One of the biggest questions about solo travel is safety, especially whether or not it’s safe for a woman to travel alone. We’ve talked with dozens of men and women who travel solo, all around the world. Do they have problems on the road? Yes. But do they think that, on the whole, traveling alone is safe and worthwhile? Yes, on both counts. Which is a big part of why they keep setting out on their own.
Of course, even people who prefer to travel alone don’t usually want to remain completely on their own at all times – part of the fun of traveling solo is meeting up with new and interesing people everywhere you go. In fact, solo travelers usually have an easier time meeting new people, as they’re easier to approach than a group of people who already know each other might be.
When you’re in the mood for a little social interaction and you’re hoping to make some new friends, there are lots of ways to do it. You could see if other folks at your hostel want to make a group dinner one night and plan an excursion together to one of the markets. You could find a cafe that’s popular with travelers, or visit a popular tourist attraction, and introduce yourself to other travelers who look like they’re in the know. If you know even a little of the language, you could strike up a conversation with a local who seems friendly, giving you a shot at some insider tips for the destination as well as a chance to practice your language skills. Suzanne Scala’s article, “Beating Loneliness on the Road” lists some other great suggestions for meeting new people.
But unfortunately, it’s not all as simple as just planning to meet new people and making it happen in a perfectly safe way all the time. The reality is that it’s not a perfectly safe world out there, and while we certainly don’t think the majority of the people you’ll encounter are intent on doing you harm, when you’re traveling solo it’s just smart to be on the alert for the less-than-nice people in the world. Below, you’ll find a few tips for solo travelers – many of the tips are pretty woman-traveler-centric, which is a testament to the sad reality that women traveling alone tend to run into more problems than men. Still, men sometimes have trouble as well when they’re traveling alone, and some of the advice here is applicable no matter what your gender is.
- Public humiliation is a tool you can use. For both men and women, if someone is constantly accosting you, or seems potentially threatening, draw attention. Talk loudly. Shout. Laugh and scream, do something crazy; draw public attention to the person’s inappropriate behavior so that they’ll either be embarrassed and leave, or someone comes over to help you.
- Educate thyself. Travel writer Marybeth Bond has traveled alone, quite extensively, over a good part of the world. Her advice, as seen in Dawn MacKeen’s “Women’s dilemma: Is solo travel worth the risk?” is “for most solo women travelers, negative encounters with men will come in the form of cat calls, dirty looks, pinches and lewd remarks. If you’re going to travel alone, you should be prepared to encounter these. And you should educate yourself before leaving on your trip, so that you know how local stereotypes and perceptions of women may affect you – and how you can minimize the risks.”
- Dress for the culture. If the women traditionally wear long skirts, you probably don’t want to jump out in your halter top and short shorts (in other words, not like the photo at the right). And guys, even if you tend to wear your denim shorts and logo Ts at home, chances are good that’s not what the local men are wearing. Trousers (and long skirts for the gals) really are the best travel gear. Educate yourself on local clothing customs, and try your best to fit in. This goes for headgear as well – is it culturally insensitive or a cultural necessity to have one’s head covered? Find out. You’re less likely to get unwanted attention – and probably more respect from locals – by respecting their culture, even if it’s different from yours.
- Wear a wedding ring. Buy a simple ring and put it on your wedding ring finger. If someone starts to bug you, point out that you’re going to meet your husband at the bus station, or your wife at a cafe. It’s a simple thing, and the person you’re talking to may not believe it, but they’re likely to get the hint that you’re not interested in talking to them. And it’s worked for countless people for years, so it’s got to have something going for it!
- Leave! In her article Going Solo, Anita Culp points out “If something makes you angry, just remember: you don’t live there, you can leave anytime, and you’ll never have to deal with this again!” No matter where you are or what you’re in the middle of, you can wrap it up quickly and move along. Gulp down the rest of your beer, speed-eat the rest of your lunch, shut down your laptop, close your book – and go somewhere else. There will be another bar, another cafe, and another spot to write or read, and one where you may just run into more agreeable people.
- “A single degree of paranoia can be useful”, says David Savage in his story Lone Female. “Traveling is not about purposefully putting oneself at risk. It is about putting oneself in places that are new, with people that are different and absorbing the lessons the experience has to offer. However, a traveler cannot always control situations or avoid risk… Consider where you are and who is around. Don’t leave yourself isolated with a stranger. Listen to your gut instinct.”
These are just a few safety tips, but what they boil down to is think, be aware, educate yourself, and don’t be afraid to do what’s necessary to keep yourself safe.