A reader recently reached out to me about travel safety, for advice on traveling alone.

Throughout my 25 years of travel, I have almost always felt safe. It’s true, I am 6’2″ and scary looking, but even so. Notice though, I said almost always. There have been some hairy and scary moments. In the end, being safe while traveling often boils down to making better choices. Here are a few thoughts about keeping safe.

Leave Little to Chance

For me, spontaneous travel is super fun. I love the feeling of being off the rails and just going for it. I once ran off the Greece at a moment’s notice. It was fantastic, but probably stupid. So much could have gone badly for me.

Women traveling alone should make a plan, reserve ahead, and leave little to chance. Doing that will greatly reduce your risks. As an example, I recently landed at the airport in Morocco and hadn’t reserved a transfer. I never do, I always wing it. I ended up being driven by some guy that was in the airport lobby–not an official taxi. It was a dumb thing to do, but I was so tired that I wasn’t thinking clearly and was thrilled to have someone help me with my bags. It ended up ok, although he drove like a maniac, I’m sure I paid too much, and the dude decided to stop at McDonalds along the way, I’m sure hoping to hang with me longer and have a romantic lunch. Um, no.

Researching your hotels in advance is also smart. You can investigate the safest neighborhoods, and make sure there is easy transportation to the hotel. Some hotels will even book the transfer for you.

Choose Your Hotel Wisely

In the age of AirBnB, I’m going to be a contrarian and suggest staying only at hotels if you’re concerned about safety. So many B&Bs and rentals have off-site management. If you have a problem, there is nobody to help you. Hotels that are staffed 24/7 are also better because there is always someone watching who is coming and going, a further safety check. I humbly suggest booking at Rick Steves recommended hotels, since we have personal relationships with most of the places we suggest, and I am confident that most places will keep an eye out for you.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Night

Many women have told me that they choose to stay in after dark. I don’t think that’s necessary. I haven’t been to any city that I felt intimidated by at night–as long as I stick to populated areas. It’s always about neighborhoods. Every city on earth has sketchy areas, find out ahead of time where those are in the place you’re going and avoid them. Typically, touristic areas are lively and safe at night. Stay on main streets and skip shortcuts the Google may suggest.

If I’m out alone at night, I liberally use taxis. Keep Uber and MyTaxi on your phone and just pay the money for a ride. It’s simpler and will keep you from wandering the streets in the dark looking for the bus. In my experience, buses are 1000% scarier at night.

Phone Home

Make sure people know where you’re going. Leave an itinerary with someone, even your librarian or optometrist is fine. Someone somewhere should know where you are. Text your friends and family daily, it’s just smart.

Bring a smartphone and have a data plan that will work (I like TMobile for that reason). A phone can bail you out of a myriad of woes, so keep it charged and bring a backup battery. Program emergency numbers for the places you’re going into your phone ahead of time, as well as any contact you may have in the area. I always feel better if I know even one person who speaks the local language on speed dial.

Simple Ways to Avoid Theft

If you have any problem traveling, it will likely be theft. The best advice I can give is to just do the little things to make yourself an unappealing victim. Look alert, especially in crowds. Don’t stand around looking at your phone in public spaces. If you are distracted, that’s when you’ll get ripped off.

Stand tall and give an air of self assurance. Dare people to mess with you. Channel your inner tough guy and look suspicious people in the eye. Being seen is the one thing thieves don’t want, so make a big fuss if you see someone pickpocketing. I once had a client pickpocketed on a train and she raised bloody hell, chased the girls that did it through the train and cornered them, and they dropped her wallet and ran, and were caught by the conductors.

Keep your bag strapped across your body, and rest your hand on your bag as your normal posture. It’s simple, but makes it slightly more complicated to steal from you. There are easy targets everywhere in the Louvre, you just made yourself a tougher one, so a thief will be more likely to feel up the Venus de Milo than you. Make sure all zippers on your bag are closed. You can up your security level by using twist tire to secure the zippers.

Wear a moneybelt. Yes, I know. They suck. But they do the trick. Tuck the belt under your waistband of your pants and keep all valuables in it. I have never had a single person that wears a moneybelt get ripped off, not one in 20 years. Proof that it works.

Make sure you hide all valuables in your bag when you leave the hotel room. I don’t recommend using the safe…people forget they put stuff in safes and then move on, losing passports and more. Tuck things into your bag and zip them up, or take them with you.

Double check your hotel room door is locked. That should be obvious, but I recently slept all night in a room with a door ajar. The lock had flipped out when I shut it and I didn’t notice! Yikes.

Don’t Be Afraid, Be Smart

Above all, don’t let fear keep you from traveling. You don’t need a body guard or a giant sword, although it’s not a bad back-up plan. Do your research and make a solid plan. Connect with other single travelers if you can, and connect with the locals. You’ll probably come home feeling that you were safer abroad than in your own backyard. I know I do.

What are your favorite safety tips? Comment here or on my Facebook page. Let’s keep each other safe!

Published by [email protected]

Sarah Murdoch is a tour guide and guidebook writer for Rick Steves Europe. Her blog, Adventures with Sarah, focuses on packing tips, travel stories and advice for planning the best trip possible.

5 replies on “Thoughts on Travel Safety”

  1. Great advice! I just returned from a solo trip to Scotland that was fantastic. Traveling solo is fun and empowering. If you feel awkward eating dinner alone, find a restaurant or pub that serves food at the bar. You are more likely to strike up conversations with your neighbor than you would be at a table. Be aware of your surroundings, pay attention to your instincts and have fun!

  2. Good read. I shared this with my daughter, since she is going to Europe on a educational tour in a month. Excited for her to learn how the world can impact her and how she can impact the world.

    PS I hope you have a print for Greece this year. Prost!

  3. We use AirBNB consistently with only great experiences in many different countries and here in the US. We know what neighborhood we want to stay in to be close to what we want to do. Like Rue Cler in Paris.. we read the reviews and look to see how long it has been around. It’s worked for us.

  4. In Turkey I forgot my money belt under the pillow where I had put it for the night. Where does everyone else keep it at night? Next day we were walking all over Istanbul when I suddenly remembered I’d forgotten it under the pillow! My dear husband went back to the hotel and it was still under the pillow! The maid had not cleaned the room yet. It’s quite possible the maid would have been honest anyway. At least that’s what I like to believe.

  5. A girlfriend and I were in Rome last June. There was not an alley we were afraid to walk down at 2:00 am. A little street smarts and confidence goes a long way. We also found some great pubs/bars. We purposely talked with locals to make ourselves familiar. We had a great time!

Comments are closed.