There’s a saying that goes “If you wait for someone else to go with you then you’ll never go.” I used to be one of those people. I didn’t want to go to the movies or dinner alone. I certainly never dreamed I would travel alone or camp in the woods with just me and my son.
Fast forward to 2015 and I have done so many things solo that I never dreamed I would or could do. I finally took an international trip alone. I’ve ventured to domestic cities alone. I’ve taken excursions alone when friends didn’t want to come along with me. I’ve gone to Disney World for the day all by my lonesome. I also hike alone frequently. You get the picture…I’ve grown to enjoy the company of me. But every now and then I do come across some horrible story of something happening to someone who was traveling or doing some other activity by themselves. It’s a bit of a gut check because I can’t help but think it could also easily be me.
The question I’m asked most often by others, especially other women is “Am I afraid?” Well, the simple answer to that is yes. My “mom-tuition” means I automatically worry. However I’ve learned to hone that worry and anxiety into a very simple 2 step plan.
I like to call it the tried and true Plan and Pray method. I plan everything that is within my power to plan for. The unknowns I just have to let go and let God. I make my peace that there is a certain inherent risk and if I want the experience then I have to just go forward. Tragedies can happen at any time any place. Even right in my own neighborhood I could be the victim of a home invasion or I could be attacked in a super market parking lot. There is inherent evil in the world but I refuse to not LIVE the life I desire because of it.
I’ll share with you 10 solo travel safety tips I use during my travels and adventures.
Share the address and location of where I’m staying with multiple people.
My mom is my next of kin contact so I obviously share it with her. I also share it with at a minimum 2 other designated people. These are my closest friends that basically know where all of the bodies are buried, know what I mean? I trust them with my life, literally. Choose people who know you best that you know are dependable and trustworthy. If you are traveling abroad, then at least one of those people who knows where you are should have a passport. If you have a spouse then yay for you. They are most likely your go to person. But if your spouse doesn’t have a passport and your travel plans are abroad then you may want to consider another emergency contact as well.
Your emergency contacts should also not be your broke friends. I mean if that’s all you have then that’s what you have. No shade and don’t give me a salty look if you in fact ARE the broke friend in your circle. Hell I’m probably the broke friend in my close circle because I’m the unmarried single parent. My 2 besties are happily married in 2 income households. Big difference. But I could go fly to be with the kids while their husbands go rescue them so I’m still useful LOL. Seriously though it’s really not personal. At the end of the day if I find myself in an emergency then I need people with disposable income or the ability to swipe that plastic and come see about me should the need arise. I also list them as emergency contacts on my travel insurance and anything else I fill out that ask for an emergency contact so that information about me can be released to them without hassle.
Familiarize myself with the surrounding area of my location.
I always make it a point to use Google Maps to study the area within a mile radius around my location. If I don’t do it before my arrival I definitely do it after I get settled and before venturing out to explore. I also look for things like the nearest police station, pharmacies, hospitals, groceries stores, and subway/train stations just so that you have a general idea of where they are located.
I never ever never walk around with a map up out in the open.
This is the quickest way to signal to the world that you’re lost and ready to be their next victim. If I have an actual paper map, which I often do if I’m hiking or in a nature park, then I stop in a place where I can keep an eye on my surroundings. Preferably I don’t want my back exposed while I’m studying the map. I also recommend that if you want to listen to music then keep at least one of your ear buds out of your ear so that you can hear any threatening animal growls or footsteps that could alert you to impending danger.
If I’m exploring a city that I’m unfamiliar with, then I plot my course on my phone but even then I try to be very inconspicuous about looking at it. Some people walk around with the phone a few inches from their face completely not paying attention. If I happen to have a paper map that perhaps the concierge has written directions tips on, then I find a safe place to pause and take a look. I might slip into a cafe or stop under an awning or sit on a bench but I try very hard to not “look lost” and keep my head on a perpetual swivel.
“I don’t do weak, helpless, damsel in distress. I’m not here for that.”
Know how to contact local authorities in the event of an emergency.
911 is not a universal thing. If you didn’t already know that it’s ok. I’m here to help. The US State Department has a very handy list of emergency numbers for countries all over the world. This is a good link to save for future reference. Prior to your plans learn what that number is and tattoo it to your memory.
Yes, Arm-Thy-Self. I don’t do weak, helpless, damsel in distress. Not here for any of that foolishness. Channel your inner Cookie Lyons and take care of yourself. Armed doesn’t necessarily mean a firearm. Traveling with a firearm can present a whole host of challenges, whether it’s from state to state or to another country so it’s not really your most viable option for being armed. You should research this very carefully if you choose to do so.
