How to stay safe (as much as possible) when traveling alone
As a female solo traveler, I am very aware that I need to take extra precautions to stay safe while I travel. Truth is everyone is prone to crime, disease, disaster and such during travel, but women in addition are more exposed to sexual assault than men. Here I explore ways to stay safe, a comprehensive list from travel insurance to watching your back on the night-outs and everything in between. Please don't be discouraged to travel due to happenings in Punta Cana in the recent months. Every place around the world is potentially safe and potentially unsafe, aside from the obvious war zones and such. Never let fear stop you from exploring, but take the necessary precautions.
Before you travel
1. Embassy Traveler Registration-
The US Embassy offers a program to US Travelers called S.T.E.P (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program)- click here
This program is FREE. It will provide you important notifications about the destination you are visiting, register emergency contact, and even assist your family to get in touch with you if needed. Research your own country's embassy to see if they offer such service as well.
2. Travel insurance-
While some people still travel without insurance, let me say that it's not worth it. I have found this website called "Insure My Trip" and for 2 months to Brazil, I paid $45. This cost not only covers me in case something happens to my flights, but also medical emergencies and such. I called to find out more about medical insurances (because Brazil has some pretty shit public hospitals) and they answered right away. Great, fast customer service, and confirmed that I can go to ANY hospital. In some cases, they even front the money to ensure admission and treatment. They work as a reimbursement deal, and the reviews were great.
3. Vaccinations/preventative care-
Some countries will actually require you to show proof of vaccination at customs or even upon departure. While others may not require it, it is your responsibility to research and take prevention measures.
I will give you an example- I went to India in 2012. The time of the year was not conducive to mosquitoes, but the risk while low, still existed. I went to my primary doctor and requested the malaria medication. I took it as a precaution.
Type in "What countries require vaccinations" in Google, you will get a ton of information. Here is a good place to start.
4. Medications to pack-
You can find more items to take in my previous post "20 tips to travel anywhere", but in terms of medications; antibiotics, allergy medication and anti-diarrhea pills are on top of the list.
The one that you will need to ask your doctor for a prescription are the antibiotics. If you explain that you are traveling and that you want it just in case of some type of infection, your doctor should have no problem in giving you a 10-day supply of a generic antibiotic. A common one is Amoxicillin, which is effective against most types of bacterial infections. Vaccines will prevent viral infections. So between vaccination and antibiotics, you should be covered.
Allergy medication and anti-diarrhea pills are just common sense, as you will be exposed to different foods, seasonings and environments.
--->Taking a Pepto Bismol before eating to coat your stomach and prevent upset stomach. This is a great technique. I personally did this when I was in India and Egypt and had no issues. In the meantime, 75% of my group had issues for days and some had fever, and had to stay in bed.
5. Know your emergency numbers-
Make sure that you have emergency numbers for the location where you are going and also a reliable way to make calls. If you know that your phone will not work in a location without a local SIM card, plan to purchase one at the airport upon arrival.
In addition, share the emergency numbers with family or friends that you trust, in case they need to contact the authorities to assist you.
6. Leave your stay information with people that you trust-
I fully support winging it, having a crazy adventure and all. I'm not huge fan of hitchhiking but admire those that do. But please don't be naive. The world is a beautiful place, but there is a lot of rotten shit happening out there. If you are winging it, make a plan to let someone know where you decided to stay by a certain time that day. If you have secured a place already, share that information. If you are camping, with no connection to your home, be aware of the risk, and take other precautions.
7. Research your hotel, choose the right room, research the area.
Regardless of where you are staying, spend some time to read the reviews. If you have the option to stay on a higher floor, take it. Research the area, and see what the locals are reporting. NO ONE will know more about a place than the locals. Even the media can either dramatize or downplay an area's criminal activity.
I like to visit the google engine for that specific country, or yahoo and then see what comes up as news ( google.com.br , it.yahoo.com etc). Take everything with a pinch of salt but be aware.
