Staying safe is a priority when abroad especially when you’re travelling alone. This article covers safety tips for travelers to help you feel more confident before you go, and offers help and advice if something goes wrong on your trip

For a lot of women, the biggest concern about going travelling alone is personal safety. The idea of travelling alone can often feel overwhelming and dangerous, however there are plenty of ways to keep yourself safe whilst still enjoying your trip such as only using recommended taxi companies, planning your route to avoid appearing lost, and being aware of local customs, such as appropriate dress.

I have travelled to 147+ countries (115 of these solo). And as much as I don’t like to admit it, women can be more at risk than men and knowing safety tips for travelling is so important.

You may be completely confident to stroll the streets of your home country, without fear for your safety. But, when travelling, you can’t be so relaxed. Unfortunately, a lot of countries suffer from very high crime rates. And, typically, criminals will choose foreigners as their target even if it's just pickpocketing within a busy city. 

It’s easy to let our guard down when we’re travelling or equally to be too paranoid. Being open but still keeping your guard is the best balance and if you feel uncomfortable or your gut instinct is telling you to leave listen to it and remove yourself from the situation. Here are some ways to stay safe when you travel. Obviously these are all worst-case scenario and for being extra vigilant but if you just follow some of these tips, you'll have a safe trip. 

N.b. If you're ready to plan your solo trip but are unsure how to do it, read my how to plan a solo trip article.

Choose A Safe Holiday

If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing or want to travel around a country a lot, you should do some research. When traveling alone, you should only go to countries where it’s safe to do so.  By researching a country’s crime statistics and what other people have to say about it, you’ll find all of the information you need. Be realistic; even if you can defend yourself, is it worth the risk? If you have a strong desire to travel to dangerous areas, it can be best to have a companion.

Although the risks are small, it’s worth taking your safety into account. Even small instances of theft or assault can sour the entire trip. Do plenty of research about the country you want to visit and try to ensure that you use the safest methods possible. 

Avoiding Attention

Depending on which part of the world you travel to, you can expect more attention than others especially in India and Bangladesh and other countries in Asia. It's important to check the cultural norms for a country and not wear beach clothing in areas where it's inappropriate. I often dress down and don't wear any make-up when I travel solo but being blonde and pale with blue eyes can be difficult to disguise. 

Sometimes the attention you can get can be quite overwhelming and whilst it's often harmless I personally do tend to feel a bit safer when I'm a bit more covered up. If you're travelling to Muslim countries, I recommend taking a scarf and covering your head if you're getting unwanted attention.

If you are travelling to a country where there may be hostility towards foreigners (I experienced this in Mongolia), try to main a low-key profile. This means, respecting locals and rules when it comes to taking photographs or videos, especially at airports or official facilities.

When you engage with locals, avoid discussing local politics, religion or anything else that may be sensitive to that country. This also includes wearing any t-shirts or clothes that may show your political views or nationality. If you do get into any heated discussions, be patient and calm and try to avoid any disagreements. 

General Safety Advice

When you’re immersed in all the wonder of new places, it can be tempting to take risks that you would never consider if you were out and about in your home town or city. Being away from home by yourself is even more reason to maintain vigilance and awareness while you’re out in public: you are your own protector.

  • Sign up for self defence lessons before you travel.
  • Don’t wear expensive jewellery or have an expensive camera on display. 
  • Try not to arrive anywhere too late at night.
  • When you are in a cafe or restaurant keep your bag on the floor with one foot in the strap.
  • Only count your cash in private and put money from an ATM straight into your money belt or divide it into several pockets.
  • Ask your accommodation or tour guide which places you should avoid.
  • Put emergency numbers in your phone for the country you are in.
  • Don’t get drunk alone (or with strangers that you’re unsure about).
  • Don’t give out your address to people and especially not your room number – arrange to meet someone somewhere neutral.
  • Dress appropriately (covering shoulders and knees) and don’t wear tight clothing. Wear comfortable shoes in case you need to run.

Transport

  • When getting into a taxi sit behind the driver on the opposite side and keep your carry-on bag with you. Don’t let them put your valuables in their boot.
  • Avoid hitchhiking if you can.
  • Some countries have taxi scams so book a licensed cab from the airport desk before leaving the airport. Call a company recommended by the place you are staying in instead of flagging one down on the road.
  • Wear your seat belt.
  • Maintain awareness of where you are by making sure you are heading in the right direction.
  • Unless you are in a country where there are shared taxis, don't allow the taxi driver to pick up other passengers.
  • Some bus stops can be remote so wait for your bus in a lit area or busy coffee shop.
  • Pick an aisle seat if you can and keep your valuables with you.
  • Avoid empty carriages and sit near the doors of buses.
  • When arriving at a country for the first time, keep hold of your luggage to avoid any porters scams.
  • Be wary of accepting food or drink from strangers on public transport.
  • When hiring a car, keep your windows wound up and your doors locked.
  • Uber has a safety function where you can inform someone of your whereabouts. If you're not using Uber and even if your mobile phone isn't working, pretend to inform someone of the departure time and the taxi's license number.

