About to embark on another solo adventure and need some tips for traveling alone? I’ve got you. Luckily, I’ve been down this road. And a long road at that. Included among my many adventures was a cross-country US road trip that took 2 months and 9,000 miles. All solo.
So trust me when I say I’ve been there, and I’ve got some pretty good ideas about how you can stay safe, strong, and secure on your own solo travels.
Below are my top 21 solo travel tips, especially for the solo traveling woman (who is hopefully also over the age of 21).
1. Research Your Destination
Do your homework. Gather helpful tips and advice (including mistakes to avoid) from your friends on social media or, better yet, over coffee. Especially if any of them are also avid travelers with lots of experience. I’m constantly seeing people ask for trip recommendations on Facebook, and I’ve used it a few times myself, to great success. Those posts always seem to get a boatload of responses. It might end up being an overwhelming amount of information, but that’s par for the course on the internet anyway. In this case, it might be nice to have as much info as possible, and you can take all the suggestions you get with varying sized grains of salt. Plus you never know who you know who might be planning to go to the same place as you at the same time.
Of course, besides friends’ tips, you should also read up on your destination from reputable online sources like Trip Advisor. Or you can go old school with travel guide books. There is something nice about having a physical book to flip through while on your way to your destination.
2. Share Your Itinerary
It’s always good for someone to know where you are at any given time. At least one other person. Just in case. Even if you’re a super private person. Even if you’ve secretly always wanted to be a secret agent. Please don’t go off gallivanting without telling anyone. It’s not as cool as it sounds, and can really get you into trouble. So before you leave on your trip, share your itinerary with someone you trust. Like that friend you always put down as your emergency contact without telling them. You’ll want to tell them this time.
Make sure your itinerary includes a way to contact you while you’re gone, however you’ll be most reachable. Phone number. WhatsApp. Social media. Email. Whatever rings your bell (or phone).
3. Then Stay Connected
By this, I mean both digitally (i.e. on social media or apps like Find Your Friends) and physically (i.e. leave a note in your room or inform the embassy) on the off-chance you ever need to be tracked down. Imagine how much easier Liam Neeson’s rescue would have been if he’d had a way to get in touch with his daughter in Taken. Sure that would have made a much less exciting movie. But in reality, you really don’t want to be this girl.
I’m admittedly a bit of a worst-case scenario thinker. So I figure the more prepared I am for anything, the more easily I can relax and enjoy myself worry-free, no matter how many human traffickers are lurking about.
4. Stay Somewhere Solo-Friendly
If you’re going to travel solo, there are better and worse places to lay your head, if you want that head to stay untouched and safely atop your body. For example, not so good: a budget hotel in the cheaper part of town. Much better: a busy hotel or hostel packed with fellow travelers in a bustling part of town.
Other good options include an AirBnB or B&B with a highly rated local host, or couchsurfing with other trustworthy locals (though this is understandably a tad riskier). Whatever you choose to stay, make sure you arrange it through a reliable, reputable website like Booking.com, Hotels.com, or HostelWorld. This is a huge part of ensuring travel safety, so please book wisely. Don’t half ass this step.
5. Know Your Way Around
Study a map before you go, while on your way, and ideally again as soon as soon as you arrive. The more the better. A lot of the accommodations mentioned above will have maps and guides available, and usually some friendly people happy to walk you through them. Take advantage of that and put in some study time before you head out on the town.
Learn the major street names and general neighborhoods near you and your planned attractions. Get familiar with the public transit map too, and make sure you know how one gets and uses a local transit pass. You should especially plan out your route before going out at night or to areas where you know you’ll have poorer reception. And whenever possible, plan to arrive places during daylight hours.
Then whatever you do, try to NOT open up those maps and stare at them while you’re out and about on the town. This can call attention to you, and not the good kind. You might as well wear a “Hi I’m lost” sign. And that makes you an ideal target. If you must reference a map, keep it folded small and subtle in the palm of your hand or, better yet, use the map on your phone. Get your bearings quickly and then return your attention to your surroundings. At the end of the day, it’s safer to know what’s immediately around you than where you’re headed.
