Reduced travel safety is the primary con of traveling alone. There’s no way around the fact that a single person is easier to fool than 2 or more and you’ll inevitably be an easier target for scammers, thieves and dishonest people. But we can protect ourselves or at the very least reduce the risks, increasing our travel safety in general.
First of all, even before leaving, be aware of all the scams you may encounter in the place you’re traveling to. Have a read on Wikivoyage’s pages of the country and the main cities you’re visiting before you leave for possible risks and current events. If you know it before, you’ll keep your eyes open. That’s the first step.
Keep your belongings safe
The biggest issue when you’re traveling solo are your belongings: there’s nobody that can keep them for your nor nowhere you may leave them, knowing that there’ll be somebody you trust nearby to prevent thefts. This is especially an issue in poorer countries, in countries where you stand out because of the colour of your skin (different = tourist and therefore somebody with money), and in places where you are forced to leave as much as of your stuff elsewhere. Thus, beaches.
At the beach
Whereas at a pool or gym you can usually leave your valuables in a locker or in the room upstairs, at the beach alone means either risking losing them or renouncing to carry something. Of course, go for the latter. Bring the absolute minimum you need: keys to your place, enough money to survive your stay, no credit card, no electronics whatsoever, with the single exception of your mobile which I am aware it can be impossible to renounce to. I don’t believe much into hiding your stuff into empty sunscreen bottles or burying them into the sand (and where do you bury them if there’s no sand either?). A thief will find them anyway. Just carry an amount of money you can afford losing and keep an eye out for your keys and mobile. Ask a nearby family/couple to look at them, if possible and go swim in peace.
No matter what precautions you take, a beach will be a risky place to go when alone for your personal items. You’re exposing them to a semi-prolonged period of your absence in public, without any security around that can keep an eye out for you. Can’t really be avoided.
Hotels, apartments and such
When sleeping in hostels or in any place where you aren’t the only one that has access to your bedroom, use a suitcase with lockers and/or a numerical padlock. Again, a real thief will find a way to break into it but you’ll discourage other guests like you to do so. In hostels it is more important to choose one that has a good reputation for security than for an hotel. Inevitably an exposed luggage in a room with strangers will be at some risk so a good amount of positive reviews of the hostels will be your best bet to safely travel.
If you choose an hotel, or an apartment where you are given the keys and there’s minimal or no customer service available during the stay, the issue is different: you won’t risk other guests to have access to your stuff when you’re out but personnel will, and that provides a menace to your belongings too, albeit pretty rare.
Exploit, if there’s one, the safe, an electronic one perhaps, in the room: put what you can’t absolutely lose (passport, home keys, credit and atm cards, jewels, laptop or any electronics that are worth >100€ or not quickly replaceable) in it and go out without worrying too much. If there’s not, my usual routine is to put those valuables in my suitcase, with a lock or a numerical padlock. That again won’t prevent a real thief to get them but usually in hotels the maid-chambers aren’t one so it will be enough. In a separate apartment, it depends on the country and how much safe is in general for somewhat wealthy locals either. I’ve heard some horror stories of thieves breaking in through the window to steal in tourist’s apartments.
These simple precautions should be more than enough to keep your belongings safe when you are out. It never happened anything bad to me in years and I’ve always traveled following these precautions 🙂
Don’t show off
This should be a given every day actually but it is even more important when you’re traveling abroad, perhaps in a country poorer than yours or when you stand out because of the color of your skin. Often looking different is automatically taken for being a tourist and thus “rich“. You’ll be a target anyway but wearing jewelries, fancy watches, even choosing to look sharp with a cheap Zara dress can catch unwanted attention.
Traveling alone increases the risks as you’re an “easy” target. That means, reduce your “easiness” by at least not showing off much. Travel simple. Bring the minimum necessary, and that doesn’t include the fourth pair of shoes for the evenings 🙂 You can use the laundry while there, you don’t really need that many dresses and especially those who are delicate or precious.
