How to Stay Safe While Traveling Alone

Planning a Solo Vaca this Summer? Shalini has 10 Tips to Help You Be a Smart, Single Traveler

safe-while-traveling-alone

A few months ago, I decided that this was the summer I would go to Europe. The only issue was that I had no one to go with. For a while, I frantically tried to find friends to travel with me, but then I realized that I had never truly gone anywhere by myself. I went to the same college as my older sister, and I had friends in all the places I’ve moved to. I never knew what it was like to go somewhere completely alone where I would have to figure things out for myself.  Since, I didn’t have anyone to go with, I figured now was a great time to test myself to see what I can do.

I decided to go to Italy, and today wrapped up the last day of my one-week solo vacation. Looking back, I want to brush my shoulder and say, “That was a breeze!”, but, in truth, a lot of planning, preparation, and worrying went into this trip. However, since I arrived, it has been one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had, and I am so happy I made the decision to come. I prepared for this trip by researching tips from other solo travelers, and I learned a few valuable lessons that every Single Girl traveling alone outside the country should know. Here are my top bits advice to help you stay safe while traveling alone.

 1.    Invest in where you stay…

Whether you plan on backpacking across the Himalayans or sipping wine near the Canal Saint-Martin, do some research about the different areas in the cities you plan to visit. Every area of a city has a different vibe and a different culture, and it is important to be in a part of the town that is safe. Unless you are a black belt in Krav Maga, your safety is worth the little extra money.

Also, every city is different. One city’s train station area may be safer due to the constant flow of people, but a train station area in another place can be dangerous for a single girl. Look up general descriptions of the different areas in a particular city, read travel tips and reviews for some of the places you are thinking about staying. If you are planning on being by yourself, it is important to stay in a safe area.

 2.    Learn a little of the language…

Not all of us are fluent in another language, and even if so, the different dialects can make things harder to understand. You do not have to know the language to travel to a city. However, it is important to know a few words. I call it the “dinner table” manners. In other words, one should be able to go to a restaurant, order a meal, eat, ask for the check, use the restroom, and leave. It is also important to know a few other things like “Please”, “Thank-you”, “I’m sorry”, “Help”, and “Police”. You’d be amazed on how far you can get with knowing just a few phrases, and it can make a world of a difference. A lot of places do have people who speak English; however, it is important to know a few words because you can end up in an area where no one speaks a word of your language, and you are going to have to navigate your way around.

 3.    Do your research…

When you are a solo traveler, one of the most important things to do is not stand out. It’s okay to wear that crop top shirt and booty shorts to the Promenade; it’s not okay to show up in that at the Vatican or at a Piazza. You want to blend in. As a woman, we are still perceived as more vulnerable, and no matter how safe you are, people still have a way of taking advantage of you especially when you are alone.

If you are traveling abroad by yourself, learn to “fly under the radar”. Buy a travel book. Read about how the people of that culture act and behave. You do not necessarily have to act that way, but know what is acceptable or unacceptable in a certain culture. For example, I learned that it is acceptable for Italian women to shove off any Italian men who are being too handsy. Here, doing a little research to familiarize myself with the culture proved to be helpful!

“Flying under the radar” also applies to clothing. In futbol-loving countries, know what the colors of the home team are and what the colors of the rival team are. Although you may never have watched a soccer game, a life-long avid futboler can still get livid seeing you rock the opposing team’s colors in their hometown. Also, in certain temples, mosques, and churches, a woman must have her shoulders, knees, and sometimes her head covered. Bring an array of clothing. You do not want to miss out on seeing something cool because you did not bring the right type of dress.

To take a line from Shantaram, “This is not your culture.” Do not do things you should not do, and be smart —at least until you understand the culture well enough to know when you are not crossing a line. Also, don’t pay attention to any negative attention (catcalls, woo-hooing). If someone is whistling at you, ignore, ignore, ignore! They will get bored and leave you alone. Unless you are looking for a saucy interaction, it is best to just completely ignore anything they say. I found that having sunglasses on wards off any unwanted flirting, as well as, any unwanted solicitation from street vendors.

 4.    Make sure someone knows where you are…

Yes, this sounds so high school, but it is important that someone knows where you are if you are traveling alone. Make sure a parent, friend, or boyfriend back home knows where you are staying and generally what you are doing. You don’t have to give them an itemized itinerary, but make sure that someone (a) knows where you are staying, (b) has a copy of your passport, and (c) knows when you are travelling. For instance, if you plan a day trip or a weekend trip to a neighboring city, let someone know. This all comes down to common sense. Should anything happen, it is easier to pinpoint a location when you are updating at least one person when you are traveling.

