14 Safety Tips For The Solo Female Traveler
I hate that this is a topic that requires its own post but despite how far women’s rights have come in the past century, we still have a long way to go.
I also hate that, before I plan a new travel destination, I have to Google “Is ____________ safe for solo female travelers?”
But despite the best efforts of our fore…mothers(?) the world still isn’t the save haven we’d like it to be for women. It’s unfortunate that sometimes it’s hard to go about our daily lives without being harassed. Even in the familiarity of my home, I find myself deviating towards the far side of sidewalks to create distance between myself and threatening-looking men.
But I digress. I could rant on about this for a while but instead, I’ll present to you some tips that I’ve learned over the years that has thus far kept me relatively safe.
1. Safety in numbers
Yes, I know this post is about safety as a solo female traveler but at the end of the day, it is always safer to travel in numbers. You know that joke about how women always move in packs? Perhaps it’s less of a joke than it is an evolutionary safety precaution.
Of course this is a deterrent if you enjoy seeing the world on your own rules and timeframe. If you are traveling alone, stick to crowded and well-lit areas. Even if someone is brave enough to assault you in public, chances are a good Samaritan step in or at least nosy crowds will have enough photos and videos to use as evidence against your assailant.
2. Always have someone you can call
If you must travel alone, always have someone on speed dial that you can call in case of an emergency.
The amount of women that I know who have been followed before is shocking. I myself was recently heading home from a casual movie night with friends wearing pants, a coat, and no makeup and had a man pull up in a black SUV (at least be a bit original, please) and ask me if I was free because I’m “sexy.”
Whenever you feel unsafe, pull out your phone immediately and call someone. Even pretending to should do the trick. Potential snatchers are less likely to snatch someone if someone else knows about it.
3. Memorize the number of the local 911 line
Being in a foreign country doesn’t always provide you with the convenience to call a friend. Having to redial because you get the “please enter the country code to complete your long distance call” isn’t entirely feasible if you’re in a time-sensitive situation.
So what you can do is memorize the number of the local 911 line and note that it may not always be ‘911’. For example, in Taiwan, the emergency number is 119.
4. Two-drink policy
Sure, you’re on vacation and chilling with new friends on a white-sand beach on a beautiful summer night but for your own safety, don’t get blackout drunk unless you completely trust your new friends. But also remember that 2/3 of all assaults are supposedly by someone known to the victim.
I suggest following the two-drink policy of work-related social engagements. By then, you are buzzed enough to enjoy the effects of alcohol but sober enough to stay alert.
5. Watch your drink
I’ve been roofied before. It was a good friend’s birthday party at a swanky uptown bar. I think the drink was intended for her. I had bought both of us the same drink and may have gotten them mixed up. They were left unattended at points. I had had maybe 3 or so drinks that night (my limit before blackout is about 15) and my last memory was of leaving and walking into the January snow.
I’m told that I was conscious and simply acted drunk for the next two hours but as hard as I’ve tried, I can’t recall anything after leaving the bar. Thankfully I was with friends.
Everyone at the party was personally invited by the birthday girl, although some had brought friends and there were others at the venue. This was over three years ago and we still have no idea what happened.
Moral of the story is, never leave your drinks unattended. Better yet, watch the bartender pour your drink directly from the bottle. The complete loss of memory from ingesting date-rape drug is terrifying. Being concious with no memory is even scarier.
6. Avoid drugs
While I neither condemn nor condone the usage of drugs, the problem with drugs is that they are illegal in most countries therefore only sold unregulated on the streets. Simply put, if you don’t know where it’s coming from, you don’t know if it’s been cut with other substances and chances are very high that it has been.
You may think you’re getting MDMA but you might instead be getting a mix of MDMA, speed, bath salts, and other chemicals. If you follow any news source over festival season, you’ll see that someone tends to die at every event. Every. Single. Event. Why? Because as far as reports go, people take what they think is MDMA but instead are taking something that has been cut so much that the effects of MDMA are weak. They keep on taking more to try to get the high they are looking for until some sort of toxin in the mix kills them.
If you must must must use drugs, do yourself a favor and buy a testing kit. They are very affordable and can test a wide range of different drugs, the reacting color of the test chemical and your drug indicating to you its purity and/or what it has been cut with.
You can buy test kits here.
Or just do yourself a favor and enjoy life for the sake of life or enjoy festivals for the sake of music. You’ll wake up without a hangover, remember everything that transpired the night before, and overall be a lot safer.
7. Have your keys ready
Women’s purses are black holes. We all know this. If it’s dark and you are fumbling for keys to unlock your car or door, you are leaving yourself in a vulnerable position. You’re too busy looking for your keys to be aware of your surroundings at that moment, giving assailants an opportunity to attack before you can react.
