I don’t feel like I know a place until I’ve been there by myself. It is one of the most exhilarating ways to experience a destination. You see more, meet interesting people and walk boldly out of your comfort zone. Anyone traveling solo should be cautious, but there are commonsense guidelines that will make your trip a safer one.
Tip 1: Let Someone Know Where You are and Where You’re Going
I emailed my mom every two days while backpacking Europe solo. If I took a domestic trip I always called before take off and once I reached a destination. She was scared witless, but the contact was reassuring. If staying with a host let them know what your rough plan is for the day. Solicit their advice on where not to go, especially at night. Being friendly with hostel or hotel staff can also bring recommendations about areas to avoid, plus you can score tips for hot restaurants and cool clubs. Keep family and friends updated with pictures, posts and email. Also, you won’t lose your solo travel cred by teaming up with a new buddy from your hostel. Sometimes you’re going to the same place and it just works.
Tip 2: Plan Out Your Route
If you have a working smart phone you can easily use it to plan your route. Having a clue how to get their helps you to blend in a bit more. Sure, whipping out your camera every five minutes or having different coloring from the locals will out you, but at least try. Wandering around looking lost and helpless makes you an attractive target to thieves and creepers. Pickpockets are definitely opportunists. Never unfold your map full out while walking; take a quick glance at the most. Standing out in the open leaves you vulnerable to an approach from behind. If you’re really lost stop, secure your cameras and phones, back against a wall and then whip out your map. Fold it as small as you can so as not to call attention to yourself.
Tip 3: Secure Your Stuff
Stolen passports, money or gear can ruin at least a portion of your trip. Buy a money belt or pouch big enough for passports and wear it. Make copies of your passport and gear list before you go and leave a copy with a trusted family member. Now if you lose everything they can fax or send you their copy. Also make a list of your country’s embassies wherever you’re going plus a contact list of family and friends.
Cameras should have straps and never be set down or hung carelessly over a shoulder. A long strap across your body or wrist strap is best. A cross body style purse is essential unless you have a day pack. You can go hands-free, but never wear it with the bag portion in back. If you’re visiting during fall or winter it’s easy to put your credit card or some cash into your boots. No one ever checks the boot!
If using an ATM card during your trip roll over the bulk of your money to your savings account. If your card is lost or stolen thieves should only be able to spend what’s in your checking account. Most banks let you withdraw money from savings to access funds. Check to ensure that’s possible while abroad before you leave.
Turn off or block any auto draft protection. Usually auto draft protection means the bank will dip into savings to cover purchases if the amount is over the available funds in your checking account. At the ATM always cover your hand when entering your pin number in case a thief has tampered with it or is shoulder surfing. A cloned card without a pin can only be spent on items up to the checking account limit; you can’t withdraw cash.
Pay attention when using an ATM. Does the machine or card slot look strange or different? If the person in front of you put in their card and pin, but received no cash don’t use that ATM. It’s either empty, defective or has been tampered with. Back at the hostel, use a locker if provided and bring your own lock. You can use the same small luggage lock to secure your baggage zippers while traveling. If you get travel insurance, make an itemized list of your gear, money amount and other items.
Tip 4: Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Trust your gut: don’t walk down dark alleys alone or follow creepy little kids who need help. (I’m sure I saw that last one in a movie) Be aware of traffic and obey all posted signs. Do NOT hold or pass packages for anyone ever, especially at the airport! Use caution if accepting gifts from strangers. If you take a wrong turn and find yourself suddenly alone, relax and make sure there’s no one following you. It should be easy to retrace your steps back to a crowd. If you feel that someone is following you step into a hotel or business and alert someone. Most of these tips are obvious, but when people are traveling they will say yes to new experiences and some can bring trouble!
Tip 5: Don’t Go Off (completely) Alone with Strangers
Hot foreign guys and girls have a hypnotic influence. Guys will ask, suggest and even beg to get some “alone”time. You shouldn’t be terrified to talk to hot locals, but use common sense. A stroll down a busy street while they give inside info, a “private”make out session in the club or joining them at the bar to sip wine can all be great memories from your trip. Don’t put the kibosh on all fun. I still semi-regret not hopping on back of that hot Spaniard’s motorcycle, (mmm Tony) but motorcycles do scare me to death. All of the above moments made my trip romantic, sexy and awesome and were all shared with “strange”foreign men. We were still in public places, but in our own world.
Meet that Italian charmer in public, not at his house. Leading him back to your place a la “Taken”unless it’s a hostel full of witnesses probably isn’t the smartest idea. Guys or girls you meet in your hostel are also fun to hang with; stay away if they get handsy, seem dramatically crazy or make you feel uncomfortable. Locals can be fun to hang with. They might adopt you for the night if you show up at a bar or club solo. Be wary about anyone, guy or girl, pressuring you to leave your current location and follow them.
Tip 6: Be Shopping Savvy
Don’t pull out a wad of cash while buying things on the street or at a market. A thief may be watching. Put aside a few bills for shopping where you can easily get to them. Never wave a ton of cash or announce how much you have; if you need to talk out loud lament how broke you are. Don’t buy things from people hiding merchandise in their jacket or bags; that stuff is stolen! Actual street vendors will have a kiosk or at least a blanket on the ground with the goods on display near other vendors.
Be wary of people “helping” you with something spilled on clothing or bags. Don’t let them remove items off of you and instinctively secure your purse, pack or shopping bags. If you are covered in muck you can sit or prop on the wall and wipe it yourself. This way you don’t have to worry about hands reaching from behind out of your sight line or grabbing your bags while distracted.
Tip 7 One final tip: Always Book Accommodations Ahead of Time.
Don’t be the crazy person wandering around Paris at 1 AM looking for an open hostel during rugby season. I didn’t find one that night, but I did meet a very nice Frenchman.
I hope these tips help you to have an awesome trip. Use common sense and don’t let fear take over. Be safe and get your trip on!