Before traveling, I always do a ton of planning and research. Amidst this, I spent a lot of time reading advice from other travelers regarding safety while you adventure. There are some things that a solo traveler needs to be even more mindful of, but most of these tips I’ve compiled are useful for group travel as well.
These aren’t in any particular order! Enjoy and let me know in the comments if you think I’m missing any important ones, or if you disagree with any of these!
Photocopy Important Documents
Before leaving on your trip, be sure to photocopy your passport, ID, and credit card information, and store this in a safe place in your bag. You may also want to give a copy to someone at home. Before I left for my two month euro-trip, I gave my Dad a folder with this information, as well as my tentative itinerary for each city, copies of my plane tickets, and my hotel reservations. In the chance that I lost my purse, or my phone, I wanted to make sure I would be able to access all the necessary documents.
Take a Self Defense Course
I think everyone should know some self defense, whether you travel or not. It feels more imperative though if you are traveling alone. Since there may be moments when you have to count solely on your own ability to get out of a situation, it is very important that you can trust yourself to stay safe. Having mace on you is helpful, but a good groin kick will effectively slow most attackers. I took Krav Maga for a couple months, and I go back for their free seminars as often as I can. It’s a brutal style, but you can pick up the basic mechanics pretty quickly, as most of the moves are based on what you would instinctively do anyway. I also took kenpo when I was a little kid. I have never had to use either, but I have been in situations where I was glad to have those skills, just in case.
Dress like a Local
One of the easiest ways to avoid being a target of pick-pocketing is to appear like you are not a tourist. Dress in the local fashion when possible, and avoid wearing items that scream, “I’m on vacation!” like fanny packs, and try not to pull a big map or language phrasebook out. I found that using Apps like Google Maps and Google Translate worked well for this. The only item I carried that really screamed tourist was my dSLR camera.
Know your Embassy information
For every country or city you plan to visit, its a good idea to have their contact information stored in your phone AND in your bag. Just in case!
Get to know your Hostel
Before booking, read the reviews and look at the pictures. Safety and cleanliness are important things to look for. Try and find out if the hostel has lockers available for use, and if the front desk is open 24 hours. When you check in, chat with the people working there, and get their names. This has a few benefits. If you need assistance with anything, they are much more likely to help you out if you took some time to get to know them. When I was in Florence, I sprained my ankle, and a gentleman who worked at the hostel drove to pick me up off the side of the road. The second reason this is important is a bit more sinister. If anything happens to you, you want people to remember your face.
Keep someone from home updated
For me, this was my Dad. I let him know where I would be and who I would be with nearly every day. While this may seem like overkill, I know it made him feel better, and it made me feel a lot safer as I wandered and explored. Anytime I explored with another traveler, I let him know their names and where we’d met.
Keep your Phone Charged, and Bring a Spare Battery Pack
Since I was using my GPS to navigate, as well as to keep touch with home, and take pictures, the battery drained quickly. I carried my charger (and plug adapter) with me all day, and plugged in ANYWHERE I could. I also brought a solar battery pack. While the solar part didn’t charge very well (it was a super cheap one) I could charge it with my phone charger, and it gave me about 80% extra battery life. I cannot count how many times I used this. The last thing you want is to be exploring all day, and when you start making your way back home, you realize your phone will not last the whole way. I was often scrambling to get back to my accommodation before it died. On that note, having a map is also extremely important.
Stay Aware of your Surroundings
Continuing with the subject of phones, put it away. When you are on the subway, waiting for a train, or walking down a crowded street, put your phone away and keep your eyes up. Look at the people around you, and be consciously aware of your belongings. Pickpockets will target people who are not paying attention. I picked up this advice when I was working retail. If you look a shoplifter in the eye and let them know you are aware of their presence, they are less likely to actually steal anything, because they will feel like they are being watched even if you aren’t nearby. The same idea works well in a crowd. Look at the people around you, meet their eyes. You’re intuition will let you know if someone seems “off” or “shady” pretty quickly.
Plan Which bag to Bring
Leave your Gucci and Michael Korrs bags at home. These items mark you as someone who has money (even if it’s a knockoff) and will make it much more likely that a pickpocket will target you. The best purses to use are cross-body bags with a buttoned flap over the top. These cannot be ripped off your shoulder, and it is harder to access the contents of them than, say, a bag with an open top, or even a zippered top. Leave the drawstring bags at home.
Wear Clothing you can Move in
Ditch the heels, and wear nice flats instead. Any clothing item that inhibits your ability to get out of a situation should be taken out of your bag and left at home. (Actually, heels in general are just bad for your body and really should not be worn at all. Harm in Heels ) This is for safety as well as practicality. When you need to catch a bus, train, or plane, you want to be able to move through crowds quickly. And have you ever walked on cobblestone? I do not know how those Italian women do it in heels. It’s like magic. I would break my ankle if I tried!
Since this post was getting a bit long, I have decided to break it into two posts! Stay tuned for Part II!
(And enjoy this cute napping kitty from Cinque Terre)