Plan even just a few steps ahead and pull out your keys ahead of time, or keep them in your pocket within easy reach so you don’t end up lingering and distracted for any longer than you have to be.
8. Don’t listen to music
As tempting as it is to be plugged in to keep yourself entertained on your boring walk home, it’s safer if you aren’t distracted. If you are plugged in and especially if you like your music loud (like I do), you will risk the chance of not hearing footsteps or a vehicle following behind you at a suspicious pace.
Also, if you love your music and become emotionally involved in each track on your playlist (like I do), you become distracted and lax in your vigilance. Better safe and bored than entertained then sorry.
9. Have flat shoes handy
We’ve all tried running in heels before and we all know that it doesn’t happen.
Now imagine being assaulted while in heels. For one, your balance isn’t as good so you have a greater chance of being knocked over after which your ability to flee is much harder. For another, you won’t be able to run and get away quickly unless you take your shoes off and run barefoot on the street.
If you must wear heels, bring spare flip flops or foldable flats. Even if you aren’t assaulted, at some point in the night your feet will hurt and you’ll be glad to have flat shoes handy.
10. Don’t let people know where you live
Unless you are staying somewhere with a lot of security such as an apartment with multiple locks before you reach your unit, avoid letting people know where you live. This is to prevent stalkers, break-ins, or even just being followed in by the person who ‘kindly’ offered to drive you home. Or, in extreme cases, kidnapping by a human trafficking ring (think the movie Taken, and most of us don’t have ex-CIA agents as our fathers).
If someone does offer to drive you home, unless you trust the person, ask them to drop you off a block or two from where you live. Perhaps they do just want to be nice and help take you home but that’s for you to decide after you get to know them a bit better.
People tend to want to make sure you get into your residence safely before leaving so just tell them that you live around the corner or around back of the building so they leave you be.
11. Know where you’re going
Try to spend as little time being lost as possible. This means planning ahead and booking your accommodation, having the confirmation letter handy, and having a map of how to get from the airport/train station/etc. to your residence ready before you arrive.
Being lost in a city on a whim can be fun but being lost in a city when you’re jet lagged and lugging around heavy bags never is. It can also be dangerous because a lost, solo girl who is tired from traveling and distracted as she tries to find wherever it is she is trying to go is a easy target.
12. Only take registered cabs
You’ve probably existed some station somewhere in your travels and been hounded by people offering you rides for cheaper than what is charged by a taxi service company. The problem with these is that the drivers can be anyone and their cars are unregulated. They can drive off with you locked inside and no one would know any better.
So do yourself a favor and pay the extra few dollars for a registered cab. Everywhere in the world they seem to be yellow, have the photo and registration number of the driver, and a number you can call in case of emergencies.
13. Pepper spray?
Pepper spray tends to be the most publicly suggested method of self-defense, however, self-defense teachers often recommend against it.
For one, pepper spray doesn’t completely spray in a single direction. Wind can easily carry it in back in to you and your plan will have backfired. For another, the process of reaching for your pepper spray is too time-consuming to be entirely feasible.
Furthermore, traveling with pepper spray is not easy. If found by security when entering a museum, club, or airport, it will with almost certainly be confiscated and the process of tracking down a new can in a foreign city is tedious.
Therefore, try this instead.
14. Learn some self-defense
There are likely basic self-defense classes in your area. Or you can always refer to Youtube. Women are generally smaller and physically weaker than men and the techniques that are taught are geared towards helping you get away from a larger assailant. Two things that I’ve been taught really stuck with me are:
1. Don’t go for the groin area. Men except you to try to attack them there first and therefore will be more aware of it.
2. If it comes down to it, go for the eyes. As in thumbnails into the eyes. It’s not a pretty thought whatsoever (cue gruesome Game of Thrones flashbacks) but I can see it being very effective, especially since women tend to have long nails.
Or you can always take what we were taught in Miss Congeniality and S-I-N-G: solar plexus, instep, nose, groin.
Hopefully one day our society will arrive in a place where women can go about their lives without fearing for their safety. They’ll be able to walk down the street at night and not turn their heads to see who the shadow looming behind them belongs to. They won’t clutch their purses tighter and walk a faster while avoiding eye contact with the group of drunk men outside of a bar.
Hopefully one day women will be able to travel the world solo as they please without fearing for their safety at every turn.
But for now, I hope my list of safety tips will be of some help to all you wanderlusting ladies out there. Have fun and be safe!
*cover photo by Grace Lau Photography.