I personally opt for others methods of protection. I have a can of mace which you can have in your checked luggage up to 4 oz in size and it must have a safety feature. When I’m out and about it is small enough to keep on my person and reach easily if I need it. A friend of mine has a knife that is concealed inside of a necklace. I have a knife with a sheath. You would be amazed at the things you actually can pack in your checked luggage. When in doubt check the TSA website. Pick a weapon you can conceal easily and know how to use it safely prior to your activity.
I’ve heard of panic devices that will sound an alarm. I don’t have one but it’s on my list to get one. One of the commenters below uses a whistle and that’s another great way to sound an alarm for help and scare away your attacker. These same methods of protection I also take with me on hiking and camping trips. Whether it’s an animal or human attacking the goal is to injure, maim, distract or whatever it takes to get away. If I can manage to injure it or spray it with mace, then I have a better chance of turning into Gale Deavers and sprinting away! I also have a wooden bat when we go camping. Random fun fact. This is one Gryffindor girl you really don’t want to mess with.
Register with the State Department.
If you are traveling abroad and you are a U.S. citizen (I forget sometimes that I do have international readers), I highly encourage you to register with the State Department prior to your trip. It’s called STEP (smart traveler enrollment program). This tells the government that one of their citizens is in this location and registers you with the nearest U.S. Embassy. This is one time you want your hotline to bling. If there is something going down in your location the only way for you to get the bat signal is if you’re on the list. No list no hotline bling for you. It takes a couple of minutes and it is free! It just may save your behind so do it. If something happens, whether it’s civil unrest or natural disaster, they will be able to contact you and help you stay safe. You will also be able to contact them if needed in case of emergency and they can aid in family being able to get in touch with you as well.
If you are not a U.S. citizen investigate if your country of residence has a similar type of registry.
Purchase travel insurance.
If you are traveling abroad please put this into your budget. It’s less than $100 and totally worth it. There will be a number where you can always get an English speaking person to help you. A good travel insurance company will coordinate whatever is needed to address your emergency. Know what your personal health insurance will and will not cover whether traveling domestically or abroad. Also know that certain activities may require you to purchase a different level of insurance. There’s always something on my list of possible activities that causes me to need the bigger policy.
Befriend the staff.
Whether it’s a hotel or a campground, be friendly with the staff. If you are alone it doesn’t hurt to let the park ranger or one of the hotel managers know. If they are used to seeing your face for a good morning or good evening chat and then they suddenly don’t see you, they will become concerned and it could end up saving your life. I always ask them questions and recommendations and make it a point to remember their names. Kindness goes a long way. They are more than happy to assist you.
Use common sense and caution with ride share/room share services.
Uber, Lyft, Air BnB, Couch Surfing, etc. are commonly used by travelers. While these services are very helpful, they are much less stringent than commercial hotels or taxis. Uber sends you a picture and the car of your driver. Any doubt about whether it’s the right person then do not get in the car! If you can, let someone know what your plans are. Whatsapp and FB Messenger are great to just send a quick picture to a friend with all of the information for your plans.
When booking rooms through services like Air BnB make sure you check the reviews and do your due diligence to verify that everything adds up. I’m personally a fan of renting the whole place so that I’m not sharing a space with a stranger. I’m just not that trusting. I’d rather spend a little more money to feel safe. Other people are into renting a room or a couch but just use your judgement if you choose to go this route. If something doesn’t feel right don’t do it. Trust your intuition.
Use social media smartly.
I know it’s tempting to IG every picture right then and check in at every location. However, you have to be very cautious of your digital imprint. Some people literally leave breadcrumbs to the world that any sicko could find out and exploit to harm you. Don’t be Hansel and Gretel.
I typically share pics and check in a while after I have left a location if it’s for my public profile. As a blogger it’s not uncommon to want to share something real-time, but I opt for kinda sorta real time if I’m by myself. This way I’m not making myself a marked target. If I do a real time check in, it’s only for my private account but even then I keep it at a minimum.
I hope you find these tips helpful. For the most part common sense and a little extra planning is enough to keep you safe on your adventures. Be strong. Be courageous and go live your very best life! And basically don’t do anything stupid, like take a selfie with bison 20 feet behind you or go wandering off tipsy with a random guy in a foreign country by yourself. Stuff like that is the quickest way to be pruned from the human gene pool.
Do you have any tips for safety that I didn’t list? Share them in the comments!
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Lauren G. , Outdoorsy Diva™
“Adventure is a lifestyle.”