I’ve never been much of an anxious traveler, but once I sold all my stuff at the ripe age of 18 and bought a one-way flight to Bali, travel safety was a huge component for me to keep myself safe and my mind at ease so that I could enjoy my travels. I was never really worried about getting stolen, killed, or robbed, but I will never forget the look on my grandma’s face when I told her I was going to Southeast Asia for the first time…
She was convinced I was going to show up on national news causing my story to become Lifetime’s newest plot handle for their up-and-coming casting calls. Which, hey, I didn’t and my trip was a success! I enjoyed my trip because I took proper precautions to lower travel risks and keep myself safe.
That is all to say, I never book a trip without thinking, “oh my god what do I think I’m doing“. There is anxiety that comes with traveling, but as my Taekwon-Do instructor always told me, you have to put those butterflies in formation. These travel safety tips are going to help you feel safe while booking and planning your trip, as well as while you’re doing the fieldwork and getting a little messy out there. That way you can walk those streets with confidence and not feel like you have a target on your back.
This post may contain affiliate links for the products I mentioned, but as always, all opinions are my own. I make a small commission, at no extra cost to you, when you make a purchase or booking through these links. This helps to support this space and keep me blogging, which I am so extremely thankful for.
1 | Research Your Destination
This is one of the BEST travel safety tips you can adopt. While I am all for spontaneous flights out of the country, I need to have a few ducks in a row first so, 1. I know what I’m getting myself into and, 2. I know what I MIGHT be getting myself into. Google is the first place I start. I search for common scams, safety risks, unsafe areas or neighborhoods, and even read reviews for anything and everything that I am doing.
Another practice that I like to do, no matter what type of trip I am taking, is to watch videos and read blogs on where I’m headed and what I’ll be doing. This gives me a slight familiarity once I get out there because I can recognize certain landmarks from the videos I watched previously. This doesn’t do too much in terms of practical safety, but it does help me not feel so overwhelmed when I first get to a country.
2 | Make Copies of Important Documents
Your driver’s license, passport, and other important documents are some of the most crucial things to take on a trip, especially abroad. In the event that you lose any of these things, you’ll need some way to identify yourself to get replacement documents. Redundancy is key here, so I recommend scanning the hard copies of your documents and keeping those copies separate from the real ones. It also helps to take the scans and upload them to a Google Drive or other secure location online so that you have offline access to them.
You never know what could happen on your trip, especially if one or all of these things get lost. I remember how baffled I was when I watched this poor guy, who you could tell had just gotten drug through the weeds because he lost his wallet, board my last plane to the Philippines with an emergency passport. Remember that you’re not immune to the hiccups of life.
I’ve never done this, but some long-term travelers opt to upload a Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney, and a Living Will into the same online location as well as physical, notarized copies with a lawyer or family member. This is a little on the overkill side of things for me, but it’s definitely something to consider for your trip. This doesn’t leave room for any “what ifs” and is nice to have just in case because you never know.
3 | Buy Travel Insurance
This is something A LOT of people overlook when it comes to travel safety. Travel insurance is crucial because it covers you from a wide variety of mishaps like lost luggage, flight cancellation, theft, and medical emergencies. If a last-minute trip cancellation comes up because of illness or another reason covered by your insurance, you’ll be reimbursed the entire cost of your trip.
What’s more important than having travel insurance, is understanding your insurance policy. There are some things that may not be covered in the event that your trip gets canceled or something happens. Things like terrorist attacks, and most recently pandemics, are some things that insurance typically doesn’t cover. Some even have restrictions on what they will reimburse you for if you get robbed. Read the finer details of your policy so you know what’s covered under your plan.
It may seem like another unnecessary travel expense, but it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. I cover everything you need to know about choosing the right travel insurance for you in my detailed travel insurance guide.
No trip of mine starts without being covered by World Nomads travel insurance. I have been fortunate enough to have only dealt with one mishap on ALL my trips, and unironically, I wasn’t insured. On my first trip to Bali, I was in a scooter accident in the north that ended with a burn the size of my hand on my calf. I avoided the hospital at all costs since I wasn’t insured, but had I been, I wouldn’t have had to find an alternative place to get help. Now, I know better and I buy travel insurance as soon as my flight is booked.
While it may seem too expensive to get insured for your trip, you’ll be surprised at how cheap it actually is. Use the widget below to get a quote for your next trip!
