As a frequent solo traveler, one of the most frequently asked questions is about personal safety: How do you stay safe in places that many people would consider dangerous?
While no place is 100% safe, there are ways to mitigate risk while traveling. I follow three major rules when traveling solo. All three rules revolve around avoiding vulnerable situations.
Are these rules the only way to stay safe? Absolutely not. Do people stay safe while breaking these rules? Absolutely. That said, these rules have worked out well for me.
Without further ado, here we go.
Rule #1: Go to Bed Early
The old saying goes that nothing good comes after midnight. I would alter that to 11pm, which is about as late as non “late-night” activities go in most parts of the world (some places like Spain stay out late so this time would obviously change depending on the place). Being out late at night poses a number of risks; the main risk of being out late at night is that there are less eyes watching the streets. This does not just include police, but also watchful locals.
Less eyes on the streets means you are at a greater risk of becoming a crime victim. I have noticed that criminals/unsavory types get easily scared off by locals. However, at night, when most people are asleep, the criminals have a greater ability to corner you without interference.
Darkness also makes it much easier to get lost, which leads to frustration and vulnerability. Street lighting is not always existent or satisfactory in other countries.
Additionally, places close down at night often at different hours than they do in your hometown. This includes public transportation and even lodging. It is not safe to assume that places will be open, staffed, or unlocked at night. I recently got locked out of my hotel- a major chain- in January 2018 in Shreveport, LA. Scrambling to find an alternate hotel at 2am was not fun.
The downside of staying out late is high when traveling solo. Being a victim of a crime, getting lost in an unfamiliar setting, or being forced to figure out alternate lodging last minute are oftentimes not worth the benefits of staying out in my opinion. Personally, I would rather get sleep and be up and ready to go early.
Additionally, some places (mostly in Africa and Latin America) are not considered safe at all after sunset. This is usually a city by city issue so do not assume anything based on previous experiences in the country. Make sure to do some research ahead of time and ask around before venturing out.
Rule #2: No Repeating Drinks
Drinking is an important part of many cultures and many places have special alcoholic drinks that are worth trying.
However, being drunk makes you vulnerable to crime and increases your chance of not acting rationally. This is especially important when traveling solo because you won’t have people to help you out should you get drunk or should things go awry. Losing your wallet or passport while traveling solo is exponentially worse than when in a group.
The happy medium is to never repeat a drink throughout the course of the trip. That means you get to try everything, but not to excess. This rule also forces you to get creative when ordering drinks.
Rule #3: No Sex
As fun as it may sound to “sleep around the world”, seeking out and engaging in sex when traveling solo abroad poses more risks than it does back home.
The pursuit of love causes people to make irrational decisions and put themselves in vulnerable situations. People will go to neighborhoods and streets they would otherwise not visit or will trust people they otherwise would never trust because there is the possibility of having sex.
Getting naked in an unfamiliar setting puts you in a vulnerable situation and makes it easier for someone to rob, kidnap, or extort you. To reiterate: being a victim of a crime while traveling solo is exponentially worse than when in a group. Oftentimes, criminals of this nature work in groups and may appear to be a tourist or ex-pat.
In the US, you might have your phone and can call 911 or send your location to someone. However in foreign countries you phone may not work, you may not know the emergency number, and response times may be much slower.
If you plan on having sex while traveling solo, make sure to thoroughly vet the potential partner. This means friending them on Facebook (you can always defriend them later), and hanging out with them on multiple occasions first so you can track them down should things go awry. Also make sure to have sex in a safe environment such as a hostel or a hotel room you purchase. Do not go somewhere that you don’t know (you will most likely not be thinking about directions when going there).
Finally, STD rates and acceptance of casual/premarital sex vary widely among different countries. Do your research, know the statistics, and use protection. In my opinion, it’s best to avoid the subject altogether and enjoy your trip in other ways.
Throughout my travels, I have heard numerous stories of solo travelers falling victim to crimes while traveling. Almost every time, the person broke one or more of these rules.
Group travel is different. Not only do you have allies out there who are looking out for you, but you also have a lifeline in case something happens. If your wallet and credit cards get stolen when traveling solo, it is a terrible situation. In a group, however, you can easily borrow money from a friend. Additionally, a group’s presence can scare away criminals. For example, my hostel in Livingstone, Zambia took a group excursion to a local bar. With 30 people around- many of whom I have now know for a week, I felt comfortable walking around and staying out late. I would never have gone to that bar on my own.
Scams and dangerous situations are always out there, but if you can avoid the situations where they occur and are in the right state of mind when they arise, you can stay safe. While the news may disagree, I truly believe that nearly everywhere in the world can be seen safely with discipline and self-awareness.