“Are you going to take pepper spray with you?” my husband, Matt asked. “I can’t take that on a plane!” I replied. “You really think the TSA is going to let that through!”
“Yea, you’re right, so you will buy some when you get there, maybe at Target?” Matt asked. By this point, I realized his laid-back demeanor was being overtaken by concern for my jet setting off all by myself. We have traveled apart before, but this was the first time since college I was actually going fully solo — not meeting friends or family, just me! And, that made him nervous.
I’ll level with you, I am not a regular solo female traveler, but since making a career transition I have found myself in situations I couldn’t pass up like an exciting networking opportunity or an airfare deal to a destination that could use a little vegan news coverage. While I now have the flexibility to get up and go, sadly, Matt doesn’t.
So, that leaves us back in safety limbo.
I realized I had taken for granted the natural safety traveling with someone, especially a man brings. So I knew that I needed to prepare for solo travel a little differently than before by taking additional steps before taking off and being more mindful of my activities once I got there.
If you’re embarking on a trip by yourself, make sure you check out these tips for solo female travelers before you go!
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10 tips that solo female travelers can’t leave home without
Some of these tips for solo female travelers might seem like common sense, but I think sometimes when we’re in a new situation it can be easy to forget, so consider them reminders! Hopefully, others will be new ideas that you can add to your travel arsenal.
#1 Leave all your travel arrangements with someone you trust
Even if you’re not traveling solo, this is a good idea. When Matt and I would travel together, I would always make sure one of my siblings or close friends were aware of our travel plans, you never know what could happen. But, when you’re alone, it’s paramount that someone else is aware of your flight information, train or bus plans, hotels, etc.
Before you go, make a copy or email all your pertinent travel details for your trusted confidant. Make sure the information contains addresses and location information so that they don’t have to search Google to find exactly what hotel you meant. When you arrive, make sure you check-in and plan regular check-ins, whether it’s just a text message or a call.
#2 Create a flexible itinerary in a Google Doc and share it + copies of important documents
Before I travel, I like to make a list of restaurants that I want to visit and things I want to do and see. I will even go as far as to plan out the days (loosely) in order to plan activities. This helps me stay organized and ensures I don’t miss anything. I can always pull up the Google Doc from my phone and see what I have missed. Before my first solo trip, I did this and shared it with Matt. At first, he thought I was trying to rub it in that I was going to do all these cool things, but when I explained that it was so he could see what my general plans were he agreed that was a good idea, regardless that he was going to miss out on the fun!
I also updated the Google Doc while I was gone so he could see if any of my plans changed.
You should also upload important documents like your passport, license, and copies of credit cards to your Google Drive. If (heaven forbid) any of that were to get lost or stolen, you would have a back-up to prove your identity and be able to cancel your cards.
#3 Share your ride location
Skip using taxis and use Uber or Lyft. All drivers have to undergo a background check and you can share your location in both apps with someone else. So, every time you hop in an Uber or Lyft, it will send a text message with all of the details to the person you select, they will be able to know:
- Time of pick up
- Where you’re going
- Driver information
- Most importantly when you’re dropped off
In the event that the driver doesn’t follow the predetermined route, you will get a notification asking if you’re ok and the person you’re sharing your location with will be notified as well. One other very important note about using Uber or Lyft, be sure to confirm the license plate number and the person’s name before hoping into the car. There have been reports at major airports of men targeting women in rideshare areas. They wait hoping that their car matches the description of one that someone is waiting for, knowing that when we’re in a hurry, we might not doublecheck the details.
#4 Turn on location sharing in Google Maps
One more place to share where you are—Google Maps! I use Google Maps to save places that I want to see and restaurants that I want to visit but it’s also helpful because it tracks you (sounds a little creepy, but if you’re in trouble you’ll be glad). You can set this up through location sharing in the app. You can also turn it on or off whenever you like.
If your signal is spotty, consider dropping a pin and then sharing it with your Google Map buddy to create a trail of breadcrumbs.
#5 Don’t wander after dark
This one is especially hard if you’re traveling in the winter, and it gets dark at 6 pm, but it’s important to plan ahead. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel like you shouldn’t be walking by yourself, consider doing one of the following:
- Stop inside a store and call for an Uber or Lyft.
