I spent most of October blogging about my trip to California. My travel posts also talked about what it’s like to go adventuring by myself as a woman. I covered the intrusive questions people ask and touched a little on the safety concerns we all have about hitting the road solo. Since then, many women have reached out to me about following up with safety tips.
I have my own precautions for travelling alone. Still, instead of giving advice based on my personal preferences and experience, I decided to ask other women who travel solo what they do to stay safe. This post pools all our tips together so you — or your daughters, nieces, wives, sisters, girlfriends, and mothers — can stay safe while travelling alone.
The Concerns Women Have
Every woman has her own cause for worry when she travels. This may stem from warnings from family members, news stories we come across, and past experiences. It should come as no surprise to anyone that almost all our concerns centre around one primary theme: men.
How To Stay Safe
The truth is that there is no foolproof way to remain safe when you travel solo. Being a woman is a dangerous full-time job no matter where you live and where you travel to. Still, when you’re in unfamiliar territory you should take extra precautions. Crime and violence are not your only concerns either. You could get lost on a hiking trail or you might get stuck on a dirt road like I did in California.
If you begin to feel overwhelmed by the tips below, remember that these all came from multiple people and cover various scenarios. These are not strict rules you have to follow to stay safe. That said, the more travel time you spend solo, the more these things become automatic parts of your routine.
1. Research the Location
If you’re not a seasoned solo traveller and you’re not familiar with certain cultures, be more selective about where you go. This year, my friend bailed on me at the last minute, sending me to a Muslim country by myself as a woman. My family fretted endlessly, even my Dad, who usually high-fives me on my adventurous plans and goes on his way.
Once I realised I was going by myself, I knew I needed to spend even more time researching the area. I started with my Airbnb host. I had originally booked two rooms and having cancelled one, he knew I was coming alone. I asked what precautions I should take and got some good advice. I also turned to Quora, Twitter and Facebook for more advice.
Here’s the basics of what you need to know:
- Whether or not you share a common language
- Local laws that may apply to you
- Health and safety concerns
- Cultural expectations
- Dress restrictions
- Food available
2. Share Your Itinerary
When I did group trips with friends, the itinerary was always up to me. We knew beforehand exactly what trails we planned to hike and on what days. When I travel solo, I’m not as organised, because there’s no group to get consent from. I have a list of things I plan to do and move things around based on what inspires me the night before.
I do, however, always check in with family before heading out and after coming back. I also have one or two friends that I share my movements with. One family member also knows how to log into my email from the desktop at home. I’ve told them if I go missing to open Google Photos and see what my last pictures are.
This may seem like a morbid precaution to take, but even men have gone missing on the trails I visited. Paul Miller, for instance, is a Canadian hiker who has been missing since the summer of 2018. The trail he disappeared from is the very first one I hiked when I visited the Joshua Tree area.
3. Navigating to Locations
On my second visit to California, I spent all my hiking trips inside Joshua Tree National Park. The park is otherworldly in its natural beauty, but it does have one downside. Most of the park is so remote that there is no phone signal. That meant that GPS could take me in, but it couldn’t necessarily get me out.
One way to work around this is to download the Google map of the location you plan to visit ahead of time. You might wonder, “Well, what if your phone battery dies?” I leave a solar power bank in my car and it has never failed me. If it did though, there are other solutions to consider.
Sheila is the author behind Life After Retirement. She has spent a great deal of time on the road, both for work and leisure. She adds, “It is a good idea to keep printed directions and a map available. Sometimes your trips may require you to travel off major interstate highway systems.”
4. Get Roadside Assistance
I added roadside assistance to my auto insurance policy for the first six months of owning a car. Then, this year, I switched to AAA. I have never had to call them and I hope it stays that way. If you plan to do a lot of driving, add roadside assistance to your auto insurance policy or sign up with an independent company.
Earlier in this blog post, I shared a video of me getting stuck on a dirt road in Joshua Tree. It took the locals two hours to get me out and it didn’t cost me a cent. So many people stopped to help me drag my over-ambitious crossover out of the dirt. We actually had to start turning help away.
While the locals were only too happy to rescue this damsel in distress, if I was anywhere else in America, I would have called AAA. I certainly would never accept help from anyone in Atlanta if I got stuck. I don’t trust people here. No one does anything without wanting something in return and human trafficking of Black women is on the rise.
5. Fill Up and Charge
Dirt roads aren’t the only reason you could get stranded on the road. Sheila reminds travellers to keep an eye on their fuel levels. Travelling out west taught me the importance of looking out for not just service but “NO SERVICE” signs. If you don’t have a full tank and see this sign, you might want to turn back and fill up.
