Staying Safe While Travelling Solo

Solo Travel - Risk versus Reward

By Anna Kernohan (Founder of Carry on Wandering)

Experiential travel. Armchair travel. Urban Couchsurfing. Digital Nomad. The face and style of travel has changed so much recently we now have new words for it. No longer do people just “go backpacking” like they used to and instead people define themselves as either “tourists” or “travellers”. 

While we might have new terms to describe our travels, the basics of it haven't changed. Travel requires a certain level of trust in the unknown and that things will work out. It means trusting the friendly drug dealers in Colombia to organise you a ride when there was no one else to ask, it requires faith that you won’t be murdered by the guy who lets you sleep in his creepy cabin in the woods and that he will in fact take you lobster fishing the next morning, or that the strawberry farmer doesn't want to grope you at midnight while picking berries and really does just want you to have a memorable experience.

I’m not saying solo travel is all based on faith, trust and dumb luck though. Far from it.  And I did not put myself in the above situations lightly. But I am saying that there will be unexpected surprises, challenges and rewards along the way that will be worth the risk of leaving home (like lobster fishing or berry picking at midnight - two things I never even imagined I would do!).

No matter what you call yourself, travel is one of the best ways to expand your experience of life. It allows you to open the door to adventure and see yourself differently, to have new thoughts, to become stronger and evolve as a person. Travel provides education opportunities that no school or institution could ever replicate and yet many people say no to adventure. They say “I’d love to but…….”

Many women want to do experiential travel but don’t, or feel for some reason they can’t. Sometimes it’s because they have family responsibilities or budget constraints but often it’s not because of these at all. When a woman is asked about what she fears most about solo travel her usual response will be concern for her physical safety such as being taken advantage of, raped, robbed, abducted, sexually harassed or just plain getting lost. A common response especially given the way the media likes to play up incidents of this nature.

Like anything in life the more you know and the more times you practice the easier it becomes and the better you get at it. Travel is no different. Start small by going to the next town, other side of the country or to a country that speaks the same language and build your confidence from there. You will find the more you know about yourself and about travel the easier it becomes. So, if you love the idea of travelling, indulge your passion and let these safety tricks amassed from my experience and other solo women travellers help protect you from the unpleasant- 

Walk with confidence. Otherwise known as “fake it till you make it”. Look lost or unfocused and that’s what you’ll convey. Thieves are watching for people who are unaware of their surroundings as they generally make for easier targets. 

Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and important documents. Lock them in the hotel safe and always have a photocopy carried separately or have access to a copy electronically.

Dress appropriately. Some cultures are more conservative than others so be aware of how you might be perceived. It’s not only respect for the culture but also if you dress to be seen you’ll probably attract attention from the wrong sort. Sellers and thieves assess your worth by your appearance - dress rich and you’re advertising you have money. 

Use trusted transport provided by the hotel or another trusted source. Paying a few extra dollars for your safety is worth it.

Map areas before you go so you have a general sense of where you are. Nothing screams target like standing out in public with your head stuck inside a map or guide book.

Dance where the bouncers can see you. This will deter opportunists looking for an easy grope.

Only leave the club once the taxi is outside. Or stand next to the bouncer or under the security camera until it arrives.

If you think you are being followed try to get to an ATM or public place with security cameras. Crimes are less likely to happen in area where perpetrators know there’s a good chance of being caught on tape. 

Watch your drinking.  You can still enjoy a drink but avoid getting drunk and losing your sense of awareness.

Keep valuables on you in transit like on public buses or trains. Same goes for never having a bag on your back or side, always have it in front of your body protected by an arm or hand so you can react quickly if necessary.

There is no one-size fits all rule. Life and travel is about constantly assessing a situation, making judgements, observations, and acting based on those assessments. Sometimes the assessments are off and you make a bad choice. But it is a fact that the more you travel the more it will increase your ability to size up a situation and make an accurate judgment. In talking to people from all walks of life, all cultures, backgrounds, attitudes you will create a book of knowledge from which to reference when encountering something new and become a better individual for it.

In my years of travel experience I have found the world is not as scary as the media or our friends and family would have us believe. That the bad things that happen are usually no different to what could potentially happen in our own home towns or cities and that the precautions taken are often the same. I can’t say that nothing bad will happen to female travellers, but in my experience it is not the norm. Kindness the world over has been my experiences and that people are not actively trying to do me harm. The bad things that sometimes happened were random - wrong place, wrong time and could just have likely happened in Australia or any other country I visited.

So to all the tourists, urban couchsurfers and armchair travellers I say go traveling. There will be risks just like there are at home, there will be dangers just like at home but there will be rewards potentially far greater than you will ever experience at home. 

Written by Anna Kernohan, Founder of Carry on Wandering.

Anna can help you help you plan your Solo Trip, give you help and advice to reach the places you've always wanted to go.