Everyone will tell you to travel safely.
What does that really mean?
And what does it mean if you're traveling solo?
To travel solo safely involves being smart and careful. But what specifically do those words mean? How does one be so?
What about the digital tools available? There are hundreds of safety apps and tools on the market. How to choose which to use?
First up in this post are a dozen safety apps that can contribute greatly to your safety as you travel solo.
Next are 15 of the most important solo travel safety tips that will help you be smart and careful.
12 Safety Apps Recommended for Solo Travelers
As with all apps, using them involves trusting the technology with a certain amount of personal data. Only you can decide whether the value of the app contributes enough to your safety to give up that data. Depending on your personal circumstances, your answer could be yes.
- Basic safety apps that are installed on every smartphone:
- Flashlight/Nightlight: We knew it as kids, the dark is not our friend. Having a flashlight of sorts comes in very handy in many situations.
- Compass: I have a pretty good sense of direction but I can still get turned around. I especially like a compass in my car.
- GPS: Whether you're driving or trying to find a restaurant around the corner, a GPS app like Google Maps or Waze can get you there.
- Weather: With extreme weather conditions becoming more common, it's worth checking the five-day forecast so that you can move out of areas if it's indicated.
- Find iPhone/Google Find My Device: Given that so much information is in your phone, it makes sense to have one of these apps to help you find it should it go missing.
- Google Translate: This app is really handy and important. There are times when it is essential to be able to communicate effectively. Even if you can speak the local language, under stress you may lose the necessary words. Google Translate or a similar tool is essential.
- American Red Cross First Aid app: Safety first, always. This First Aid app offers some great features:
- Simple step-by-step instructions guide you through everyday first aid scenarios.
- Fully integrated with 9-1-1 so you can call EMS from the app at any time.
- Videos and animations make learning first aid fun and easy.
- Safety tips for everything, from severe winter weather to hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes help you prepare for emergencies.
- Preloaded content means you have instant access to all safety information at anytime, even without reception or an Internet connection. Interactive quizzes allow you to earn badges that you can share with your friends and show off your lifesaving knowledge.
- bSafe: With this safety app, you create a list of emergency contacts in your phone and, if you're in trouble, tap the app and all of them will be alerted with your GPS coordinates. If you need the police, you can send a message to them via the app as well. React Mobile (the one I've looked at most closely) works in 39 countries and is available free for all iOS and Android phones. It also has a “Follow-me” feature which I think is over the top and would ruin the solo travel experience, but the rest is pretty cool.
- ICE – In Case of Emergency: This one has the list of emergency contacts and more should you want to include it. Plus, the information is available from a locked screen or widget if you want. It includes:
- Insurance information
- Primary doctor's name and number — can call directly from the app
- Medical Conditions
- Any special instructions or other information you wish to provide.
- Scream Alarm, SOS Siren Alarm, SOS Whistle: These are all alarms which, simply, are designed to scare off thieves or attackers.
- WiFi Finder: Safety is not always an emergency situation. Use WIFI Finder to help you find free Wi-Fi to research or call for the help you need.
- VPN. While the safety apps above take care of your personal safety, a VPN takes care of your identity and security of your online activities when on Wi-FI. This is especially important when doing anything that involves money or personal information. For more information and a discount on the VPN we personally use, read VPN for Travel: What, Why and an Easy Setup Guide.
15 Solo Travel Safety Tips
In addition to the safety apps that digital technology offers, here are some important ‘old school' safety tips to follow.
- Solo travel safety begins before you leave. Research is important. Knowledge protects you from the danger of misinformation, unsavory individuals, and/or naively wandering into an unsafe area. Imagine how you can be taken advantage of if you don’t understand the currency. Or the health problems you could face if you don’t know the necessary vaccinations for your destination. Or the potential loss of money, documents, and more if you don’t know the unsafe areas at your destination. There is much to know before you go.
- Know your priorities. It's important to keep things in perspective. When it comes to your safety, it is you that counts most. After that, your concern should be your documents, then your money, and only then your stuff. Never put yourself in danger to protect your stuff!
- Stay in public with new friends. The irony of life is that you are protected from strangers by strangers. Whether at home or abroad, staying public keeps you safe. As you meet people on your travels, stay in public with them. Don't go to their homes or take a ride from them because that puts you in a place where no one can come to your aid should you need it.
