Solo Travel
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Practical Ways I’ve Learnt to Stay Safe While Travelling Alone.

At an altitude of 3,300 meters, while hiking along the crater of Cuicocha Lake in Imbabura (Ecuador), I came to a sudden stop. The realization that I was hiking by myself in this remote terrain, with not another person around for miles – and not a care in the world – had just dawned on me.

The thing about traveling alone is, you can’t truly open yourself up to adventures if you’re constantly worried about your safety. And without a fellow traveller to rely on, you have to work a tad bit harder to curb that nagging worry in your head.

Based on sticky situations, stupid mistakes and plenty of WTF moments on my solo travels in the past 4 years, these are my practical tips for staying safe on the road:

Get a local SIM card with data

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Navigating my way through Bahrain. Photo by Prathamesh KriSang.

I usually pick up a local SIM card to get internet access if I’m staying longer than a week in a place. But it wasn’t till my iPhone (temporarily) stopped working on my first day in Quito, that I realized how important a local SIM card is from a safety perspective. Wherever in the world I am, I make sure I have emergency numbers to call a taxi, a local friend I’ve made along the way, the police or the hospital. With Google Maps, I can quickly navigate my lost self from a shady area to a safe place. With Google Translate, I can quickly find the right words to shoo someone away or ask for help.

Unless you’re in a developed country like Germany or Canada where data is too expensive and free Wifi hotspots too common, invest in a local SIM card.

Read: Solo Travel: To Go or Not To Go

Stay with a reviewed local host

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With my hostess in the Dominican Republic.

Common wisdom is to stay in a hostel where you can meet fellow travellers. But personally, when I travel to a new country, I’m curious to experience the way its locals live. By choosing a homestay or family-run B&B, I not only get to experience the local way of life, but also  befriend locals who can keep an eye out for me. Take my hike along Cuicocha Lake for instance – if I didn’t show up home by late evening, I’m sure my host family would form a search brigade to look for me. Would a hostel / hotel care?

The important part is to find the right kind of hosts, and reviews by past travellers make that easy. On websites like Booking.com and Airbnb, only people who have booked the accommodation are allowed to review it. On Tripadvisor, the trick is to check that a reviewer has reviewed multiple destinations to ensure credibility. For offbeat places that are not listed on these websites, I turn to blogs and forums, and well, my own gut instinct.

When you travel alone, leave your genuine impressions in a review too; let our tribe grow!

Read: Unexpected Friendships in the Dominican Republic

Have easy access to a weapon, preferably a taser

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My electric taser.

I graduated from a pepper spray to an electric taser a couple of years ago, but that one instance – during a mugging in Costa Rica – when I really should have used it, I didn’t have it on me.

Lesson learnt: A safety weapon works only if you have easy access to it.

Now, if I find myself walking alone, down a lonely road in an unknown place or in a city deemed really unsafe, I hang on to my taser, which doubles as a flashlight. I’ve read that it’s capable of reducing a broad built man to the ground with cramps, which should give me ample time to run. But more than that, it gives me the peace of mind to navigate the world on my own, without feeling completely helpless about my own safety.

Read: How I Conquer My Solo Travel Fears

Dress conservatively

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Who cares how you look when you’re in a place like that? Svaneti, Georgia.

I know, I know; I’m all for freedom of wearing what you like. But let’s face it. If you’re wearing a short dress or tight shorts in a conservative part of the world, you’re calling for trouble. Like if you’re showing cleavage walking on the crowded streets of an Indian city.

I’m not much of a dresser, but when I find myself alone in a remote part of the developing world, I dress particularly shabbily – think hair untidily tied up, geeky spectacles, baggy pants, the likes. My reason is simple – I’m not there to attract attention or earn compliments, I’m there to learn about the local way of life or soak in the natural splendour.

Read: Unexpected Ways Long Term Travel Has Changed Me

Discourage unwanted flirtatious behavior

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Photo by godefroi.

