Traveling solo requires some special attention to safety.
You alone must:
- prevent problems from arising
- be aware when they could or do arise
- decide how to manage them if they do arise.
Prevention comes first.
In all my travels (I travel about three months a year) I have encountered remarkably few problems. I believe it's mostly because I think in terms of prevention. I set myself up for safety.
True, no amount of prevention is a guarantee of safety. Things happen! Still, prevention is an important start and a significant aspect of these 50 tips on solo travel safety. Before I get into safety advice I want to address the questions I often get…
Is Solo Travel Safe?
I believe that solo travel is as safe as traveling with a companion.
Now, traveling solo on an organized tour is likely more safe that doing so independently. After all, you are with a lot of other people and a guide, or possibly two, who know the destination well. Check out our Deals page for companies that offer tours and cruises with no or low single supplements.
However, if the question is about independent solo travel, my response is yes, it's safe. With the understanding that all travel comes with certain risks associated with being out of your element, solo travel is safe. Like all travelers, you need to plan well, be aware of your surroundings, make good choices and follow the safety tips below.
Planning for Solo Travel Safety
- 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 strengths and weaknesses. If you are new to travel, you likely have a lot to learn. If you've traveled a lot but have never traveled solo, you have different issues to resolve. We have a lot on the site for solo travel newbies. Read First Time Solo Travel: Tips for Newbies and Top 10 Destinations for First Time Solo Travelers.
- Choose your destination carefully. We all have a different idea of safety. Reader Wen Tang, from Singapore, contributed a Solo Travel Destination post on Pakistan. Some would never consider it a destination for safety reasons but others would. Make sure the safety level of your destination meets your personal travel safety needs. This will involve checking the Destinations section of Solo Traveler, guide books and your government's travel site.
- Check your government’s travel site. Your government likely has information on the travel documents you require for travel as well as any warnings for your destination. Here are links for travel alerts for United Kingdom, United States, and Canada.
- Buy travel insurance before you go. I have World Nomads insurance. They are the only company that I know that lets you buy insurance after you leave your country. However, it's certainly not after you need to make a claim. It keeps life simple and safe to buy insurance before you go. Read Going Alone? Travel Insurance is a Must
- Register with your government. I certainly don't do this every time I travel but if you're going for a few weeks registering as a citizen traveling abroad is a good idea. Use the links above.
- Schedule your arrival during daylight. The first stop for most travelers in a new destination is their hotel or hostel. I suggest that you arrive in the mid-afternoon so that you can really see what kind of area you're staying in. A safe area will always look better in daylight. An unsafe area is more obviously so in daylight. But there are more very practical reasons to arrive during daylight as well. You will be able to find your accommodation more easily and if you don't like it, you will have time to make other arrangements.
- Know how you will get to your first hotel. Your arrival in any new country, especially one where you don't know the language or the local transit system, is important. Research how you'll get from the airport to your hotel or hostel and give yourself lots of time. You will need it as you learn how their system works. And if your flight arrives late in the day, you may want to avoid the transit system and splurge on a taxi to be on the safe side.
- Study a map before you leave. I'm one who loves maps so this is an obvious step for me. But even those who do not love maps are advised to look at one and get the lay of the land. For example, if you were to look at a map of Toronto you'll note that the lake is south no matter where you are in the city and that the CN Tower stands high near the lake. If you get turned around look for the tower. If you can't see it, ask someone which way the lake is. Not everyone knows north and south but locals know where the lake is. The same logic can be applied in New York City and many other cities based on major landmarks.
Safety Tips for Traveling Alone
Remember all those rules your mother taught you to insure that you are safe. Apply them rigorously when you're traveling.
- Trust your intuition. If it doesn’t feel right leave. Whether it's a bar or a park or a hostel, if you don't feel good in the situation, if your spidey senses are tingling, it's best to get out of there.
- Know the typical con games of your destination. If someone wants to give you something for free it may be a good idea to decline. A rose is often offered on the streets of Barcelona to draw travelers in for a con. A ring apparently found on the ground and offered to you as the person who possibly lost it, is another ruse to turn away from. Familiarize yourself with the common con games travelers encounter. Here's a list of 40 tourist scams.
- Stay in public. I learned this lesson the hard way. I was caught in a con game and, fortunately, I did not leave a public place. Had I done so my life would likely have been much different. Read Solo Travel Danger: Caught in a Con Game
- Where you're staying is personal information. Don’t tell strangers where you’re staying either in words or actions. Your accommodation should be your safe haven.
- Stay alert. While its wonderful to sink into a destination, luxuriating in its culture, it's also important to be aware of what's going. Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
- Sleep well. Being well rested makes you more alert. Conversely, if you're overtired or jet-lagged you should be aware that you are naturally less alert.
- Stay sober. Whatever your drug of choice, it's best to stay sober as you travel. This is not just important for being alert but also for your judgement. Judgement is compromised by alcohol and drugs.
- Walk with confidence. In tourist areas such as the Eiffel Tower meandering as a tourist makes sense. However there are other circumstances where you want to walk like a local, as if you know exactly what you're doing and where you're going. You don't want to look like a tourist. That requires that you walk with confidence. Read Great Advice for Solo Travel Confidence: You’ll Be Okay.
- Blend in as best as possible. Blending in requires more than just walking with confidence. Be aware of cultural differences and blend in if possible. Read 10 Ways to Blend in When You Can’t
- Be polite. Be impolite. Being impolite can definitely get you into trouble. If people take offence at your behavior it's hard to know what can happen. So, definitely be polite under most circumstances. But if a person is bothering you being polite can get you into trouble too. Know when and how to make a lot of noise and attract attention to yourself and the person bothering you.
