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Eleanor walking through the forest by herself

 

How to: Stay Safe as a Solo Traveler

July 25, 2021

I get it, solo travel can sound intimidating and a little frightening, especially when all you hear from friends and family is "make sure you do this", "I heard a lot of bad things happen in the news to young girls travelling alone", “are you sure you want to go there?”. Ok, shut all that out for a minute and listen. One of the first things I realized when I started travelling solo was how much fear there was around it and that is one of the main reasons for starting this blog. People have all these misconceptions in their minds that block them from being able to do what they want to do. Anywhere you chose to travel to is going to have rougher areas, more riskier things to do, and some sketchy people. However, for the most part, there is always something you can do to ensure your safety, no matter where you are.

Read Travel Advisories

You need to know what to expect in order to be prepared. You can find the information you are looking for through a passport health office, travel clinic, your government's website and/or with your own online research. 

Things you should note in your research about each destination you plan to visit include:

  • Safety and security conditions (what some of the most common crimes and travel risks are)
  • Areas to avoid, and which areas are seen as safer
  • Local laws and culture (information about drugs, alcohol, photography, driving laws, etc.)
  • Health hazards and restrictions (information about if the water is safe to drink, if they have any known viruses and diseases, medical services, and/or recommendations for vaccines)
  • Natural hazards and climate risks
  • Where to find help while you are travelling abroad
  • And of course, because of the pandemic, you should also note what the countries COVID-19 restrictions and policies are

Purchase Travel Insurance

In the past, I did not insure myself on my solo trips. Dumb, right? You'd be correct. While I was in Peru, and my tour group and I were beginning our four day climb to Machu Picchu, there was a landslide. Locals lost their homes, most of our activities were cancelled and we weren't even sure that we were going to finish the tour. My tour guide said that something this astronomical hasn't happened since the 90's. Sometimes, even when you read the travel advisories and prepare yourself as much as you possibly can, something unpredictable will happen, and that's where travel and health insurance can save your butt. Better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it.

*Travel insurance during COVID-19

Now more than ever, travel and health insurance is going to be crucial for booking a trip. I am finding that a lot of countries have certain requirements for what travelers entering the country must have in terms of minimum coverage amounts for an emergency quarantine, etc. Note that there are still insurance companies that are not recognizing the COVID-19 pandemic as a part of their packages. To them, if you know there is a pandemic happening, and you still choose to travel, they don't want to pay your medical bills if you contract COVID. Just because they say you have medical and health coverage up to "$50,000" (for example), does NOT mean they cover COVID-19 medical bills. A lot of countries are still testing travelers before and upon arrival, but they have noted that it will be at the expense of the traveler and insurance will not cover it. 

Tell the Bank You Are Travelling

This isn't as much of a safety tip, as it is a security tip. If your bank thinks someone halfway across the world is hacking your account and making all these random purchases, they are going to flag and freeze your account. And well, if you don't have access to your funds and have to take away time in your vacation to get that sorted out with your bank, that's going to be a problem. 

Arrange Taxis and Transportation

I like to pre-arrange taxi services with the hostel I am staying at ahead of time. Though this may not always be the cheapest option, because you are booking through a third party with your accommodation, I don't mind spending an extra couple dollars to make sure that I am safe.

In bigger cities, you can also look at airport to city shuttles. This will be a cheaper option than a taxi, but I would only recommend this option if you are getting into the city during the daylight.

If you are coming to your destination at night, choosing to pre-arrange your transportation is ideal. There will be less taxi services at night, and you don't want to stand around in the airport at night waiting for your driver to arrive. I was in this situation once and there were so many taxi scammers who swarmed me and begged me to take their cab. Oh, and if this happens, you can always go stand beside a security guard, police officer or a really nice couple who can obviously sense you are being harassed. This is what I did and I felt better about it.

Keep in mind that most locations are offering a driving service, like Uber and Lyft. Please, please, please do your research about these services. In my research I have seen 1 of 2 things happen, 1)it's either a huge scam and super dangerous, 2) it's the safest mode of transportation you could take. 

Photo Copy Everything

This is a step you do not want to miss. After I took water damage to my passport in Costa Rica and had to contact my college for their records of my documentation, I started making my own copies of everything.

