When the rubber meets the road, however, there are some tips for traveling alone as a woman that are a bit more pressing than they are for men; that’s just how it is.
I’ve been traveling the world on my own since 2015 and during that time, I’ve met a lot of female nomads–including a girlfriend of 3.5 years–as well as taken a much keener interest in my personal safety more generally. When I first started, I was pretty cavalier about how I traveled, but a host of stories, combined with personal experience and research, has made me much more cautious.
It has also made me far more aware of how dangerous and uncomfortable traveling alone as a woman can be.
Usually, a good rule to live by while traveling solo, especially to places where the influence of organized crime, and the presence of poverty, desperation and general anarchy is much more obvious, is that if you avoid anything that will get you caught up with the wrong kind of people, you tend to be ok. This really means three things: drugs, gambling, and prostitution.
But there are plenty of other hazards out there as well, especially for female digital nomads traveling alone. The following article is a breakdown of what I see as the most important safety tips for traveling alone as a woman. Many of them are equally applicable to male travelers, but the stakes are, for obvious physical reasons, higher for women. They are:
- Be Realistic About Your Destinations
- Plan Out Your First Night in Detail
- Be Careful About Sharing Taxis
- Be Careful Hailing Cabs in the Street
- Always Tell Friends and Family Your Travel Plans
- Always Tell Friends About Your Dating Plans
- Turn Your Social Media “Check-Ins” Off
- Pay Attention to Your Surroundings
- Try to Make Female Travel Friends
- Invest in Some Personal Safety Gear
- Don’t Over-Share Information
- Dress Appropriately
- Take Note of Escape Routes
- Avoid Hitch Hiking
Be Realistic About Your Destinations
Unfortunate though it is, tips for traveling alone as a woman means considering some country (and region) specific dangers that often don’t apply the same way to men. Western attitudes towards women are not universal, and being alone as a woman in certain places invites unwanted attention and even danger.
There are plenty of cases we can reference in this regard, though I don’t want to dwell on the depressing and gruesome. If you are a female nomad evaluating your travel options, be realistic about the dangers you might face in places you would like to go and always do your research. Plenty of women travel to places that could be considered “unsafe” for solo female travellers with zero issues. It’s all about your risk tolerance.
Plan Out Your First Night in Detail
It’s supremely frustrating to arrive somewhere as the sun is setting, struggling to find or make your way to accommodation you aren’t sure about. Whether you thought winging it would be easier or are having a hard time getting in touch with your Airbnb host, trying to find somewhere to stay after a long flight or bus ride, carrying luggage, in an unfamiliar place is both stressful and potentially dangerous.
If you’re a digital nomad, you aren’t just carrying around a bag; you’re lugging around your whole life. As you walk around an unfamiliar town or city at night, squinting at street signs, doubling back as you realize you’ve gone too far or made a wrong turn, a backpack or suitcase full of electronics etc. in tow, you’re a target.
Be Careful About Sharing Taxis
“If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”
That’s Liam Neeson threatening the bad guys who kidnapped his daughter in Taken. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, I’m sure you’ve seen the memes and have a rough idea of the premise. Two girls arrive in Paris and share a cab with a male stranger at the airport who ends up selling them to a human trafficking ring.
While the odds of that happening to you are extremely low, be cautious about jumping into a confined space with someone you don’t know and allowing them to see where you are dropped off.
Be Careful Hailing Cabs in the Street
I recently flew from Bogota to London and since my Airbnb in Bogota was a bit out of the way and I didn’t feel like walking to the nearest avenue to hail a cab, I asked my host (a local Bogotano) if he could call one for me.
“Of course,” he said, “but better to call you an Uber, I wouldn’t take a taxi in the street here.” I’ve hailed so many street taxis in Colombia over the years and have never had an issue, but Colombia has gotten crazier over the last couple of years, so I chose to take the local’s advice seriously.
If you are traveling in Latin America, be very careful about how you arrange your taxis. The official cabs you see at the airport are almost always a safe bet, and most cab companies you call to order taxis will give you a reference number for the car, as well as have the car and driver registered in a system.
Always Tell Friends and Family Your Travel Plans
I spend a lot of time in remote areas that often require multiple flights, bus and/or car rides to get to, which means there are a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong. I could get bitten by a snake on the way up the trail as the sun is setting. I could get into a car accident while being driven by a local on some backroad. My flight could simply be delayed and the person who was expecting me has no way of knowing if and when I’m going to arrive.
Whenever you change locations, set off into the bush, or go out for the day to do something touristy, you should tell at least one person. Give them the time of departure, the name of the tour company or person/people who will be responsible for your transportation, and an ETA for when you will be letting them know you have arrived somewhere safe and sound.
Always Tell Friends About Your Dating Plans
Most single digital nomads are looking for love, or at least a fling while they are traveling around. While it’s fun to meet fellow travelers and local people in different places, when you are alone, your risks are higher. Even I, as a 6’2, in-shape man, understand that online dating is inherently risky.