For drivers of electric vehicles, this is the exact cause of your range anxiety. Some vehicles come with GPS systems that map out charging stations along the way to keep you going. Don’t ignore these. Some drivers have also successfully set up generators to give them a few miles of charge to get them to the next plug-in.
If all else fails, roadside assistance can help you here as well. Don’t choose a company that will only tow your vehicle. There are services available where someone will come out to charge your EV. AAA has been offering this service since as far back as 2011.
6. Guard Your Conversations
If you fly to your location, you might start up a conversation with the person sitting next to you. Be careful about the information you share regarding your travel plans. Even if the woman beside you is a sweet old lady, you never know who else might be sitting in earshot.
The same goes for the rest of your interactions when you arrive at your destination. Try to be polite and answer questions, but give vague responses. I wouldn’t recommend clamming up and shooing people away as it implies that you have something to hide and a good reason to be concerned for your safety. That screams, “I am a woman travelling solo!” in my opinion.
If you’re a blogger, like I am, don’t add locations to your posts when you travel. I waited until I was safely back in the United States to add any location tags to my Maldives photos. I also never post about a place while I’m still there. There are several islands in the Maldives, so figuring out which one I was staying on would take some serious guesswork.
7. Be Selective About Company
When it comes to socializing, Sheila says, “While visiting unfamiliar places, you want to get a taste of evening fair. [I]f you decide to go out at night, go to places where there are lots of people around. I would always check in [with] the concierge/information desk at the hotel to figure out how safe it was for me to be out and about on my own.”
When I was in the Maldives, I also relied on the hotel staff and their family for socializing. I did venture out on my own but with the intention to remain alone. I would go to the beach, look around the shops, and then head back. All the more adventurous excursions I took were planned by the hotel and gave me plenty of opportunities to spend time with the locals.
In California, I had a dilemma. I needed to speak with the locals because this town was a top candidate for my new home. I spoke to everyone from seniors in the grocery lines to millennials at coffee shops and former residents at the music festival. My line of thinking was that, in a town this small, if I couldn’t trust my neighbours, there was no point in us moving. Consider your reasons for granting exceptions very carefully.
8. Protect Personal Items
One of the most common concerns women shared with me was for their personal belongings. This included not just money and jewellery but also passports and other travel documents. In most hotels and even Airbnbs, you get access to a safe or locked drawer to store your belongings.
When there is none, I find somewhere else to hide my things. I also always cancel room service and decline to get my room cleaned. Yes; even while in the Maldives for two weeks. If I need fresh towels, I ask for them personally and bring them back to my room. I bring out my trash and dirty towels myself.
Sheila also reminds travellers to think carefully about what you don’t leave in your hotel room. She says, “We sometimes want to carry everything with us, [which causes] us to over pack our bags and purses. …. [T]ry not to carry unnecessary … items that can be pilfered. … [B]ackpacks are great for carrying lots of items and cuts down on having to worry about a purse.”
9. Pay Close Attention
This one goes without saying and hardly requires an explanation. Take note of the people around you and their proximity to yourself and your possessions. Is there a particular face you keep seeing everywhere you go? Do you always seem to bump into a specific person when you go out? Women travelling solo is a predator’s favourite prize, so always pay close attention to the people around you.
10. Enjoy Yourself
As I said at the start of this post, if you focus too much on all the negative possibilities of solo travel, you won’t enjoy it. Plan ahead for the worst and then live in the moment. There’s no time quite like the present to be happy.
If you’ve never travelled solo and don’t spend a lot of time on your own at home, you may wonder what activities you can try. Here are a few I’ve done on solo trips:
- Snorkelling (plan this with your hotel)
- Kayaking (plan this with your hotel)
- Camping (for experienced adventurers only)
- Hiking (for experienced hikers only)
- Museums and art galleries
- Drive-in movie theatres
- Pools and hot tubs
- Farmers markets
- Music festivals
A Few Last Words
Travelling solo is one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had as a woman. It’s a true test of your independence and sense of freedom. While it’s important to account for the risks while planning your trip, remember to relax a little and have a good time.
Are you also a woman who travels solo? Share any tips I missed in the comments below. If you’re still thinking about whether or not you want to give solo travel a try, tell me your concerns and we’ll all try to give you the best advice we can.
A special thank you to Sheila for taking the time to give such a detailed response to my email requesting quotes for this article. And, as always, my amazingly interactive tweeps on Twitter came through with the answers I needed to fill in the rest of my post. I can never thank you guys enough for getting involved.