As someone who frequently travels solo, I am asked far too often “do you feel safe traveling alone?” Whether you’re a guy or a gal, solo travel isn’t as scary as it may seem. Quite honestly, I generally feel safer when I’m traveling abroad in comparison to some cities in the states. For me “safe travels” means a few things: from my personal safety to keeping my stuff safe. Here’s a few things I do to stay safe when I’m traveling, regardless if I’m solo or with others.
Use Daylight: I always book my planes, trains, bus rides, etc to arrive to the destination by late afternoon or early evening, at the latest. The summer months offer a larger window of daylight hours, but regardless of the season, I always take the sunset into account when I’m arriving in a new place. Navigating a new city is much easier during the day and I take full advantage of that. Using daylight just simplifies things. Can’t find your hostel? It’s easier to see street signs in the light of day. Asking for directions and assistance is much easier when the streets are filled with people and businesses are open.
Book in Advance: Don’t get me wrong, I love the spontaneity of travel and the new experiences it brings. But one thing I don’t like gambling with is where I’m going to sleep. I typically book at least a week in advance for accommodation before traveling to a new place. If it’s high tourist time, I book at least 10 days out. Getting into a city and knowing I have a place to drop my things and freshen up is much nicer than having to walk around to find an open hostel or hotel. It’s typically cheaper booking in advance too, so in my eyes it’s very much a win-win. I have traveled sans reservations and it’s worked out fine, but I prefer to book ahead for sanity sake.
Gut Check: I am much more aware of my gut instincts when I’m traveling. Chatting with people can be great fun, although it doesn’t always turn out that way. If I get a weird feeling about someone, I listen to my gut and move on. Most people are wonderful and 95% of the time people are going to be just fine, but don’t feel bad about saying no to something or someone if your gut tells you to do so. Same thing for places. If I don’t get a good feeling about a street or neighborhood, I’ll give it a bit of time to see if it changes and then head out to find another option. I love that traveling puts me out of my comfort zone, but there’s a difference between enjoying an adventure and feeling unsafe.
Walk Tall: This one is easy for me since I’m 6 foot tall, but if you’re shorter you can still walk with confidence. I had a strange experience in Rome last summer when someone was following me down a very underpopulated street at night after I’d taken a few wrong turns. I looked over my shoulder and to see someone following uncomfortably close. Mind you, this dude was probably just out for a walk and going to meet some friends for all I knew. Regardless of that, I straightened up my posture and held my shoulders back. I then turned around in the street so he knew that I was aware of his presence. He sort of backed off a bit after that. I walked a little further and went into a bar to ask for directions. Nothing happened, but it doesn’t hurt to be aware of your surroundings.
Hide & Seek: Split up your money and credit cards amongst your bags, aka don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I keep a credit card, debit card, and cash on me and have another stash hidden in another place. That way if my purse or wallet gets stolen, I have a backup to rely on. I have been known to hide my extra money so well that I couldn’t find it for hours, so don’t forget where you hid it!
Dress Appropriately: Make an effort to blend in. This important on a few levels and not just safety, it’s also a way to respect another culture. Have you noticed the ladies walking down the street have longer dresses? Take a hint and do the same. Traveling for me means absorbing a culture and learning about new styles. This isn’t to say you need to go out and buy local clothing, but making sure you’re covered up can be important. You may also need to cover up to visit places, so it’s handy to know before you go. Another bonus? By blending in you’ll be less likely to be targeted for pick pockets.
Zippered Pockets: I’d like to thank the good people at YKK zippers for keeping my money, iPhone, credit cards all safe and secure in my pockets. I only travel with bags and jackets that have zippers, which keep my items safe and secure. It’s a simple idea, but it’s a huge help. When I walked the Camino de Santiago I always kept my passport and money in zippered pockets, whether it was on my fleece or in a pants pocket. That way if my bag disappeared I still had the essentials. Another tip: put you passport in a zip-lock bag to keep it protected from rain and sweat.
Language Basics: There’s no need to learn how to have a philosophical conversation in Italian (unless you want to), but it’ll sure help to have some basics. Having a phrase book handy or even jotting down some notes has been a huge help on the road. When you speak a bit of the language you’ll be more likely to connect with people, which I’ve found to be helpful when I need assistance. Walking up to someone in Italy and blabbing English isn’t going to help the situation. When I was lost in Italy I used broken Italian to ask for directions and although the person spoke a bit of English I think they were much more inclined to help based on my efforts. By speaking some of the language, you can ask for help if you need it and making that extra effort goes a long way.
Nerd Alert: Anytime I use a money belt I feel like a total goober, and I’m OK with that. If I don’t have a jacket or pants with zippered pockets, I opt for a money belt. I typically use this in the summer months. It feels a bit goofy under my clothes, but despite that, I continue to travel with a money belt. I only use it when I’m traveling from place to place and I need a secure spot for my key items: passport, credit card, cash. I figure if all my bags are stolen or lost, this is the trifecta that’s going to save me. When I’m out for the day I always travel with a copy of my passport and leave my actual passport at the place I’m staying. If staying at a hostel I lock up my passport with other valuables.
There you have it. A few ideas to help you travel safe whether you’re alone or in a group. These steps are simple, but they can end up saving you loads of time and stress down the line. What travel safety tips do you have? Share in the comments section below.