There is a saying in Mexico that goes “es bueno confiar, pero es mejor no.” It’s good to trust, but it’s better not to. In addition to keeping that little bromide in mind as a female nomad, you should always hedge your bets by telling at least one person your date’s name (along with sending some photos), where you are going, and what time you will be messaging them that you’re ok.
Turn Your Social Media “Check-Ins” Off
The social media era has normalized sharing intimate personal information to such a degree, that a lot of people don’t bat an eye when it comes to letting the world know precisely where they are and what they’re doing. I’m still stunned by the number of people who are willing to “check-in” on Facebook every time they arrive somewhere.
One of the best tips for traveling alone as a woman is to turn this feature off. You should also avoid doing anything on Instagram live that might let some random, obsessed follower know where you are.
Pay Attention to Your Surroundings
If you only take one thing away from this article, make it this. Situational awareness has saved my life before and it can save yours too. It has prevented me from being robbed, stopped me from stepping onto a boat that ended up not departing for many hours because of engine problems and helped me avoid accidents and hazards of all kinds.
As a female nomad, in addition to keeping your head up and being alert (i.e., not glued to your phone or listening to music), you should be doing things like checking over your shoulder before getting on an elevator, entering an apartment building or house and before using an ATM. Situational awareness also includes classics that most women already understand, like not leaving your drinks unattended.
Try to Make Female Travel Friends
Traveling alone as a woman (or man) can be intimidating. Meeting people as a digital nomad has its difficulties, but it is well worth the effort, especially for young women.
It is much safer to team up with other female travelers to do things, especially if you plan on going on hikes, venturing into national parks or doing anything far afield. Apps like Hey! Viva are just for women and Bumble’s “BFF” setting lets you search for friends only.
Invest in Some Personal Safety Gear
Before you purchase anything that might get you in trouble with customs and immigration, you should always do your research. Don’t become a “Locked Up Abroad” story because you had a taser gun in your carry on.
Do, however, think seriously about things like a personal alarm or whistle, a doorstopper alarm, a small flashlight, a fake wedding ring, and a self-defence keychain.
Don’t Over-Share Information
This is what we mean when we say “it’s good to trust, but better not to.” I’m not recommending that you go full Tom Ripley when meeting new people abroad, but I would say observe Robert Greene’s 4th law of power: Always Say Less Than Necessary.
You aren’t obligated to be an open book with people you’ve just met and if you don’t like the questions people are asking (innocent or otherwise), it’s best to be a bit vague. This pertains to things like where you’re staying, where you’re from, what you do for a living, what your plans are, how many people you are traveling with, etc.
Yes, I am a man telling you (presumably a woman), how to dress, but I have your best interests at heart here. What I mean when I say “dress appropriately” is, for example: if you’re in a country with strictly enforced modesty rules, and a sign on the beach you are at features a crossed out cartoon bikini, you can disagree philosophically, but it will likely be far more comfortable for you if you throw on a t-shirt and some board shorts.
Similarly, if you are somewhere and you notice that you are getting dirty looks (from both men and women) for wearing shorts or other clothing that is too revealing, and you notice none of the local women are dressed like you, you might also want to reconsider what you’re wearing. Is it unfair? Yes. Is it a fact of life in many places around the world? Also yes.
Take Note of Escape Routes
Whenever you walk into a room, or even just down the street, a good habit to get into is to play “spot the escape routes.” If you had to all of a sudden start running– because of a riot or natural disaster or because someone comes into the bar you’re in with a gun or knife–how would you make your escape? Where are the stairs, windows, alleys, and shops with backdoors you could possibly use?
Don’t get caught napping if and when you need to make an exit somewhere. You might notice, for instance, that the atmosphere in a market or party you are at starts to change for the worse and decide it’s time to leave. This is definitely something to keep in mind if you are in places where there is political instability or a lot of organized crime.
Avoid Hitch Hiking (One of the Best Tips For Traveling Alone as a Woman)
Hitchhiking is fun, but it’s probably one of the riskiest things you can do when traveling alone. This is doubly true if you are somewhere and you don’t speak the language and don’t know the geography.
Taking the bus might be less comfortable, and maybe it’s a bit awkward to use something like BlaBlaCar, but hitchhiking should be avoided at all costs. This is undoubtedly one of the most important tips for traveling alone as a woman.
Do Yourself a Favour and Be Extra Careful Traveling Alone as a Woman
Some of the above might seem like overkill and I have met plenty of female nomads who have had few or no harrowing experiences (at least ones they didn’t share with me), but better safe than sorry. Be aware of who you’re with, where you are, and what’s around you at all times, as well as keep the above tips for traveling alone as a woman in mind. You will mitigate many of the risks that come with traveling the world by yourself.