My first-time travel abroad alone was back to 2014, a 10-days trip to Sri Lanka. I sold my first film script when I was 22, and I booked the flight right after I got paid. Back at that time, I didn't do much research beforehand but followed my intuition. Even I did something naive due to inexperience that got me into a bit of trouble, it still turned out to be one of the most inspiring trips in my life. (You'll find the story on tip 6.)
Since then, I got so much courage to go abroad, to explore the world by myself. I still get anxious before the trip, think about the possible challenges, and imagine the worst things that could happen seems to be part of the process. Most of the time, it is easier to make it than think about it. Not until you really on the road, you will see a lot of solo female travelers out there and how unnecessary the overthinking is.
However, I deeply understand that sometimes things just feel scary. There's no point in making yourself uncomfortable, and I do not think that everyone is ready to travel alone. There are situations that out of the expectation, for example, the tourist trap, the frequent harassment in some regions, the extra costs, the miscommunication... You need to be independent, easy-going, and reliable by yourself. Travel abroad alone might be a very beneficial practice for self-development, and it brings lots of positive impacts. This article is about travel safety. Here I give 7 safety tips for female solo travelers along with my stories. Hopefully, we all take care of ourselves better on the way. Enjoy the journey!
1. Do the research first.
Before you move, even you do not plan every detail in the notebook, it is still better to have a sketch. Ask yourself: Where are you going? How do you want to go there? What are their culture and religion? What is considered as not acceptable by the locals? What are the typical tourist scams in the area? Also, you need to know where to go and where not to go. Ask people or search online to figure out all of these questions, then you should already have more confidence!
2. Book the accommodation beforehand and live in good areas.
You don't want to land in a new place then take 3 hours of transportation to get somewhere with nothing around. That doesn't feel safe and it's not fun. When I'm on a budget, I would rather live in a hostel near the city center than get a room for myself in a suburb that no one is around. Not only because of the inconvenience to get there, but things could also get scary. I once heard a story about a friend's friend who booked a room in the suburb of Milan, and it was a haunted room that smells like decay. Even you are not a big fan of abnormal beings, it is more harmless If you choose a well-reviewed hostel. I prefer to have a female dorm with curtains to give myself some privacy. There is another significant benefit: You can easily find travel companions.
3. Observe the environment and make yourself look local.
There is no general rule for everywhere. What is considered safe in North Europe is not the same as in South Asia. By looking around, you can figure out what other women do and how do they behave there. How do most of the women in the country dress? Do they cover their hair? Do they walk alone? Do they walk outside at night? Observe what local women do and do the same is an excellent way to avoid unwanted attention.
4. Team up with people.
Make new friends is always fun, and lots of people are willing to help on the journey. I am naturally introverted, but after lots of experiences, I am finally comfortable to initiate chats. I usually ask people: How long have you traveled? Where have you been? How long do you plan to stay here? And what's your next stop? Again, the hostel is a great place to meet new people, most of the solo travelers are open for the talk, because it's also part of the fun in the trip, right?
In some countries, it doesn't feel so comfortable to walk alone as a woman. Sometimes there's too much curious attention. When I was in Morocco, once some local guys did the racist, sexist harassment to me in the daytime when I was walking alone, I first ignored them, then they followed me to the corner until I quickly walk away. I do not like the fact that a woman needs a man's companion to be safe, which reflects a big problem in society. But the world is not developed to the same conscious level yet, I didn't feel safe when I was walking alone in Marrakesh, so I went back to the hostel and found a male companion to walk in the market. Then there were fewer hassles around.
5. Giving a clear refusal and bargain for the things you need.
Saying no clearly to the unwanted things will help with keeping yourself away from the tourist trap. You don't need to be too nice to everyone, saying no in the first place is necessary to avoid scams. Some scammers take advantage of too-kind people. Lots of the scammers will leave you alone if they see the clear refusal sign.
But there are situations when we need something, what to do to avoid scams? Bargaining is common in the street market and transportation in South East Asia. Very quickly, you will realize that sometimes the locals charge 2-3 times more for foreigners, and they play this game everyday. If you are too lazy to bargain, then you need to pay more. What I usually do is that I give my price first then ask them yes or no, if no one agrees with the price then I leave them there and wait nearby, maybe also start talking to other drivers/sellers. After a while, they come back to me, and the negotiation based on the price I offer.
There's no need to be too petty as well. After all, remember that we are all players in the market, we play different games.
6. Be careful with the taxi driver.
Some regions don't have any public transportation. If you don't team up with others, and you cannot get a bike or a scooter, maybe take a taxi is the only way to go around.
When I traveled to Galle in Sri Lanka, I asked a random tutu driver to take me to the tourist spots in the town. He asked me how old are you, where are you from, are you alone these questions. I was quite relaxed, smoking a joint while watching the pink sunset glow. Then on the way back to my hostel, he told me that he would wait for me outside. I thought he's joking because none of the taxi drivers' in the places I've lived would wait for a random passenger.
Then after dinner, I went out by myself, and I saw him waiting there. He offered to take me to Jungle Beach, where people make fireworks. I found it a bit weird but I didn't refuse ---- there was nothing much to do. It was a long way to get there, and it turned completely dark. I began to feel suspicious. After we arrived, there was almost no one on the beach, no fireworks at all, a few bars open. The driver was still following me. I realized that I might not be able to go back unless I retake his tutu. I met some foreign tourists there and asked them if they can take me to Galle town, but no one helped. So I went on the same tutu again. On the way back, the driver told me that he wants to have sex with me. I said no and wished that he doesn't lose his mind. In the end, he drove me back to the hostel and charged me 3 times more.
What is the lesson here? When you are alone, it is not a very good idea to be in a random person's car or tutu. Nowadays, most of the regions have the local taxi app, and the price is shown on the app before you book it. But in case if it's a wild area with almost no technology involved, you can ask the hotel reception to help with booking a driver, it's more trustworthy because the drivers are not anonymous.
7. Beware of pickpocketing.
Pickpocketing and phone robbery are common crimes in some developing countries. When walking on the street, you better not to play your phone all the time. Just put the phone in the bag and keep it carefully. There is an old saying: Don't put all the eggs in the same bucket. It also fits the circumstance when traveling, just don't put all the valuable things in the same bag. If you got stolen, at least you have some back-ups.
I hope these tips help with your safe trip! I didn't mention the police or any public organizations because I personally never experienced to seek help from them. Smart self-defense is prior to the latter solutions.
Remember that there is no 100% safety by any means, we experience things to learn and grow, and don't lose your mind if any bad things happen. Try to calm down and find the solution at the moment. Please take care and have fun!