I’ve met enough men – young, old, married, whatever – along the way, who assume that I’m just longing for male company. It used to anger me earlier, but the more I observe and talk to them, the more I realize that most of them are not aggressive or threatening; they genuinely think they’re doing the right thing by offering their compliments or company.

Take the Dominican Republic for instance. I was staying in the remote Valle Nuevo National Park, and the brother of my sweet caretaker had offered to show me the trail to the hike through the forest. We got into a fun chat about life in the forest and the villages nearby, and then out of nowhere, he offered to keep me cozy in my hut when it got cold at night. UGH. I immediately changed the topic, then stopped talking altogether and pretended to focus on my camera instead. Once we got home, I refused to acknowledge his presence and told his sister I’d rather do the other hikes alone – which turned out to be far more fun anyway.

My approach has been to shun unwanted flirtatious behavior as soon as it begins – because I’d rather not find out where it’s going to lead, and well, it can ruin my aura of safety.

I’d love to hear a solo male traveller’s perspective on this though…

Read: Looking Back: My Worst Travel Memories

Get creative; cook up a story

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Don’t be afraid to let your imagination run wild!

After the mugging incident in Costa Rica shook my faith in the world, I decided to change my strategy of interaction with strangers who didn’t give me a great vibe from the start. My mission is to learn their stories, but I don’t necessarily have to share mine unless I really want to. I don’t have to tell them I’m traveling alone, or that I’ve been on the road for a long time – because the general assumptions are that I’m in need of male company and I’m rich!

I’ve cooked up an uncle in the police, a brother who is a boxing champion, my training in martial arts and my work as a investigative journalist. Who would’ve thought that the road can make you the most creative when you are at your most vulnerable? 😉

Read: 6 Months, 6 Countries: Epic Memories from Central America

Keep money and bank cards in the front pocket of your jeans

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Keep your belongings close. Photo by Thomas Hawk.

The once ubiquitous money belts have been replaced by safe bags that can’t be broken into. But my simple and so far foolproof way to keep my money and cards safe is to simply slip them into the front pocket of my jeans. If I’m on a crowded train or walking through a shady area, I casually slip my hand into the pocket. I keep some backup money and cards, both in my wallet and in my rucksack, but chances of those getting stolen are far higher.

Read: Traveling Alone in India: Am I Crazy?

Keep atleast one person regularly informed about your plans

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Find me if you can!

When I’m about to do something crazy – like board an un-manned cable car to cross over a deep gorge (hello Ecuador!) – I always wonder how long it would take for someone to trace me if I disappear. Although I keep my parents in the loop, I can’t tell them everything for fear of worrying them sick. But I do keep a more chilled out friend informed of my whereabouts, and discuss anything that feels suspicious or not right – it’s just my way of leaving a trail behind, you know, just incase something goes wrong that I can’t fix on my own.

Read: My First Impressions of Ecuador

Speak to locals

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You don’t need a common language to make friends. Maramures, Romania.

No one knows a place better than the people who live there. Speak to locals wherever you are – your host, your co-passenger on a bus, the lady who runs the cafe, the old man lounging in the warm sun.

Even as an introvert, these serendipitous conversations have led me to some fascinating stories and places, and nullified my fears of a place being too unsafe to navigate alone. In fact, time and again, near strangers from all over the world – including Jordan, Ecuador, Honduras and India – have offered me their numbers to contact them if I needed anything during my travels in their country.

Read: 6 Alternatives to Traveling Alone

Fear breeds fear: Surround yourself with positive influences

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Travel solo to discover who you really are. Photo by Lisa Cyr.

I can’t emphasise this enough. Safety is as much a state of mind as it is our circumstances, and while we can’t entirely control the latter, we can largely control the former. It’s why I choose to opt out of the constant fear mongering created by the media, and surround myself with people who push boundaries and seek adventures – even if virtually. And atleast for me, yoga is a great way to release stress and negativity.

I remember my first night in Baños in Ecuador. After my bus got massively delayed, I arrived late at night in the pouring rain and decided to treat myself to a comforting meal in a nice cafe. While waiting for it, I overheard the people on the next table talking about two Argentinian backpackers who were shockingly killed in a beach town in Ecuador. As alarm bells began ringing in my head, I decided to tune the conversation out and started browsing Instagram for photos and stories of Baños. Wanderlust quickly quietened the bells.