Travel safety also passes through your movements in the place you are. That means, walking, taking a taxi (or an Uber), using public transportation and so on. It’s universally known that buses or metro are an hunting ground for pickpockets so when you use them a few basic rules will apply:
- don’t use your back pockets for valuable stuff. Front ones are much more under your control
- try to never be alone while waiting at the bus stop or in a metro station. You can’t know who can come while you wait and nothing deters a thief to assaulting you, perhaps faking asking for informations or such. If you must be alone in a closed space, as the metro, stay near the exit, just in case you may need a way out, quickly
- if you carry a bag, be ready to put it in front of you. Don’t keep it on the back, as a backpack, especially when you are standing waiting for a bus or to cross the street. Able thieves can slice open your bag and take out anything in mere seconds
- again, don’t flash your valuables nor take off your mobile phone and/or camera if you even slightly feel unease. Better to attract the least attention possible
- if you really feel threatened, stay close to the driver and get out at the first chance. Don’t obviously get out in the middle of nowhere though, it may be even more dangerous
On longer trips on a train or bus, keep your valuables with your. Here valuables mean “anything you can’t afford to lose during your trip”. Don’t leave your camera with the luggage on hold in a bus. Same true for laptop or tablet or any electronics. Travel safety means also being able to access your equipment for taking pictures (or edit them on the road).
Whenever you’re traveling at night or through shady areas, which are any places where you don’t feel comfortable walking, take a taxi. Don’t save on your security, even if it’s just 500m, better to use a taxi than risking being mugged in the middle of the night.
Inform family and friends where you are
This is more a cautionary advice but can be important for your travel safety to have a backup in case things go very wrong. Communicate before you leave the name of the accommodation you’ll be staying at, its phone numbers and the name of the host (in case of AirBnB and such). At least your family and 1-2 close friends will need to know; make a deal that you’ll message them or update your social media every day of your trip. If they don’t hear from you for more than 24 hours, they can intervene.
Even just a phone call to the hotel where you’re staying can be a lifesaver in the worst scenarios (seriously ill, lost mobile, kidnapped etc.). This small advice will 99% of the time be superfluous but in that 1% you wish you had somebody that can reach out to you.
In most cases, you won’t have to worry about the safety of your accommodation. Especially 3 stars and above hotels, anywhere in the world, won’t cause you any concern. Yet, just to be on the safe side, a couple of advises will be of help:
- research the apartment/hotel you’re renting if they have a 24h guard present (which may be not enough as some are corrupt) or some alarm system. Give preference to the ones that have implemented some security system.
- choose a room on the upper floors whenever possible. That will discourage petty thieves from climbing from the outside of the building to reach your room.
- be close to the stairwell/elevator of the building if you can. Again, if things get really bad you will need less time to get out.
- if somebody you don’t personally know knocks at the door but you aren’t expecting anybody, pretend you are sleeping and don’t open the door. Concierge of the hotel should call you if they need, not directly come at your door.
These are tips to prevent the worst situations and I’m sure most of the time they will be unnecessary. Perhaps even seem paranoid. But I’ve learned to err on the safe side when traveling alone and if something gives you the feeling of not being right, it is probably not safe.
Money and document safety
The usual tip of never leaving your accommodation with more money than you actually need stands valid. Stash the rest of your cash in the safe back in hotel, if there’s one, or hidden in multiple places in your room, to reduce the risk that you’ll lose everything.
My personal routine before a trip also involves making a photocopy of all my documents, id card, passport, medical insurance and car license. Keep these copies at the hotel/room at all times. They will be only needed if you lose the originals and will incredibly speed up the time the embassy will need to issue temporary documents to allow you to come back home.
At the same time, I also make a photocopy of my credit card(s), for the same reason. Write also down the phone numbers for blocking your cards from abroad (they are probably different from the one at home), the number of the embassy or consulate, the number of the local police. I keep them in one of those small pockets in my jeans/trousers at all times. It is also a good idea to email all these copies to yourself, just so you’ll have them accessible with a quick check of your email. The important part is keeping them separated from the actual documents or cards as otherwise it’d be easy to lose both, making it impossible to block the cards as quickly as possible.
If your bank offer this feature, set your atm card to work only in the part of the world you’re traveling to, for the period of your trip. This way, no issues with incorrectly blocking of the card may happen, which can leave you without cash in a foreign country. Being able to have access to your money is paramount for travel safety; otherwise, you won’t afford any advice here.
Above all, relax
Most of the tips here are meant to not losing so much during your trip as to make it not worth having taken it. Travel safety also include accepting that bad things may happen but reducing the damage as to make it bearable.
Travel safety should be always your first priority: if you aren’t safe, you aren’t going to travel anymore and that would be a true shame. At the same time, don’t over stress over what can happen and what you may lose or you’ll simply ruin yourself the trip. Relax, don’t look scared, pretend you know what you are doing at all times (even when you truly don’t!) and you’ll greatly reduce your chances of becoming a target of thieves and such: remember, they want it easy and aren’t looking for a challenge. Take all the precautions of this article but above all take a deep breath, tell yourself nothing bad will happen and enjoy your trip!