Safety Tips for Women Traveling Alone
How to protect yourself and your belongings from safety threats, whether at home or abroad
Whether it’s for business or pleasure, traveling alone can be a thrilling adventure. But it can also pose risks, especially if you’re female.
Case in point: While traveling to Spain during my senior year of college, I found myself in a sticky situation after flying into Barcelona in the middle of the night with a friend. Everything about us screamed “American tourists,” and a trio of seemingly sweet Spanish women quickly intercepted us in front of the train station. They offered to help us wipe some mystery substance (mayonnaise, we later deduced) from our suitcases and in a matter of minutes were gone — with one of our bags. We’d fallen victim to one of the oldest tricks in the book, and our false sense of security had been shattered.
I’ve since learned from my mistakes when it comes to being a safer, smarter traveler. Keep these tips from the State Department in mind during your next solo adventure.
Before you go
- Share your itinerary with a friend or relative so someone knows where you are. Check in with them periodically (like when you arrive at a new destination).
- Check for travel warnings or alerts issued for your destination by the State Department.
- Sign up for STEP (the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), a free service from the State Department that helps you monitor the safety of the region you’re in, gives you updates on what to do in the event of a disaster and connects you to family and the U.S. Embassy if there’s an emergency.
- Research local customs and laws for women’s clothing and pack accordingly. It’s always better to dress conservatively.
- Adjust your phone plan to accommodate data and roaming. When you’re lost, you’ll have a way to find where you need to go. Remember to pack a cell phone charger and plug adapter, if necessary.
- Create a flashcard of relevant information, like the address and phone number of your hotel, a local cab company and the U.S. Embassy, and keep it with you.
- Don’t plan to arrive in the middle of the night. If your flight gets delayed and you have no choice, call the hotel and arrange for a cab to pick you up at the airport.
- Get familiar with public transportation options. Are the buses or trains safe? What hours do they operate? What’s the closest stop to where you’re staying? Find a map and bookmark or download it to your smartphone for easy access.
- Dress like the locals and try to blend in as much as possible.
If you get lost
- Don’t whip out the map in public, announcing “Hey I’m lost!” Instead, use the map discreetly inside a cafe or restaurant. If you must ask for directions, ask the maitre d' at a fancy restaurant, the concierge at a hotel, the info desk inside a hospital or a uniformed police officer.
- Call your hotel and let them know you’re lost, taking care not to let anyone overhear. If you have a smartphone, you can use the “drop a pin” feature to see where you are and request they send a cab.
- Stay in a busy part of town. You may have to pay a bit more for the premium location, but if it means getting to the hotel is easy and safe, it’s worth it.
- When booking the room, use your last name and first initial so your gender isn’t obvious.
- When you arrive, ask the concierge to write down your room number rather than say it out loud, in case someone nearby is listening.
- Keep your luggage with you when checking in. Some thieves camp out in hotel lobbies to take advantage of distracted travelers.
- Request a room on the second floor or higher — it will be harder to break into.
- Use the door chain or bolt lock whenever you are in your room. Use the peephole before opening the door to visitors.
Attractions and nightlife
- Avoid being alone at night in dark and isolated areas. Use common sense here.
- Know your limits with alcohol so you can stay sober and in control.
- Keep your drink within your sight at all times and don’t trust it with anyone — it would easy for them to drop something (a drug) into it.
- Keep your guard up with strangers. It might be tempting to make fast friends with other travelers, but when you’re alone you become a target. Establish a clear boundary through your body language, facial expressions and tone of voice.
- Don’t share too much information about yourself and definitely don’t say you’re traveling alone.
- Wear a fake ring. If you truly want to be left alone — especially by men — and you’re not already engaged or married, invest in a cheap but convincing piece of costume jewelry. A simple flash of the ring can cut through some of the toughest language barriers.