As a female, there are special concerns when travelling alone in a foreign country. There are also issues that are relatable both to women and men too. Most people’s experiences abroad are fairly positive with only a small percentage of them reporting issues like harassment, theft or overly aggressive advances from either men or women.
To help keep you safer and open your eyes a little, here’s an article about how to stay safe as a solo female traveller.
Avoid the Nightmare of an Expired or Full Passport
While you worry about everything else in preparation for your holiday, including buying a selection of bikinis, summer dresses and the like, the passport is something that gets given too little attention.
What you don’t want to discover too late is that your current passport will expire while you’re abroad. Otherwise, you could go to leave and be in for a nasty shock. Also, some countries won’t admit you if you don’t have six months left to run on it.
Also, consider if your passport is already too full. It needs at least a couple of blank usable pages at the back that isn’t reserved for other purposes. It’s also important that your current travel document isn’t too rough around the edges, as it must be scanned successfully at every port of call.
If you’re stuck because your passport is too shabby, about to expire or almost full, you’ll need to get a fast track passport if it’s less than a few weeks until you travel. This will get it to you in time. If an urgent passport is required, then that’s another matter. The UK Passport Company, a private company, can arrange an urgent passport if you need one. Make an appointment at your local passport office via their website.
Also, if it’s a genuine need to travel abroad perhaps to a wedding, then an emergency passport or a same day passport is going to be required. That’s often possible too.
Not Dressing to Impress
While a foreigner will almost always stand out in a crowd because of their daypack, Lonely Planet book or map in their hands, and a bewildered look across their face, it doesn’t pay to advertise your newness.
For some people, they look for vulnerabilities to exploit. Whether that’s pickpockets or someone trying to scam tourists, it’s better to try to fit in with the crowd than stand out from them.
If you’re in a country where the women don’t show much skin, then probably dressing the same way is sensible for a number of reasons. Buying the usual tourist garb and wearing that the next day brands you as a tourist with money. For instance, in the northern part of Thailand, Western women tend to buy long skirts and hilltribe trinkets. This leads to a parade of female travellers all wearing these items the rest of their trip like carbon copies of each other. They fail to notice the local people selling the items are wearing jeans and a t-shirt; not what they’re selling.
You’d be amazed how many local people will pointedly ask you where you’re staying? They actually want to know the exact street or hotel name. This is kind of surprising to most people who would never dream of asking someone they just met this type of question.
It’s easy to relax on holiday and freely give out too much information. Remember that you don’t really know that person – whether it’s a man or woman – or their motives for asking you.
If you’re arranging to meet a local person, pick a restaurant or another place that you’re familiar with to meet them. Avoid letting them pick you up outside your hotel.
Research the Destination Ahead of Time
It’s an excellent idea to read up about the destination before you travel. Look up the travel advisories for the UK and the USA to see if the country has any current warnings (ideally, do this before you make a flight booking). See if there are parts of the country to be avoided or current concerns about tourists travelling alone.
Determine whether the country is considered safe for solo female travellers. There might be blog posts from recent travellers that discuss this topic and share their recent experiences. You can also look up TravelAdvisor.com reviews for a hotel to see how the staff have behaved towards women there.
Find out about the culture and any expectations. For instance, if visiting religious places like a temple, women are required to wear garments that don’t reveal their skin. So, long skirts and long-sleeves tops are best. If you plan to visit these types of places, pack appropriate clothes to do so.
It is often amazing how clueless travellers are about their personal safety.
People on holiday will often put their bag down on the ground or turn away from their possessions expecting them to still be there when they turn their head around. Similarly, an unattended smartphone can easily become a non-existent one!
Flashing jewellery, expensive watches and other valuables in front of local people where one of those items might represent a year’s wage to them is not smart. It’s likely to create jealousy that’s best avoided. Be aware that most crime is opportunistic by nature.
Being security conscious means being aware of your surroundings and the people nearby. Learning what looks like normal behaviour and what doesn’t is helpful. It’s different for each country. Thieves look for easy targets. Travellers are seen as rich pickings and women as soft targets. The trick is to not attract attention to yourself and avoid looking wealthy even if you are. Understand that most people who complain about being robbed abroad did something to get themselves in that position. Like using an ATM too late at night or moving through crowds where pickpockets are lying in wait. Be more sensible and avoid 99% of the potential issues.
Pick Transport Options Carefully
Most transportation is perfectly safe. However, just like anywhere, some people are unscrupulous.
With taxis, agree a fixed price before getting in or make sure that the meter is running. Also, using Uber usually saves a lot of hassle if it’s legal in your destination country. Haggle with the taxi prices quoted to get something sensible. Ask around to discover the right price, so you know what’s fair and what isn’t. Don’t sit up front with the taxi driver and be aware of their behaviour.
With buses, they can get cramped. Just be careful with your handbag (put it on your lap). Also, consider whether some men will be using the cramped conditions to get a little closer than they really should. Create space between you and ask for help if you get into trouble.
Most women take holidays alone and come back with great stories. Only a small percentage run into difficulty while abroad. The good thing is that by being sensible about where you go and at what time of day, it’s possible to avoid potential problems. Fellow travellers are a good source of tips and protection should that be required. A local may be hesitant to step in to help or simply not understand your issue, but a fellow traveller will likely respond sooner and more decisively if you’re being harassed. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance if you’re in any way uncomfortable.