- Don’t flash wealth. Leave expensive things at home. Don't wear jewellery or flashy clothes/accessories that will attract attention to yourself. Even if they don't go after your jewellery they may target you for picking your pocket.
- Keep your belongings close. Hold your wallet, camera, cell phone/mobile… close to you. Never keep your wallet in your back pocket. Keep the number of things you're most concerned about to a minimum. For me it's my wallet, phone and passport. Having just three things make them easy to carry and keep track of.
- Take special care of your documents. I keep my passport on me. I keep my plane ticket on my phone plus paper copies in my bag. And I keep extra money in a couple of places and an extra credit card separate from the one I use. Read: 10 Ways to Protect Yourself from Pickpockets
- Carry the business card of your hotel or hostel. Getting back to your hotel or hostel is pretty important but it can be a challenge if you're in a country where you don't speak the language. When you check in get a business card from the establishment and carry it with you.
- Don't automatically jump in to help. If you see someone suddenly in need of help, get someone else to go their aid with you. A local is more able to help and having someone else involved will protect you should the incident be a con game.
- Always carry a map. While walking around with a map in your hands may make you look like a vulnerable touris having one on you can be very helpful. If you're lost, stop into a shop to look at it and get assistance. They are especially helpful when you don't know the language. You can point to your destination making communication easier.
- Understand the city transit system. Riding public transit is a great way to get to know a city and its culture. But, before you go, know how safe it is, how much the fares are and how they are paid, whether a pass is a good idea and possibly the basic routes you'll be taking.
- Take a break once in a while. This goes along with staying aware of your surroundings. If you're experiencing travelers fatigue join a day tour or cooking class or something that will make for a simple, interesting and relaxing day.
- Stay safe at your lodging. I suggest that you consider the hotels, etc., in the Solo Traveler Accommodation Guide. They have all been recommended by readers of Solo Traveler, Tracey or me. Here are quick and simple tips for hotels.
- Ask for a room on an upper floor.
- If you are a woman ask if there is a women-only floor and get a room there if possible.
- Be aware of the alternative exits.
- Before you go out ask about safety.
- When you return at night, ask for an escort to your room if you are nervous.
- Use the security lock.
- Lock important items in the room safe.
- When you leave your room, leave the TV and a light on if possible. Put out the do not disturb sign to suggest that there is someone in the room.
- Check TripAdvisor.com for a review of your accommodation in case travel safety is highlighted as an issue.
Safety Tips for Solo Travelers Going out At Night
- Check with someone reliable first. Before going out, make sure that where you’re going is safe. While everyone has a different sense of what safe is, it’s helpful to have an opinion or two before you go.
- Plan for getting there and getting home. Will you use public transit? I often do getting there but usually take a taxi home.
- Minimize what you're carrying. A backpack is not a good idea for going out at night. A purse may not be as well. You'll need money, ID, etc. but you don't want to carry too much with you.
- Stash your money in more than one place. Have some money easily accessible but, just in case you lose your money (or worse), have some tucked away in a shoe, your bra, wherever works for you.
- Stay in a public place. This is worth repeating here. You may meet people and have a great time but remember that they are strangers. Stay in public.
- Make friends with your server. Befriend the server or bartender or someone else so that they’ll come to your aid if someone starts hassling you.
- Be aware of your drink. Don’t let someone distract you so that they can slip something into your drink. Be aware of it at all times.
- Women are not necessarily safe. Sometimes people assume that women are safer than men. This is not correct.
- Don't tell people where you're staying. Keep your hotel or hostel your safe place.
- Dress appropriately. There are cultural variations as to what is acceptable dress. Be considerate of the local norms.
- Know how to get help if needed. If you carry a phone, learn the local emergency number. If you don’t learn how to say help in the local language.
Technology for Solo Travel Safety
- Use a VPN. It's almost impossible to travel and not use public WiFi whether it's in the hotel or a cafe. Read: VPN for Travel: What, Why and an Easy Setup Guide
- Pre-program numbers into your phone. like your accommodation phone number, your government’s consulate office and 911 if you are in North America.
- Basic apps for your phone:
- Google maps
- Find you phone
- Wi-fi Finder: Safety is not always an emergency situation. Use Wi-fi Finder to help you find free Wi-fi to research or call for the help you need.
Managing Your Money Safely as You Travel
- Use debit cards wisely. It is best to get money from ATMs rather than money exchange kiosk. Read: Save Money When You Change Money
- Take out what you need. If you have a card that does not charge you for taking funds from international ATMs then it's best to take out small amounts frequently rather than carrying large amounts of cash on you. The exceptions are when ATMs are hard to find or you will need more money than normal for a particular reason.
- Get a credit card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees. The Chase credit cards are known for being good for this in the US.
- Carry a spare credit card. Depending on where you are, not every card works everywhere. Carry a spare for such a situation or in case you lose your card.
- Keep emergency cash hidden. You can carry it on your body and have some tucked away in your suitcase or backpack.
Keep Your Luggage Safe Too
- Pack light. You're more mobile and have less to lose when you pack light. Read: Bare Minimum Packing
- Find your luggage easily. Use a distinctive mark on your luggage other than a name and address tag
- Keep your luggage tags with your flight ticket. It's important to be able to confirm that the luggage is indeed yours. You may also want to keep your name and address inside your bag for proper identification if needed.