Safety is your #1 priority when you travel. Anytime in history that a woman travels alone, there have always been risks. Nowadays, you have to be more cautious than before, but there are practical ways to keep yourself safe, especially while traveling as a woman.
As someone who has lived abroad for almost 30 years, I have been in many situations where I needed to be extra cautious. I have seen the times change too.
This topic can also be very triggering for people, as many people who live abroad compare their home country to the country they are in. I think it is hard to compare; it is like apples and oranges. While the rates of crime and violence have risen worldwide, I do feel there are different kinds of “feeling safe.”
Everyone has a different perception, whether that is about the familiarity of being in your home country or being a “bubble of foreigners” that makes you feel like nothing bad happens in that country. Ultimately, your idea of safety can vary from others.
Before Your Trip
Do your homework. Before you decide to go somewhere, understand the culture, the customs, and the laws. This will help you get an idea of what it will be like when you get there.
Join groups such as on Facebook, such as Expat for groups for women, that can give you some suggestions and advice on safety. Ask questions about their experience there and safety issues that they might encounter.
Learn Some of the Language
For safety reasons, learn your address and phone number. Basic words or expressions can help in case you are in any kind of emergency. You could think that you can always rely on your phone, but if your phone is stolen, you must know some information.
Enroll in STEP
This is for US citizens, and there are programs for other countries.
STEP stands for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. It is a free service from the government that gives you alerts from your embassy in the countries you are traveling to.
The information you have to give is when and where you are traveling. I have found these alerts useful for knowing about protests, weather, or political crises that I needed to know about.
Also, for example, at the beginning of the pandemic, the US Embassies would send out alerts of planes leaving from the country I was in because the airports and borders shut down. It is just good to know you have someone to call for an emergency.
Although you will stand out in a crowd as a foreigner, you can tone that down a notch by dressing somewhat like the locals. If no one wears shorts, don’t wear them. Wearing designer clothes in an area where people don’t can bring problems. It is not to put a damper on your style, but more to not attract more attention that is inevitable. Blend in with the crowd.
Leave Your Jewelry At Home
Wearing your ring or favorite necklace that is so sentimental to you at home is something you probably don’t even think about. But overseas, it is best not to wear jewelry that is really important to you. A diamond ring has a lot of worth for a thief, or your necklace could be ripped right off your neck. Although it may feel odd to leave your jewelry at home, you just don’t want anything to happen to it while traveling!
Bars and Drinks
One alert that just came today from me from the US Embassy is the increase of sedatives or other things that are put into your drink when you are not looking to drug and rob you at bars and nightclubs. This happens nightly, and the stories are so common.
While it happens to both women and men, be especially careful as a woman. Don’t drink or eat something that a stranger offers you, don’t drink something that you did not see poured, and don’t turn your head on your drink.
Also, if drinking, do so in moderation. As you are in a foreign country, you can’t act like you are at home. Getting drunk and not being in control of situations and your things all the time is a recipe for disaster.
Tinder or Dating Apps
Although you may not think about it, foreigners are robbed every day on Tinder dates that they have while in a foreign country. First of all, going on a dating app or Tinder in a country where crime is already high, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? If you want to meet people, join a club or another way that is not a dating app. Your safety depends on it!
Keep Constant Track Of Your Belongings
As someone who had phones robbed three times while on public transportation, you can never be too cautious. Even when thieves are caught and taken to the police station and asked what their job is, they sometimes tell the truth and say they are professional thieves.
When your purse is stolen, nine times out of 10, you will not see it again. Some countries have less pickpocketing, and if you forget your bag on the train, it is in Lost and Found. In other countries, it is for sure that will never happen. You can’t sugarcoat it.
Always know where your belongings are, wear your backpack on the front of you in crowds, and be very cautious in crowded spaces such as buses, subways, and streets.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Although it is easy to get distracted these days, stay focused on where you are and what you are doing. If you are on a subway platform, don’t be looking at your phone. Actually, try not to take out your phone when you are on the street anyway. If a local starts talking to you and you get confused about the situation, be careful they don’t have a partner behind you going through your bag. Always look around you. You don’t have to be paranoid, but just cautious.
Medical and Travel Insurance
Sometimes the unexpected can make or break your trip. Medical and travel insurance are sometimes bundled together and other times, separate.
If you have any type of medical emergency or medical issue, having medical overage can give you peace of mind and help you know what to do if you need medical assistance. Some plans can cover your emergency costs to get back to the States.
Travel insurance is very convenient for many problems that could arise, such as delayed flights, lost baggage, etc. There are many insurance plans to choose from when you travel. I use Safety Wing as it is a monthly subscription and gives me the coverage I need at this time. I have used other plans in the past that responded to all my needs.
Let people know from home where you are and where you are going. Especially as a woman, tell your family or friends you will be exploring a specific area, or make sure they have your itinerary if you have one.
While abroad, if you have a trusted friend or someone, let them know if you are headed out on a hike or bicycling around the city. It is a precaution to ensure someone you trust knows your whereabouts.
Use technology to your advantage. Plenty of safety apps can help you navigate unfamiliar places, alert authorities in emergencies, or even communicate in a foreign language.
Make sure when you stay somewhere, you feel safe. If you don’t feel safe, leave and go somewhere else. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you could be vulnerable to crime. TRUST YOUR GUT WITH PEOPLE AND PLACES.
Make Smart Choices When Walking Alone or With Someone Else
A good rule of thumb is to never walk down a street that seems abandoned or has no one around. This is why many people are robbed in broad daylight on Sunday afternoons, although it happens any day of the week. If not many people are around and thieves drive by you, what can you do? Avoid these scenarios.
Have a Buddy System: don’t walk alone. If you can, ask a friend to join you!
Be Assertive Yet Polite
There may be situations where you attract unwelcome attention or even face harassment. In such cases, be assertive, maintain your physical space, and confidently express that the attention is not wanted. Remember to be polite to prevent the situation from escalating. If needed, don’t hesitate to attract public attention or seek help from the authorities.
Q1: Is it safe to travel alone as a woman?
A1: Yes! If you follow safety guidelines, stay alert, and trust your instincts.
Q2: How do I handle harassment or unwelcomed attention?
A2: Stay assertive, protect your personal space, and seek help if necessary.
Q3: Should I carry cash when I travel?
A3: It is better to rely on credit cards and carry minimal cash for emergencies.
Lastly, Don’t Be Naive
Many people in the world are just nice people who trust everyone. But the problem is not everyone in the world is nice, and some people don’t care how nice you are. When you travel, you have to be smart. Don’t trust people you just met. Take things slow with new acquaintances. Meet other travelers as sometimes there is safety in numbers.
Traveling can be a fantastic experience, and I highly recommend it, but especially as a woman, make sure you take extra precautions! These tips aren't to scare you but instead, encourage you. They’re about empowering to travel the globe with confidence. Safe travels!