- Prepare for losing things before you leave. Before leaving, make copies of your passport, visas, credit card information, travel insurance, and medical records. Hide them in your suitcase and store digital copies in the cloud. Doing so means you'll have an easier time replacing them should they go missing.
- Buy the right travel insurance. Travel insurance is essential. Without it, you're taking serious health and financial risks. If you're an adventure traveler you'll want to ensure that your travel insurance includes medical evacuation. But for most of us, we simply want protection in case of unfortunate situations such as food poisoning or appendicitis. Travel insurance will cover you for doctor fees, medical examinations, cost of medication, and even hotel accommodations. It may even cover the cost of getting someone you love to your bedside after a medical emergency or returning you to your home if that’s necessary. Read the terms of your plans carefully, compare costs and benefits and, please, declare any pre-existing conditions despite the fact that your insurance may cost more. Better that than discovering that you're not covered at all. Read Going Alone? Travel Insurance is a Must or, if you are 69 or over, read Best Travel Insurance for Senior Solo Travelers.
- Know your surroundings and use daylight to your advantage. Arrive in a new location no later than mid-afternoon. Not only will it look better (and possibly less intimidating) in the light but you'll have time to change your accommodation should it be in a bad location. Before you go out, check with your hotel/hostel/B&B and find out what areas you should avoid. As you explore, be aware of your surroundings and, if you're staying out after dark, plan to take a taxi back to your lodging.
- Dress and act appropriately. It always makes sense to dress and act conservatively when traveling but some destinations absolutely require this. Women should cover their arms and midriff and avoid short shorts and deep cut necklines. Men should have at least one pair of decent slacks and a better-than-t-shirt shirt. Dressing well is a sign of respect to the culture you're visiting.
- Inform people of your whereabouts. I don't think people need to know your every move but someone at home should be aware when you leave one location and move to another. They should know where you're staying and your approximate plans. One tweet, email, or Facebook post is all it takes.
- Stay alert. Stay sober. Your natural skills for navigating the world are being challenged by a new situation. Why compromise them by being over-tired or less than sober? Drink less as you travel and stay well-rested so that you can be your best in any situation that arises.
- Engage others in your safety. Feeling unsure of yourself? Not certain that you're in a safe area? Look around and choose someone to ask for help – preferably a family with children or an older person. While most people are good, you're more likely to speak to someone who is safe if you choose them than if they choose you.
- Secure your valuables on you and in your room. There is a debate about whether valuables are better protected in your room safe or on your person. Having frequently heard comments about hotel safes being unsafe, I prefer to carry my documents, credit cards, and money on me. A few tips: never carry a wallet in your back pocket, divide up your money and credit cards in a number of places, carry your bag or backpack in front of you in busy areas, and wear pick-pocket-proof pants if possible.
- Know where you're going and where you're staying. Studying a map of a city or neighborhood is an important part of staying safe. It allows you to move with confidence, making you less of a ‘mark' for trouble. Knowing where you're staying and how to get there (during the day and at night) is another key to safety. And remember, your lodging is your own business. People you meet do not need to know where you're staying.
- Travel light and leave valuables at home. Traveling light, so that at least one hand is free, not only makes life easier but, again, makes you look capable, confident, and less of a mark. To help keep your luggage light, don’t travel with whatever valuables you can leave at home. You’ll attract less unwanted attention if you’re not wearing jewelry, sporting an expensive watch, or flashing technology. The best rule? Only take things you’re willing to lose. This is a difficult rule to live by. But just thinking about it can help you make good choices. Read Bare Minimum Packing.
- Use the same common sense you use at home. At home, acting safely is second nature. Don't let your natural common sense take a vacation while traveling. Follow all the safety strategies you use at home while on the road.
- Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable about a person or situation, leave. Your instincts are probably right.
More Solo Travel Safety Posts
There are so many ways to approach the issue of solo travel safety. Here are a few posts on a variety of topics.
- Solo Travel Mistakes + Travel Money Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
- Tips for Respecting Local Cultures
- Solo Travel Safety: Expert Advice
- Trip Planning for Solo Travel Safety
- My Big Solo Travel Safety Mistake
- 10 Ways to Look Confident and Travel Safe