4 | Plan The First 24 Hours Of Your Trip
It doesn’t matter if I arrive in a country and go on a spontaneous travel extravaganza, the first 24 hours of my trip will always be planned. I value doing this so much as a solo female traveler because it allows me to start my trip off on the right foot and arrive with a clear head. For this, I plan the safety net trifecta: where I am going, how I am getting there, and who is taking me. This puts everything in place where I can take a breath after long hours of flying and prepare for the rest of my trip to run smoothly.
5 | Leave your travel plans, insurance policy, and location with someone you trust
This can be a trusted family member, friend, teacher, mentor, co-worker, or anyone you trust with your information in the event that something happens. Ideally, it would be someone with legal power of attorney. As nice as it is to run off to an exotic destination and forget everything back home, it’s important that you keep someone updated as to where you’re headed and your plans for the day. Even if it is a quick message telling them when you left, where you’re going, and when you get home, keeping those small updates is incredibly important in case you get lost, or worse.
I am really bad at doing this and I know that I stress my mom out sometimes since I tend to book and go spontaneously, but I am beginning to see the importance of doing these things more and more with each trip I take. I fully acknowledge that ANYTHING can happen on a trip, and it is my responsibility to see that people know I am safe and unharmed. Whoever you keep updated should also be the person that has hard or digital copies of those important documents since they will know all the details of your trip and have access to all of your information. This person should be trusted to take care of you if you are unable to do so yourself.
6 | Consider self-defense classes
When I first told my dad that I wanted to travel solo for a year the first thing he asked me to do was get self-defense lessons. In exchange for a life-changing trip abroad, I felt it was a fair trade. Little did I know it would change my life. I have been training for almost five years now and it has shifted the way that I travel internationally and at home. The moves, confidence, and strength that I have learned from taking these classes over the years are invaluable to me.
There is never a time when I’ll be able to fully prepare myself for every single situation, but what I can do is try my hardest to give myself a fighting chance in the event that something does happen. It might sound dramatic, but whether something happens or not, the confidence is there and that’s what matters and has made the largest impact on me. I highly recommend looking into self-defense, taekwondo, krav maga, or another type of martial arts to get you started on your journey. Trust me, you won’t regret it. The key to getting the most out of your practice is to start as soon as you can so you can really get a grasp of what you’re learning so keep that in mind.
7 | Be aware of your surroundings
This travel safety tip is so simple yet so overlooked. Whether you’re withdrawing money at the ATM, standing in a crowd, riding on a bus, or walking down the street, you should be vigilant of your surroundings and your belongings.
These are a lot of examples where theft is common, some of the most common being cell phone and bag theft. To protect yourself from theft while traveling, avoid being glued to your phone and never lose sight of your bag, even for just a moment. In those few seconds, you could have a few items to your entire bag snatched before you realize it. The worst part about this happening is that most travel insurance doesn’t cover valuables like cameras, drones, and laptops getting stolen, so you need to get a special type of insurance in the event that this happens. It’s something to consider if you can’t leave your valuables at home.
8 | Plan your arrival around daylight hours
The keyword here is try. I book all my flights with the arrival time in mind to make sure I have plenty of time to get my ducks in a row before the sun goes down. This makes me feel so much safer as a solo female traveler. Most flights don’t tend to arrive super late anyway, depending on the location, so don’t stress too much about this, but do keep your eyes on your arrival time when you’re shopping for the best flight deals.
9 | Keep your money in multiple locations, and have an emergency credit card
Looking back on my trips as a novice traveler, if I would have been robbed or had my bag stolen, I would have been screwed in terms of money, identification, passport, and any other thing involving my identity and my financial security. I kept everything all in one central location, not even in a wallet. Yikes. Luckily, I was never robbed, but now I know better than to have all my eggs in one basket like that.
I’ve tried putting every financial resource in a different spot and that set me up for failure because I have poor memory, so now I keep my ATM/Debit card on me to withdraw money from the ATM every day and leave my backup cards and cash stowed away in my luggage somewhere.
It’s important to never EVER keep all your money in one place. The goal is that in the event that you’re robbed, you have finances stored elsewhere just in case. Another good tip is to have a decoy wallet. Put useless things in here to make it look like your personal wallet, then when you’re robbed you hand over a fluke instead of the real thing. I take a small blue wallet with me everywhere I go just in case this happens.