When you arrive
1. Commit to checking in daily-
Whether it's a neighbor, a friend or a family member, make sure that you have someone that you are required to check in with daily at a certain time. This is specially if you are traveling solo. You don't want to report your every move to anyone, but what is the harm in sending a text or a Facebook wave once a day before going to bed. It's little things like this that ensures your safety.
2. Use the "Do not disturb' sign from your room-
I personally do not like anyone in my room cleaning and neither do I feel like it is necessary to have fresh towels and my bed done daily. Depending on where you are traveling and if you have computer and other valuables with you, consider using the "Do not disturb" sign. This will ensure no one enters your room. Not only you are protecting your valuables but you are also protecting your privacy. No one will know where you are headed the next day, tours that you are taking etc. This brings me to the next point. . .
3. Keep your windows closed for privacy-
We all know too well that hotels walls can be paper thin. If you are a budget traveler like me, while you may not stay in hostels, you most likely stay in inexpensive hotels. These have paper thin walls. If you add on an open window, it's very easy to hear about your hook up the night before, where you are going that night, and anything else that you say and do in the "privacy" of your room. Try your best to keep your windows closed and monitor your volume.
4. Be friendly but don't share everything-
This one is especially for me because I am extra friendly when I travel. I smile at everyone. I treasure every moment of the adventure and god knows I share too much. Thankfully, nothing ever happened, but truth is if someone wanted to stalk me, they could have :-/
Interacting with people in your travels is essential. This is how you learn, open your mind, experience things that otherwise you may not. Not to mention that solo travel can get lonely. But don't share every part of your itinerary, time and place with everyone. This can make you an easy target for many things.
5- The night is full of terrors-
Let's talk truth guys, most crimes happen at night, as does a lot of the fun! Be mindful that there are plenty of places that are perfectly safe in the daytime and extremely dangerous at night. (Read my post on why I got kicked out of 2 bars in Oslo).
I have another example that I haven't shared yet. This one happened in Ghent, Belgium. It was a day in May 2019, about 1am. I stopped in at about a 5-minute walk of where I was staying to have a night cap. I was sober and alone, heading home. It was a casual bar that I had been before. I had one beer and walked outside. Started talking to a couple guys that were standing there. It was literally a 10-minute conversation, no flirting, nothing. I put my glass down and said good night. No phone numbers were exchanged.
As I approached the corner about 10 meters from the bar I looked back. One of the guys was behind me. I immediately confronted him, "what are you doing?". "Oh I just wanted to stay bye to you." He replied. WTF!!? At this point I was mad. I said, "Ok bye!". And stood there with a mad face while he turned around and walked away. Needless to say I walked home scared, and looking back constantly. This was Ghent! A place that I fell in love with (post coming soon), gorgeous and absolutely safe. Again, there are no places that are truly safe. Creeps are everywhere!
6. Wash things that you may even minimally ingest and protect your skin-
This especially important for remote areas, developing countries and such. If you are using a glass to drink water, rinse the cup first. If you are in India, don't sleep naked regardless of how hot it is, unless you are in your own sleeping bag! Protect your skin! Wear at least socks in the room. It is unfortunate, but so many places will use certain cleaning materials, and have bacteria and such things that your body is not used to. If you are taking something from the minibar, rinse the bottle, the can or whatever with water at least.
7. Listen to your body-
This is probably the most important. If you start feeling uneasy, make your health a priority. I know that you don't want to ruin your vacation. Doctors are a pain in the ass, you miss a tour, lose money and all. But if you have done all of the above, you should have a number to call for a doctor, know where to go or have the right medication to treat yourself.
Follow your gut. If it feels different, not normal than anything you have felt before, please DON'T IGNORE IT. The worst I have ever felt on a trip was in Egypt. I had the shits for 24 hours and then was fine. If I had felt as sick as some people in my group, I would have gotten off that Nile cruise. Lucky for them we had a nurse in our group and she knew that everyone had the "Egyptian Belly".
Happy, healthy and safe travels guys.
Did I forget something? Put it in the comments!