Tips to stay safe while traveling solo
By Carolyn Ray, Editor, JourneyWoman
Recently, my 21-year old daughter went to Mexico with another friend. Of course, I felt compelled to share my advice with her, even though she has travelled with me for years. Most women, as we discovered in our last Safety Study, make safety part of their planning process. However, online safety and harassment is becoming more of a concern, so my tips have expanded beyond physical safety to include some social media etiquette recommendations.
it’s never too late to start travelling solo, as some of our most experienced solo travellers will tell you. My first ‘real’ solo trip wasn’t until I was in my early thirties and divorced. I started by adding days to business trips and becoming more comfortable with being on my own. I still remember eating along at my first solo dinner in Italy, imagining that everyone was staring at me. On the contrary, it was a wonderful experience and the waiters and other guests were very kind. In those days we didn’t have social media – and some days I miss that feeling of no one knowing where you are.
Travelling on your own for the first time can be an exhilarating experience, but also overwhelming. Here’s a checklist to get started with (and don’t forget to visit our Solo Safety page for more!)
First-time Solo Safety Checklist
Before you leave:
1. Learn self-defence skills. We can do more to protect ourselves by learning self-defence skills. If you are able to, take a self-defence class or find webinars online. Learn how to yell, punch, manage adrenaline and run. We cannot always rely on someone else to help us – we have to know how to fight for our lives. (You can also watch our VIDEO here of the training sessions we did last spring).
2. Have a plan if you get stuck – where will you stay if you test positive? Does the resort or hotel have rooms available? Will you need to find an Airbnb? (And of course make sure you have travel insurance)
3. Register with your country’s travel program, which helps you stay connected in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.. In the US, enrol in the STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). In Canada, Registration of Canadians Abroad provides you with changes and updates to travel advisories.
4. What to do in an emergency. Not every country uses 911 for emergencies. Find out the emergency number in the country you’ll be in here.
5. What to pack: Always pack lightly, with a carry-on if possible. For Packing Tips for every kind of trip, visit our Tips page here.
- Dress appropriately: Learn what is acceptable for the culture. Leave jewelry and expensive purses at home. Don’t make yourself a target for robbery, don’t flash your iPhone around. For more read our “What to Wear” section which provides clothing tips for hundreds of countries.
- Use safety devices: Bring a Whistle or personal safety alarm – These give off a shrieking loud noise if the button is pressed or if a pin is removed. Bring a rubber doorstop/wedge for your hotel room door. I never travel without mine.
7. Wondering where to go? While there’s no such thing as a ‘safe’ destination, these are ones recommended by women in our last Safety Study. For first-timers, it can be easiest to choose a place where you can speak the language. Make sure you take the time to research your destination and ask other women for tips (like the women on our private Facebook group!) Don’t rely on google.
10 tips to stay safe upon arrival
1. At a hotel, ask for two room keys. If someone else is in the hallway when you leave your room, refer to a “husband” or ‘boyfriend,” say hi and goodbye as leaving or entering hotel room as if someone else is in the room.
2. Use the buddy system: Always go to parties with at least one friend and stay in proximity. Make sure you leave the party together. You are responsible for each other and can help make sure that the other is safe and gets home okay. Make sure you designate a “sober buddy”.
3. Know how you are getting back home: Whether it is walking, using a hotel shuttle or using a ride service, know how your plan for getting home safely. Have this established and agreed upon before going to the party. You can also time your exit based on these plans.
4. Manage alcohol responsibly (or avoid it altogether!). If you must drink do it in the daytime, not at night. If you’re with friends, you can also take turns and be the photographer instead!
5. Beware of inappropriate flattery, even if it’s coming from a couple and not just one person. (If you haven’t watched Serpent on Netflix, I recommend it – it’s a true story!)
6. Tell friends (and of course your parents) your plans and when you will be back.
7. Be cautious on social media: If you post on social media, don’t share too much personal information. For example, don’t say what hotel or Airbnb you are staying at. I always post hotel photos after I leave a hotel or homestay, never when I’m there. We forget that people are watching us online (especially if your instagram profile is public). It doesn’t take much work to find out an address – and for that matter, not too much to find out where you live at home, which can create a risk of a break-ins. If you have your data on, photos and posts can be geo-tagged, which means they automatically show your location. Check your settings and if need be, remove the location. You can always add it back when you’re home safely.
