Let’s get something straight: bad things can happen anywhere in the world, both right at home and a thousand miles away. The road is no exception, whether you’re in a beachside 5-star resort or a cramped bus bumping through the misty Ecuadorian Andes.
But that’s no reason to back down. I’ll never accept the notion that I can’t do something because I’m a woman, and you shouldn’t either. While I’m all about throwing caution to the wind and living life to the fullest, it is good practice to keep routine safety measures in place when you’re on the road navigating the unknown.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to hide indoors at night. That’s just unrealistic (and way less fun). Here are 11 ways to live it up and stay safe without sacrificing one bit of travel experience:
Be confident, or fake it ‘til you make it
Hate to say it, but sadly, overt fear and confusion make you an easy target. Get that poker face going even if you’re feeling defeated or lost. The best part? The more you do it, your confidence actually grows, and soon enough you won’t even be faking it. Despite having years of solo travel under my belt, I still get a tad flustered when stepping into unfamiliar countries. Even in the midst of those moments, I know I’m in control and capable. And same to you: you’ve got this.
Do: try to maintain your composure in public if emotions are building.
Don’t: completely ignore your fear. Sometimes, you need to listen to your gut.
Connect with local women and learn about their culture
There’s something infinitely calming and supportive about positive female relationships, am I right? I’ve been able to connect with countless incredible ladies around the world, learning what it’s like to be a woman in different cultures. In the context of safety, you can gain wicked valuable insights by connecting with local women. I’ve been told where to go, where not to go, who to generally trust, and who to be wary of. Reach out for some insider’s advice and make new friends while you’re at it: it’s a win-win.
Do: put yourself out there and try to learn as much as you can.
Don’t: let a language barrier hold you back. Google translated conversations can be surprisingly effective.
Trust your instincts, but still take some risks
Whether it was hitchhiking in Uruguay or going out to breakfast with a local man off the street in Hong Kong, I’ve definitely had my fair share of not holding back. In fact, many of the risks I’ve taken have ended up being the very best experiences in my travels. Gutsy as it may be, I’m a massive proponent of trusting the moment and listening to that feeling in your stomach. It’s led me away from some bad situations, and contrastingly, has immersed me into others that have been life changing. It’s yielded lifelong friendships, spontaneous meals, education about local cultures, and long-term travel buddies.
Do: let your hair down and have some fun.
Don’t: allow yourself to feel pressured by others. If it feels wrong for you, don’t do it.
Stay vigilant when walking at nighttime
Anyone else utterly tired of hearing the outdated sentiment that women should stay in at night to avoid danger? I know I am. If you’re anything like me, that rule just doesn’t work. A city’s energy completely transforms at night and I can’t fathom the thought of avoiding the experience because of “what ifs.” I do, however, follow a couple rules of thumb when it comes to nighttime adventuring.
Keep your wits about you by staying around fairly populated areas, roam near others, and ask locals for advice on safe neighborhoods post sundown. I’ve done my fair share of risky late night walks — some on purpose, others because my arrival bus decided to stop at 4 decrepit rest stops and the driver nearly fell asleep at the wheel. It’s always a toss up.
Do: try to keep other people in sight if you’re walking at night.
Don’t: let fear stop you from experiencing a country at night.
Hide your valuables out of view as much as possible
It should be a no brainer, but oftentimes isn’t. Be as inconspicuous as possible while traveling, especially when you’re in transit with everything you have. I’ve heard so many stories of travelers getting their phones snatched right from their hands in public—and most of them were so caught off guard they couldn’t even react. When I was in Brazil, I bought a cell phone ring holder off the street for $0.50 and it definitely makes me feel a bit more at ease when I need to check my phone while out and about.
Do: get a luggage or backpack lock and stow valuables deep within your bags.
Don’t: ever leave anything unattended. Not even for a second!
Keep your bag(s) next to you at all times
It’s with true disgust that I have to say this: there have been many accounts of sexual harassment from taxi and Uber drivers around the world. Not to mention, scams are quite common as well—anything from overcharging at the end or taking you on a roundabout way to up the fare meter. I fell prey to overcharging in Bogota, Colombia, but was too damn tired to even argue. I never put my backpack in trunks (unless I absolutely have to) in the event that I might need to make a quick escape. If a driver makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, bolt out the door with your bag at the next stoplight.
Do: pack light! It’s easier to get moving fast when you have less weight to lug around.
Don’t: get going without agreeing on a price first.
Try not to get too drunk
Okay, okay — I’d be a downright liar if I said I hadn’t broken this rule in some places around the world, but it’s incredibly important. The excitement of travel can make it easy to get carried away — that, and $1 beers in cheaper countries don’t hurt either. Know your limit. Nevertheless, I’m no party pooper. There’s a happy medium that allows you to enjoy nightlife and a hearty serving of pisco sours (shoutout to you, Peru).
If you see me in a bar or club, I’m always holding my drink from the top so that its covered. It’s utter bullsh*t that we have to be so careful, but ‘better safe than sorry’ isn’t terribly hard to follow.
Do: have some fun! Go tear up the dance floor and try local liquors!
Don’t: leave your drink unattended or with anyone you don’t know.
Keep friends and family in the loop
If your parents haven’t already badgered you for updates, be sure to do it anyway. Not only is it a nice thing to do (hey mom & dad!), but it’s important that your whereabouts are generally known. No need to send location pins every single day, but a simple hey I’m alive and I made it to Santorini is beneficial for everyone involved. If social media is your thing, keep friends and family in the loop wherever you’re roaming with a few simple updates.
Do: check in via text, email, post card, or carrier pigeon.
Don’t: get overly immersed in your Instagram feed while on the road.
Dress like the locals do and try to blend in
Think of blending in as a game. Dressing as the locals do is important for two reasons: it’s respectful and reduces the targeted tourist effect. During my travels in Morocco, I made sure to wear long skirts and cover up more than I would in my home country. One particularly hot day, I neglected to cover my shoulders and ended up getting shoved by a man in the street. It could have been a fluke of an occurrence, but I couldn’t help think it had to do with showing a little more skin. It’s our duty as travelers to learn about local customs and live as if we were regularly part of their society — even if we don’t always agree with it.
Do: research countries before you go or ask women who have been there.
Don’t: over pack. Trust me, it’s simply a pain to carry all of that extra stuff.
Arrive when it works best — just know the map beforehand
I’ve read many pieces that urge women to arrive and depart during the day, and it’s not bad advice at all. But the thing is: it’s not entirely realistic. I’ve rolled into unknown countries at all odd hours of the night, often dazed by lack of sleep (or an aggressive neck cramp from a bus ride).
Have a concrete plan of where you’re staying and how to get there. If arriving by plane or bus, get the low down on the taxi or Uber situation. Skip public transportation super late at night, unless you’re already well versed with the area.
Do: arrive when it truly works best for you.
Don’t: show up without any type of area knowledge or plan at 3am.
Most importantly: don’t let fear stop you
People are in awe of solo women who travel the globe. And damn straight, they should be — we’re a kickass bunch! It takes a lot of bravery and gusto to do what we do. I once had a man tell me that I shouldn’t travel in South America because it’s “unsafe for a woman.” He might’ve been right in some capacity, but equally bad things can happen right at home. There’s no reason that fear should stop you from experiencing the the world.
Do: get out there.