The Best Tips For Safety in Unfamiliar Cities

Rene Cizio

As a solo female traveler, I often get asked by other women if it’s safe, isn’t it dangerous, aren’t I afraid? Should I really be traveling alone?

Yes, no, no, YES!

I won’t kid you. Traveling alone comes with a series of obstacles and considerations. Here are a few ways I stay safe as a solo female traveler.

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The right attitude

It helps if you’re a badass or can at least act like one. Let’s be frank; most “badasses” are just acting, so fear not. You can do this.

I grew up with half a dozen males, so I know how to protect myself. I also played roller derby in Detroit for a few years, so I know to give and receive serious blows and, when traveling solo, I try to carry that attitude.

More than ability or strength, what these experiences have given me is confidence. And that, my friend, is your most powerful tool when traveling solo.

Transition Spaces

I attempt to project the appearance of cool, confident, and in control when I’m transitioning. That means: public transportation (buses, trains, cars, trolleys, etc.) moving through densely populated spaces, walking, or standing in lines.

So many travelers ignore the people around them. They are distracted by their surroundings, phones and companions. Distracted travelers make easy targets.

When I’m in public, I keep an alert, serious look on my face (:p) and avoid contact or conversation with random people who approach me. I try to be discrete in all I do, watch the people around me, and try not to look lost, scared, or unsure ever. I’m frequently all of those things.

Your cell phone is not your friend

I never walk around, staring at my phone. I keep my phone in a secure interior pocket until I need it, and then I observe my surroundings and choose a spot to pull my phone out.

A solo female traveler needs to be twice as aware.

Blend baby blend

When traveling public places solo, I try to blend in and appear uninteresting. I’ll even avoid speaking in some situations in other countries, so I don’t give away that I’m American. Blending techniques:

My travel clothes are basic and never flashy

No jewelry

Don’t use a selfie stick

Say no to traditional hip sacks

Ditch white tennis shoes (this is standard tourist garb)

Don’t buy more than will fit in my backpack, so I’m never carrying shopping bags around

Rude? No, Smart

It may seem rude, but I never engage with people in the streets. When traveling in tourist areas, people will try to sell things and ask innocent-seeming questions. I shake my head no and keep walking.

Pickpockets operate by distracting and bumping into you, so I try to avoid letting them. I also keep all of my valuables on my person in zippered pockets close to the front of my body.

Cash is king, so guard it

In small countries, cash is necessary, so I keep small amounts in different pockets, so I’m never seen pulling out a wad of bills. In fact, I try to avoid cash as much as possible and use credit, preferably, Apple Pay, so I don’t even have to pull my card out.

Watch your stuff

I can’t tell you how many people I see walking around with cell phones in a small back pocket or left on the bar or table next to them. I’ve seen purses sitting on the table, backpacks left open and unattended at a restaurant.

I always travel with a backpack, and when I’m sitting down, I ensure that it’s zipped and my arm or leg is looped around it at all times.

I don’t carry shopping bags, but if I did, I’d secure them under my table, legs, or looped around my arm in public. Snatch and grabs are a favorite pastime for thieves in densely populated shopping districts.

Why would you steal from someone alert like me when there are so many easier victims?

You’re the pilot and co-pilot

When I travel solo, I’m the only person to figure out logistics and directions. Avoiding being lost is an important component of staying safe, so this is an important job.

I am meticulous about planning locations, times, transportation options, and the cost of everything I plan to do when I travel before leaving home. Some things I do are:

Write agendas with the times and days in which I will do certain things and double-check opening hours and days.

Map out directions and transportation options in advance to ensure I have enough time to get from place to place.

Spend time the night before double-checking tickets, directions and ensuring I have all I need before leaving the hotel.

With only myself to depend on and the likelihood the people may not speak the same language, I try to be ready for anything.

Internet

The internet in other countries can be flaky at best, so I never depend on my phone – I only hope it will work and it’s a happy bonus when it does. I’ve used Verizon TravelPass and Skyroam wifi for international travel. I also have an unlocked cellphone, and this allows me to buy a sim card for the country I’m traveling in.

When I have a cellphone connection, I screenshot important information (directions, especially) if I can’t get service again when I need it. Or, I do it the old fashioned way and write everything on paper as a backup.

You can still have fun

I have half a dozen stories from friends who got drunk and had their items stolen because they stopped paying attention. The solo female traveler must practice the most caution when drinking.

While I have sided up to many bars in my travels – it’s where I’ve met some of the best people – I never drink until I’m drunk. I keep a glass of water with my beer to keep “drinking” while I socialize.

I’m cautious about never taking drinks from anyone except the bartender when I can see him prepare and deliver it. This should go without saying, but I never leave my drink unattended. Not even with the “friends” I just made.

Better safe than sorry

I keep two paper copies of my passport, credit cards, emergency contact numbers, (including U.S. Ambassy) hotel information, etc. on my person and in my hotel in case of theft or loss.

I also keep my cash and credit cards in multiple different places. On my body, in my bag, and at my hotel. That way, if anything is lost, I still have finances available to me.

Homebase support

When I travel, I ensure that my closest friends and family are always aware of where I am and how to reach me. I give them my travel itinerary and hotel information and exchange texts or calls each day.

Don’t be so serious

By following these practices, as a solo female traveler, I’m confident I’m doing all I can to stay safe, and that allows me to have more fun without worrying.

I can’t control everything, but I can’t do that at home either.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
- Helen Keller

I’m grateful and fortunate I’ve never had anything happen to me while traveling, and if you follow some of these tips and pay attention to everything around you, you’ll be fortunate too.

What is your best safe traveling tip?

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Digital nomad, solo road tripping through the USA in my van. I write about travel, adventure, culture, and self-improvement. Pictures on Instagram @renecizio

Chicago, IL
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