On The Streets

Try not to keep all your money in one place and definitely don’t carry around large amounts of cash if you don’t need to. Take the plunge and buy a money belt – although not always stylish, they are well worth it. They are a great way to keep all your valuables close to you, especially for long coach journeys, where you and your bag might be separated. 

Make sure you are wearing comfortable sneakers to be able to run in case of an attack. When you go out alone wear the best shoes you can get for comfort.

  • In crowds carry your day pack in front of you instead of behind and secure with a lock.
  • Walk the opposite way to the traffic to avoid any cars pulling up.
  • Walk in the road if the pavements are too crowded (be careful of getting run over though).
  • Be aware of looking too ‘new’ and walk with a confidence like you know where you are.
  • Download a copy of your passport onto your phone in case you get stopped by the police. 
  • Try to avoid walking back to your accommodation if you've just been on a spending spree and it's obvious that you are carrying new purchases as it could make you vulnerable. 

Choose accommodation in safe areas

Do your research before you go to find out where you want to avoid, and which areas have hostels or hotels that feature well-lit surroundings and lots of people. It can be tempting to try to save money by staying in places that are off the beaten track, but you can’t put a value on your personal safety.

Your hotel may have security round the clock. Don’t be afraid to get help if you think you might need it, especially from hotel staff. For incidents away from the hotel, you should contact the police directly so make sure you always know the emergency number of the country that you are visiting. You may need someone to help you if there’s a language barrier.

  • Ask for a different room number if the front desk says your room number out loud and others can hear.
  • Don’t take all your valuables with you, Make full use of the safe in your hostel or hotel – most places will have them, even if they’re only big enough for your passport, cards and cash. Keep some in the hotel safe and make sure you get a receipt.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable with an adjoining room door ask to be moved.
  • Keep a rubber doorstop for using against your room door at night.
  • If someone knocks your door ask who it is first and if you are unsure don’t let them in.

Safety tips for travelling

Avoiding Confrontation

Apparently, criminals generally choose their targets based on those who will offer the least resistance. They get discouraged when they see someone who has a confident demeanour and a good posture. If you do get asked a question from a stranger such as “What time is it?” or get asked for directions, just be wary as these can be tactics used to test your level of resistance.

Remain assertive and aware and don't engage any more than you need to by just giving short answers and looking confident. They will be discouraged by anyone setting clear boundaries and that doesn't look like an easy target. 

As a female on your own, who isn’t from the country, you can be an easy target for wrong doers. Even if you can defend yourself, you’re still seen as an easy target. Here's how to avoid confrontation. 

  • If you feel something isn’t right, change your route and avoid any short cuts or alleyways. Or go into a nearby shop or establishment and ask for help if you feel uncomfortable. 
  • Carrying a key in between your index and middle finger can act as a weapon in case of an attack.
  • Maintain eye contact and show that you are not intimated.
  • Don’t get into anyone’s car even if they are pointing a weapon at you. Make a scene and run away to get some help.
  • If driving don’t stop if someone is trying to get your attention. Wait until you get somewhere crowded before checking if there is a problem with the car.
  • If someone is following you on the street, slow down and let them pass giving them eye contact as you do.
  • If a car is following you, turn around and run in the opposite direction.
  • If something does happen report an assault at the police station or contact the British embassy or consulate (or the embassy of your home country) who will advise you on your next steps. 

At Night

Most of the world’s crime happens at night. This is for obvious reasons; there are fewer people around, and it takes longer to get help. Being aware of this can save you a lot of trouble. Stay within your hotel or the surrounding area at night. Of course, sometimes you’ll want to stay out. In these cases, it can be a good idea to have someone walk home with you.

While walking alone, particularly at night, doesn't necessarily make you a target, it never hurts to use the buddy system. The adage “there is safety in numbers” still applies. The more people you have with you, the less likely a single assailant will try to attack.

If you are accustomed to or have no choice but to walk alone at night, avoid wearing headphones or ear buds, as this increases your chances of being taken by surprise.

