There are lots of solo female travel safety tip type posts out there. Heck, there’s even one on this very blog. And in the aftermath of the tragic death of a fellow solo female traveler, I started thinking about my own travel safety, as one is to do when faced with such news.
What I realized is that all too easily, her story could’ve been mine. Because I’ve broken all, but one, of the solo female travel safety tips you’ve likely read.
Solo Female Travel Safety Rules I’ve Broken…
1. Don’t Take a Drink from a Stranger, Unless You’ve Seen it Poured
Definitely have broken this one a few times. And each time I think to myself “how awkward would it be if I followed him from my seat outside, into the bar for the drink”. Then I thought. He seems pretty harmless so I’ll just wait. There have also been times when I’ve declined a drink because I felt uncomfortable. Both have happened while in foreign countries and the bar down the street from my house.
2. Don’t Walk Alone at Night
In certain cities I’ve visited I’ve definitely adhered to this rule. I also tended to be with other people at night in less safe cities. But others I ignored it. Blatantly walking back to my hostel at midnight after a few drinks. How dare I?! But I kept to well lit areas, does that make it better?
A female roommate of mine in Mexico had gone out with friends one night and was walking back just a few paces in front of them and was at the door of the hostel when a man tried to grab her. Are we just not supposed to go outside ever?
3. Dress Modestly
I completely agree with respecting local customs with how I dress. I will have no problems covering up when I visit cultures where that is the tradition when visiting temples or simply walking down the street. And while my wardrobe is basically black and grey to help disguise stains and the fact that it’s been worn multiple days in a row there are some places where modesty just doesn’t fit.
How is one supposed to dress modestly in Tulum in the summer? Not that I’m walking around town in a bikini, but let’s be honest. It’s hot in Tulum and I will dress to be as cool as possible in that heat. In terms of dressing modestly to ward off any unwarranted attention, I’ve literally been completely covered up and looking quite unkempt after arriving off of a long flight and received unwarranted attention. I might as well look good.
4. Don’t Go Home with Somone You’ve Just Met
At home and on the road this has happened. And each time it does an interesting thing happens. The man has acknowledged that it’s a brave thing I’ve done to go to a hotel room or someone’s home with a perfect stranger.
Have I gone home with everyone? Um no. But the few I have, I trusted my gut instinct that he was an OK guy and thankfully all turned out ok.
5. Don’t Tell Anyone Where You’re Staying
I mistakenly did this in Ireland on my first solo trip. I had successfully given the interested gentleman the wrong number and managed to decline his many requests to “walk me home safely” by pointing to my hostel that was within view.
The next morning, the front desk gave me a note he’d left with his number as mine mysteriously didn’t work.
This is why it pays to stay in highly rated, secure hostels.
6. Arrive During the Daytime
I believe in this full heartedly. Out of comfort, I like to arrive in the daytime. It’s much easier to navigate, to understand places to avoid, and there are generally more people around. That doesn’t mean I’ve always arrived in the daytime. I arrived in Budapest well past midnight and got seriously lost trying to find my hostel. The same occurred in Barcelona when my flight arrived late and I opted to pay more for a taxi to my hostel than taking a public bus. At times this one is unavoidable, but by planning ahead, you can arrive safely to your destination.
7. Book a Hostel for One Night, in Advance
I broke this rule once, and will never break it again. It was early in my travels and I was on the Galapagos Islands. On the first two islands, I’d done a poor job of booking hostels which meant I overpaid for subpar accommodations. So on my third island I decided to wing it. Other travelers said they’d done it, so I figured I’d give it a shot.
No sooner had I stepped off the boat than did a guy begin walking alongside me trying to help me find a place to stay. As soon as I got a weird vibe from him, I thanked him for helping me and told him I could take it from here. And I stood my ground and waited until he left. Now I will always book one night in advance to avoid looking lost and like I need help.
Additionally, booking a night in advance allows you to research your hostel, read the reviews, and see if it has any additional offerings. For instance, the hostel where I stayed in Quito offered a taxi service from the airport which while $10 more than a city taxi, made me feel safer as I arrived past dark.
8. Stay in All-Female Dorm Rooms
My comfortability with hostels has grown with the amount of times I’ve stayed in one. My first solo trip I booked a private room and by the end of that trip I was in mixed gender dorm rooms. Since then I’ve stayed in mixed gender and all female dorms of varying sizes. I generally don’t look to book all female dorm rooms as they tend to be more expensive and I’ve never had an issue with mixed gender dorm rooms. However, I have heard some horror stories of ill behaved men in mixed gender dorm rooms. Which if this occurs, I would certainly be filing a complaint and leaving a poor review.
9. Don’t Tell People You’re Traveling Alone
In hostels, it’s fairly obvious if someone is traveling alone or not. But on the streets, people have no idea. I’ve certainly used the line: “my boyfriend is waiting for me at the hostel” in situations where I felt uncomfortable. Although it seemed to invite more questioning about why I would leave him alone for an afternoon. In which case, I just said it was time for me to leave and meet him, removing myself from the situation. Other times, I’ve been honest and said I’ve been traveling alone, which invites the remarks of “you’re so brave” etc.
And the One Rule I’ve Never Broken
Trusting My Gut
In all of those situations where I broke the rule, I did so consciously. I was very aware that I was breaking a safety rule by walking alone at night, by accepting a drink from a stranger, and by telling someone where I was staying. Each time I did it, I considered the ramifications of my actions. And when I knowingly broke the rule, I trusted my gut about the situation. Could I have been at the wrong place at the wrong time or mistakenly trusted my instinct any of those times, yes. Thankfully, that has yet to happen. But it could. Whether I follow the rules or not, it could happen to me.
In light of the recent tragedy of losing one of our fellow solo female travelers. I’ve reflected on each of these times I’ve broken these rules. Rules that we create to keep us safe from harm at home and on the road. The woman we lost likely read one of the many posts out there on how to stay safe and followed these rules. And tragedy still struck.
Does this mean I stop traveling alone? No. Does this mean I follow all of these rules to a T? No. It means I continue to travel alone to show those I encounter that women are strong, confident, and capable of traveling on their own terms. But perhaps, when I break the rules by telling someone I’m traveling solo and it’s met with the “you’re so brave” response, I will ask what they mean by that. The next time someone offers to buy me a drink, I will follow him to the bar and when he gets uncomfortable, I will explain why I felt it necessary to follow him and ensure my safety. I will continue to travel solo and I will continue to trust my gut while shining light on the powers of solo female travel.