Ask LH: How Can I Stay Safe While Travelling Alone?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m planning on taking a trip by myself soon. I’m excited, but I’m also a little nervous after hearing about that woman who was killed while on holidays alone in Turkey. What do I need to know or do to make the best of my solo trip and stay safe? Signed, Single Road Tripper

Picture: Bevan Goldswain (Shutterstock)

Dear Single,

Travelling solo can be an amazing experience. You’re free to follow your own schedule and might very well discover something new about yourself. On the other hand, it’s not always as safe as travelling with a group. When you’re on your own and in foreign territory, a few simple precautions can ensure a smooth and safe trip.

Follow Basic Safety Guidelines

The recent murder of young mum Sarai Sierra, as you point out, has put the spotlight on solo travel and the risks involved. Scores of comments on NBC revealed a certain bias against solo travel — particularly female solo travel: “A single woman travelling alone is risky. In a foreign country, it is downright foolish” and “No way I would even let my beautiful wife out the door to travel to any country alone.”

The truth is travelling domestically or even commuting daily can be as treacherous (if not more so) as travelling abroad. Being in a foreign country might feel more frightening because you’re not used to it, but the same basic safety guidelines you would follow in your neck of the woods also apply here:

Follow Personal Security Guidelines for Travellers

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Australia offers basic, additional security measures you should take when you are travelling. These include:

  • Never leave your drink unattended or in the care of a stranger. Drink-spiking is common around the world.
  • Be wary when travelling on crowded public transport as it can provide opportunities for unwelcome harassment or theft.
  • Avoid travelling in a train carriage where you are the only passenger. Attackers are known to target women travelling alone on trains.
  • Avoid hitchhiking. There are no countries in the world where hitchhiking is safe for women, particularly for women travelling alone.
    Avoid shopping in isolated areas and trying on items in back rooms at bazaars and markets.
    Use only officially licensed and reputable taxis.
    Always ensure that the door of your room at your accommodation is firmly secured.
    Keep your bag firmly tied to your body and avoid displaying items such as jewellery and cameras. Bag snatching and theft of valuables is common in many countries.
    Be aware of credit card fraud. Credit card details are frequently copied for later illegal use. Never let your credit card out of your sight.

Also give family and friends your itinerary and keep them updated during your trip. Leave a trail in your hotel room too: When you go out, leave a note in your hotel room of where you’re going, whom you’re going to meet, and when you will be back.

You will also want to be able to make a quick getaway in case of danger or signal for help. Smarter Travel recommends keeping a phone card and enough cash for a cab on you, as well as the hotel’s business card. Also make sure you know at least the key phrases in the local language, including the word for “help”.

Act Like a Local and Make Friends

Blending in and not looking like a tourist can also help you avoid pickpockets and other bad guys. All it takes is a little preparation and research into local customs. It’s good to know, for example, that in some parts of the world, a friendly outgoing smile means more than it does here in Australia, and even baring your shoulders could be considered risque in some cultures.

If you want to make friends you can trust, consider staying at a bread-and-breakfast. Visiting the same restaurant more than a few times could also help you become friendly with the staff. Janice Waugh, author of The Solo Traveller’s Handbook, recommends eating at a restaurant with a bar or communal tables, where you can meet locals.

In the end, travelling alone shouldn’t be frightening. It’s not a huge, terrible world out there, and most people you will meet in your travels are genuinely nice. With a little preparation and common sense, you can protect yourself from the other sorts of people whether you’re travelling abroad or at home. When in doubt, do the “mum” test recommended by Smarter Travel :

As a solo traveller, always be in tune with your instincts. If you think a situation is bad, it probably is. Don’t be rash or foolish.

“Assess the situation,” says [photojournalist Jamie Rose]. “If she can say, ‘my mother would be so disappointed in me right now because I’m taking an unnecessary risk,’ she’ll decide to change her behaviour. Before you put yourself in a potentially bad situation, think of the consequences. Would your mum approve or disapprove?

Happy travels!


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