You’ll find that a lot of bar staff and locals will be happy to help you. Just make sure that it’s someone in uniform or on the job. Most people won’t risk their jobs to commit a crime, and you are likely to have already interacted with them before this occasion.

One of the easiest ways to get into a sticky situation is to over do a night out. Just like at home, some people will prey on those who have consumed too much alcohol. And, in a foreign country, this problem can be much harder to overcome. It’s worth being careful. Especially if you’re alone.

You need to be aware of taxis at night, as well. It may seem like a good way to get home safely, but it can be just as dangerous as walking. Get your accommodation or restaurant to call a taxi if you can.

Should You Tell People You're Alone?

If you are staying in a hostel then it's absolutely fine to tell others that you are alone. After all, it will be obvious when you check in. If you get any unwanted attention, having people in the know about your solo status means you’re likely to get help when you need it. But be cautious when you're out and about and gage the situation before telling others. In Europe for example it's perfectly acceptable to be alone but in countries such as the Middle East or India you may get frowned upon. Use your instinct for this one. 

If you are a friendly person, be aware of being too friendly with the local men. Some foreign men (especially in Eastern Asia countries) can misinterpret your easy-going nature for someone who is interested. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t interact with others as you definitely should, but just be careful about what your body language is saying, be firm and reject their advances by saying that you’re married. Read the local etiquette info on the specific country pages or click here.

Safety in Numbers

That is that saying “safety in numbers” so if you are really worried about travelling alone, you could consider a group tour for some of all of your trip to build your confidence abroad. Exploring new places with a group will mean that it’s much easier to find your way around, and you will feel less vulnerable than you would taking solo trips. * Discover all solo female friendly tour companies

You could also teach yourself some self-defence techniques before you go on your trip, or join a class to master the basics. You will probably never need to use what you have learned, but it will make you feel more secure and confident while you’re away.

And Finally…

Finally, try to remember that most of what you take travelling will be replaceable. The best thing to do if you’re worried about losing your travel essentials is to get insured before you go on your trip. 

Travelling should be fun and as long as you use your common sense and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home you will be perfectly fine. If you still feel vulnerable when you’re travelling join up with another group of travellers for that extra security. Most solo travellers have no trouble abroad and if you listen to your gut instinct and be aware of your surroundings, you won’t either.

help and advice

Help & Advice When You're Solo Travelling

Travelling solo does have its challenges and when there is no one else to ask, you can find yourself completely unsure of what to do. Inevitably something will go wrong, whether you miss the train to your next destination, your flight gets delayed or you realise you’ve forgotten to extend your travel insurance and it has now expired. Here is a checklist for what to do if something goes wrong:

I feel ill

It’s really important to monitor how you feel when you’re solo. You know your own body and when something isn’t right. Whatever the symptoms it is better to get it checked out especially if you have flu in a malaria area or stomach problems for 72 hours as you may have contracted a parasite and need antibiotics. Some pharmacies abroad have their own doctors and can prescribe antibiotics over the counter. The IAMAT website can help you find an English speaking doctor in more than 100 countries in the world.

TIP – Learn how to say ‘I need a doctor’ or ‘help’ in the language.

Useful Website – IAMAT

I’ve forgotten to get travel insurance

If you are a European or British resident you can book True Traveller travel insurance to start when you’re away (restrictions apply). You can also extend your cover when you’re abroad. World Nomads offers this for worldwide citizens.

Useful Websites – True Traveller / World Nomads

I don’t have any malaria tablets

Although malaria tablets will greatly reduce your risk of catching malaria they are not 100% effective. If you are about to enter a malaria area go to a local pharmacy where you may be able to buy them over the counter. Check the Travel Pharm website for advice.

Useful Website – Travel Pharm

I had unprotected sex

Firstly always take condoms with you but if the inevitable has happened go straight to a clinic when you get home. If you’re not on the pill, find a local chemist for the morning after pill. If you need to see someone abroad check the local hospital for departments.

Useful Websites – Hospitals Worldwide

My laptop / tablet has broken

Apple has international technical support numbers and Apple stores worldwide. Look for your closest store and make an appointment online. If you use Microsoft, they also have worldwide offices for technical support.

Useful Websites – Apple Technical Support / Microsoft Worldwide

My debit/credit cards aren’t working

Some banks may put a stop on your debit or credit cards abroad if they suspect fraud. Call the emergency overseas number from your bank or you can find an international number on the back of your card.

My visa has expired

Some countries are strict on people overstaying their visas. Contact the Immigration office within the country and explain the situation. You may be fined for each day you have overstayed or it could be taken more seriously.