6. Go At Your Own Pace
One of the best things about traveling alone is not having anyone with you to keep up with or slow down for. You can go wherever you want, for however long you want, at whatever pace you want, and no one will give you grief about it. We all have that friend who takes forever to get ready or go anywhere, or the friend who speeds through a museum like there’s a prize at the end. Imagine all the stress and guilt you’re saving yourself by traveling solo. It’s ultimate freedom and independence. And who doesn’t want that? Plus as a bonus, you’ll look more confident when you’re moving at the pace you’re most comfortable.
7. Fake It Till You Make It
That confidence is key to traveling safely, especially as a woman. But it’s easier said than done. Even the most badass, highly trained of us struggle with feeling completely confident in a new environment. It’s perfectly normal, healthy even. Overconfidence can make you too relaxed, and some uncertainty can keep you alert. But that doesn’t mean you want to show it. if you don’t feel entirely confident yet. So the solution is simple. Fake it.
Stand in a power pose. Put on a positive face and pretend to believe in yourself. Say a mantra to psych yourself up if you need. Then see what that does for you and your travels. Not only will you get around more safely and assuredly, but you’ll likely also start to build some real, actual, bonafide confidence. It’s amazing how much you can get away with when you act like you know what you’re doing. The point here is to avoid looking lost or confused, which would make you an easy target for those with less upstanding intentions. So don’t let yourself stay holed up inside out of fear or uncertainty. Get out there, walk tall, and fake it till you make it.
8. Do As The Locals Do
Part of faking it in a new place is pretending you belong there. Act like a local and see what doors that opens (literally and mentally). Learn the local culture and customs. Dress appropriately and respectfully. Learn the language. Wherever I go, I make a point of at least learning how to say these words in the local language: “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” “sorry” or “excuse me,” and “cheers” (or in some cases, “to your health”).
As mentioned above, get to know the local transit system so well that you navigate it like a pro. And talk to locals. Because that’s what locals do. They talk to each other. Ask the concierge or front desk attendant where you’re staying. Pick the brain of your server or bartender when you go out. I got some of the best restaurant and live music recommendations from a bartender in Nashville. They’re usually eager to share their insider knowledge and you may make some new friends in the process. So make a point to make yourself a part of their world.
9. Don’t Rule Out All Touristy Things
So long as you’re enjoying yourself, I say do what you wanna do. You wanna brave the long lines and packed crowds to see the top of the Statue Of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower? Go for it. You do you boo.
Just be aware that many popular tourist attractions aren’t worth the time and money. I spent two days trying to see Mt. Rushmore, and by the time I finally saw it, I got tired of it after an hour and left feeling like the cost was not worth it.
Then again, many group activities, tours, and meetups can be great ways to meet fun local people and fellow travelers. So once again, do your research and know what you’d be getting into. Weigh the costs against your own travel goals and make sure the experience will be rewarding for you before you commit. Don’t be afraid to be picky and do only what you want to do. It’s your trip. No one else’s.
10. Secure Your Valuables
Contrary to what some might suggest, I would caution against leaving your more valuable possessions in your room, even in a safe, when you go out. But then it depends where you’re staying and how secure it is. If you’re sharing a room, maybe err on the side of keeping more with you. If you have a room to yourself that locks, with a secure safe inside that also locks, that could be a better option than risk losing everything of value to a pickpocket or mugger all at once. But if that still doesn’t feel secure enough, you can also keep a portable safe on your person.
That way, even if someone grabs it off you, they’ll have trouble getting to the goodies inside. Wherever is the most secure, keep your real passport there. Then keep copies elsewhere as backups. If you do bring anything along with you, keep it well hidden. Like in this clever travel belt, this hidden bra wallet, or this underwear with a super stealthy crotch pocket.
You can also take a page out of the spy handbook and keep a dummy wallet on you. Keep your phone in your front pocket. Wear bags and cameras across your body. Personally, I also like to keep a spare $20 bill tucked somewhere for backup, like in my bra or shoes. If you lose everything else, $20 can come in quite handy.
11. Be Friendly
Now just because you’re staying alert and cautious doesn’t mean you have to be cold. Frankly, that’s bound to make you stand out more. So put on a smile. Try being friendly. You’ll be amazed what a difference that makes. Just a simple smile and an open mind. Now that doesn’t mean believing and doing what anybody tells you. You want to be nice and accepting, but cautiously so. You still gotta keep your wits about you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t say hi and make friends.
