The Four Cardinal Rules of Safe, Solo Lady Travel

Traveling alone when you're a woman isn't as hard or scary as people would have you believe! If you're looking for solo female travel advice, this is for you - I learned these safe travel tips from 20+ years and 38 countries! Click through to plan your solo trip today. #solotravel #singletravel #femaletravel #womantravel

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!

P.S. How to live out of a suitcase – glamorously

photo by brooke cagle // cc

39 Comments

Ellie Di

One of my biggest fears that keeps me from following through on dreams of travelling outside of the West is being molested/accosted because I'm a white woman who only speaks English. It makes me feel incredibly guilty that I have this fear, too – like somehow it makes me a Bad Person. Your safety tips, however, are all fairly common sense, and if you can be the wild adventurer that you are and not have bad things happen to you, then surely I can be one, too.

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Miss Eliza Sea

Cute, fashionable and doesn't reinforce those stereotypes about fast western girls.

Was that line really necessary? Maybe it's because I am a fat western girl, but it seems kind of unnecessary and a little mean.

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caitlin

thanks for this. it's full of common sense but also super helpful 😀

miss eliza sea, it says "fast" not fat. i miss read it the first time too and did a double take

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Jeanni

I use the taxi one all the time here, I take taxis from the airport or bus station at university, and it's always been something my parents told me to do, we're from New York, so it's all very common sense to us.

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Lisa

I think you nailed it here Sarah!

I traveled solo across Central America and these were my saving graces..

I'd just add "trust your gut." I found myself in a lot of weird/exciting/precarious situations that could have been nightmarish had I not paused to evaluate the scenario and feel my way through.

thanks for posting!

-Lisa

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alli

I spent 5 weeks in India, and traveled alone for 2 of them. I also found that avoiding eye contact worked- it deters most of the glances that are more than just curious. One day I was on a tour led by a man, who kept asking questions about whether or not I was married, so I just made up a husband on the spot! Worked wonders 🙂

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Kae

The timing of this post is ridiculous! Just last night I decided to start saving for a Big Solo Trip, so just last night i started worrying about how to be safe on the road alone…if I didn't know better, I'd think it was a sign! 😉
thanks for this!

-Kae

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Sabrina

I LOVE THIS! One of the best things that my offbeat, metaphysical Mama ever did was to teach me to listen to my intuition.

Your post about the heebie jeebies reminds me of one of my person mantras: that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach is telling you something! I always listen to my intuition as a matter of principle, even if it means being impolite or socially unacceptable. To this day I have yet to be kidnapped, raped, or murdered. Strong work!

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Anonymous

Learned this from locals in Africa:

Dress nicely, like you're going to your job. Only tourists wear sneakers in the city. Put on nicer shoes that may be less comfortable for walking.

Never carry a backpack. Only tourists carry backpacks. If you have a backpack, put it in a plastic shopping bag and carry that in your hand.

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Kate

I've also traveled alone, mainly in South America and Europe, and been totally fine.

I would say that in addition to genereal not-looking-lost, I find BitchFace to be quite useful. I don't look like this all the time (I hope!), but late night solo rides in dicey public transport, walks through slums and past drunk men absolutely require it. The ideal face is "I've had a bad day, am so tired I cannot be bothered to look in your direction, and find you moderately annoying and pathetic as opposed to scary."

Also, I find that sometimes I need to remind myself I am more concerned about my safety than seeming weird or rude. Do what you have to do to get out of a sketchy situation, whatever people may think!

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SP

Very good tips.

I never had my bag stolen while abroad but I had several friends, my mom and my sister both have purses stolen. If you need to set it down or next to you just hook the strap around your ankle or arm so if someone tries to grab it you'll feel it and still be holding it.

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Danielle

Wow…I'm sorry. I really like reading your blog, but this post was just a little absurd to me, and completely shows why other countries and cultures have this bias towards American tourists. I have lived in 4 countries, and visited more than I can count. I have an uncle who is a political prisoner in Libya who I visited on my own when I was 20 years old, and have NEVER felt scared in a country. Guess what? People get robbed, raped and harassed here in America, too. And men who make "kissy" sounds? FYI, in a lot of cultures, that is a compliment, not harassment. They are not trying to be rude, it's just most people don't realize that this form of flattery is not something that occurs in the US. I have a friend who was robbed by a taxi driver in Arizona…her hometown. That stuff happens everywhere. If you have such a fear of other people, maybe you should be re-evaluating where you are traveling. I'm really sorry if this comes off as rude.

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Rachael

these are all fabulous pieces of advice!
@Kate – I'm "lucky" in that BitchFace is my 'resting' expression – people are always assuming I'm angry or in a bad mood (never mind I am probably watching cartoons in my brain) ~ and this has definitely come in handy when traveling. 😀

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Jessika

Danielle,
I travelled in Kambodia when it was only recently opened for tourists and there WERE adequate safety concerns. I had travelled extensively enough to have developed common travellers sense BUT this was the first time I really acknowledged that I did need to be careful.

Most people were very friendly, and interested. But it was the first time (ever) I got mugged. Someone tried to grab my back-pack had it not been for this safety net I have for safety. In Saudi-arabia I wore traditional dress under the acknowledgement that when in Rome, do as the romans do.

You don't need to be super conservative and/or afraid. If you are afraid of drinking tap water in countries where water quality is as good as any bottled water (like Scandinavia), then you are probably over concerned with safety and can't experience much in terms of anything. Then you can just stay within your own comfort zone (read stay at home).