I will make physical and digital copies of my:

  • Passport
  • Health card
  • Travel and health insurance papers
  • Drivers license
  • Birth certificate
  • Immunization record **especially important for showing proof of the Covid-19 vaccine
  • Police check **Police checks are good to have if you plan to do any sort of volunteer tourism, plan to rent a car or another type of vehicle. It's not always needed, but could be handy to have. Be mindful that police checks are only valid for six months from the date they were issued
  • Tickets (flights, accomodations, tours and other excursions)

I keep these documents and copies stored in multiple safe spots. One set of copies goes to my parents, one copy is hidden in different areas of my backpack, one is compiled in a Google document that is also shared with family, and one gets stored in a folder on my email.

Set Up a Google Doc

Speaking of keeping my ID and confirmations on a Google Doc, there are lots of other things I like to have on this document for safe keeping. Make sure that when you are creating a Google Doc, adjust your settings to ensure they are set to private or only shared with people you invite/share the link with. 

Helpful information you can include in your Google doc are:

  • A rough itinerary or outline of your trip, which your family can follow along with
  • Confirmation and confirmation numbers for your accommodations, flights, and tours or activities
  • Flight information and tracking numbers
  • Contacts 
    • Embassy, travel clinic, family doctors, passport office, emergency numbers, visa office, places you are staying, etc.

24/hr Accommodations

I always thought that accommodations of any kind would have someone at the front desk 24 hours a day, well this isn't the case. If you fly into your destination in the middle of the night and need to check in late, if the taxi they set up for you hasn't arrived yet, or if you have a dorm mate who you do not feel safe rooming with, knowing that someone is at the desk at any hour, is going to give you a sense of safety and security.

Learn the Language

I know this point sounds super overwhelming, but you don't need to be fluent in order to stay safe in a country. What I learned from visiting multiple countries, if you show that you are at least making the attempt to speak their language, they will appreciate it and could be more willing to help you out. You might butcher it, and they might laugh at you, but at least you tried. Learning some of the terms will at least be helpful if you found yourself in an emergency situation and nobody spoke your language.

If you are a first time solo traveler, I would recommend going to a destination that speaks the same language as you do in your home country. My first solo trip was to Scotland and Ireland and it couldn't have been a better destination for my first trip.

For language assistance, you can always download a translation app or take a little pocket book dictionary and phrasebook with you.

Download Apps

I have written a list of some apps that are super handy to have before you go on your vacation. You can read the full list here.

Money, Money Money

Storing your money properly is one of the best things you can do for yourself as a solo traveler. Convert some cash into local currency and store it in different areas of your bag, keep some on you. In addition to cash, bring your debit card and your credit card. This should sound like common sense, but I didn't bring my credit card to Costa Rica with me, and found myself in an unsettling situation when my debit card got eaten by the ATM and all I had to last me the rest of my trip was a bit of cash.

Pack Smart

I have written a list of some items you should definitely pack to stay safe. You can read the full list here.

Phone Plans & SIM Cards

For shorter term trips I would pre-purchase a phone plan that would allow me to use my existing phone plan the same way I would at home, but with roaming features. I think it ended up being about $12-15 a day, but that's not very practical for longer trips.

Purchasing international SIM Cards is a better idea for longer vacations. I am a little bit unfamiliar with the process, but online I have seen that lots of people have been able to buy them at the airport, in malls and some accommodation spots will also sell them. Based on the carrier, each plan will offer something different and price ranges vary.

VPN's

There are always going to be options to connect to public wifi within airports and cafes, but keep in mind these connections won't always be secure. I am going to be honest, I had no idea what a VPN was, until now. A virtual private network or VPN, essentially creates a private network from a public site and keeps your information safe while you are using the public connection.

Surround Yourself with People

When you are travelling alone, you should try and make that as subtle as possible. Anytime I felt like there were sketchy people around me that did not pass the vibe check, I would inch myself closer to families and couples and pretend that I was a part of their group. Just explain to them that you are feeling a little bit uncomfortable and they will understand and try to help out.

 

I know this post was long and probably overwhelming, but I hope you found it insightful and gave you confidence to tackle your solo trip. As I have said before, and will say again, if you can navigate through an international airport, you can make it anywhere.

 

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