As a woman traveling solo, you’ll be much less intimidating and easier to approach. That can be really lovely. Or sometimes a little annoying. But either way, I’m always amazed to discover how rarely I feel alone when I’m traveling by myself. And someone surrounded by friendly people is much less likely to be in danger. Plus if something does happen, you’ve got good witnesses at the ready.
12. Make Friends At Meals
When you go out to eat solo at restaurants, it’s ideal (for you and for the restaurant) to take a seat at the bar or a communal table if they have one. Then chat up those sitting near you. I’ve made some lovely connections and had amazing adventures thanks to random dining conversations. If you’re not sure how to start or what to say, remember you can just start with a smile and see where that leads. Sometimes that’s all you need to do.
13. Speak Up & Be Proactive
After you smile and make new friends, don’t be afraid to ask them for help when you need it. Even if you memorize the city and metro maps, you probably still won’t know everything. Don’t worry. It’s ok to ask questions, as long as you do it with confidence and ease. There’s an art to doing it without looking naive or like an easy target. Keep your composure, stay calm, and be confidently curious. Remember, fake it till you make it. You have a voice and a brain, so use them. Speak up, be proactive, and you will be just fine.
14. But Also, Blend In
Now that doesn’t mean go around asking everyone you meet every question you think of. You don’t want to get overeager with the whole speaking up thing. While it’s good to ask when you need help, and speak up when making new friends, you still want to be wary of how much attention you draw to yourself. Especially in possibly sketchy situations or areas. Maybe keep your questions to yourself when in a worse part of town. Or refrain from making friends with someone you aren’t quite sure about or who rubs you the wrong way. You don’t have to be friends with everyone. It’s ok to trust your gut and opt for the strong and silent mode instead. Depending on the situation or location, it’s sometimes much smarter to stay low-key and blend in.
Plus it can’t hurt to maintain a little mystery. Don’t feel like you need to tell people everything about yourself right away. You don’t owe them any explanation for who you are or why you’re traveling alone. You can tell people however much or little as you want. Again, this is your trip on your terms. Remembering that will help you stay safe and strong.
15. Stay Alert & Ready
The ultimate goal with being proactive and blending in is to stay alert and aware of your surroundings, responding appropriately to the situations you encounter. There are other things you can do to maintain that state of alertness and readiness.
For one thing, watch your alcohol intake. Drink to enjoy, not to get drunk. If you’re drunk, your judgement and motor skills will be seriously impaired, along with your ability to react quickly and intelligently. When I’m traveling alone, I never let myself have more than two drinks in one night. Besides, it’ll be easier on your travel budget.
Beyond that, you’ll want to keep your head up as you travel solo. Look around you and take note of anything odd or suspicious you’ll want to avoid. Also keep note of the exit routes, in case you need to get away quickly. As an added bonus, it doesn’t hurt to be seen looking around and paying attention. And listening. That means no wearing headphones or staring at your phone. Both will prevent you from quickly noticing things around you. And you’ll look like an easy target. Don’t let yourself appear that way.
Walk confidently, but cautiously. If it helps, have a handy tool at the ready, like your keys between your fingers. And keep those eyes scanning. Though maybe try to do so in a friendly, not distrustful, manner. The goal is to appear alert, not like an asshole.
16. Stay Light
As you’re staying alert and ready, you also want to stay light and ready to move. You never know when you’ll need to grab everything and run, either to catch a train or to evade a creepy dude. Whatever the case, it’s good to be mobile-ready. So keep your possessions on you compact and portable. Use a spacious but light bag that has enough room for everything you need and not much more, and wear it cross-body so your hands and arms are free to move about or to grab that last thing you almost left behind.
If you’re carrying your laptop on you, make sure your laptop bag or backpack has enough padding to protect it, but not so much that it weighs you down.
The point is to have everything essential you may need on you, but in such a way that you aren’t encumbered if you need to move quickly.
17. Stay Covered
I mean this both physically, with proper weather protection, and theoretically, with proper travel insurance. If your destination has any chance of inclement weather, you’ll want to be prepared with a good compact umbrella, versatile rain or snow layers, and ideally waterproof (or at least water resistant) shoes.