I’m not saying that tuning out the bad things in the world will make them go away. I’m saying that living in fear is no way to live, or travel.

How do you stay safe when you travel alone?

Insightful safety tips for solo female travellers from around the web:

Adventurous Kate: Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women
Breathe Dream Go: Q&A About Female Solo Travel in India
Be My Travel Muse: 31 Safety Tips for Solo Female Travelers from the Experts

Psst… if you find any good post on safety tips for solo male travellers, let me know!

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40 Comments

  1. Instagram.com/travelushka says

    Shivya – I’m a fan and follow your travels and work. But I found the “Dress Conservatively” section disappointing. It didnt sound like the usual you and echoed patriarchal sentiments. The same points could be put in a better way: dress like the locals dress so you don’t stand out, wear comfy, loose clothing so you can move quickly if needed etc etc. As a female traveler who often goes solo, I know what you meant but I also cannot support the victim blaming. I don’t want female travelers to think it’s their fault if something goes wrong and it certainly has nothing to do with clothes. Otherwise you would not see sexual harassment of burka-clad women in the streets of Egypt.

    Like

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I did debate how to frame this point, but couldn’t think of a more honest way to do it. I couldn’t say dress like the locals because given the variations, especially in remote parts of the developing world, makes it impractical. I couldn’t say ‘wear lose clothing so you can move quickly’ because that’s not the point, and not really true either. I couldn’t say dress appropriately, because that sounds just as conservative.

      In the end, I decided to call a spade a spade and put it honestly.

      Truth is, we live in a less than ideal world and while in the long term, we have to continue fighting mind sets, in the short term, the only option is to take measures – doesn’t matter how you/I frame it.

      Liked by 6 people

  2. sukhjinder brar says

    Can i have your contact number plese i wana travel canada & i need information about it Thank you Shivya 😊

    Like

  3. On a completely unrelated note, the picture on ‘Speak to locals’ section looks like a painting. Just me feel that way?
    I also feel that people are nice to people who travel alone. They offer help as they feel a true sense of responsibility to help others in their native place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree Prajna; I’ve often found people go out of their way for me, particularly when I travel alone!

      And haha, I think it’s the sunlight and sunburn playing a role in that phone 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • I echo both of you, locals have always been very helpful! Sometimes even wait for me for hours, only to to check if I am safe 🙂 and yes, I have seen some fascinating places that I discovered while speaking to them.

        Shivya, can’t agree with you more in choosing a home stay or Airbnb, I have always got calls/messages to check if I am safe, when they don’t see me around for longer time!

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  4. I love this post, it’s always fun to know how other female travellers deal with uncomfortable situations. Especially liked the one about cooking up a story, that’s exactly what I do when I feel uneasy about something! I usually go with “travelling with my brother / boyfriend who is ex military, special forces”😉

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  5. Shevansh says

    I wanna ask that, how you r able to manage your things, i mean your family, your social accounts and your travels. Because when you constantly travel you got too much tired and between all these your social attention +friends +family how you are able to manage all these factors. I see mostly u always reply every comment so, i wannna ask how hard for a traveller to be in touch with the world he/she left behind.

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  6. Shivya this is one of the better posts I’ve come across on this blog so far. Real practical tips coming from experience and world view. I definitely am for almost all of these.

    The ‘cooking up stories’ tip is surprisingly helpful with cab drivers everywhere who are terribly bored and chat up their temporary company even while we are commuting for our daily jobs not just in travel. Once I had to cook up a hypothetical version of me with a different region, religion and sexual preference just because a cab driver was way too chatty and wasn’t really stopping even upon politely telling him that it’s not appreciated.

    Not to hide under a veil of false information though, I do find discouraging unwanted flirtatious behavior especially tricky to resolve/communicate without ‘noise’ if the person in question is somehow related to the host (or is the host). The host-guest relationship could spoil.

