Travel Tips – Security for Solo Travelers

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With more and more solo travelers, particularly women, traveling alone, it is always good to consider the safety issues while traveling. Here are some thoughts from my own experiences as well as from some recent articles that I have read.

I know that staying in AirBnbs, cheaper hostels or other vacation rentals is very popular today. But for women traveling alone, it might possibly be best to stay in nicer hotels, B&Bs or inns with more security, rather than an AirBnB where you don’t know the neighborhood or who might have access to the property.

Particularly when traveling overseas, take full advantage of your hotel safe. I never carry my passport and always lock it up along with my laptop and extra cash. I also lock up my camera in the evening when I go out for dinner. I like leaving my camera at the hotel in the evening and just use the camera on my iPhone. I would hate to have an issue losing my camera on a long trip.

I also just read that you should carry a rubber door stop with you. In that way you can block your hotel door from being opened if the lock or deadbolt happen to fail or are compromised.

Make sure that before jumping into an Uber or Lyft that you make sure you check the license plate and make of the car. Often people get into the wrong car, which has led in some cases to dire consequences. I heard this morning on the news about a horrible incident when a young woman jumped into a car with a man thinking it was her Uber and it was not. She did not survive!

In certain countries, like Colombia, Peru or Ecuador, I find it good to plan your airport transfer, in advance, through the hotel. This is particularly important if your plane arrives very late at night. Simply email the hotel or hotel concierge and ask them to arrange a transfer, giving them your flight arrival details. In that way when you exit Arrivals, you will see a driver holding a sign with your name. You can plan your departure transfer through the hotel once you arrive.

Be careful about sharing too many details about your location on social media channels from checking into restaurants to geotagging your posts. For example, using #TheTravelWomen, #NomadGirls, #DameTraveler, #WeAreTravelGirls or #LadiesGoneGlobal on Instagram, you don’t know who is out there watching. I did read about a woman who did use a GPS tracker so her family would know where she was at all times. This sounds like a good idea.

The NY Times just did an article about meeting people while traveling solo. They mentioned connecting with like-minded people by using a number of social networking apps designed for travel. I am concerned this is setting people up, particularly women, for potential safety issues. There are other ways to meet people! Trust me. I have been traveling solo for over 40 years.

Solo travelers might want to join a local walking tour or food tour. Here you can explore with a group and have a great experience while meeting new people as you explore.

I also recommend hiring local guides in some cases, where getting around on your own can be tougher to do, particularly with language issues. Here you can see the highlights or go on an adventure on your own, while enjoying the company of a local guide. I have hired private guides for day trips in such locations as Bogota and Medellin Colombia; Quito and Cuenca, Ecuador; Siem Reap and Angkor Wat in Cambodia; Luang Prabang in Laos; Hanoi, Vietnam; Havana, Cuba; Panama City, Panama; San Juan, Puerto Rico and Fez. Morocco. Often times, I still keep in touch with the guides on social media.       

There are many group hiking, walking and biking trips without having to go alone to remote areas. The guides know the area and you won’t get lost. Also, if you have an injury or health issue, there is someone there to help. I have met many fun people on these trips that I still keep in touch with!

As a solo traveler, I prefer walking or taking public transportation during the day. At night after dark, I only take local recommended taxis  and do not take public transportation or walk by myself. I follow the same rules at home in Chicago. Have your hotel get you a taxi to go out for a wonderful meal, and then have the restaurant call the taxi for you for your return. I always carry the card for the recommended taxi company with me while in that city!

Just in case, you need to be out at night, I heard about and bought a small pocket alarm on Amazon. If you are on a dark street and feel uncomfortable, you can carry it in your hand and simply pull the pin while a shrieking alarm goes off to scare off any attackers.

I am always careful about taking money out of ATMs on the street no matter in the US or abroad. I prefer more secured bank lobbies. You also have to be careful to check for the attached card skimmers that thieves can put on the ATMs to read your card data. That’s why I never use the machines say in a bar or on the street. You also don’t want people seeing you withdraw a large wad of cash.

Keep your valuables hidden. Also be careful about keeping your phone out while walking or on public transportation. You can become a big target for someone to steal it and hurt you in the process.

Dress conservatively and don’t wear your best jewelry or the newest designer clothes. So many travel sites and articles are touting what to wear, what makeup to buy, what purse or backpack to carry and the best luggage to buy. Just wear what you wear at home and be conservative, not flashy. You want to blend in and not stand out in a crowd. I always check the weather and see what the forecast is going to be while I am there and then pack accordingly with the appropriate layers. I like wearing a sport coat if I am going to an opera, play or concert in the evening, so I always bring one. It is also nice having a place to put your passport in the inner pocket while you are flying.

Never let your guard down. Be aware of your situation at all times!! I felt someone following me near my hotel in Berlin several years ago, and walked quickly into a restaurant across the street to get away from the guy. He left as I entered the café. I waited a few minutes, talked to some people in the restaurant and then walked the block to my hotel. It was on a busy street, in a nice neighborhood and it was before sunset, so it would have been easy for me not to be aware of what was happening. You always have to be alert!

Also be careful when you are taking photographs. Several people have died recently from falling into the Grand Canyon while taking a selfie or taking too much risk for the right selfie or photo.

I also recommend looking at the State Department Travel Warning website. Here you can see if there are any cities or countries to avoid.

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