A piece of personal trivia about me: despite having traveled through 20 countries, I’ve never had anything stolen, been seriously harassed or groped. I realize that this is craaaazy lucky, but I’d also like to think that it has something to do with my four cardinal rules of safe, solo lady travel.
How to Stay Safe as a Solo Female Traveler
1. Dress Conservatively
Come summer in America, I’m all over strapless sundresses, shorts that hit several inches above the knee and swishy little numbers. But outside western countries, these outfits aren’t necessarily appropriate.
And if you don’t look like the locals, wearing revealing clothing will only elicit cat calls, staring, glares and maybe even groping. But you don’t need to dress exclusively in muumuus, either.
I like to wear harem pants (cute, fashionable, not super tight) three quarter length tissue t-shirts, a scarf (dresses up any outfit and hides your boobs) and a cute pair of flats.
Cute, fashionable and doesn’t reinforce those stereotypes about fast western girls.
2. Walk Fast
When you’re walking around a new city, it’s really tempting to toddle along, looking from your opened Lonely Planet to the street signs, pausing to peruse the market goods, stopping to soak up the ambiance of this new place. Which you should totally do!
But, if you’ve got a usual route that you walk or a specific destination you should walk there briskly and stalk the streets like you’re a force to be reckoned with.
If you’ve got to reference a map in your guide book, make a copy of it (or just rip it out of your book) tuck it into your pocket and reference it when you’re in a cafe or bathroom, not standing on the street corner looking confused. Hold yourself like you’re not someone to be trifled with – people will respond accordingly.
Need inspiration? Try the Murder Walk!
3. Avoid Eye Contact
This is a slightly depressing one. If you visit a place where locals have been exposed to years of western media and western women’s very sexualized image, lots of men will imagine that you would very happily put out.
They’ll probably stare at you, they’ll probably talk about you and they might yell at you or make super disgusting sucking noises in your direction (yes. true story.) Don’t look at them. Don’t talk to them. Don’t make eye contact.
When you’re walking past a group of men that looks dicey, try to put yourself out of arm’s reach. Restrict your smiles and small talk to boys below the age of 10 and women. In lots of cultures, smiling and making 15 minutes of conversation indicates a certain amount of romantic interest.
And in defense of men the world over, 95% of the guys staring at you aren’t plotting to jump you. They’re just intrigued because you’re something of an oddity. They’d be just as likely to stare at a sheep dressed in a top hat walking down the road.
4. Make A Fake Phone Call
I almost never take taxis in America (so expensive!) so I kind of love taking them in other countries. But taking them at night, especially on your own, can be a bit dangerous.
I won’t give you The Fear by relating some of the horror stories that I’ve heard, I’ll just tell you about the clever, clever solution that my Peruvian host mom taught me.
If you find yourself out late and in need of a taxi (and you can’t get a safe, authorized “radio” taxi) flag down a taxi and jump in.
Once you’re settled in the back, take out your cell phone, pretend to dial and say to the imaginary person on the other end “Hi, Mom. Yes, I’m on my way home, I’m in the taxi now. His registration number is ___________ and his name is ________________. Yes, I’m sure it’s fine. See you soon!”
Of course, you could really actually call someone, but if you haven’t got a local cell phone or anyone to call, this is a good stand in. And I’ve even pretended that my digital camera is a cell phone – it’s dark, they’re not going to notice!
Other Safety Tips for Solo Female Travel
- A regular pen gripped in your hand can be a good weapon – for eye-gouging or leg-stabbing. I also have and love this keychain; it looks like a friendly plastic kitty, but it’s actually a self-defense tool! Since it’s plastic, you can (usually) get it through airport security and metal detectors.
- Get one of those money belts and keep your passport, credit cards and big bills inside your clothes all.the.time. Or get a scarf with a hidden pocket!
- Don’t get super drunk or high. Maybe you can do this at your hostel bar, but do you really want to be that a-hole who wakes up everybody in the dorm room at 3 am?
- If someone or something is giving you the heebie jeebies, get out of there. You don’t need to explain yourself or make excuses, just leave.
Have you traveled on your own? Share you safety tips with us!