    To add, here’s something I have found useful. As soon as I get to my accommodation (and I try hard to get a decent arrival time), I freshen up and take a short walk in and around the locality just to register the paths, shops and landmarks around so that if at all I get stuck somewhere (or get drunk a little) I can explain to a cab driver, the restaurant folks or a helper where I need to go.

    In conversations I can never fully put my trust on the information provided by another traveler or a shopkeeper who’s giving me directions. Just as I know how to cook up stories about having a brother in the forces, I’m aware that they can also do the same thing. May be that’s just me.

    Other than hosts, I usually look for fellow backpackers who are traveling in groups. These are relatively more safe to converse with since their focus in on the group and they seem less likely to break off just to make another person uncomfortable.

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  7. Ritika Girath says

    Excellent blog. I have been thinking about buying taser or chilly spray as I am up for a trip to Bali in June. Got any specific tips for safety there too? Also, can you tell me how you start a conversation with a localite?

    Like

  8. Though from a male perspective, I rarely feel my safety is compromised from flirtatious behavior aspect but I try to stay close to families with kids, couples, seniors or travel mostly by public transport. And with the principle, “When in Doubt, Shout”…..it is disputed but works well at certain not so welcoming places. Conservative Dressing also yields better results, as it opens unhindered access to certain religious places, does not create the “odd man out” impression also for the males. I liked your calling a spade a spade as I am a traveler, I am there to see, not to show or debate over conservative or liberal.I noticed and heard/read from other people, a saree or dhoti yields more respect abroad than universal attires. It certainly draws everybody towards you but on a positive way as it confirms your origin from land of Gandhi, Bose, Vivekananda, Tagore etc.

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  9. The Traveloholic says

    Being a guy my worst fear while travelling in india is the pseudo-feminism now prevalent in the country more than ever…
    If i am sitting next to an unknown female passenger on the bus, i have to be extra careful to not give vibes that i am hitting on her or misbehaving with her… falling asleep is not an option…
    Im sorry to say this girls but not every guy is out there to molest you…
    I once saw this guy who was standing behind a girl on the bus and as the bus gave a sudden jerk the guy bumped into her… The girl misunderstood it and started yelling at the guy.. . To add to his woes, all the passengers on the bus started abusing him and some even manhandled him… He was kicked out of the bus… It was a very terrorizing sight…

    Im not saying girls should go easy on guys making them uncomfortable but atleast give it some thought. He might be innocent…

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  10. Hello,
    nice tips. Just one more – Try to always reach the place during a day time. It’s quite stressful and risky to be alone and reach some town in India at 3. a.m. take rikshaw and look for hotel…
    All the best,
    Jana

    Like

  11. inGeniousty says

    This was a blog post that I always wanted to read from you. Travel tips for solo travelers is a great idea and I think that people should read this blog post. I will recommend this article to my friend who also happens to be a solo traveler. You are actually doing a good job , Shivya!

    The Solitary Writer

    Like

  12. Amazing post and so is your blog. Very impressive. Even I have started a blog talking about fashion, food and travel. Basically a travel blog. Hope to live my dream of travelling a world.
    Its Lubuzine.com if you can happen to visit and advise..

    Thanks..Keep rocking

    Like

  13. Mohit Sam Gupta says

    Thanks for sharing these practical tips! I have done some solo traveling in bits and pieces myself and can’t agree more on staying with local people. Regarding shooing away any Flirtatious behaviour, i concur the feeling and at times I have faced it myself (even beimg male and not so good looking :P)
    Reading your post, first thing I need to do is get that Taser before my next backpacking. Thanks again!

    Like

  14. Great post, your tips are practical and spot-on!

    A tip I really liked from my friend was to join Couchsurfing/Facebook groups for families. It’s safer than bunking with individuals and you can learn a lot more about the culture when you interact with 2 or 3 generations of locals.

