Last year, I took my first international solo trip to Ireland. It could not have been any more perfect!
However, before my trip, I continually was asked, “Aren’t you afraid of going alone?” or told, “Be extra safe. Take a lot of precautions!”
I just went to Spain this year for my second solo trip. I can easily say that I have not been afraid of traveling alone and was not afraid during my time in either country, because I took the necessary precautions that made me confident and put me at ease when it came to my safety.
So for any woman interested in taking a solo trip, but you’re just a bit nervous to take the leap — read on!
1. Don’t Make Yourself A Target
Obviously victims of crimes are not at fault. It’s the criminal’s fault. However, the fact remains that crime still occurs and when you are traveling to a new city or abroad you might be placed into the “easy target” category by criminals because you’re a tourist and a solo female traveler. How do you make criminals not see you as a target when traveling? Easy:
- Look and act as a local as much as possible.
- Don’t let others see how much cash you have.
- Try not to text or talk on the phone while walking around; it makes you unaware of your surroundings.
- If you are traveling with friends, try to stick together.
- Respect the culture, the customs, and the beliefs of the place that you are visiting. People are very proud of their homes and their beliefs and if you mock that culture or their beliefs, you could be a target for assault.
- Stand tall and confident; appearing “weak” could make you seem like an easy target.
- Stay in well-lit areas at night.
- Take a taxi if you feel unsafe walking at night. Who cares what it costs? This is your life!
2. Self-Defense is the Best Offense
Whether in your home country or traveling abroad, the reality is that there are people in the world that might want to harm you and I believe that the best way to prepare yourself for anything is to learn self-defense.
I took my first self-defense class in undergraduate school. The class was led by a campus police officer who was extremely knowledgeable. I wasn’t taught how to fight but rather I learned how to escape from deadly or harmful situations. I was taught what points of the body to hit, such as pressure points or nerves that would knock out an attacker or incapacitate them momentarily. I was also taught how to disarm someone who had a gun, what to do in a kidnapping situation, if someone tried to car-jack me, and how to get out of certain holds. This class was very practical and the things that I learned have stayed with me after all these years.
Last year, I took up karate and was taught by one of the best Masters in the world, Soke Takayuki Kubota. Three months in and I became an orange belt. Not only was I learning traditional karate moves but I also sparred each week, which included learning how to fight off physical attacks like punches and kicks from opponents.
The most important thing about self-defense was that I wasn’t just learning how to defend myself from an attack, I was gaining confidence in my ability to protect myself.
You’re going to think I’m crazy when you read this next part. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation such as walking at night in a sketch neighborhood, all you have to do is skip.
Yes, skip. I know it sounds insane, but I once read an article that said if you are walking in a bad area of a city or you think someone might be following you, skip. Why? Because what grown adult skips in public? Which is the whole point.
Ever see someone talking to themselves on the street? Though mental illness is a serious and sad situation, many people give individuals who speak to themselves a wide-berth. Why do they do that? Because you associate talking with yourself as “crazy” or “weird.”
Similarly, a grown adult skipping is also a little “odd.”
My safety is not something that I would ever take a chance on. So if I have to act crazy to make others leave me alone, I will do so. Maybe I’ll bark like a dog, or start talking to people who aren’t there, or pretend to revert back to my five-year-old self.
Think of it like this, if I have yet to convince you — people who do not follow social norms such as speaking to themselves are seen unpredictable and dangerous (even to a criminal).
Trust me. This does work! I’ve had women tell me that they’ve done this before, in different manners, and they’ve been left alone immediately.
Just saying, skip.
4. Be Tough
The truth is, I’ve never been in a fight. I’ve never even had anyone try to fight me. Part of it may be that people like me and no one has ever wanted to fight me, but it could be that I always seemed more tough than I am because I make it a point to appear strong, confident, and assure of myself.
Twice, I’ve been followed by strange men; one time occurred when I lived in Oklahoma and the other occurred on vacation in Washington D.C. In Oklahoma, I was followed by a man around the mall. I thought I had lost him while I was still in the mall but I discovered that he was still following me when I walked to my car. I put my stuff on my car and turned around and confronted him.
“Are you following me?” I said loudly. I took a step forward and he stopped.
