Travel Solo Internationally and Stay Safe

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There was a time, not long ago, when it was rare for a woman to travel the world by herself. Today things are different. Recent surveys show that now more than 58 percent of solo travelers are female.

Perhaps the change came from the success of books and movies such as Eat Pray Love, or simply a new realization that traveling alone means it’s easier to go where you want, when you want. But while more and more women are setting off on their own, women travelers need to take precautions to remain safe. Luckily, most of these take only a little extra effort.

Do Your Research
Check the State Department’s website as your first step in planning your trip. It can give you the information you need, including alerts and warnings on individual countries. You can also get information on passports, visas, immunizations, medical information, additional fees and conditions abroad that may affect your safety and security. Register with their Smart Traveler app and they’ll send text messages with necessary breaking travel news. Check other sites such as the Lonely Planet’s forum.

Plan Ahead
Have an initial schedule and let people back home know where you will be. Reserve your hotel room before you leave the United States and arrange for a private transfer from the airport. Once you arrive at your hotel, make friends with the concierge and the people, especially the women, at the front desk, asking them for recommendations or warnings. Once you’re familiar with your new surroundings, you’ll have a chance to be more spontaneous.

Have a Backup Plan
Keep a photocopy of your passport and visas and email a copy to yourself. Store your passport, extra cash and credit cards in the hotel safe when you are not using them. When out exploring, always carry the number and location of your hotel, rental companies, an emergency contact and the address of the closest U.S. embassy or consulate. And, while disconnecting from technology might seem relaxing, having an international smart phone will help you in emergencies.

Make Friends
Making new friends is part of the travel experience. An ex-patriate group event is a good way meet people who know things to do and see that aren’t in the tourist books. Dropping by casual restaurants and friendly bars is a great way to meet local folks. Have a glass of the local libation, but don’t get tipsy; don’t leave an unattended drink if you leave the table. Carry and wear a fake wedding ring if you need to deter unwanted male attention and don’t be afraid to say no if something doesn’t feel right.

Don’t Be Afraid
While the news is filled with terrible stories, the actual chance of encountering violence is very rare. Still, while out and about, especially after dark, stay alert. Use your eyes and ears and trust your gut feelings. Walk as if you own the street, since bad guys, from pickpockets to muggers, look for the timid and fearful. If you become lost or if you think you are being followed, head for a store, restaurant or hotel and ask for assistance.
In the unlikely case that you are threatened and can’t retreat to a safe place, go on the offensive. Act angry. Step toward the attacker, look him in the eye, yell and even use profanity. Don’t be afraid to make a scene; bad guys don’t want the attention and will retreat.

Don’t Be an Ugly American
Visitors to the United States often comment on how genuinely open, friendly and easygoing Americans are, and it’s true. But when you travel to other places, respect cultural differences. Learn a few phrases in the local language; people will appreciate your effort. In some places, direct eye contact or certain gestures may have a drastically different meaning than they do back home. You don’t want to inadvertently invite unwanted attention. Dress on the conservative side. This is especially important when visiting holy sites.

Don’t Be an Easy Target
Pack lightly. Struggling with heavy luggage can make you a target. Take a few safety items such as a rubber doorstop and a safety whistle, but don’t take mace, which is illegal in many places. While out, have easy access to a small amount of cash and carry one credit card in a small slash-proof bag. You can carry additional money in secret locations such as a money belt, in a small envelope pinned to your bra or even rolled up in an opaque vitamin bottle or a container of dental floss.

With a little planning, the risks of traveling alone are low and the chances of having a wonderful experience are high. Whether you’re on your first solo trip or this is the latest of many, the time has come for women to head out to see the world. Just remember to bring two pairs of walking shoes and your sense of adventure. ■

Sources:,, and the experience of the author.