I use my Chase Sapphire Preferred for my main travel credit card, a Capital One credit card for a backup, and my Charles Schwab debit card as my main debit card. I also carry around a small amount of USD since it’s widely accepted. When I am home, I put all my expenses on my Chase card and this helps me rack up travel points. So when I pay rent and other bills, it’s adding up and getting me points that I can redeem for free flights, car rentals, hotels, and more! Most recently, it got me a free flight to Salt Lake City for my backpacking trip in Utah! It’s one of my favorite ways to save money for travel.
10 | Avoid using your phone while walking on the street, on the bus, and in crowds
Busy streets and plenty of distractions are two of the key ingredients in the theft recipe. You don’t want to be staring at your phone, unaware of your surroundings because it makes you a very easy target. One minute you’re sitting on the bus looking at a map and the next thing you know your phone is out of your hands. This is especially common on buses and trains where people are constantly getting off and boarding. Stay vigilant and pay attention.
11 | Trust Your Intuition
This is not only a safety rule but a mantra, that should be applied in all aspects of your life. Your intuition is your inner compass. Your inner knowing. It’s that small voice that guides you through life and it’s so important that you listen for it while you’re away. Have you ever met someone or been in a situation where something seems off? You may not be sure why, but you just know that you need to remove yourself from the situation. That’s your intuition. We have evolved from primal times and although we aren’t having to worry about being a smaller tier on the food chain, that primal instinct has followed us through history. Sure, maybe we’re not running from dinosaurs or hunting animals, but we’re protecting ourselves from human predators. Your intuition is the first red flag you’re going to encounter, so if the internal sirens are going off, remove yourself from the situation immediately.
While I was in Bali, someone that I had met in my guesthouse had invited me out to get drinks for my birthday. I am not much of a drinker, but I figured I would accept the invitation and try to have some fun since I normally tried to avoid going out too late at night. Our personality types ended up meshing together very well (INF-J here in case you guys are curious), and I knew that I was going to have a good time. Before we headed out, he mentioned that one of his friends that he had met in Thailand years prior was here and that he was going to meet up with him at the place we were headed to. Everything was totally fine up to this point until that Thailand guy met up with us. He turned out to be probably mid-40s and was SKETCH CITY. I had this unshakable feeling that I should not be involving myself in this situation and luckily I didn’t enjoy my mango margarita, so I was in a great position mentally and physically to handle the situation. Somehow we ended up in a larger group with people that he had known, and I could feel my body shut off. I wasn’t being social. I knew that I was being silent and that I should engage in the conversations happening around me, but I just couldn’t. My body KNEW there was something wrong, and things could have gone really bad. Thailand guy ended up buying my friend a beer, which he tried to drug, but luckily my friend had noticed and ‘went to the bathroom’ to pour it out. It was at this point that we both decided we needed to leave the situation and get back to the guesthouse. The moral of this story is, get out when you can and don’t wait for things to get bad. Sometimes your head will try and reason with how you feel because you don’t want to seem rude, but if you feel your heart rate increase, if you feel like something bad is going to happen, if you feel like your body is trying to tell you something, leave.
12 | Use GPS and know where you’re going
While you’re walking around, it is so comforting to think to yourself, “oh, I remember passing that” and knowing what you pass on your way back to your guesthouse or hostel and which turns to take. Doing this gives me that sense of familiarity and it actually makes the town or city I am in feel a bit like home once I settle myself in. The best way to get to know your surroundings is by walking around and taking note of places that stick out to you. if you are cruising by in an uber, taxi, or bus, everything, quite literally, goes by in a flash, so if you choose to walk around, you’re able to get familiar with that small coffee shop on the corner right before you make that left turn. This helps to get back to your safe spot easier and easier as the days pass. If you have a poor sense of direction, this also helps since it will help give you cues and images that help you remember your route. I am a creature of habit and repetition, so doing this really helps my navigation skills. If you want to really indulge in a city, I recommend you take up my next tip, planning slow travels.
13 | Keep Your Travel plans/details to yourself
lie about personal information
I know all of our parents told us not to lie, but in this case, a little white lie never hurt anyone. It seems to be a common question that I received on a constant basis in Southeast Asia. This is a little bit of how my conversations would go:
Local: Hello. How are you?
Me: Good. How are you?
