Women Traveling Alone: How to Stay Safe
September 15, 2016 | Focus on Women
Lisa Friend has been to Turkey, Ireland, Belgium and more. When she travels, she carries a map in her day pack and keeps a book handy for keeping herself company in cafés.
Those things are a couple of Lisa’s necessities. A traveling companion is not.
Friend is one of many women who are increasingly choosing to travel alone. “There is not an experience in your life that would help you to get to know yourself better than traveling alone,” she offers, adding, “you don’t have to wait for others or do what they want to do.” The growth in solo women travelers has spurred an industry. Mary Beth Bond of The Gutsy Traveler reports there has been a 230 percent increase in the number of women-only travel companies in the past six years.
Is there a downside to traveling alone? Yes. It can be more expensive if you are not sharing the cost of hotel rooms, meals and transportation. But the trend to sojourn solo is growing despite that. The 2015 Visa Global Travel Intentions Study showed a 16 percent jump since 2013 in first-time travelers going at it alone.
Friend is not only a committed solo traveler, she also helps others act on their wanderlust as a tour guide and independent travel consultant for the past 17 years. She offers tips for other women interested in solo travel.
1. Do the research. Europe is especially welcoming to the solo female traveler, but there are a few countries she would not recommend for a woman on a trip alone. These include those in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Friend recalls an uneasy time in Tangiers. Everywhere she looked—in the cafés and the shops—every patron was a man. She felt uncomfortable that she did not see more women and wondered whether she was safe. Take the time to do research on the culture and conventions of the country you plan to visit.
2. Do not overpack. Take a bag that you can carry yourself. A heavy bag could prompt someone to lend you a hand. The next thing you know, they’ve taken off with your belongings.
3. Be alert. Stay aware of your surroundings. Stick with a group when exploring, and don’t walk alone at night.
4. Wear a money belt. Buy the kind that straps around your waist under your clothing. This is where you should carry cash, debit and credit cards and your passport. Plan to have up to $100 in local currency with you for when you step off the plane. That will get you to your first hotel. Keep a smaller amount of money handy for each day in a coin purse—a brightly colored one—so you can find it easily in your day pack. Use an ATM to get local currency; IndepententTraveler.com reports the rates will be 2 to 7 percent better at an ATM. For safety, use ATMs inside banks during regular business hours, and avoid using public ATMs at night when there are few people around.
5. Know the power of paper! Carry a small notebook so you can write down things such as the name and address of your hotel. You may think your accent is impeccable, but being able to show your hotel’s address to a driver will save you time and may keep you from getting lost.
6. Your cellphone is your friend. Take the time to download apps that will help you navigate, translate and locate restaurants and attractions. An international calling app such as Vonage will allow you to more easily and cheaply keep connected to loved ones at home. Remember, though, constantly having your phone in view may offer too great a temptation to a thief. Keep it tucked into your day pack or money belt, and resist using your device as you walk in a crowd.
There are other tips, too, that can give an added factor of safety. Some female frequent travelers wear a wedding ring, real or fake, while abroad in the hope it will deter unwanted advances from men. Lisa Friend wears her sunglasses constantly for a similar reason. She notes that American women tend to be direct and look men in the eye, a trait that some European men could interpret as an invitation.
Going solo is more than a new trend in travel. A recent survey of travel agents showed almost 60 percent said they’ve seen an uptick of clients choosing solo trips compared with just 10 years ago. It is clear more women have decided not to let the fear of the unknown—and of traveling alone—stop them from what could be the experience of a lifetime.