- Call someone and talk to them until you get to your destination (if your walk is short).
- Look around and see if there are groups of people (especially families) — if there are, walk a little closer to them, there is safety in numbers.
- Walkthrough lighted, busy areas, even if it will take you a little longer.
#6 Keep money and your phone inside zippered compartments in your bag
Don’t travel with a bag that is wide open to the world, even if it’s the cutest thing in your closet, leave it at home! I suggest getting a small crossbody messenger bag with zippered pockets, making it much harder for someone to simply reach in and take what they would like. If you are in the market for a new travel bag or wallet, make sure it has RFID protection. This ensures that sophisticated thieves can’t steal your information digitally without you even knowing.
Don’t ever keep money or anything of value in your back pockets, it is easy for it to slip out or for someone to bump into you and grab it. And, don’t carry all of your cash with you. Lock some of it up in your room. The money that you do take, keep it concealed.
A neat idea I got from another traveler is to take a new tampon and take the cotton swab out and roll your money up and stick it inside the applicator and then back in the wrapping. It’s unlikely that a thief would want to steal your tampon!
#7 Keep mini hairspray in your bag
This was news to me (and, might be one of my favorite tips for solo female travelers), but in many counties, including most of Europe, pepper spray is forbidden for civilians to carry but hairspray isn’t! Remember the last time you accidentally got hairspray in your eyes, it was awful, right!? Imagine if you did that squarely into someone’s face that was attacking you. It would definitely slow them down so you can get to safety. A travel-sized hairspray is also easy to pack, TSA approved, and won’t take up much space in your bag.
#8 Research your destination before you go
I think for the most part we all do research on the destination that we’re visiting ahead of time, but if you’re going solo, you need to approach it a little differently.
- Make sure you know a little bit of the language in case no one speaks English.
- Understand how people usually dress — while wearing flip flops in the US is completely normal (I don’t understand why), in most of Europe, unless you’re at the beach you would stand out like a sore thumb. I once got caught in a rainstorm in Paris, so I grabbed flip-flops at The Gap (they were the cheapest thing), I will never do that again, I was literally the only human wearing them on the street. I should have worn a sign that said, “Hello I am a tourist.”
- Investigate the neighborhood where you’re staying, make sure you get a sense of where you will be—is it in a busy tourist zone or off the beaten path? Is it close to the things you want to see? Are you near transit? What do others say about the neighborhood?
- Check the State Department’s website for crime information and what they are telling tourists to be aware of when traveling there.
- Check out the weather so you pack appropriately—the less that you have to lug around, the better!
#9 Stay Aware
I feel like this goes without saying, but I think we all need a reminder — don’t wander the street with your nose in your phone or in a map, don’t use earbuds, and be confident. Act like you know what you’re doing, where you’re going, and stay vigilant of your surroundings — you will be much less of a target.
Plan out your walking route before you go, if you get lost stop into a store to check your map, but never look visibly lost even if you’re beyond frustrated.
Do your best to blend in, say hello or good morning to locals. If you’re in a very busy area, keep your bag close to you and make sure that everything is zipped up. Thieves love busy areas where people are bumping into each other and are only focused on getting the best photo.
#10 Don’t overshare
In a world where we share everything (me included), be careful what you share when you’re traveling. This applies to social media and in person.
As much as you might want to, don’t post in real-time where you are.
Just had an epic dinner? Wait until you’re long gone to post that photo. Think your accommodations are the best ever? Post all about it after you have checked out and on your way home (or even better once you’re home). I do post while I am traveling, but I won’t in real-time. I will wait until I have left wherever I am to do it and anything major that I want to say will wait until I come back.
Now, what about in person? It is great to meet people (it’s on of the many benefits of travel) while you’re traveling, it’s my favorite part, but don’t let your guard down, even if you think they are the coolest people on Earth. Be kind and chat, but stay in public, don’t share where you’re staying or any personal details.
If you’re ever in a situation where you feel uncomfortable, then lie. Tell them you have a significant other, or you’re waiting for your brother to pick you up (I know, it frustrates me that I have to mention a man is going to show up to save the day, but in the interest of safety and the world we live in, it’s what we have to do). Get out of the situation as quickly as you can, and trust your gut, if you think something is fishy it probably is.