A Girl’s Guide to Solo Travel & Safety While Living Abroad

versailles profile picAs a woman, this question gets posed frequently: “Aren’t you scared to travel alone as a female?”  The answer for me is, no.  I have always loved traveling alone — it’s fun to explore and get lost in a city and have no certain agenda. You can take as much time as you want in certain locations.  It’s all part of the adventure of solo travel.  I also love traveling with friends of course and adventure buddies. But I wouldn’t have met some of the people I have in my travels had I not been solo. I’ve made several friends along the way, dined with people from all over the world who were also traveling alone, and had coffee with locals and expats in each city.  And because I chose to travel alone, I have learned so much about other cultures, countries, their history, as well as American history.

I don’t let fear keep me from moving forward.  I take the necessary precautions and I stay confident and informed. I am a strong advocate for being alert and cautious whether you’re traveling in your home state or country or around the world. But there’s a difference between cautious and fearful. I think it’s important to not live in a fear-based mindset.  When we are constantly bombarded with the media and news which feed those fears, it can leave us reluctant to leave our homes to say the least.  But my advice would be, just be aware of where you’re traveling, the political state, and stay up to date. Use these tips and be prepared for your trip. And then travel on, my friends. Travel on.

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Stay alert and informed.

Don’t put yourself in sketchy situations, trust your intuition, don’t walk alone in questionable areas, talk to locals, be aware of your surroundings, and stay informed.

Don’t make yourself a target or appear as a tourist.

When traveling alone, it’s important to blend in and stay confident. I would hang with the locals and orient myself to my surroundings.  Many people often thought I was a local, especially in France.  Speaking the French language fluently also helped.

One of the best ways to avoid being a target is not using your GPS on your phone in highly public places or on the street. If you need to search for directions, pop into a cafe quickly to get your bearings and check your map or phone.  Plan out your next route over lunch and then head out.  Ask for directions from people who work at a cafe or restaurant and know the area.  Avoid asking people on the street or in random places. If needed, go to a local information kiosk or visitor’s center.

Keeping your phone out of sight in busy places also helps to avoid cases of theft where people swipe your phone right out of your hand.  It happens in big cities. So never make your valuables easily accessible.

10520297_173136773030972_1600783352_nGuard your personal belongings on trains and when walking in crowds.

Trains & crowds are highly known for pick-pocketing so it’s important to guard your personal items. Friends and locals always encouraged me to wear my backpack on my front or position myself in a way where people couldn’t access my backpack.  I carried an over the shoulder purse (a thrifty find in Paris in fact!) which I kept on the front of my body where I could guard it.

Lock up valuables.

If you’re staying in a private room at an AirBNB, before you book, make sure it comes with a key to lock the room while you are away.  Many hostels and lodges provide a locker, and typically you must bring your own lock, or you can rent one there. I would use my combo lock that I brought with me and lock up my computer and purse at night and any other valuables during the day that I didn’t need with me.  It’s always a good idea to not carry too many valuables with you on excursions.  Just bring the basics and bare minimum.

This also includes your Passport and ID.  It’s a good idea to make two copies of your passport and ID before you travel.  Scan and e-mail those copies to yourself and a friend or family member, and keep the two paper copies in a separate place while you travel. That way, if for some reason your wallet or passport get stolen, you have a backup plan and copies of your ID.

Research the area before you arrive.

Before I traveled to a new place, I scoped out my transportation options, distances to and from my destinations, and generally researched the area.  I checked reviews on lodging and neighborhoods to make sure it was safe.  I opted for walking and the metro most of the time, but at times I would take a taxi if it was later at night or if I had my luggage with me.  Walking with friends and trusted travelers is also a great way to opt for commuting.

Don’t carry large amounts of cash on you and alert your bank beforehand.

I didn’t carry a large amount of cash on me at one time and I notified my bank before I left the country that I would be traveling internationally so they could put an alert on my account. I informed them of all the countries I planned to travel to. That way, they would only flag my card for possible fraud if any transactions were outside the norm.

But how do you control the amount of cash on hand when you have to exchange currency in each country?

I mostly used my travel debit card or “cash passport” through Travelex  that I purchased at JFK Airport in New York before heading to Europe.  I initially exchanged a portion of American currency and loaded it onto the travel debit card.  It worked just like a normal debit card where I could get cash out at the ATM.  Doing minimal international transactions and currency exchanges limited the amount of foreign transaction fees on my American account.

The Travelex Cash Passport is also really easy to use. I would go online and load currency usually every 2 weeks and withdraw cash once a week. There are also many perks to using a travel debit card.  Since the card is not automatically connected to your main bank account, someone can’t drain your account if the card were lost or stolen. They would only have access to the amount you loaded on there online from your bank which you can control. If you choose the currency card option, you also save money by getting a lower exchange rate.

Check in with people when you get from point A to point B and let others know your travel itinerary.

I checked in with either local friends or family when I left certain locations and arrived at home or at my next destination.  I sent my travel itineraries to my family and friends when I was heading to a new place or going on an excursion.  I gave them contacts of people I would be working with or staying with including organizations, hostels, and AirBNB hosts. This is always a great idea to let friends and family know of your whereabouts or have a contingency plan for trips and outdoor adventures in case you get into an emergency.  So if they don’t hear back from you by a certain time, they can know to contact someone you have listed on your travel itinerary.

So what’s the best way to use your phone internationally?

That depends on your phone carrier and available plans. I had a free Global Roaming Plan with Sprint, so I could text for free and use my unlimited data just as I did in the States.  Through that plan, phone calls cost 20 cents a minute.  So I would opt for WiFi to use WhatsApp and FaceTime Audio for phone calls.  For messaging my international friends at no charge to them, I would use Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.   Some people use SIM Cards when they travel which can be another affordable option. For me, it was easy and affordable to utilize my Global Roaming Plan with my phone carrier.

Carry extra copies of your passport, ID, and bank cards.

It’s not something you want to think about — your passport or ID being stolen or lost– but it can happen.  Make paper copies and pack them in a separate and secure place where they remain throughout the trip.  Also scan and e-mail the copies to yourself or family members.  I did both and I felt much more at ease knowing that I had extra copies on hand.

Get travel insurance.

One of the top travel insurance companies is World Nomads and they offer reasonable plans for the length of your travel.  It’s never a bad idea in case you get injured or have a dental emergency or get severely sick.  It also can protect against theft in some cases. Some countries will accept patients without travel insurance if you need to visit a clinic or pharmacy.  So you have to choose the best option for you.

This is just an overview of what worked for me during my travels and there are many more tips out there!  If you have some of your own, I would love to hear from you!

Hire Me To Plan Your Next Adventure     How to Plan & Pay for Your Next Adventure

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