 5.    Have phone numbers on you…

Know the number for the local police station, the ambulance, your country’s embassy, your hotel, your credit card company, and if you are getting a global plan with your phone, an international number for your phone company. Do not just put these numbers in your phone. Have them written down somewhere in case your phone is stolen. Chances are, you will never need them, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

 6.    Never admit that you are alone…

It is inevitable that someone will notice that you are the loner taking the tour by yourself. However, if someone asks if you are travelling alone, just say no. We have all heard of Ted Bundy. Even the most charming, friendly people can be dangerous. If someone asks you, explain that your parents are resting at the hotel; your boyfriend is getting into town in a few hours; or your friend is meeting up with another friend, and you are meeting both of them later. Basically, explain that you have someone who is waiting on you, and who will notice immediately if you do not show up in a few hours. Also, do not be incredibly open to a stranger about your itinerary. You do not need to mention the full details of what you’re are planning to do to every curious  person. I know, this sounds drastic, but unless you really get to know a fellow tourist, keep the details of your travel plans to your self.

 7.    Carry a copy of your passport, different bills of money, and a good purse…

Make several copies of your passport before you leave. When you are going on excursions throughout the day, carry a copy and leave your passport locked in a safe at the hotel or with the hotel staff. They are not responsible for anything left unlocked in your room, but most hotels are responsible for things you personally hand over into their care.

Also carry varying money bills and change. Make sure you have 50’s, 20’s, 10’s, 5’s, and so on, as well as several different types of change. Keep the smaller bills and change in a more accessible part of your purse, then keep the 20’s in another part of your purse, and finally keep anything higher than a 20 in the deepest, most hidden part of your purse. For my vacation, I figured out my budget per day, and I only carried that much on me every day. Pick-pocketers are everywhere, so it’s important to split your money into several places in your purse.

That being said, make sure you have a good, sturdy purse. Satchel purses worn over the shoulder are best, but make sure that it has a sturdy strap. Pick-pocketers make it their life’s job to get to your money. If that was your profession, you would become a mastermind at it too. I found a small purse with many different zippers in which I hid different bills of money. I also found a way to clip the two zippers of my purse together, so no one could get in without unclipping the zippers first. It was a little annoying, but the security of knowing my money, cards, and phone were safe was worth the hassle.

 8.    Don’t be afraid to make friends…

One of the most fun moments of my trip was when I walked into a restaurant, and several young people standing at the bar turned to me and said, “Hey there!” After several days of riding solo, it was nice to have a conversation with some people my age. I met Egyptians, Australians, Bangladeshi, and, of course, Italians! Point being, just because you need to be safe, does not mean you need to have a stick up your ass. At the end of the day, we are all people, and we all need the company of one another. Don’t be afraid to go out for a drink at a bar and make new friends. Just be smart about it. Same rules as going out in America applies. It is okay to have a drink by yourself. It is not okay to leave your drink unattended, then return to drink it. (Yes, I saw some women do that the other day). Just be smart, and you’ll be fine. You may even make some cool friends!

 9.    Have confidence…

Having confidence goes hand in hand with “flying under the radar”. Okay, that may sound counter-intuitive, but if you exude confidence, the chances of someone bothering you decreases because they are more likely to perceive you as a native. Just strut your stuff, and you’ll be okay. I mean, hey, to be overseas in a foreign country is a pretty far ways to have come. Pat yourself on the back and enjoy that huge accomplishment. You may even have the gusto to try something else new! For me, it was figuring out the metro system. I bought my ticket, got on the right train, and got off at the right station! The big step is getting on the plane and getting to a new country. Acknowledge that you can do that and all the little things you have to figure out will get worked out too!

 10.  Last but not least, enjoy yourself…

If you want to have ice cream every day, do it. If you want to book back-to-back museum tours, do it. If you want to take a morning off and sleep in til 2, do it! This is your trip. There is no one who is going to tell you what you should do and when you should do it. Stay up late, stand in front of a beautiful painting as long as you want, run back inside to see that one exhibit you missed, eat breakfast in bed. This is your vacation! You are treating yourself, so listen to that inner you and do what you want to do. Pretty soon, you’ll be back to the real world, and bosses, co-workers, family, and friends will pull you in many different directions. For now, enjoy the little alone time, and take care of your mental wellbeing.

Looking back, I can say I made a great decision to take a trip by myself. Although the preparation was a little nerve-racking, I have not felt unnerved since I arrived. Italy has been a wonderful place to visit, and it has been incredibly hospitable to the single traveler. Regardless of where you want to go, if you stay safe, act smart, and enjoy yourself, you’re bound to have a memorable time!

Safe Travels!

safe-while-travelling-aloneShalini

For more from Shalini, check her out on Twitter @Shalini_Nina

 

 

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