As I’m sure you can imagine, telling my family and friends that I was off on a solo travel adventure was met with considerable concern. A bright-eyed but relatively naive 18-year-old, I was fresh out of high school, and a number of relatives who believed the trip was irresponsible launched a full-scale campaign to stop me (their efforts were in vain).
Yes, there’s a certain amount of risk involved with solo travel, but no more than the risks which exist in your everyday life. What I discovered quite quickly was that it’s actually very easy to stay safe when traveling solo, both physically and in your interactions online.
Solo travel is an incredible experience and one you’re guaranteed to remember for the rest of your life. If you’re concerned about your safety, utilize the following 6 smart travel tips and you’ll be absolutely fine.
Knowledge is power when it comes to staying safe; it’s imperative that you fully research the destination you’re heading to, and properly investigate. You should research common travel scams, find out what time the sun sets so you’re not out alone after dark, and, if you don’t want to be huddled over a third world toilet (been there, it’s not fun), you should find out which foods to avoid.
After being caught up in everything from protests to small-scale natural disasters, I like to investigate things like where my local embassy is, learn emergency phrases in the local language, and I’ve learned that it’s absolutely vital to know which conversation points to avoid. In some parts of the world, certain subjects like politics and religion are very touchy.
My father drilled into us as children that “prior planning prevents piss poor performance,” and these six p’s have kept me safe throughout my solo travels.
Dressing for success as a solo traveler means blending in. Your clothing needs to demonstrate cultural awareness and respect for local customs. You need to remember that the laws of foreign countries may not be as relaxed as you’re used to, and if your clothing is too obnoxious—you have exposed tattoos, or you’re showing too much skin—you stand out as a tourist and make yourself vulnerable to all sorts of possible attacks, like theft or sexual harassment.
When I visited Asia I was quite surprised to find that Japan is extremely conservative when it comes to tattoos. Exposed ink carries negative connotations throughout much of the country, and they’re seen as shocking and offensive. I had to place bandages over my small tattoo to enter the country’s famous bathhouses, or “onsen.”
Pack your common sense
I know, common sense is not so common these days. But the biggest secret to staying safe abroad has, and always will be, traveling with common sense. And by that I mean street smarts, trusting your gut, learning to read situations, and being aware of your surroundings.
Don’t leave anything unattended, anywhere. Don’t get recklessly drunk or experiment with new substances. I read a news story about a female traveler who was visiting Canada and couldn’t find her way back to her hotel after a night of drinking. She passed out drunk in the snow and had such devastating frostbite the next morning that she lost most of her fingers.
You might think these tips are basic, but it’s very easy to become complacent, and sometimes the most basic tips are the ones we need the most.
You don’t have to check in with friends and family every day, but staying connected is one of the easiest ways to ensure your safety. Whether that means updating social media and leaving a trail of digital breadcrumbs, sharing your itinerary with someone you trust, or checking in with your mom, if something suddenly happens, you want the people who care about you to know.
Purchasing a local SIM card is a great idea for accessing help in an emergency, and traveling with a portable WiFi device or data roaming solution means access to information, money, and methods of communication if you desperately need it.
But it’s also about being able to receive news if an emergency happens at home. During a 2012 trip through the Australian Outback, we failed to let anyone know where we were. My father-in-law passed away and no-one could contact us.
Use a VPN
While your physical safety is important, it’s equally as important to protect your devices, and the data stored on them; your passwords, your credit card details, your bank accounts. Travelers are more susceptible to malicious attacks and identity theft because we constantly connect to open WiFi networks. Whether at the airport, a hotel, or a café, unprotected networks tempt us at every step of the way.
A high-quality VPN is one of the most useful tools you can have to keep your information secure when logged onto public WiFi. It encrypts your traffic so that criminals using the same network won’t be able to access your information, or even detect your presence. So make sure you’ve downloaded Hotspot Shield VPN before you travel.
I found this was absolutely essential when I was last in China, as using a VPN was the only way for me to access my social media, given that China blocks apps like Facebook. So I relied on my VPN religiously to connect with friends and family, with the added bonus of knowing my connection was secure while using the hotel’s free WiFi.
Be cautious of what you post online
In having researched which conversation points to avoid, you should also be very cautious of what you post online. Many travelers have been arrested overseas for posting about political issues, but free speech is not a right in every country. Government agencies are monitoring online behavior, and if you’re in their country, they are watching your twitter feed.
But you should also be cautious about sharing details of your itinerary publicly – it’s tempting to “check in” at the hotel you’re staying at, but posting real-time updates could risk your safety. Remember when Kim Kardashian was robbed in her Paris hotel room? It wasn’t exactly hard to find her location.
With the proper planning and a dose of common sense, you shouldn’t be fearful of embarking on a solo travel adventure. You get to see the world, meet new people, and experience things you never thought you would. I’m already planning my next trip.