Before the pandemic halted global travel, Condé Nast Traveler reported an upsurge in women booking trips on their own. Now that we’re on the last quarter of 2021, we’re seeing travel slowly go back to normal in developed countries that are handling the pandemic better. As for countries like the Philippines, there are pockets of travel and leisure, depending on the zigzagging levels of quarantine and lockdown.
According to a Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and AIG Travel survey released in 2018, 83% of women reported having had concerns about their safety while on a business trip in the previous year.
A New York Timesarticle said, “Even as more women explore the world, there is no clear global picture of the scale of violence against female solo travelers, making it hard to pin down whether attacks are on the rise or people have wider access to the grim news.” 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.
The US Bureau of Consulate Affairs said, “Many women travel safely each year without incident. However, when it comes to health and security, women travelers are more likely to be affected by religious and cultural beliefs of the foreign countries they visit. The truth is that women face greater obstacles, especially when traveling alone.”
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. Preparation is key to minimizing risk.
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 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 and showed up next to her, uninvited. Creepy!
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 signages and landmarks for now. Disable geotags and location tracking, or do it after you’ve left. If you really must type hashtags, 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 your date’s phone number, photo, and link to their social media accounts. 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 haven’t tried 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.
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 and 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).
Here are some of the Solo Female Travel Facebook groups I’m part of:
Back in 2017, I wrote an article for Cosmopolitan Philippines about self-defense items you can keep in your purse while traveling, commuting, or whenever you’re in a public area.
You may purchase a sharp keychain or pepper spray, but a word of caution: If you’re not professionally trained in physical self-defense tactics, these “weapons” may be used against you.
I recently received a personal safety alarm from #WeAreBella, a company run by Filipina women. The Philippine Statistics Authority revealed that 1 in 4 Filipino women, aged 15-49, has experienced physical, emotional or sexual violence from their husband or partner. Bella aims to arm Pinays with personal safety alarms that will help deter an attack or assault. When you pull the pin, it emits a 130db alarm (as loud as a plane engine) and bright strobe light designed to deter an attack.
Another option is a multi-purpose tool, which is great for hiking, camping, or other possible travel contingencies.
Just make sure that whatever self-defense item you have is legal to bring into the country you’re visiting. Pepper spray, for example, 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. 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 acted like we were coincidentally walking towards the same street and 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 more minutes to be sure, 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 mishaps 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 all 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 acting 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 the “safety” of travel destinations. Whenever someone posts, “Is it safe to travel in [insert any location here]?” in one of my Facebook travel groups, I always see polarizing answers. A bunch of women will say it’s totally fine to backpack there alone, while another set will tell you about their traumatizing experience, warning everyone to never ever go there.
The reality is: Bad things happen everywhere every day. If you Google crime rates and accidents in every single city/country you’re about to visit and you’re going to hyperfocus on all the bad news that happens there, then you will never travel. I’ll willing to bet your own neighborhood has had its own fair share of bad news.
If there’s one thing the pandemic and lockdown has taught you, I hope it’s the ability to listen to logic, science, credible news, and verified facts. And because the pandemic has made travel a little trickier, don’t be the selfish traveler who insists on breaking protocols for the sake of leisure and Instagram likes. Travel safe, travel responsibly.
Ladies, share your own safety tips in the comments section below!
First published on November 23, 2017.
Updated: August 27, 2018.
Updated: February 3, 2020.
Updated: Octboer 18, 2021