I’ve been offered the chance to work/study

Contact the country’s Immigration office for the rules. You may need to apply for a student or working visa and have a contract from your potential employer. Each country can vary.

I feel threatened

Don’t be afraid to alert the authorities in any way. If you can’t find a police station then contact your nearest Embassy or Consulate.

Useful Websites – British Embassies / US Embassies and Consulates

I’m at a hostel / hotel and I don’t like it

Once you’ve arrived there probably is no way of getting your money back but if there is a problem with security or your room speak to the manager. If you still don’t feel comfortable leave and find another. The cost of one night’s room isn’t worth compromising your safety.

I don’t like my volunteering teaching placement

Speak to the organisation involved and see if they can move you onto another project or placement. It may be that you just need to give yourself time to adjust. Allow yourself a few more days before making a decision but if you don’t feel safe then get moved.

I need to call home but have no money to call

You can make a reverse charge call through the international operator on 155 (or the inland operator on 100). There is also 8000 Reverse, an international reverse charge service that you can use to fixed land lines.

I need to communicate and can’t speak the language

Google Translate is a free online language translation service and will translate what you need to say.

Useful Website – Google Translate

I’ve ran out of money

Western Union provides money transfers to specific countries and there’s often one in your country. Contact a family member or friend and ask them to book your flight or transfer money until you get safely home.

Useful Website – Western Union

Out of Your Control

A family member is ill and I don’t know whether to go home

Contact your travel insurance company to see if you’re covered. Ask other members of your family for their advice on whether you should return home.

I’ve missed my flight

If you have missed a connecting flight with the same airline, the airline is responsible for putting you on another flight. If you miss a flight due to other reasons contact your airline straight away, who may either charge you for another flight or reschedule you. Contact your travel insurance if the situation was out of your control.

My baggage has been lost/delayed

Go to the airport lost luggage desk and inform them. If you bag turns up within the next few days it should get delivered to your accommodation. If it hasn’t turned up within twenty-one days you can claim compensation.

Useful Website – Your Travel Rights

The country I was travelling to has stopped tourists coming in

Check the FCO Twitter feed for the latest advice on the country. Is it just a temporary ban or will it be resolved soon? If it is no longer possible to travel to that particular county look at extending your visa where you are (contact the Immigration office) or travel to another country which doesn’t require a visa. Contact your travel insurance company regarding changing or cancelling your flights to that specific destination.

There’s a threat of terrorism in the country I am in

Contact the Foreign embassy within that country for advice. If there is an attack in the country you are in, the embassy has assistance measures in place for the victims of terrorist attacks abroad. Visit their website for the latest news.

Useful Website – Gov.UK

My travel company has gone bust

Find out if your holiday is ATOL bonded and what your rights are in the event that your tour operator or travel company collapses during your holiday. Contact your travel insurance company for advice.

Useful Website – ATOL Bonded

My travel plans have been disrupted and they have closed the airport

Contact the Foreign Office who will liaise with tour operators and airlines for up to date information.

More Serious

I’ve been assaulted /attacked

If you have been attacked or sexually assaulted you should tell the relevant embassy as soon as possible. They can help to arrange a medical examination by a female doctor.

Useful Website – Gov.UK

I’ve gone into hospital

The Foreign embassies will contact British nationals within twenty-four hours of being informed that you have been admitted to hospital.

I’ve broken the law

Consular assistance is provided to British nationals by the Foreign Office.

Useful Website – Prisoners Abroad

Stolen or Lost

My passport has been stolen / lost

Report it to the local police straight away and make sure they give you a statement. Contact the Embassy in your county to apply for an urgent replacement travel document or for a new passport.

My phone has been lost / stolen

Call your mobile phone provider within twenty-four hours and they will block it to stop anyone from using it. If you have insurance, report it to the police and obtain a crime reference number to make a claim.

I have lost my driving licence and can’t hire a car

If you lose your driving licence abroad contact the local police and your Embassy or Consulate to find out what to do. They may be able to issue a provisional document to enable you to drive for a short time.

My money has been stolen

Report it to the local police straight away and make sure they give you a statement so you can claim on your insurance. Contact your bank within twenty-four hours to put a stop on your cards. Ask for funds to be transferred to you via your bank or a relative through a money transfer company such as Western Union.

Useful Website – Western Union

Things can go wrong and the most important thing is to remember to breathe and look at the situation logically before taking action. Unless it is something really serious, think long and hard before deciding to give up on your trip and go home. Situations can only make us stronger long-term.

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