Being a solo female traveler is hard.
Our parents (understandably) constantly worry about us and always expect the worst. Our friends at home are forever sending us messages or posting on our Facebook pages stories of terrible incidents that have happened to other backpackers in other parts of the world.
We receive cautions everywhere – from strangers on the bus, to government websites, to media channels; all telling us not to go out at night, to always travel in a group or at least with one other, to watch where we put our drinks when we are out, to not talk to strangers. The list of warnings thrust our way is endless.
But the reality of the situation is that sometimes we have to do these things.
Sometimes we have to book an early morning bus and get to a train station/bus stop/airport at 4am. Sometimes we wake up at night with an upset stomach and have to go out alone and frantically look for a local pharmacy still open after hours. Sometimes we get invited out to a party by friends or other travelers who suddenly disappear and we’re left to make our way back to our accommodation alone. These things all do happen.
Sometimes, as careful as we try to be, it’s just not possible for us to avoid doing the things that we are all told not to do, and just because we do them it doesn’t make us irresponsible nor does it give anyone the right to judge or blame us if something bad happens.
We also want to ENJOY our travel experience and not always feel like we need to be expecting the worst to happen (because for the vast majority of the time it doesn’t).
As a solo female traveler, how then can we both do our best to stay safe and enjoy our travel experience at the same time?
It’s not always helpful to us to be told to ‘stay safe’ all the time. I think I speak for the vast majority of us when I say that we all try to ‘stay safe’ as much as we can. None of us intentionally set out to have anything bad happen to us.
Knowing what we can do to stay safe in a practical way is much more helpful.
Having been travelling solo for around seven years now, backpacking my way through 26 countries, and counting, I’ve put together a list of practical tips and advice that us solo female travelers can consider the next time we go off on our travels. Here they are!
1. When booking accommodation, try to stay in places where people you know have stayed in themselves and can vouch for its safety. Approval from friends and other female travelers is important.
2. If you don’t know anyone who has visited the place that you’re going to or if you don’t have time to ask for recommended places to stay, check the place online and read the reviews. What are people who have stayed there saying about it? If there are no reviews, don’t stay there.
3. Make sure the room you’ll be staying in can be locked from the INSIDE so no one can get in at night or whilst you’re sleeping. If it doesn’t, request to see another room, or don’t stay there. Alternatively, carry a door-stop in your backpack that you can wedge under your door to stop it being opened from the outside.
4. Some subway trains have women-only carriages – use them.
5. Avoid, wherever possible, booking trains/buses/flights during the night or in the early hours. If this isn’t possible, look for hotels offering shuttle services to/from local railways stations and airports or book a taxi from a verified firm so you don’t have to go looking for a ride at risky hours.
6. Carry a padlock with you and lock your bags, especially your daypacks, when you are travelling on overnight trains and buses.
7. If you have booked a few nights at a hotel and won’t be staying there one of the nights, don’t tell the staff you won’t be coming back that night (unless you’re certain you can trust them). There have been too many incidents of burglars receiving tip-offs and hotel staff conveniently turning a blind eye.
8. Make sure your phone has some battery at all times. Having a power-bank is a great way of ensuring your phone always has a bit of juice. Also, if you can get a local prepaid sim card with data, do it. Most things are done online now so stay connected as much as possible. If you get lost, or need to find your hotel, having access to google maps to tell you where to go or being able to call your accommodation directly instead of a seeking help from a stranger is always better.
9. Know that you don’t have to engage in conversation with anyone you don’t know or don’t want to talk to. It’s not rude if you ignore someone, especially if you feel harassed or uncomfortable in any way.
10. If you are booking an overnight bus or train through an agency, tell them that you want a single berth/private berth. I’ve had instances where I’ve booked one ticket/seat and ended up having to share a double berth with a male stranger. Just avoid it. Also, try and request an upper berth too so you’re away from prying eyes.
Do you have any practical tips or things that you do to make sure you feel safe when you are travelling? I’d love to hear them! Comment below and let’s help each other enjoy happy, safe and worry-less travelers!
The edited version of this post was originally published on The Better India.