“No, uh, yes. You’re very pretty,” he replied. He wasn’t expecting me to speak to him.
“You do not follow women around! That’s not cool!” I yelled at him. He walked by, giving me a wide-berth.
“But you are very pretty,” he repeated.
“Get away from me! You do not follow girls around malls and then follow them to their cars. Don’t do it!”
He walked away and I got in my car. I turned around and grabbed the bat from my back seat in case he decided to not leave (yes, I carried a bat in my car–can’t ever be too safe!). Although I don’t think that man meant me any physical harm, I had to take back the situation and feel confident in my safety.
The second time I was followed, I was in Washington D.C. with two friends. We got off the subway at night and were walking to a bar when eight young guys, probably 18-20 years old, tried hitting on us. They began to follow us even after my friends and I said we weren’t interested. One got mad and said something to the effect of ,”Why are you walking so fast like you scared of us? We’re just trying to talk to you.”
I stopped and turned around, “There are eight of you and three of us. You really can’t see why we are walking fast? You don’t follow women around at night especially when they have said that they’re not interested. Please, just leave us alone.”
I quickly saw that he and his friends had not realized how nervous they were making us and they walked away.
Act tough, and speak up if you need to, ladies. Unfortunately, many men do not realize how their behavior sometimes can scare us or make us feel threatened (which is another conversation entirely).
I may have never been in a fight but acting tough makes me feel tough and if it keeps me safe and confident, I will continue to do so.
5. Use What You Got
For women and men, physical makeup can be the determining factor in being attacked by another person. Most men are taller, bigger, and stronger than women. Similarly, there are men that have the physical abilities to hurt other men. So if you find yourself in a situation where someone is trying to physically attack you, use what you got to defend yourself. That might mean using your keys like a knife. Using your nails to scratch or your teeth to bite. Hitting back with your purse or grabbing dirt and throwing it in their eyes.
Why can’t I just use pepper-spray? In some countries pepper-spray is illegal. The only weapons you might have will be those that are around you or those you were born with. Use them wisely.
6. Drink Responsibly
Alcohol inhibits your ability to judge situations. I think it’s safe to say that drugs do too. If you are traveling with others, try to make a pact to drink responsibly (and to not do drugs). If you are traveling solo, this is even more important to consider. A drunk traveler is an easier target for criminals. Ladies, watch your drinks! Date rape drugs are a reality all over the world.
7. Make Others Aware of Your Presence
Get to know the hotel staff, say hello to the security guards at the club or bar that you’re visiting, and make conversation with your waiters and bartenders when traveling. Why? Because you want these people to look out for you!
If some creep follows you into the hotel and you have created a repertoire with the hotel staff, they tend to watch out for these things and watch out for you. Same goes for bartenders — if they see an aggressive drunk customer messing with you, they will probably help you out. Not only will others help you out if they are aware of your presence but it just makes for a more enjoyable trip because they usually give you great traveling tips, great conversation, and sometimes VIP treatment.
8. Cell Phones & Phone Numbers
If you are traveling to another country, be sure to know the emergency numbers of that region. Knowing that number in an emergency could save your life. For instance, if you are being followed or have just been accosted by a stranger, you will need to call the police right away.
You should also have the U.S. Embassy’s number written down or saved in your phone as well. This also means that you will need to be able to access your cell phone when overseas. Contact your carrier before traveling so that they can activate your phone and can use it abroad. This doesn’t mean that you should use your phone overseas because that can be quite costly. You just need the option of being able to use it. You can also buy SIM cards when traveling abroad which might be more cost efficient. Regardless, a pay phone or a land line might not be readily available to you at all times and it’s safer to be able to use your cell phone in emergencies. Remember you are more important than those foreign bill charges.
As a solo female traveler, you can protect yourself from harm in many cases, but always be smart about it. If someone is trying to rob you at gun point or with a knife, just hand over your wallet or purse. Don’t be the cause of unnecessary harm.
Items can be replaced, you cannot.
These safety tips are meant to be precautions, not obsessed over. Keep an eye out, but first and foremost, focus on enjoying your trip and making the best travel memories that you possibly can!
Photo by Transformer18 via Flickr