In recent years the trend of travelling solo has been growing so rapidly that nowadays I rarely hear somebody utter the weathered words ‘I could never travel solo’. In fact, as of 2018 one in four people say that they plan to head out into the wider world with nothing but their suitcase in hand. I’ve personally been travelling solo for over 4 years, during which time I’ve experienced the both the good and the bad and these are my top tips to stay safe while travelling alone.
While I love winging it as much as the next person but a bit of preparation is best to avoid compromising on personal safety. Simple things like telling someone where you’re going, or how long you expect to be offline for, reading advise to travellers on your government’s website, or, taking a look at relevant and recent travellers blogs. Also, check out your accommodation options in advance, there’s no need to make a booking, just make sure that there are safe places to stay and have an address written down before you travel. Remember to tuck a Plan B up your sleeve too.
You may have no idea which way the Colosseum is, but there’s no need for anybody else to know that. Walking about with your eyes glued to google maps or with your head hidden behind a city map screams ‘tourist’. Walking with confidence, on the other hand, implies that you know where you’re going and what you’re looking for. I now find that I frequently get asked for directions, even by locals, no matter which country I’m in and I rarely get hassled by tourist touts. Checking your route in advance is half of this, the other half is following your own sense of direction and being prepared to double back if you’ve got it wrong.
Learn A Bit Of Language
Knowing a few basic phrases in the country you’re visiting can go a long way. For example, asking directions, asking for help, or knowing how to politely and firmly say no. When you don’t speak a word of the local language you’re completely dependent on the people around you, which can be fun, but it can also lead to uncomfortable situations.
Know Where To Get Help
Every city has a local police number and many cities will have an English-speaking tourist helpline. Learn the number, save it to your phone or, better still, write it down in advance. If you’ve got a long wait in a bus station, familiarise yourself with where the security and the tourist information offices are. If there’s neither, then talk to a member of staff, this is where learning some local language comes in handy.
Tell A Few White Lies
These days around 85% of solo travellers are female and, unfortunately, there are certain occasions when a small fib can save you a lot of hassle. So, instead of proudly announcing that you’re completely alone to the creepy man sitting next to on the bus, it’s safer to say ‘I’m meeting my friend’ in this location or that ‘my husband is waiting’ in that location.
It’s difficult to be aware of what’s going on around you when you’ve got a bag hanging off of each finger and the kitchen sink tucked under your arm. It’s exhausting, and it also makes you an easy target. Try to minimise your luggage to just one suitcase & carry a neat little travel purse or backpack so you can be a bit more mobile.
Wear A Bum-Bag or fanny pack
It’s not the most glamorous accessory but a small bag which can be safely hidden underneath your clothes is very useful, especially if you mostly plan to travel by public transport or on foot. Keep your passport, a spare credit card and any extra cash inside. Don’t use it as a travel wallet. The idea is that your back up stash remains hidden to everyone except you.
Dress Like A Local
Standing out from the crowd can be great at times, but, unless there’s only one seat left on the last bus of the day, it’s best to avoid drawing attention to the fact that you’re on your own. Now, I’m not implying that if you’re travelling in India, for example, you should put on a sari, but certain dress codes should be noted, particularly for women. Just remember that, while a woman can blend into a crowd in Brazil by wearing a pair of denim shorts and a tank top, the same outfit would mark you as a foreigner in Iran.
Talk To Trustworthy People
When you’re travelling alone take the time to source people who know the area and have your best interests at heart. This could be your hotel or hostel receptionist, it could be the local mountaineering office for the national park you want to visit, it could be your couch surfing host, or it could be another solo traveller. No amount of research beats first hand and up to date experiences.