I didn't find this post discouraging. You do need to be somewhat prepared. Being prepared makes it all the more enjoyable and IF awkward situations occur then you are more ready to deal with it.
I've had friends who fell asleep on an all night (nonstop) bus travel in central asia and let us stay with that it didn't end so well. For the most part, and a given majority of people, are nice and friendly but having thought about safety is good for you.

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Jessika

Addendum.
Re the friends. It had not occured to them that they could be at risk for anything. You should be trusting but use common sense.

Reply
leslaz

Another general safety tip — both for use where ever you live or if you are traveling — is something I fondly refer to as 'tailgating.' If I suddenly have that weird feeling in the pit of my stomach that the area I'm in is not quite right, or some person gives me the heebie jeebies, I walk close enough to a group of people so that I might be considered part of their crowd, or at least close enough that I'm not notably by myself. Of course, this depends upon the people who happen to be around you and is solely based on vibe, but the confident walk helps too.

Great tips everyone! I really enjoy this blog!

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NatRat

Hey there,
On Sunday I returned home after living abroad in Central Mexico for four months. I totally agree with all of your travel information. It is true that the kissing, hissing, smacking noises, along with cat calls of "Mamacita," "Guera" (my personal favorite. its means "white girl."), "Chica Hermosa," not to mention stares or the occasional ass-grab, can most certainly be unsettling for any solo 20 year old blonde college student such as myself!
But, these are cultural differences. While they are uncomfortable, it is important to take notice.
However I managed Mexico quite comfortably.
I highly recommend traveling, ladies, no matter your skill in a foreign language or how daunting it may seem! Just be prepared for the sometimes uncomfortable or awkward cultural differences.

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Jessika

Egypt, or Alexandria to be specific, was pretty unfun in the inapropriate touching by men. My friend who lives their said that it happens to any and all though. I'll take her word for it. But then I was groped more in the Japanese subway than I've been anywhere else. In Japan they have only women sections in the subway. The fulfilment of the rules can be debatable though. Countries that you expect to be dangerous can surprise you. Alas, stick to self preservation and common sense.

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Shauna (Fido and Wino)

The fake phone call- such a great idea!

I was in Italy with my boyfriend at the time for a month when I was thinking- Hey! This is pretty great! I haven't had too much unwanted attention, this has been good! Then one day I decided to go for a walk by myself around Rome and within 10 minutes I was being followed and I experienced more than one butt grab.

After that I grabbed my boyfriend again 🙂

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Sarah Von Bargen

Danielle,

I am not at all saying that these things don't happen in America – I worked in a terrible neighborhood in Minnesota and was harassed more in St. Paul than I ever was in any other country.

I wrote this post to share tips with other women who haven't traveled, might not know what to expect and should know how to deal with these things that they might not have experienced before.

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Erin

Hi Sarah!

Great tips – might I add the suggestion of large dark sunglasses, they help to not make eye contact. I also found wearing a fake wedding ring a huge help, as well as a headscarf.

Above all, I find that if you respect local customs and dress appropriately you wont have any problems – I'll never forget seeing a Canadian girl I was travelling with wearing denim cutoffs in a village in Uganda, she was almost mobbed! Didn't see why she should have to cover herself either, sigh!

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Anastasia

When I first went to NY I smiled and said excuse me all the time. My then fiance who grew up there had to explain to me to just walk after the 8,000 homeless person came up to conversate.

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Lena

Jessika:
I live in Tokyo, and I agree that the subways can be terrible! Bitch-face generally works pretty well for me, but what makes Japanese subways so terrible is that its just so hard to tell what is and isn't appropriate, because people are so packed in.
A couple of times I've just turned to the person who's rubbing up to much for comfort and just flat out said "You know, if you keep bumping into me like that, it really makes you seem like a chikan (pervert)."
That phrase works wonders in a country where keeping face is super important.

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Amelia jane

As someone else who's travelled extensively, these are all really true! I think in every country though, catcalling (kissing noises, whatever) is considered a 'compliment' but that doesn't mean it's not really disconcerting. When I was in Barcelona and a guy wouldn't let go of my hands, no matter how often I said 'Please let go' IN SPANISH too, and kept asking me to go for a drink with him, because I was 'so pretty', he probably thought that was a compliment. I don't know if the taxi driver who made a blow-job motion at me through his window thought that was a compliment, but it definitely made me more wary of taking a cab. Ugh.
One piece of advice, that you kind of cover her, about dress, that I read somewhere, was to try to not look like a tourist, and in a place where that's more difficult (like being a white girl in Peru) try to look like an expat; like you know where you are and where you're going and like you live there, basically.
Having said all that stuff about 'compliments' though, I've had some really sweet conversations with old gents in parks in both Spain and Peru…it's just so annoying to feel that burst of WHAT IF HE TRIES TO HOLD MY HAND when a stranger first sits down next to you.

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Your Unintended

My phone has a 'Fake Call' function where it calls you a couple of seconds after you press a button. You can even record a message to make it sound like someone is talking to you. It really is a fantastic feature.

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Rachael

All of this is sound advice, especially for travelers who might not have much experience! I'd add that if you speak the language of wherever you're visiting, be as clear as you can about boundaries when meeting new people. I studied in France and was the de facto interpreter for my group, which led to me explaining to a French dude we had just met that no, he was not allowed to kiss my friend's neck.

Oh, and to add to the "wearing a wedding ring might be a deterrent" comment above – make sure you know which hand they use in whatever country you're visiting! It's the right hand in much of Europe.

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Jessika

@Lena, I lived in Kyoto and worked in Osaka. It was interesting train rides for sure.
Someone suggested grabbing the offending hand, even in a sardine packed subway car and ask, loudly, who the hell the hand belonged to! Well, somewhat adapted to japanese conditions of course.

Reply

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