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 in New Zealand, 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
I 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 think “he seems pretty harmless so I’ll just wait.” It is incredibly easy for this stranger to slip something into my drink. Thankfully that has never happened and moving forward I plan to put my safety first by simply telling the person, “I’ll come with you I may want to change up my drink.”
And if the drink getter feels uncomfortable about my accompanying him to the bar, then maybe that’s a sign that I should just decline any further drinks with him, which is something I’ve done in the past. If I feel uncomfortable or uneasy about the person offering me a drink then I simply decline it.
Interestingly, both of these situations have happened while in foreign countries and in 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 because it truly was not safe to be out alone at night – no matter what gender you identify with. If I went out at night in these cities then I tended to be with a group I met from the hostel.
However, in other cities, I totally ignored this rule, blatantly walking back to my hostel at midnight after a few drinks. How dare I want to enjoy the nightlife?! One of these times was in my beloved city of Galway. It was a rainy night, of course, so I had my hood up walking the 15-minutes back to my hostel. A walk I’d done in broad daylight and a few other times at night.
This particular night, I had my hood up due to the rain and was walking quickly to get home when I turned around and saw a man almost directly behind me. I jumped and shouted, “Oh my God” to which he started profusely apologizing for walking so close to me as he was just trying to get home too. He passed me and I continued on home, with a bit of a quicker heartbeat and ears on higher alert. I learned from this that not everyone is out to cause me harm but to also be more aware of my surroundings and not get too comfortable.
Another example that did not go so well occurred in Mexico to a female hostel roommate of mine. She’d gone out with a group from the hostel to enjoy Tulum’s nightlife, they were all walking back to the hostel together, she was just a few steps in front of them and just outside of the hostel door when a man tried to grab her. I saw her the following morning with skinned knees, which is when I learned the story. She told me the man was much smaller than her so she thought his attempt was comical but also expressed relief that the group was right behind her which helped scare him off. While she had an upbeat attitude, she did not go out the rest of her time there and left a few days early.
I’ll share one more example from my personal experience. I was attending a hockey game in Detroit, where I used to live, and parked my car outside of a former apartment building, next to easy public transportation to and from the arena. When I got back to my car after the game, I was nearing my car door when someone called out to me I turned and noticed a guy waving his arms like he wanted something. He was about a half a block away so I hurriedly got into my car. As soon as the door was shut and locked he was banging on my window trying to get me to do something. What he wanted, I’ll never know, because I hightailed it out of there.
I share these examples to show that we can take every precaution necessary, we can be in our hometown or with people or on the other side of the world in presumably the safest country and still have bad things happen.
But does that mean we don’t go out into the world? Does that mean I will never go out alone at night?
For me, the answer is a hard no.
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.
So, I might as well look good.
4. Don’t Go Home with Somone You’ve Just Met
Dating, whether it’s at home or on the road, presents a unique safety challenge. Should I go home with this person I just met, whether it’s his or mine? I’ve found myself sitting across from someone who I’m attracted to and wondering if he intends any harm towards me.
There have been times when I’ve gone home with someone I’ve just met and an interesting thing happens. The man acknowledges that it’s a brave thing I’ve done and they go out of their way to make me feel comfortable. I find this so interesting because they likely don’t think about their own safety when bringing me home, but they are aware of my concern for my own safety.
Now, have I gone home with everyone? Um no. There have been plenty of times where I do get a weird vibe from the person and decline any offers. But the handful of times that I have, I trusted my gut instinct that he was an OK guy and thankfully all turned out ok.
5. Delay Sharing on Social Media
Whether you’re a blogger like me sharing your travel journey or just love to share where you are with your friends and family, make sure to delay your posting until you’ve left the area. Especially if you are using local hashtags, using geotags, or explicitly sharing your location. This hasn’t happened to me, but I have heard stories of people just showing up where you are to say hi. Even with the purest intentions of wanting to meet their favorite influencer, it is still off-putting to have a stranger go out of their way to find you. But it is so easy for them to do these days.
So please share your journey, but just do it after you leave. An added bonus, this will help you stay more in the moment on your travels!
6. 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.
Ever since that time, I never tell anyone where I’m staying, or even that I’m totally alone. I’ve found that the easiest way to answer this question is by learning of another accommodation’s name in town.
When I was in Doolin, a small town in Ireland, the bartender asked where I was staying and I gave him the name of the hostel down the road. Meanwhile, I was taking in the charms of a cute little bed & breakfast.
7. Arrive During the Daytime
I believe in this wholeheartedly. Out of comfort, I like to arrive in the daytime. New places are much easier to navigate in daylight, to understand places to avoid, there are more transportation options, and there are generally more people around. That doesn’t mean I’ve always arrived in the daytime as sometimes it’s just not logistically possible.
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.
Now, when arriving past dark is the only option, I pre-plan my transportation to my accommodation. And if it comes up with the driver, I am meeting a friend who’s already there waiting for my arrival.
8. 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.
9. Stay in All-Female Dorm Rooms
My comfortability with hostels has grown with the number 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 asking for his removal.
10. Don’t Tell People You’re Traveling Alone
In hostels, it’s fairly obvious whether or not someone is traveling alone. 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 this case, I just say 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.
Use your best judgment in these scenarios.
Which brings us to…
The One Solo Female Travel Safety 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.