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Photo by Luo Lei on Unsplash

In episode 17 of the Messy Middle Road Trip, I talked about great tips to stay safe if you travel solo. Here are the extended show notes (the podcast is better!).

In my travels, I meet women who are in mid-life, single, with no kids at home, money in their pocket and dying to get out and see the world. “Great,” I ask. “Where do you want to go?”

Usually, a sad look crosses their face, and I hear some version of, “I don’t have anyone to travel with…”  Meaning, I can’t/won’t go alone, so I’m stuck here.  No matter how much I try to convince them otherwise, they don’t believe 1)They deserve to travel and 2) They absolutely can go alone.

The key to staying safe and having a fantastic time is planning, paying attention, and using that smart brain currently residing in your head.  Here are few tips to help on your solo journey to the great unknown.

Hire a Professional

I’m a big believer in hiring a professional whenever possible, and this includes traveling planning. Finding a female travel consultant with expertise in your chosen location will make a huge difference in your trip. Her on-the-ground experience will complement your research and provide practical advice and information, so you get the most out of your experience.

Accommodations

Finding the right accommodations can make the difference between a fabulous empowering experience and a nightmare. Always read the one and two-star reviews and look for reoccurring problems. Did guests find the front door unlocked or propped open? Are locks flimsy or hallways poorly lit? Did guests feel unsafe? Bad reviews provide a wealth of information, just watch for trolls who write unfair or inaccurate reviews.

Allocate a few extra dollars for accommodations in the city center. A centrally located hotel will be near the major tourist attractions, the area will have steady foot traffic day and night, and you won’t have to worry about long public transportation or taxi rides back to your hotel.

Transportation

How will you get around once you’ve arrived in your dream location? What is the public transportation system like and how close is it to the hotel?  Are unmarked taxis safe to use? Luckily, a lot of this information is available at our fingertips. You should also ask the advice of the hotel’s female employees.

Travel Insurance

Always buy travel insurance.  Always.

This is gender neutral advice that I give to anyone who will listen.  First, think about the cost of the trip.  Would you spend $10,000 on a piece of jewelry and not insure it?  I don’t think so.  Second, with the right plan, insurance covers so much more than the trip. Good travel insurance will help get you home if there’s a natural or human-made disaster. It will also provide medical coverage if your sick or even airlift you back to the States for treatment in an emergency. 

Finally, make sure it’s the right policy for your trip. You won’t need the same insurance to visit California wine country as a trip to the Amazon rain forest, so look at all of the options offered by the insurance company.

Theft Protection

If losing something would devastate you (e.g. your grandmother’s earrings) leave them at home.  In fact, I recommend zero to minimal jewelry or costume jewelry. 

Keep all of the important stuff like your passport, money, credit card, phone in one small pouch that you strap across your body and keep on your person until you reach your hotel room. Don’t put it down next to your luggage or on the counter while you find money for a train ticket. If you look away for a moment, it’s gone. If someone is bothering you or trying to distract you for directions, etc. there’s a good chance his/her friend is stealing your stuff.  Hold on to that bag and don’t let go.

Year’s ago, I stay at a hostel in Amsterdam. The other women in the room were friendly, and I naively left my bag on my bed to go into the attached bathroom. Two minutes later I returned to find my bag and the friendly women gone. Most thieves are opportunists not criminal masterminds. Don’t give them the opportunity.

Use the hotel safe to stash your valuables.  Take only what you really need out into the world, but not your passport. Some cash, a credit card, and your room key should do.

Having Fun

Don’t drink too much. Drinking and taking drugs impedes your judgment and makes certain situations unsafe. Know your limit and be smart.

Blend In and Wear Pants

Try to look less American. No sneakers (exception: nice, fashion sneakers)! Avoid shorts and t-shirts or anything that screams American tourist. Follow the country’s customs regarding clothing. Cover up in Muslim countries, wear loose clothing in India, and a scarf in Paris (obviously not required, but man, those women look nice). Following local fashion will help you blend in and avoid problems.

In case you’re wondering: No, yoga pants aren’t appropriate for every occasion. I traveled to Ireland this summer and everywhere (churches, restaurants, museums) I looked, I saw American women in yoga pants. Come on ladies; you’re representing our nation, please wear real pants.

Directions

Download a map of the city on your phone, so you can access it without an internet connection.  If you need to consult a map, pop into a store or cafe and discretely get reoriented.  Nothing screams MUG ME like a lost looking tourist staring at a big paper map.

If you do get lost, fake it until you make it. Walk around like you own the place and have someplace very important to go. Then ask a woman with kids for directions.

When you head out, take a business card from your hotel with its address written in the local language. Also, ask someone at your hotel to write your destination down just in case you get lost and need to ask for help.

Have a Back-Up Plan

Give a copy of your passport, travel documents, itinerary, and credit cards to a friend at home. Store a second copy on Google Docs or Dropbox. Keep emergency money and second credit card in your underwear (or someplace safe) just in case you’re robbed or something unexpected happens.

Other ideas

  • Download Google translate. The translations aren’t always perfect, but people will get the gist of your question and can use the same App to answer.
  • Watch for pickpockets on buses, trains, elevators, and escalators.
  • Put your foot through the loop of your bag anytime you need to rest it on the floor.
  • Bring something to wedge under the hotel door to prevent entry while you’re inside.
  • If you want to go old school, buy a money belt and keep valuables under your shirt.
  • Finally, use your common sense. Your gut, above all, will tell you if something isn’t right. Listen to that voice in your head. I know you are woman, hear me roar, but most of the time it’s smart to walk the other way.

The whole world is out there waiting for you.  Makes plans and go.  You deserve it.

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