When I headed out for my first solo backpacking trip at 19 all of my friends and family were terrified for my safety. To this day- my mom still gets questions from concerned loved ones.
“Where is your daughter again?”
“I would never let my daughter go there alone.”
“Aren’t you worried about her?”
Especially as Americans,many of us have the mentality that everywhere else is much less safe than the good ol’ United States.
However…how true is that? There are horror stories of travelers abroad to make even the bravest traveler wary. When women are treated violently or kidnapped it infuriates and scares me. When I look back on my solo travels I definitely wasn’t as safe as I could/should have been. Then again-nothing bad happened to me- nor to anyone I met.
Solo travel as a woman is not easy…but living as a woman alone is not easy either. Violence towards women is not limited to a certain place, and happens in the USA quite a bit more frequently then we would like to admit. I’m not dismissing that danger is not possibly when you travel. It certainly is. However..if you take some basic precautions I think solo travel as a woman is certainly doable and for the most part, perfectly safe. Most of these tips are common sense that I feel like most women have ingrained into them from very young ages, but it is possible to forget these things and get that ‘invincible’ travel feeling.
Listen To Your Instincts
People always talk about women’s intuition. When I was younger, my mom gifted me the book ‘The Gift of Fear.’ It basically says that fear is a basic instinct that we are all born with, and if we learn to accurately read situations and the signals our bodies are sending us, we will be able to sense when we are in a bad situation. I try to trust myself for the most part. If I have a bad feeling about something or someone I won’t chance it.
Don’t Walk Home Alone in the Dark
This may sound like basic common sense, but sometimes when drinks are involved it may seem like a good idea. Just don’t do it. Even if you have to be annoying and get someone from your hostel to walk back with you, most people are happy to do it.
This also goes for arriving on buses alone in the dark. I always try to arrive in a new city in the daylight where I can get used to my surroundings and pick a safe guesthouse. If circumstances are out of your control and your bus arrives in the dark, make sure to take a metered taxi that is regulated, and have a guesthouse in mind that you have previously reserved.
I am a tiny 5’2 girl, with a perfectly honed ‘bitch face’ that I can call into action at any time. If I am not in the mood to talk or want to look confident when I’m feeling a little lost or confused, I will set my shoulders back, be aware of surroundings, and walk like I know exactly where I’m going and with purpose, even if I have no clue where I am.
In this same respect, be comfortable with giving a firm ‘no.’ You don’t owe anyone your time or conversation. If someone is making you uncomfortable or you feel something is wrong, leave.
It is crazy how long women will stay in a situation that is making them feel unsafe for the fear of being seen as rude.
Keep Your Friends and Family Updated
While it’s tempting to go completely off the grid when traveling solo, it is smarter to keep your loved ones updated (and they will thank you for it!) If something were to happen to me, it would be a lot better if my family back home knew where I was and had access to my basic itinerary.
I am a feminist, but set aside my ‘women can wear whatever they goddamn please’ attitude when I am traveling. Different culture, different rules. This is not just out of respect for the culture, it’s for saving yourself the discomfort of having gross men ogle you in a foreign place. This doesn’t mean you have to dress conservatively all the time- but try to do some research before hand and see what is appropriate.
Be Vague About Telling People Where You Are Staying
I once made the mistake of telling a local guy I had just met which guesthouse I was staying. He took it upon himself to come to the guesthouse everyday and ask me to go places with him. Usually I am all up for locals showing me around, but something about this guy gave me the creeps and I ended up having to change guesthouses. Now, I just say ‘I don’t remember the name’ or make up a place.
Hopefully these tips will help keep you safe and happy on your travels abroad, and they are in no way meant to scare you off from traveling. We need more women that are able to see the dark, seedy, and sometimes scary parts of travel but embrace it for its beautiful, glorious silver linings. Travel is great because it makes you realize that all the past, preconceived notions about other parts of the world are mostly unfounded. In my experience, once local people saw I was traveling alone they actually went out of their way to help me and make me feel safe in their country.
So- get out there, don’t let your fears shape your experiences, and see the world!