truth for the sake of your safety. “I often get asked questions about whether I’m single or married, where am I staying, am I traveling by myself, etc.,” says Cailin O’Neil, blogger at Travel Yourself. While you could be talking to someone who’s genuinely interested in your life, they may be looking for information that can be used against you. “Just because someone appears to be nice, it doesn’t mean they always have the best intentions.” Telling a white lie (like you’re traveling with family or are about to meet up with friends) could save you from harm. Find out the top destinations for solo travelers.
Dress with respect for the culture
“Avoid wearing clothing that is grossly out of place or screams a lack of cultural or situational awareness,” says Alex Berger, publisher of VirtualWayfarer. And while this may sound like just a cultural faux pas, it could impact your interactions with locals, especially during a time of need. “If you’re dressed in a way that locals find obnoxious, you’ll be more likely to find friction and less likely to elicit sympathy leading to help if issues do arise.” Dress to communicate that you’re a veteran globe-trotter and not an easy target—even if it means laying on layers in 100-degree weather. Find out the 15 things everyone should do alone at least once.
Know which conversation points to avoid
Chatting with locals is one of the best ways to learn more about your cultural surroundings, but be wary of touchy subjects that could offend or anger your subjects, potentially leaving you in a vulnerable situation. Know what topics are off the table for discussion, like communism in Cuba or the royal family in Thailand, for example. “Not all countries are as liberal as the West,” says Rich. “Know what to avoid when talking with locals as much as what you should be discussing with them.” And if you’re hesitant to initiate the chitchat, check out these 37 conversation topics that instantly make you interesting.
Inform someone of your schedule
“I always send my mom my flight info, hotel info, tour info, and plans,” says O’Neil. “I also make sure to check in each day in case something were to happen to me so she can track me down pretty easily.” This is especially important if you will be without cell service or WiFi for some time so that a loved one knows when to expect you to be back on the map. U.S. Citizens can also use the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to register trips with the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate and be notified of safety conditions or national emergencies and be connected with family in such an event.
Refrain from partaking in reckless behavior
Many people see traveling as a way to lower their barriers, because they are more easily able to let go without the judgment of their friends and family. “STIs, serious injury, the risk of robbery, or potentially partaking in acts that lead to legal issues are unfortunately often largely self-inflicted and where much of the most significant risk sits when it comes to solo-travel,” says Berger. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t partake in once-in-a-lifetime adventures, but rather doing so responsibly in order to ensure your safe return. Avoid these other travel mistakes and you’ll have the best vacation ever.
Don’t flash your valuables
“The number one thing that pickpockets look for are expensive cameras hanging around your neck, or smartphones hanging out of your back pocket,” says Rich. “I always carry a messenger bag or larger satchel that can fully enclose my camera and other gear.” It’s important not to let your fear take over your trip, but try to bust out your fancy schmancy equipment only when you need it. This rule also goes for flashy jewelry and designer brands that could potentially make you noticeable prey. Find out how to keep your belongings safe in your hotel room.
Take technology seriously
Stay connected by traveling with an unlocked phone and purchasing a SIM card in each new country, or check if your cell service provider offers a good international travel data plan. “Having data abroad has helped me so many times when I have gotten lost and been able to use Google maps to find my way back,” says O’Neil. “It also allows me to call or FaceTime friends if I find myself walking back to my hotel alone, and that gives me the extra comfort of company while walking.” Also, remember to keep a portable charger with you at all times to keep your phone juiced up and ready for an emergency call.
Use caution when ordering
Many travelers assume that ordering classic American dishes like pizza or burgers is safer than eating from street vendors and local joints. But the reality is that the kitchen staff may be unfamiliar with storing and handling these foods, leading to potential contamination and sickness. “Food safety is a key consideration when traveling solo, as dealing with a bad case of food poisoning isn’t something you want to have to deal with when you’re abroad and on your own,” says Berger. And because these dishes are only purchased by one-time-visit tourists, quality standards tend to be dismal.
Ditch the headphones
Having one of your most important senses impaired could make you an easy target for being followed or pickpocketed. “It can be easy to put in headphones and drift off into your own world when you are on a bus, sitting in a waiting room or even walking around a city,” says Rich. “But, it’s really important to remain alert and not get distracted from your surroundings.” You should also refrain from wearing expensive headphones that could potentially draw the wrong type of attention, she advises. Here’s how to keep your purse safe at a restaurant or bar.
Trust your gut
“If a situation seems odd or makes you feel uncomfortable, remove yourself from it as quickly as possible,” says O’Neil. While this may sound like common sense, it’s important not to waste time deciding if your intuition could be wrong. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. So if you’re faced with potentially troubling circumstances, act on the matter immediately and get yourself to safety before informing authorities.