*casually conversation ensues if the vibe is greenlighted*
Local: Where are you staying?
Me: Oh. You know. *gestures broadly* over down this road about ten minutes that way *points in the wrong direction and exaggerates distance away*.
Local: What’s it called?
Me: *playing REAL dumb at this point* I don’t really remember, but I think it’s *wrong hostel name*
The key here is to play extremely dumb and don’t let them meddle you with questions until you give away where you are staying. Your hostel, hotel, or b&b is your sanctuary from the outside and you don’t want that ruined by a curious local or random person off the street. Some people really are just asking and mean no harm, but it does no harm to be broad or pretend that you’re staying at a different place.
14 | Buy A Local SIM Card or Wifi Hotspot
This is one of my favorite ways of staying safe while traveling because it almost guarantees, depending on where in the world I am, that I am connected in one way or another. If I am lost, I have a map. If I need to contact someone, my phone is online. A SIM card is that extra little safety blanket that makes me feel a whole lot safer while I travel and they always cost under $30 to pick one up at the airport or city that you’re traveling to. Once you get the SIM card, you are going to have a local number which is really really cool, and you’re able to keep your social media updated if you want, stay in contact with friends and family, and have access to the world while you’re gone. The one downside to this is that no country is an exception to be in spots with no signal. In fact, while I was in the Philippines, there were a good five days where I didn’t have a signal at all in the place that I was staying in and they didn’t have wifi. It was really nice to disconnect for a couple of days, but if you want the comfort of always being able to be connected, then maybe a wifi hotspot might be your go-to.
Wifi hotspots are small, portable 4G devices that will allow you to have internet access anywhere in the world. I plan on using one in my up and coming trip to Iceland, so while I can’t recommend one from personal experience, I have heard great things about the Skyroam Solis. My only issue with it is that it costs around $9/Day to rent it out, but if you want to buy it, it’s around $150 AND you still have to pay the $9 daily fee. As someone that runs many social media accounts and a blog, this is becoming more and more necessary, but if you only have the need to keep social media updated, a SIM Card will work just fine.
15 | Watch Your Drinks
I feel like I see a lot of articles that tell women to not drink at all, but I feel there should be a gage for everyone in their situation. Obviously being 100% sober is the safest, but if you plan on going out and treating yourself to a nice time, ask yourself, “If ANYTHING were to happen right now, could I take care of myself?”. This is important because some people can feel it after one drink and some people can feel it after five, AND different alcohol affects different people. There is a lot to take into account and while I opt out of drinking when I am solo, I do want to make sure that the ladies that do choose to drink stay as safe as they can. If you can find other women to meet up with or go out with people in your hostel that you have bonded with that is also a better alternative than going alone. When you’re out, stick with alcohol you’re familiar with in how it affects your body and take things slow so that you don’t hammer down a ton of drinks and find yourself in a bad state to get home safely. Everyone knows their limits and if drinking isn’t really your thing, never feel pressured to join in if you’re a group. Sip your water or cocktail with confidence, gauge how much you’re consuming, stay hydrated, and always make sure you can make it home.
16 | Walk with confidence
Or in other words… Fake it till you make it. If you look confused, lost, or anxious, people are going to pick up on that and use it to their advantage. If you walk around with your head held high and pretend like you know exactly where you’re headed, you’ll be off the radar. If you actually are lost or need directions, I like to do one of two things: walk into a local cafe or shop and check the directions on my phone, or keep Google Maps directions as I walk, so that it looks like I am just checking my phone, when really I am looking at the next street name or how much further till I need to turn. This is also a great way to get to know your surroundings since you’ll be watching for street signs and noting familiar locations that you pay pass frequently. Be confident, keep your eyes peeled, head high, and take mental notes of your surroundings.
17 | Deter thieves with anti-theft bags and locks
If you’re carrying around an open shoulder bag, your belongings are bound to get snatched. Anti-theft bags and wallets are a great way to keep your money, camera, and valuables safe and secure while you’re walking around a new place. Normally, I’ll travel with a backpack and I’ll take everything out of the outer compartments and put a lock on the main pocket so that I feel safe and I haven’t felt the need to purchase an anti-theft bag to this date. This is not to say that you don’t need one, but if you’re looking for a simpler alternative, a quality lock is a good way to go. Keep in mind that you do still need to watch your bag even if it is anti-theft because people can easily take the entire thing when you aren’t looking, even if it is only for a second. If you want a rough guide on the best anti-theft bags, there is a great article here that will help you choose the best one for your trip.
