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!

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    a girl alone in turkey? omg i shure hope u dont get "taken" or even worse "taken 2" :O

    Bread-and-breakfast? Just so long as she never needs to sleep… :)

    I've got a large trip to Africa coming up which i'll be going on by myself.

    Most of it i'll be on tour groups, although a few weeks in different places i'll be by myself. I'm a 29 year old guy but it still does seem a bit intimidating.

    I have been told a key thing when you're on your own for any length of time is not to get lonely and let your guard down. As in you've had no real conversations or social interactions for a week or several. So you're more willing to open your self up to people, which is when someone can take advantage of you. I know of stories of people who have had people being friendly, inviting them to various things, a new bar and so forth. Where they've been led into places they had to make a break and run from.

    I've never really had trouble, but there's been some odd things. In Saigon a couple years ago, i was walking around at night. The main shopping area's were fine, but I was walking back to the hotel in a slight back street way and some guy wouldn't stop following me, annoying me. Saying he'd give me a lift on his scooter to my hotel. He wouldn't take no for an answer. Even after I left politeness behind and was swearing at him to stop following me. I quickly got back to the main street at which point he left me alone. It was quite intimidating. No idea what was up.

    Even in Tunis I once had some guys friend super friendly to me on the streets in a fairly busy area. I just didn't trust them, luckily it didn't take too much to get rid of them. Just never give them an inch.

    I think, how often at home do strangers come up to me on the street at home and want to be friends? Never. So when i've been over seas and locals start being super friendly on the street, walking with you. Asking questions. Shut it down. They are often persistent. Don't feel bad about being rude to such people.

    Not saying don't be nice or friendly, you can often always get directions, i've had people give me directions voluntarily and so forth. Just always be careful and have your guard up. Whether they want to lead you some where to shake you down. Take you to a brothel. Or even just pick pocket you by distracting you.

    The licences taxi thing is also a big thing. I got into some taxi in Vietnam where all of a sudden the fair was stupidly high. When I challenged the guy, he went ape shit. It was quite scary. I literally ended up on the side of a freeway right near the center of Hanoi. I did end up paying the guy because I didn't know what he'd do if I didn't. So definitely find out what taxi's are the good ones. I made a stupid mistake because I was desperate for a taxi and none of the ones I knew were safe were there. Other taxi's I cost were a tiny fraction of the cost and always good. So it's just about being informed.

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