June 18, 2024

AmericanHummus

Food & Travel Enthusiast

How do you travel solo? Solo travel safety advice, according to experts

In 2019, Alea Simone quit her job, sold all her furniture, packed her bags, and embarked on a four-month trip across 17 countries in Europe and Asia — by herself. It was the first time she ever traveled solo. The Texas native had never visited Europe or Asia before, and she admits she was intimidated. Would she be able to navigate public transportation? Communicate in non-English-speaking countries?

“I was really scared,” Simone says, “but at the same time, I had to push myself forward because there really wasn’t much for me to go back to.”

Four years and countless solo trips later, Simone is something of an expert. She recounts her travels to thousands of followers on TikTok and Instagram, offering insight to adventurers, from cheap flight deals to a review of airport nail salon services. While she still gets anxiety ahead of solo travels from time to time, the best way to quell her fears is to hop on the plane and go.

More travelers than ever before are choosing to venture on their own. According to a survey by the travel search engine Kayak, searches for single-person flights in 2023 are up 36 percent compared to 2022. Search interest in solo travel hit an all-time high in July 2023. The benefits of solo travel are wide-ranging, from complete flexibility to the potential for a transformative experience. Beholden to no one but themselves, solo travelers can eat where they want, spend what they want, and see what they want.

This isn’t to say solo travelers shouldn’t take their safety seriously. “Solo travel is definitely about getting to know yourself,” Simone says, “and trusting your intuition.” Travelers of color, queer people, and women on their own may be targets for scammers, endure catcalls, and encounter racism and other forms of bigotry. Still, travel experts say the potential for negative incidents shouldn’t deter those who hope to travel alone from doing so. With no one else to depend on, solo travelers must take extra care while planning a trip, navigating around new locations, and interacting with new people. Seasoned independent adventurers offer their best advice for staying safe, yet open to new experiences.

How should I prepare to travel by myself?

Regardless if you’re traveling to the next town over to attend a concert by yourself or you’re hopping on an international flight, you need to be prepared for what awaits you. The farther you venture from home, though, the greater the opportunity for cultural miscommunications and misinterpretations. “You’re not going to read every situation correctly, because you’re in another culture,” says Janice Waugh, the publisher of the website Solo Traveler, “whether you’re from Kansas and going to New York or New York to Kansas.”

Do some Googling to see whether your proposed destination has any travel advisories and whether there are any laws that would make your visiting unsafe. But keep in mind that countries are vast places and while one city or province may not be amenable to tourists, that doesn’t mean the entire country is unsafe for a solo traveler.

Research which neighborhoods are near restaurants, parks, public transportation, or other areas that interest you. Can you walk from place to place? Is your hostel located near all of the sites you want to visit?

Try to identify various local communities on Instagram in your proposed destination — say, a yoga club if you’re into yoga, or a queer social club — and reach out to members for recommendations on what to do and where to stay, says travel writer Bani Amor. Amor also suggests solo travel Facebook groups where you can find intel on various businesses and locals to meet up with.

Familiarize yourself with popular tourist scams, Simone says, so you don’t unknowingly get into what you believe is a taxi at the airport and are grossly overcharged. “It’s usually a very easy Google search,” she says. “What are the common scams in Morocco? What are the common scams in London? What are the common scams in Bangkok?”

When booking flights or other transportation, Waugh recommends arriving during daylight so you can get your bearings. While you’re coordinating your transit, make a plan for how you’ll get to your lodgings, says writer and travel expert Jessica Nabongo. Especially after a long flight where you may be tired and disoriented, knowing how you’ll get out of the airport is crucial. Nabongo is a fan of booking a car service, but for cheaper options, research the public transportation options from the airport. The app Rome2Rio provides a variety of routes, from subway and bus to train and car.

As a good rule of thumb for all travelers, Simone recommends a few crucial travel accessories: locks for your luggage and backpacks, and a portable door lock for hotel and hostel rooms. She also suggests an RFID-blocking wallet to prevent new-age pickpockets from using sensors to steal your data without having to even steal your wallet. A low-profile money belt that you can wear under your clothes helps keep your money close and out of sight.

If you’re traveling to a location where you don’t speak the language, try to learn a few phrases, Amor says, just in case you need to ask for directions or read signs on public transportation.

Before you leave for the airport, train station, or bus stop, or get in a car, tell a few friends and family members where you will be. You can even share your location with a contact in your iPhone or via Gmail on Android and Google Maps (you can always turn this off once you’re home). Someone should always know where in the world you are.

Where is a safe place to stay as a solo traveler?

Travel experts sing the praises of all forms of lodging: hostels, hotels, Airbnb, staying with a friend of a friend. The main consideration is your budget. Hostels will be the cheapest option since you’ll share a room and bathroom with other travelers. However, this is a great opportunity to meet other people, some of whom may also be on their own. “I always like to suggest that people who have never traveled solo stay at a hostel, because hostels are built for solo travelers,” Simone says. “They’re always going to have tours going on you can sign up for.” Remember to always keep your items secure and locked.

For a slightly more expensive option, Amor suggests a private room at a hostel. You’ll have a door that locks and won’t need to share a bathroom.