In terms of travel insurance, you can’t go wrong with World Nomads. And you could go wrong if you don’t get any. You never know what disaster may strike, like a canceled flight, or lost luggage, or a run in with a drunk driver. So as the cliche goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Traveling, especially alone as a woman, is already a pretty courageous endeavor. You don’t need to take any additional unnecessary risks. That won’t make you any more of a badass. Just plain stupid. So bring an umbrella. Get insurance. And while you’re at it, do other smart protective things like, you know, buckling your seat belt, wearing a helmet, and strapping on that life vest. Your safety is not worth the picture perfect selfie that will be like totally ruined.
18. Watch Out For Scams
Depending on where you’re traveling, there are a good many travel scams to watch out for. So do your research and know what to watch out for where you are going. Some are pretty universal in any large city. Like pickpockets, muggers, and homeless kids asking for handouts. There are also more tech savvy thieves who can steal your personal information without ever taking anything physically off you. That’s why it’s important to keep your ID and credit cards in an RFID protect wallet. Ignore the fact that many of the best compact travel wallets are marketed as “men’s” wallets. It’s bullshit I know, but they’re still damn good, damn sexy wallets.
It’s just as important (perhaps more so) to protect your identity as much as your stuff. So also be careful what information you give out about yourself. If someone is asking you for sensitive or private information, like your bank information or social security number, make sure you first verify who is asking. Ask to see their identification and if you’re still not sure, call their company to confirm.
If it’s a police officer or similar authority figure, ask to see their badge and maybe even write down their badge number and name. You have a right to ask for this information. And it’s a good habit to get into anytime you interact with law enforcement. You never know when that information could come in handy. And whatever you do, never ever give out your passport number (except on that customs form on the plane) or your account passwords (unless you really know and trust the person, and even then, I’d recommend caution).
19. Trust Your Gut
Above all, listen to your gut and heed what it’s telling you. We women are known for our intuition. So use it to your advantage. And when it tells you something is off, don’t ignore it for fear of being rude or making a mistake. Trust yourself. And don’t be afraid to say something or (better yet) leave. The best protection is prevention. If you can avoid a potentially dangerous or compromising situation altogether, so much the better. So when in doubt, just walk away. Or tell someone to go away. Don’t risk it. Do like Nike and just do it.
20. If You Must, Defend Yourself
Now if you absolutely cannot avoid the situation, and you find yourself in danger, then by all means use all the means at your disposal to defend yourself to get away safely. And that’s the most important part right there. Getting away safely.
Do whatever it takes, with whatever you can get your hands on, and as many words as you can muster (verbal warnings can help with deescalation and attracting witnesses), but only up till the point you can escape to safety. And no further. Or you may find yourself in even deeper trouble, legally that is. And in an unfamiliar city or country, that can prove quite the sticky situation. That’s extra drama you simply do not need. (Here’s where that travel insurance comes in handy again.)
But don’t let these words of warning hold you back from fighting back. If it comes down to it, definitely defend yourself. Do what you gotta do to survive. I’ve been there too, so I get it. You won’t get any judgement here. Some advice and self-defense training sure, but no judgement.
21. Whatever You Do, Don’t Panic
If you must defend yourself, you won’t do yourself any favors by freaking out. Or freezing. I realize this is easier said than done. It’s hard to know how you’ll react until you’re facing it. And it’s understandable to panic in the face of danger. But it’s imperative to your survival that you stay calm and in control of yourself. You can’t control the situation, or what others may do, but you can control how you respond. And you are stronger than you think. So do like Frankie says and relax. Breathe. Think. And then act like the smart, tough cookie you are.
Don’t panic beforehand either. Try not to be paranoid. Even if your gut is telling you shit’s gonna hit the fan imminently. Yes listen to your gut, but with composure and reasoning. You won’t be doing your gut any favors if you freak out. Fear can be a healthy emotion. It’s your body’s way of keeping you alert and ready. But there’s a difference between trepidation and full-blown panic. It never helps to panic.
So as you absorb and embody all of the advice I’ve laid out here, remember above all to keep your wits about you and stay confidently calm, cool, and collected. And you’ll be just fine, Cookie-san.
Ready to put these tips into practice on your next travels? Read on to learn how else you can prepare and protect yourself.
PS: This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see my Tough Cookie Travel Disclaimer here.
Like what you see here? Wanna break yourself off another piece of that? Explore more of Rebecca’s travel safety wisdom at ToughCookieTravel.com.