I love solo travel. It’s liberating, inspiring and exciting but you have to be travel savvy when going it alone as a woman. Here are my 15 safety tips for women travelling solo.
By Allison Foat
Here are a few tips that have stood me in good stead this past decade of trotting around the globe sans a partner. I hope you find it useful, particularly if you’re more of a sophisticated female traveller, like moi. Nothing worse than a fifty-something diva all alone in a foreign fluster!
1. Security: Make sure you know up front what to expect from your destination: typical scams, protocols, customs, cautions etc – know your destinations as thoroughly as possible before you get there;
2. Use sensible, roomy bags that close properly for safety, and comfortably hold a DSLR without giving you a dislocated shoulder. A zip-less Louis Vuitton tote may look fabulous darling but it’s an open invitation to thieves with deft little digits!
Personally I love a stylish backpack (even though Ines de la Fressage says in her fabulous style bible Parisian Chic that they are a no-no once you’ve left school) – backpacks are a necessity for bicycle tourists like me; and a deep sling bag (see my pics re all afore-mentioned bags) that hangs perfectly towards the front of the body, is also ideal;
3. Don’t make it look too obvious when checking directions, and walk with pace, confidently, even if you’re unsure of your surroundings. Use your phone’s GPS to guide you and if you need to flip through a guide book or check your map, do it less obviously inside a store or restaurant over a glass of pinot, and don’t be afraid to ask someone there for assistance;
4. Be sure to have 3G access on your gadgets in lieu of a WiFi fail – buy a local sim card at the airport as you land, with a decent data bundle. If you can (like I do in Cape Town) buy a holiday package from Orange before leaving the country, load the sim on the plane and voila, you’ll be connected as soon as you’re on terra firma; keep a fully charged external battery on you always;
5. Don’t draw cash on the street, rather go into a bank; it’s also useful to load cash onto a Travelex currency card-they can be used at auto banks and for all types of transactions in stores, restaurants etc;
6. If you’re not keen on using public transport, particularly at night, use Uber– it’s safe, usually very prompt and cashless. I tend to avoid local taxi cabs (I’ve been ripped off in almost every city I’ve been to), unless in Tokyo or Madrid, where taxi fares are regulated;
7. Avoid being too flashy and leave the carats and Cartier back home; cover your head and bare shoulders at shrines and temples so as not to disrespect the locals, and if you’re blonde and in Turkey or Egypt, wear a cap – trust me on this one;
8. Don’t overshare your personal info with strangers…be friendly but don’t give your surname, hand over a biz card or tell your hotel address. We all know that in 2 secs you can be tracked via social media and unless someone wants to hand deliver a gift of a pair of Louboutins to your suite, keep your personal details to yourself;
9. If you want to avoid being picked up at a (classy) bar, wear a wedding ring, married or nay. It can be a great detractor – that, and the good old rule of not making lingering eye contact no matter how hot the eye candy, can be a deterrent;
10. If you’re new to solo travel, choose a destination where you know someone, if only a friend of a friend –it’s reassuring knowing there’s someone nearby you can call on for advice or assistance;
11. Don’t rely solely on your mobile devices to store key info- keep a copy of your passport, hotel info and itinerary on you at all times and have the local police and you home embassy numbers at hand;
12. Leave all valuables in the hotel room safe and keep your suitcase locked – ‘housekeeping’ may decide to have a squizz and G-d forbid someone decides that those two-tone Prada brogues belong in their future;
13. If you can, choose an upmarket hotel in a good area where it’s safe to walk around alone, especially after dark, and make sure they offer an airport transfer -this will eliminate a lot of angst on arrival in a strange city. Be polite and friendly to the hotel reception staff as they’re the ones who can best advise re great non-touristy bars and restaurants (usually way less expensive) and will alert you to the no-go areas;
14. Avoid public transport in peak times when the trains and buses are heaving with humanity. Risks, aside from germ overload, is the train running late, the uncomfortably close proximity of other passengers and the high likelihood of being pickpocketed;
15. Book well-recommended food / walking / bicycle tours – it’s a great way to explore a city on your own, right from the get-go and you get to hang out (albeit briefly) with other explorers, which can take the edge off any loneliness some may feel when going it alone on vacation.
Some of my top safe solo travel destinations for women: Stockholm, Lisbon, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Bangkok, London, Barcelona.
Hope this post helps. Keep travelling, explore more, always be alert and be safe as you forth in solo mode!
Read more of Allison’s stories here.