By Heather Stephens, AirTreks Marketing Lead
There’s been a lot of buzz around the recent New York Times article about the dangers of traveling the world as a solo female. While the article offers deep insights about the realities of harassment and violence that women risk when traveling solo, it also serves up a large dose of fear. Fear that can be debilitating. Fear that causes women to push back big dreams of soul-shaking round the world travel adventures. Fear that is making the bravest and boldest stay home to stay safe.
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The harsh reality of the world is that violence, harassment, and other evils do in fact exist — both 8,000 miles from home and right in our own backyards. While we wish the horrifying stories featured in the New York Times were not real life, the truth is, they were. They are.
But what if instead of dwelling in these painful tales, we took them into consideration, and we still set off to see the world? What if we armed ourselves with smart safety tactics and we spread our wings to fly anyway?
Author and solo female traveler, Elizabeth Gilbert says it best: “In life there is fear that you need and fear that you don’t need. Bravery means doing something that feels scary. Fearlessness means not understanding what the word scary even means.”
As a fully remote company, some of the AirTreks employees opt for a digital nomad lifestyle. The women of AirTreks and friends of AirTreks weighed in on what they do to ensure safety while traveling solo. If you’re a woman interested in taking a solo trip around the world, we encourage you to read through some pro safety tips for solo female travelers. If you’re a solo female traveler yourself, or an aspiring one, we invite you to share feedback or weigh in with your own advice. We’ll add it to this article.
Tips to lessen the fear you don’t need while traveling the world solo…
I go by the classic line: “Be a traveler, not a tourist.” It’s plain and simply solid safety advice. Blend in with the locals and make friends with people from the area. Being an obvious tourist can cause you to be more of a target.
Also, stay aware. Be well rested, sober, and alert so that if something is off, you can sense it in your gut. Your instincts are usually right. Don’t walk alone at night; try to stick to well-lit public areas if possible.
I don’t tell people that I meet while traveling that Im traveling alone. At least not at the beginning. I say I’m with friends and we just separated for some days, or that I’m meeting my friends in the next city, so they think somebody is waiting for me. I usually try to let somebody know what my plans for the day are. For example, letting the hostel people know if I’m trekking, or hiking, and when I plan to return.
Have your personal infrastructure sorted— a phone that works locally, with data and credit (a dual sim phone with your home sim and local sim is ideal), with a personal-alarm app installed; all your documents in the cloud; a credit card which works anywhere, and in any currency; and an emergency stash of dollars and local currency kept separate from your belongings and wallet, or hidden on your person. Finding yourself in a challenging situation is one thing – not having resources to deal with it is another.
- I always carry a cross body purse with a zipper, and keep it in front of me in crowded places or on public transit.
- Educate yourself about the destination you’re in. In some places public transportation is safer than taxis and vice versa.
- Be thoughtful about information you share where it can be overheard or with people you just meet.
If you’re traveling in foreign countries that are more remote, make sure to always get the number, location and contact info for the closest US embassy (or your native embassy) in case of any emergencies or natural disasters. Sometimes you can even notify the US embassy in the nation you’re traveling to so they’re aware of your whereabouts in the event of any unforeseen circumstances that threaten your safety.
I always get a SIM card (with both data and cellular capabilities) that works in the countries that I am visiting. This way, I have the ability to make a call anytime, use Google maps so I know where I am going, and research last minute lodging/tickets/food if my original plans fall through. Most of the time, I use WiFi as needed, but having data available for a relatively small fee gives me an extra insurance policy.
Additionally, I always make a google doc with my itinerary (flight numbers/times and addresses of all lodging) and then the numbers and addresses of the US embassies in the countries and cities I am visiting, the names and phone numbers of the US diplomats at said embassies, my passport number, and emergency phone numbers (equivalent of 911). I then make it so I can see it offline on my phone and print a copy that I keep in my wallet/passport holder. This might seem like overkill, but it is so much easier to glance at this document instead of searching emails and Airbnb listings for information.
One of my favorite all time defense techniques is to walk tall and square, with confidence. Project with your body language that you know who you are, where you are going, and that you are not afraid of anything.
- It’s smart to activate your GPS or friend finder on your phone and share your location with a close friend if you plan on going out late in the evening or to a more remote location.
- Set-up a plan with that friend to check at specific hours and agree on. Figure out what to do next if the check-ins don’t happen.
- Assuming it’s legal in the destination that you’re in, carry a pepper spray with you as a key chain or in a place easy to reach (not at the bottom of your backpack). If you have to walk home late at night, it could come in handy and at the very least, it will give you peace of mind.
I don’t Instagram from a place until I’ve left it. I also sometimes wear a wedding ring even though I’m not married. I’m not saying that I need a husband or spouse to protect me or anything, but I think of it more as a deterrent to unwanted advances, and it also gives the idea that someone is probably keeping track of or waiting for me.
I make sure I have a sim card, because although traveling and shutting off completely shapes deep meaningful experiences, when you’re in a foreign country alone it’s smart to be connected in case of emergency. If there is no service I make sure to download an offline map on my Google maps so I know my way around.
Take Ubers instead of taxis because they are being tracked and you can contact the business if something goes wrong. I would never get in unmarked car or pay cash for travel. When I was in India Uber wasn’t an option, so I hired a driver through the hotel I was staying at and traveled with someone, this way I was never alone in a car.
We invite you to join the conversation and share your own stories from the road, or safety tips with the hashtag #LetsTravelFoward. Let’s raise our voices, share our stories, and collectively keep paving a path forward for strong women to continue traveling forward.
Prefer to share your story over email? Reach out to: heather at airtreks dot com