Going Solo? Travel Safely!

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American women are number one in the world for traveling alone, whether for business or for fun. Most say they are looking for new cultural experiences, for a little “me time” or for the freedom that traveling alone offers. Last year, 72 percent of American women took a trip on their own, and while women travelers say they have become more confident, there are still some basic rules women can follow to stay safe and make the most of their travels.

Get Educated
The U.S. State Department publishes an up-to-date online fact sheet detailing risks for traveling to other countries, including, but not limited to, security and health risks. Check it out when first planning your trip and then again a few days before you leave. Consider buying travel insurance in case you have to cancel.

The State Department also offers a free Smart Travel Enrollment Program (STEP) for any American citizen. They send breaking news and can help a local embassy or your family contact you in an emergency. It’s available at step.state.gov.

Travel Safely
It’s easier and safer to travel without a lot of luggage. A smaller wheeled suitcase is all you truly need, even for longer trips. Keep your passport, credit cards and cash in the hotel safe. When you need to carry them, wear a vest with various pockets and put each document in a different pocket, or use a neck pouch or money belt. And leave the expensive jewelry and clothing at home.

Know Where You Are Going
Looking lost is looking vulnerable. While it might be fun to be spontaneous, you should have a general schedule and let someone at home know where you are each day. Make your hotel reservation and private transfer from the airport before you leave home. In case your ride doesn’t show up, have the address of your hotel written down to show to taxi drivers. Save the spur-of-the-moment choices for after you get your bearings and understand the lay of the local landscape. Choose hotels with front desks and concierges, and then request a room near the front desk or elevators. Keep your door and windows locked and security chain fastened. When you leave for the evening, let the front desk know where you are going and when you plan to be back.

Make Friends
Part of the fun of travel is meeting new friends. Nevertheless, be careful of whom you trust. Most people are honest, but both in foreign countries and here in the USA there are people who target women travelers. Don’t trust people with your money or your credit cards and don’t reveal personal information such as your hotel room number. If you’re invited to social events, know where you are going and limit your nighttime outings to well-traveled places. Limit your intake of alcohol, too, which can impair your good judgment.

Stay Alert
Pay attention to anything that seems amiss or out of place. Trust your gut. It’s better to be a little embarrassed than to be hurt. Notice your surroundings, even while enjoying the scenery. In cities, you can use window glass to observe reflections, giving you eyes in the back of your head. Be wary of pickpockets, especially when exiting public transportation. Walk on the outside of sidewalks when possible. Swing wide when walking around corners. If you get lost, ask a shop owner, the police or another woman for directions. Most important, don’t look like a target. Walk as if you own the street. Muggers and others will find someone else to bother.

Defend Yourself
In the rare event that you are actually physically threatened and cannot retreat to safety, the best offense is a good defense. While some women are physically weaker and smaller than most attackers, the element of surprise can save you. React not with fear, but with anger (the two emotions are close cousins). If you’re threatened, take a step or two toward your attacker, yell, use profanity and look the attacker directly in the eye. Use your purse, cell phone, a set of swinging keys–whatever is in your hand–as a weapon. Don’t be afraid of making a scene. Your safety is at stake.

Have Fun
Learn a few words of the local language. Knowing how to say the basics–please, thank you, good morning and good evening and how much–can help you make a good impression. Knowing how to say, “Where is the women’s bathroom?” can also be very helpful. Read up on the local culture, foods and the weather, even if you’re staying in the USA. This will keep you from using the wrong hand gesture, saying the wrong thing or wearing inappropriate clothing, including dressing for the wrong climate. It will also keep you from missing out on the best-kept local secrets, surprise events and hidden gems. Go with a positive attitude but don’t take unnecessary chances. HLM

Sources: adventurouskate.com, buzzfeed.com, kevincoffey.com, travel.gc.ca and yahoo.com.