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  15. A very detailed post and you have covered all the points very well for a safe solo travel.This will benefit all Solo travellers. Thanks for sharing

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  16. Pingback: 10 Indian Solo Female Travelers spreading their wings in the world sky

  17. I just discovered your site, and am greatly enjoying it — thank you!

    One of the things I’ve found useful for keeping myself safe is Gavin DeBecker’s book, “The Gift of Fear.” He discusses a lot of very useful things, from the differences between rational and irrational fears, to ways you can recognize two-legged predators and so avoid them. I don’t get to do enough traveling to have an informed opinion on how well those “red flag” items would translate into other cultures, but I suspect many of them would.

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  18. Carl Jordan says

    A taser is a GREAT weapon for a woman to carry but, thanks to the TSA, it may be tough to board a plane with it but, a GREAT backup for that, is a high powered spray bottle, filled with old, rank urine, any mugger or rapist HIT in any of his membranes is DONE, it’ll instantly BLIND him and he’ll be SICK for LIFE!

    You CAN carry a spray bottle on the plane, rank urine, NOT a problem!

    Like

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  20. In addition :

    Solo travel or travel alone, is now becoming a trend among the foreigners as well as domestic people. Try something unique and adventurous its the motivation behind each solo travel. A long drive or a bullet trip solo is nowadays common.

    Solo Travel- Safety and things to remember

    Solo travel can be crucial milestone in life. Travelling alone gives you the chance to indulge yourself fully, you can take a break when you feel like and pour it on when you feel determined.

    Just drive right by, your mistakes are your own and your triumphs all the more thrilling

    Safety- the prime concern

    Carry good identification
    Bare minimum packing
    Back Pack should include: all paperwork, hotel confirmations if any, flight/ train/ bus information, passport and travel insurance info, Global plug in adapter, e Reader Kindle, iPad, journal and pen, laptop and ac adapter[optional], phone and charger, camera and charger, SD card connector to back up the photos from camera on to iPad or laptop, prescription medication, vitamins, supplements, water bottle, first aid kit, conditioner, hair product, sunscreen, face cream, makeup, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, shaving kit, few feet of duct tape, couple of re-seal able plastic bags, shoes, jacket, sweater, umbrella, dress etc
    Make copies of important documents such as passport, identity card, driving license, travel insurance etc
    Get a global ATM card
    Carry Travel credit or debit card for shopping
    Check the maps and transportation schedules before leaving
    Know the fares and time duration taken to each destination.
    Reserve your hotel room in advance, if possible or search for open late hotels.
    Be your own best guidance
    Know your strengths
    Get an early start
    Keep to open and public places, especially at night
    Display confidence and walk purposefully
    Always go with your gut instinct
    Don’t draw too much of attention to yourself
    Do not appear like a tourist in dressing
    Avoid walking around with your face in guidebook.
    Avoid wearing gaudy clothes or jewelry.
    Find your people
    Explore the expat hub
    Don’t make feel others that you are alone.
    Learn little language of the destination.
    Dress and act like a local
    Make new friends but good judgement is essential
    Just say NO
    Watch what you eat and drink, especially drink sterilized water
    Patience is the best tool
    Stay safe, do not carry huge quantities of cash
    Be cautious about pick-pocket
    Take time to observe the local customs
    Keep a note of helpline numbers
    Keep a book to write or your smart phone at hand
    Occasionally check in from the road
    Share your experience as status in social media
    Stay in touch with home via phone or e-mail
    Take snap shots
    Enjoy the pure freedom
    Be Selfish
    Enjoy the solitude
    Remember to have Fun
    So if you are brave and bold enough to make the decision to go alone, pack your back pack and get ready to explore as the chances are pretty high that you will enjoy yourself on the road solo. It will roller-coaster ride of good and bad, highs and lows, but this all a part of experience which will make the real YOU!

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  21. Keeping somebody informed about your plans – especially, speaking to that person on the phone amidst the strangers – is a great tool to avoid troubles. That way the other person knows that you are conscious of their behavior and would avoid issues!

    Another point is to show yourself of to cameras around, so in case something happens, police can track what happened (to the extent they can).

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  22. I just saw the title and was curious to read it Interesting tips. I do agree that the guys are more likely to get robbed, attacked or threatened than us.thanks for sharing

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