Much has been written about solo female travel safety. Some of it is very useful and practical, some of it is seemingly designed to incite fear. We firmly believe that it is safe to explore the world alone as a woman and have shown it to be so through many years of solo travel ourselves and 14 years of our community reporting the same.
However, any traveler, whether traveling alone, with a companion, or in a group can end up in a sticky situation. While it is safe to travel solo it is also important to focus on solo travel safety.
We have written a lot about staying safe while traveling alone, but have generally avoided focusing only on the safety of women specifically because we believe our tips apply equally to everyone. Essentially, they boil down to 5 fundamental principles but we have any more tips in this comprehensive safety post.
Still, that doesn't mean that female solo travelers don't have specific concerns. Here is our post to address them.
1. How to Answer “That” Question Safely
“Are you by yourself?” Solo Traveler community member Charlene recently wrote to me to say this is the one question she is frequently asked when traveling alone that she doesn't know how to answer. We took the question to the Solo Travel Society, and asked our actively engaged group of travelers on Facebook, “How would you respond to this question?” There were well over 100 responses, which generally fell into the following categories.
Never Answer the Question: Tricia shared how she gets ahead of the question by giving the impression that she is with others. Never answer that. A person asking you that straight away is suspect. With certain people like taxi drivers or others I don’t feel comfortable with knowing I’m alone, I have done a couple of things. One is I make clear before they even ask or wonder that I’m on my way to meet my husband or a group of friends. I make up a story. Sometimes I say I need to make a phone call and step away just far enough that they can hear the pretend conversation. … Never advertise that you are alone. Never announce it. And if need be, pretend you are not.
Bonnie takes her cue from the professionals. She said, “I have been practicing the art of responding politely without answering the question asked, as seasoned politicians and other public figures often do in interviews. It seems like a useful skill.”
Assess Each Situation Individually: Many people feel that in each case you need to assess the situation by taking the circumstances into account.
Deidra said that it “depends on the location, the circumstances, and who is asking. If it is a fellow traveler on a day tour or your B&B hostess, that is one thing. If it is a taxi driver or random person approaching you as you shop, then no. But I am never ashamed of it and proudly enjoy traveling solo.”
Patricia shared this story: I agree with everyone that it depends on the circumstances. That said, I was shopping in Torremolinos a couple of years ago, and the young, nice and friendly shopkeeper asked me if I was traveling alone. I said yes, and after some more chatting, he said: “I'll marry you! I already have a wife and children here, but I can buy you a house in Morocco where I can have more than one wife. I'll also get you 100 camels. They are worth 1000 each, and you can sell one when you need cash. The things that went through my head! I politely declined, of course, and spent the rest of the week pondering what was that all about.
Trust Your Instincts: A common thread running through all these responses is what I think is the most important point of all: trust your instincts.
LaDell shared, “I went to Africa by myself to meet up with a tour group. During some unscheduled time in Victoria Falls I went to the public market on my own. A young vendor said he would like to go home with me. I laughed and said my husband wouldn't like that. He asked where my husband was, and I told him my (imaginary) husband was back at the hotel. This was not likely a dangerous situation, but I believe in following my instincts when traveling. It is really no one's business whether you are alone. A lie doesn't hurt.”
Ullatiana says, “I have a general trust in people’s good intentions and trust my gut feeling, so I normally tell the truth, that I am traveling alone. So far, it has served me well and supplied good company for a meal or some hours.”
Lauren made an excellent point: You aren’t obligated to give any personal information to strangers. Trust your gut.
2. Dress Appropriately for the Culture and for Respect
Does it matter how I dress? Yes!
This is especially important for solo female travel safety in cultures where dress is a demonstration of respect and a way to get respect from others. There are some destinations in which a woman showing her knees, arms, or shoulders is inappropriate. Consider your destination and its culture first and then start packing. Make sure that you have the clothes you'll be comfortable in and also clothes that are appropriate for your destination. It's not usually difficult to achieve both goals.
Ultimately, it is better to try to blend in than risk offending or drawing the wrong kind of attention to yourself.
3. For Solo Female Travel Safety, Have Local Support at the Ready
There are many easy ways to ensure that you have local support should you need it.
Before you go, check your network of friends and family to see if they know someone at your destination. A warm introduction to someone local can be the opportunity for a coffee and insight into the city you're visiting as well as a backup person should you need them.
Make sure you know the emergency numbers of your destinations. In North America, you dial 911 if you need urgent help. In Europe it's 112. In the UK it's 999 or 112. In China it's 119. This number is becoming more standardized.
I often use the International Greeter Association when I land in a new destination. The greeter not only gives me a wonderful local perspective on their hometown but I also befriend someone I could call on should a problem arise. The same applies for your hotel concierge or a particularly great taxi driver. Get their cards and have them on you in case you have a need.
4. Always Have Internet Access. It's Cheap Now!
There was a time, not so long ago, when maintaining internet access while traveling was an expensive affair. That is no longer the case. There are a variety of options out there, but the one I discovered and used on my most recent trip was UBIGI. You can find out all about it in Using Your Phone When Traveling: The Best, Affordable Option I’ve Found.
Why is it essential to have internet access? For one thing, it will allow you to make free (or nearly free) phone calls through various apps such as Signal, WhatsApp, or Skype. If you need help, you want to know that you can make a call at any time. It's also important to have data available so you can use safety apps in an emergency, such as ones that facilitate translation, accessing emergency services, or first aid information. Be sure to check out 10 Solo Travel Safety Apps: Technology for Peace of Mind.
5. Key for Solo Female Travel Safety: Don't Be Afraid to Get Loud
Women, in particular, have often been taught to be polite under any circumstance. While this is good advice much of the time, it should be thrown out the window if you find yourself in a situation where someone is bothering you or you feel you are in danger. Find your voice before you go. Practice getting really loud and attracting attention so you will be able to do so in the moment and alert others to your distress.
As a backup, you can download apps such as One Scream or Panic Button that will make very loud noises for you from your phone.
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