Everyone pretty much already does this since you should always have locks on your checked bag, but as I mentioned before, you want to have locks for your carry-on and checked bag, but not those that are easily hacked into with a 3d printer. If you are checking your bag, a TSA approved lock is required, but if you want some ease of mind for your carry-on since TSA locks have been deemed useless, then you can find locks that aren’t TSA approved, or use this lock that requires a card key rather than a regular key to open. TSA-approved locks are going to have a small, red heptagon-looking design on them in case you’re looking for one. I travel with 2-3 locks depending on my luggage situation, but I always like to have a few on hand in case I need them. It’s a great way to keep your belongings safe throughout every part of your trip.
18 | Consider Staying In Hostels And/Or Popular Areas
Staying in hostels is a fantastic way to get to know other people and possibly meet some lifelong friends along the way. I am not the biggest fan of hostels because I like having my own personal space, but I always try to stay in at least one on every trip I take. I tend to find one that is nicely decorated and looks like it has a great community and all of the times that I have stayed in a hostel, I have really enjoyed the community aspect of them. It’s interesting to see people come and go and venture out for the day and meet up with fellow hostel mates. Hostels, aside from couchsurfing, is one of the cheapest accommodations you can book in most cities, so if you’re looking to save money and make new friends, hostels are a great option. I book all of my hostels through Hostelworld because they have the best selection and the website is extremely user-friendly which I love. You’re able to read in-depth reviews of certain places, easily view amenities, and gauge whether the hostel you’re looking at is the right choice for you.
Aside from staying in a hostel, booking your stay in a more popular area is going to ensure that there are other people roaming around and you’re not 100% alone. As travelers, I don’t think we are ever totally alone anyway, but when you’re in a well-known area, there are more opportunities for you to seek out help if you need it. I do like to travel off path a little bit, so I like to base myself in a popular place at first and then slowly work my way outside of that. That way I can get a feel for the place I am in and ease into venturing out to lesser populated spots. I don’t always stay in popular spots, so that’s why this tip is a “consider” rather than a staple tip, but if you are traveling to a new place, this is a great way to go. If you don’t know where safe places to stay are, you can easily find neighborhood guides to different cities that will help you pick a nook that makes you feel the safest. Just search “neighborhood guide to _______” on Pinterest or Google and there are fellow bloggers that make these guides for cities all around the world.
19 | Avoid flashing your valuables
Looking expensive puts a massive target on your back when you’re traveling. I trade my Apple watch for my Casio, leave my nice rings at home, and try to avoid looking like I have money to throw. Every time I am on the road, it is assumed I am rolling in the dough simply because I am American, so I try my best to deter this stereotype and look inconspicuous.
20 | Never post your live location
Social media is one of my favorite ways to fill all my friends, family, and followers in on my adventures, but it’s important to wait until after you’ve left a location to post about it. I like to give a day or two buffer between updates because you NEVER want to say “hey here is EXACTLY where you can find me” with a video and geotag location. It’s exciting to post, but take the video in your camera roll and save it for later or for the end of your day.
21 | “Fuck Politeness, Apologize Later”
In the wise words of my favorite podcasters, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark from My Favorite Murder, “fuck politeness, apologize later”. If you feel uncomfortable. If you feel in danger. If you feel off. If you spot red flags. If you have even the slightest, most minuscule feeling about a person or situation, you are in no way obligated to be nice or stick around. I’d much rather be an asshole and be safe than be polite and get myself into a dangerous situation. Trusting your intuition goes hand in hand with this one because you are the one that will be able to read a situation. I can’t put myself in every single situation behind my laptop screen, so knowing yourself and the way you feel is the most important thing.
People feel safe in different situations and that’s okay. I am not saying be rude to every single person you meet, threat or not, because that is not the way to go. I am saying that you aren’t obligated to stick around in a situation you’re not comfortable in because you don’t want to seem rude. Please, be nice to locals and the people you meet along the way, but don’t be ashamed to be assertive or maybe even rude to get yourself out of a situation. Your safety is the most important thing and don’t let the feeling of having to be polite keep you from getting away from someone or something.
WHAT OTHER SAFETY TIPS DO YOU PRACTICE? SHARE WITH ME IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!
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