Hotels and Airbnbs will be the costliest places to stay. “I like the amenities,” Nabongo says. “I like having breakfast and my gym. And I like having a concierge, so I can ask, ‘What should I do? Where should I eat?’”

Take advantage of the staff and hosts wherever you stay, experts say. These people are often locals and are familiar with where you’re visiting. They can provide tour recommendations, directions, and places to avoid.

Before booking, Waugh suggests looking at the lodging’s location on Google Maps’ street view. “Make sure that the area looks like it’s active, that it’s well-maintained, and that you’re going to feel safe,” she says.

You can always tap your network, Amor says, and ask if anyone has a trustworthy friend who might be willing to let you crash. “Before I book anything, anywhere, I’m going online to my social network and I’m being like, ‘Who has got a place? Who has a friend of a friend?” they say. “If I’m a part of a radical community or a punk community, then I know we have some sort of ethos that is very mutual aid [focused].”

No matter where you stay, write the address in a note on your phone or mark the location on Google Maps so you always can find your home base.

How do I meet other people? Is that even safe?

While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your own company, solo travel gives adventurers the opportunity to meet new people. Group tours and Airbnb Experiences are great ways to mingle with other travelers. Opt to sit at the bar if you can since you’ll be better positioned to chat with other patrons and the bartender. These new connections might invite you to other events they have planned, Simone says, and give you strength in numbers. “You have to be open-minded and you have to be willing to say yes to things,” she says.

Try searching for clubs or social groups that align with your interests, Nabongo says. In major cities, there’s a good chance you can find a manga lovers group, beer runners, or a poetry reading event.

However, always keep these interactions in a public place, Waugh says: a cafe, a park, a museum, a store, historical sites. Simone and Waugh caution against going out by yourself at night unless you’re with an organized group like a bar crawl. Don’t tell anyone where you’re staying either, even if they ask. You can give a general location, like “on the other side of town,” and then keep the conversation moving, Waugh says.

Because different cultures have varying social norms around the appropriateness of certain comments or questions — what one culture considers a compliment may seem creepy to a person from a different background — you may be caught off-guard by offhand remarks. Sometimes cab drivers, for instance, might make comments about the way you look, misgender you, or ask intrusive questions. You don’t need to lie or justify who you are to a stranger, but keep the details to a minimum if you’re not comfortable. “Sometimes they’re just hitting on you, and … not everyone who’s hitting on you wants to abuse you,” Amor says. “But sometimes, it’s not fucking safe. I’ve never lied about having a boyfriend or a husband, but I usually just say ‘no.’”

Should a stranger become persistent in getting you alone, by offering to give you a ride or to veer off a marked hiking trail, consider that a red flag, Amor says. Don’t go anywhere private by yourself with someone you just met, be wary of people who are insistent you make a decision immediately (about whether you’ll join them on a day trip, for example), and don’t worry about being rude. “One thing a lot of us are trained to do is just to be nice,” they say. “You really have to put your foot down at some point.”

Continue using whatever metric you use at home to suss out new connections. If you get a weird feeling from a super-persistent person sitting next to you at the bar, signal to the bartender for assistance, move to another seat, or leave. “If you feel suddenly under threat,” Waugh says, “you just yell.”

Just as there are nefarious people wherever you go, there are kind and curious people, too. You have the opportunity to transform a local’s weeknight dinner into a charming memory. Be open to new connections, Nabongo says, and don’t assume everyone is out to harm you.

What do I do if I get sick or need help?

There are plenty of things that can go wrong when traveling, from the mundane — like getting lost — to the more serious, such as needing medical assistance. With no one else to rely on in a pinch, you may need to outsource help. For logistical issues, like asking for directions or inquiring how to purchase public transit passes, walk into a store and ask an employee or approach a family for assistance, Waugh says.

Waugh also recommends travel insurance, which covers medical expenses should you unexpectedly get sick or injured and need to be hospitalized. (Travel insurance also covers lost luggage and missed connecting flights.) In countries that have universal health care, a visit to a doctor or emergency room is generally cheaper than in the US, but travel insurance can cover the cost of evacuating you to a location where you can get appropriate care if you’re, say, in a remote area. The local US embassy or consulate office can also help you find a medical provider.

For less dire illnesses, local pharmacies are great resources, Waugh says. When she sprained her ankle in France a few years ago, she took an Uber ride to a nearby pharmacy, where employees helped her make an appointment with a specialist.

If you’re a victim of a crime overseas, contact the nearest US embassy or consulate; they can replace a stolen passport, inform your family, and provide information about local points of contact or organizations familiar with that country’s laws. Involving police may not be helpful or even safe, so it’s up to you whether you want to file a police report if you’re involved in a crime, both stateside and internationally.

Although it’s important to be prepared for potential snafus, fear of the unknown should not hinder your experience. Millions of people live in traveler destinations — many by themselves — and don’t feel threatened by their hometowns. “In particular for women, society puts so much fear into us that I think is completely unwarranted,” Nabongo says. “The world is not as scary as they want us to believe it is.”