How to Stay Safe While Traveling
By Franki Hanke
I’m anxious inside a locked room of my own home, so when I’m in a new place for the first time, anxiety can reach a new all-time high. If you’re thinking, “Same.” You’re not alone. The majority of women (63%) think about safety frequently while traveling. Instead, plan ahead to protect yourself with these travel safety tips.
Pre-Trip Preparations for Personal Safety
Register Your International Trip
Register your trip with the State Department so that your embassy or consulate has information on who you are and where you went in case of a large-scale event like a natural disaster. Plus, you’ll receive pertinent travel advisories regarding safety conditions at any destination. Register online ahead of time.
Research Your Destination
Learn from travelers before you! Research your destination, especially travel methods for other people’s travel experiences. Read reviews, blogs, and guidebooks for a variety of reporting methods. Look for patterns across everything you read for the general consensus.
Answer some questions about any new destinations:
→ What are areas where street scams or salesmen are common? You don’t need to avoid these spots (they are usually around tourist destinations after all), but it can be helpful to prime yourself to zip through these spots with more focus.
→ How do most travelers get around? Is Uber/Lyft available? How does that average taxi driver calculate the cost? Is there public transportation you can use? Does your hotel offer any shuttles?
→ What are common safety concerns unique to this area? There may be a unique concern you’re overlooking like Thailand’s sometimes aggressive macaque monkeys!
→ How widespread is English there?
→ What are the laws regarding women’s rights? What are typical experiences like for other women?
The Department of State provides some information on each country’s local laws and safety concerns that are worth reviewing.
In addition, look up your destination’s emergency phone number and memorize it.
In addition to travelers’ experiences, inform yourself about the local customs and culture. Being respectful of local behavior will help you stick out less and can make for easier connections with locals.
Invest in Travel Insurance
Common sense only goes so far. Sometimes, things go wrong. Travel Insurance provides a safety net for the worst-case scenarios.
Plan to Blend In
While we love personal style, if you want to avoid opportunistic scams, looking less like a tourist can ease your day-to-day when traveling. Find the overlap between your own closet and the typical habits in your destination, especially as a woman.
In countries where modesty is highly valued, dressing as such can be more comfortable and limit unwanted attention.
Leave Valuables Behind
It’s not worth risking expensive jewelry on a trip. Travel with a cheaper collection of jewelry that’s easy to replace. For some destinations, you may want to even leave your wedding ring behind and use a cheap or silicon alternative.
Check for Necessary Vaccinations & Fill Medications
Ask your primary care physician or visit a travel clinic to check for any recommended vaccinations for your destination(s).
Fill out any medications so you have enough for your entire trip, and remember that some medications are banned in some countries. For more about these restrictions, read What Not to Bring in Your Carry-On.
Share your Travel Plans
Choose a family member or friend who has your back. Share all your travel plans with them and plan to check-in. Give them reasonable expectations for how often you’ll connect so they know what it will look like if something’s wrong.
Any emergency numbers should be memorized and/or written down somewhere other than your phone.
To avoid any financial hiccups, inform any credit cards you plan to use of your travel dates too. You might end up with a blocked card if it’s suddenly swiping in Italy without notification.
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Have Back-Up Plan
If you are robbed, plan for how you’ll react.
In case of theft or loss:
→ Keep some extra local currency and/or a secondary credit or debit card in your primary luggage.
→ Record (or memorize) key contact information for your hotel and main emergency contacts so you can contact someone with someone else’s phone if needed.
→ Take note of the best local transportation for getting back to your hotel in case you’re lost. This is especially important if you don’t speak/read the local language. Knowing the bus line that will get you back to the right place is a savior.
Download Offline Maps and Translators
Download an offline copy of Google Maps for your destination and the translation file(s) if you’re not familiar with the local language.
Even if you’re using an international plan or foreign SIM card, an offline backup is an easy plan b if you lose signal or don’t have WiFi coverage. Review how to download offline maps on iPhone or Android.
Use the Right Bags
You might not need to jump all the way to a money belt, but avoid bags that have a high risk of spilling or that are easy to reach into. Opt for a zipper.
Stay Safe While Traveling
Secure Your Hotel Room
It’s unlikely you’ll have a hotel break-in, but for peace of mind, invest in a portable door lock and/or rubber door jam to add your own layer of security to any door.
Keep Essentials In-Sight
It’s much easier to protect your valuables during transit when they’re on your person. Don’t put any essential travel documents or expensive equipment into a checked bag or luggage hold. Inside your hotel, use the safe to protect items during your stay.
Only take items out for the day from that safe that you’ll need. For longer trips where you may have exchanged a lot of cash, don’t keep it all in your wallet.
Remember to contact your loved ones on schedule. If you’re often forgetful, set calendar or alarm reminders.
Listen to Directions (Instead of Looking at Them)
If you’re navigating with your phone’s GPS, opt for a single earbud to listen to the directions instead of walking head-down in your phone. This allows you to be more aware of what’s happening around you and keeps your phone out of sight.
Be Confident (and Pretend)
If you look lost or confused, you’ll likely be an easy target for a scam. Even if you’re feeling overwhelmed, put on an air of confidence. Hold your head up and walk on.
If you do need to re-group, find a populated cafe, order a drink, and sit down rather than stop on the street. It gives you a chance to re-center yourself and consult your phone in a public place with other people around.
Reminders When Thinking About Safety
First, travel safety is a topic with a lot of room for nuance. The reality is, a lot of countries have different laws, regulations, and treatment for women. For female solo travelers especially, that’s scary. However, the reality also is that conversations about safety in other countries can be laced heavily with assumptions, misinformation, and othering.
Avoid villanizing specific identities or locations when conversating about travel safety after all, many of the crimes we fear when traveling abroad, pickpocketing, scams, and overpriced taxis are all in abundance in New York too.
Secondly, there’s been a huge rise lately, especially in social media influencing, of safety devices or “anti-rape” devices often designed to enable self-defense or alarms. Be mindful of the realistic limitations of simple tools and avoid “safety theatre,” extra behaviors or items that create an illusion of safety rather than a real reduction. They may help, but recognize what they can actually do rather than relying solely on a gadget.
Ultimately, the smart traveler is safe if a bit disgruntled at the end of a long trip. Don’t lean into any paranoia around travel when a bit of preparation and confidence can solve the most common concerns for women travelers on solo trips and otherwise. The above content may contain affiliate links. When you click and shop, we receive a small commission to support our writers.
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