A new June 2022 survey from AllState, conducted Léger, shows 29% of respondents who are active on social media post details about their vacation before or during a trip. That number rises among those respondents aged 18-34 years of age (46%) and those who plan on going on vacation this summer away from home (36%). Among all respondents who share their travel details to social media, 10% post in anticipation of their trip to share their travel plans and 24% post during the trip, revealing that they are away.
8. Try not to be alone at night walking back to a hotel. Always take a friend or a taxi. Contrary to public belief, I find taxi drivers in Mexico very trustworthy.
9. Sex while travelling: If you use a dating app like Match to meet up with people, read this article first about sharing information online. Make sure you stay on the platform. Do not switch to Whatsapp or text messaging, which can put you at risk.
Having sex while travelling can be fun but it comes with its own set of risks, which can include everything from STDs to physical abuse — or sex trafficking. Most importantly, be clear about consent. No means No in most languages. Many of the tips included here are intended to help you maintain your awareness, from alcohol consumption to being aware of inappropriate flattery. If you do have sex, use protection, tell someone where you’re going and stay alert to the risk of assault. Women are not treated the same around the world, so know the local customs before you walk into a hotel room.
10. Bring your own clear plastic cup with a lid and keep your drink with you at all times: Too often, people put their drinks down for a second, which may invite opportunity to slip something into a drink. NEVER leave your drink unattended.
A primer on drugs to spike drinks
Here’s a little primer on the drugs used to spike drinks: Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) — known as G, Easy Lay, Cherry Meth, or Liquid Ecstasy — is one of the three most common date rape drugs according to many sources, including Womenshealth.gov. The second is ketamine, which is a readily-available clear liquid that’s often slipped unnoticed into drinks, leaving people in a detached, hallucinogenic state that drug abusers refer to as a ‘k-hole.
Try these products to protect your beverages:
- Silicone Cup Lids: These lids can fit various glass sizes. Seal them to the rim of your drink and you’re good to go. A pack of four is $15 CAD on Amazon.
- Bringing your own reusable cup with a lid could also help keep yourself safe. Brands like YETI or S’well have a variety of stainless steel options to hold wine, water, coffee, or whatever beverage you would like to enjoy. If you need something more portable, the brand Stojo has silicone travel cups that will shrink to fit in your carry-on.
Products that might help you detect drugs
While I’ve never tried these – and some seem experimental, it’s worth noting that they exist.
- Drink Check Wristbands: Dab a small amount of the liquid from your drink onto one of the two test fields, wait 2 minutes – if the test field turns blue, your drink has been spiked. While this product is UK made, it does ship internationally. Learn more here.
- Date Rape Drug Test Coasters: Only $8.50 US for a pack of 10, these 4” x 4” coasters have two test fields that let you check if you drink has been tampered with. If the test strip turns pink, it’s Ketamine. If the tint is green, it’s GHB. If the strip turns blue, your drink has been tampered with in another way. This product also ships internationally. Find them here.
- My go-to product is a white rubber doorstop that you can buy at any hardware store or here on Amazon.
- Portable Door Lock: This small lock can be inserted into a door jamb and locked to keep unwanted entry into your room.
- Safe Sound Personal Safety Alarm: This small alarm can be attached to your purse or an item of clothing. Simply pull the pin if needed and an alarm will sound. To stop the alarm, put the pin back in. This pack of three costs under $20 Canadian on Amazon, and also has an LED function.
Manage your mindset when you travel solo
- Safety is a mindset – trust your intuition and don’t put yourself in a risky situation.
- Walk with confidence – don’t look at your phone, be aware of your surroundings.
- Remember anything you do may end up on social media. Do not do anything you don’t want out there for all to see.
- Never say you are travelling alone.
Do you have any solo travel safety tips to add? Share them with us below!
More Tips to Keep You Safe While You Travel
Women’s safety advocate Tracey Breeden shares how women can protect themselves against online harassment, which data shows is intensifying.
Women’s safety expert Tracey Breeden shares her top tips for women to stay safe in the digital world.
JourneyWoman and Safe4Life are offering young women a free self-defence class on Tuesday, September 28 to help them prepare for potentially threatening situations.