According to Condé Nast Traveler, there’s an upsurge in women booking trips on their own. But this doesn’t mean we’re free from the potential dangers that lurk when we travel—whether it’s in our own country or a different time zone.
I’ve been traveling solo since 2007, and I’ve had my fair share of challenges and threats. Ladies, whether you’re traveling alone for the first time or are prepping for your Nth solo adventure, heed these tips that have kept me safe and my family less paranoid about my travels.
1. Pack a doorstop.
In case you booked an accommodation with a flimsy door or you’re stuck in a location that doesn’t feel safe, put a rubber wedge doorstop under the door of your room after locking it. This will slow down a potential intruder for a few seconds to a minute, long enough for you to yell for help or run. Having it there will also give you some peace of mind so you can sleep well.
2. Don’t announce your exact travel plans online or post your private info.
When you do social media check-ins, live videos, or proclaim your exact whereabouts every waking moment as they happen, you are making yourself an easy target. Burglars could take advantage of your absence from your home. Stalkers could easily track you. Even if you’re not a celeb or person of interest, oversharing your itineraries is like an open invitation for criminals. Wait until you’ve arrived home or have left the destination before posting IG stories, photos, or blog posts.
One girl from my Facebook travel group shared this creepy story: She linked her Instagram account to her Tinder profile. As she was swiping alone in a coffee shop, a guy showed up and sat across her. He said that he found her IG account on Tinder (she swiped left for him), looked at her IG stories, and saw that she was in the coffee shop nearby. He saw that as an open invite.
If you really want to post a selfie at this very moment of your solo travel, choose a photo with a generic background and avoid posting signage and landmarks for now. Disable geotags and location tracking, or do it after you’ve left. If you really must geotag right now, be generic. For example, tag “Paris” instead of the exact coffee shop along Rue Montorgueil. Savor the moments as they happen. Instagram curation can wait.
Make sure all your social networking accounts (whether private or public) don’t show your full birth date, home address, phone number, passport info, credit card numbers, and other security risks. Posting them will make you an easy target for identity theft, hacking, and other crimes. Even if your favorite Instagrammer posted a flat lay of her passport and plane ticket, please do not attempt to copy for the sake of likes. For as long as the bar code and personal info are clear enough to scan and read, you’re putting yourself in danger. If you really can’t help but show off everything on Instagram, blur out the bar codes and personal details before posting.
3. Update your loved ones.
Before flying out, give your family or most trusted friend a copy of your flight details, accommodations, and other travel details. Send them a private message or photo at least once a day when you travel, just to let them know your whereabouts. Text them before the plane departs and when you land. If you’re about to go on a date with someone you met while traveling, send your trusted friend a screencap of your date’s social media profile and number. My girlfriends and I do this even when we’re not traveling.
Some solo travelers go the extra mile by checking in with the embassy in the country they’re visiting, especially if they’re staying for more than a week. I don’t do that, but they say it’s helpful in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.
4. Respect the local dress norms.
Before you pack your bags, study the dress norms of the city or country you’re visiting. Are shorts and sleeveless tops considered disrespectful to their culture? Are women legally forbidden from sporting their hair in certain ways?
5. Avoid offensive gestures.
Some hand gestures or acts that are completely normal for your country may be offensive in other countries. For example, tipping is considered insulting in Japan, while standing with your arms crossed is a sign of arrogance in Finland. The last thing you want is to be misunderstood, confronted, or worse, jailed for a seemingly innocent gesture. A little Googling will help.
6. Connect with other solo female travelers.
I join Facebook backpacker groups days to weeks before my planned trip. It’s a great way to get first-hand tips and stories from the locals or other female travelers. I also follow bloggers who have the same travel style and interests and as I do.
Whenever I book hostels or B&Bs, I go out of my way to make friends with other backpackers (especially if they’re solo females like myself) in the lobby or common room. We join forces and book tours together, which not only saves money but also lets me interact with people from around the world. Do this with caution, of course (see #9).
7. Consider self-defense accessories.
A small whistle (I have the keychain type) is light and handy and can deter a mugger from attempting to approach you. A sharp keychain or pepper spray may be used for self-defense, while a multi-purpose tool is great for hiking, camping, or other possible travel contingencies. Just make sure the item is legal to bring into the country you’re visiting. Pepper spray is safe to carry in the US and Philippines, but illegal in certain European countries. Research before packing.
8. Be vague.
Don’t give away your personal details to every person you meet, even if they seem friendly or are the most handsome fellas you’ve ever met. It’s okay to join travel groups and meet people outside your comfort zone, but don’t immediately share your itineraries. It’s okay to tell white lies, such as a fake hotel booking or that you’re not alone.
One night in Paris, a creepy guy started chatting with me and pretending to walk towards the same train station. I gave a fake name and made up a story about how I’m staying with my cousin who lives in France. I couldn’t shake him off, so I entered a souvenir shop. When he left, I lingered in the shop for a few minutes, and then took a different route back to my hotel.
9. Get travel insurance.
I’m not talking about the cheap, add-on insurance offered by airlines. Get full travel insurance that covers more than just lost luggage. It doesn’t matter if it’s a month-long vacation or just a weekend. I’ve heard of stories from friends who got into crazy accidents while traveling, and the bill skyrocketed. One friend had to get a helicopter to take her convulsing daughter from Boracay to Manila. One friend slipped while climbing a tourist-friendly mountain and had to get a medical crew to lift him out. One friend was stuck in Batanes for a few days when a typhoon came in. The good news is: they got travel insurance and didn’t pay a single dime. You never know what will happen. Get travel insurance! I usually go with Malayan Insurance because the price is just right, and the coverage is good.
10. Smarten up.
Learn how to blend in with the way you walk and act. Research on the most common scams in the area you’re visiting. Jot down the emergency numbers of each location you’re visiting. Know where the embassy and police stations are. Avoid acting like an overeager, gullible tourist. Avoid getting dead drunk (or drinking alcohol altogether) when traveling solo. Study the common modes of transportation of that country before you even arrive. Aside from downloading travel apps on your phone, consider walking-home-alone apps. If you have friends or acquaintances who happen to live in the area, have a quick catch-up coffee with them. It helps to have an emergency contact in the strange new city or country you’re visiting.
Solo travel is exciting and I highly recommend it, but always trust your gut when dealing with people and situations. During a solo trip to Bali, I met travelers who became my instant friends upon the first handshake, but there was one guy who, despite being friendly, kept giving me a bad feeling in my stomach whenever I ran into him in the hotel lobby. True enough, the other girls warned me that he’s trouble. The gut never lies.
Now let’s talk about mass hysteria. Bad things happen everywhere every day. If you’re going to hyperfocus on all the bad news that happens in every single country you’re about to visit, then you will never travel. If an endemic or disaster is happening in the continent you’re about to visit, see if your location is really within the hazard zone before proclaiming the end of the world. Are the risks extreme or are people just overreacting?
If you do find yourself near a calamity or disaster, follow the proper protocols instead of wasting time making space helmets out of plastic bottles. I’m a member of the Philippine media, but sadly I’m aware that news websites and their social media accounts can be such alarmists. To balance things out, I subscribe to the accounts of credible doctors and professionals like volcanologists to get a calmer perspective on current events.
Educate yourself on the facts, and don’t fall for hearsay. If you’re tough enough to travel alone, then you should be smart enough to spot misinformation and fake news.
Feel free to share your own safety tips in the comments section below.
*Originally published on November 23, 2017. Updated on August 27, 2018. Updated again on January 30, 2020.