Safety Tips for Solo Travelers

If you’re a solo traveler, safety is one of your top concerns, especially when heading somewhere unfamiliar.

Even though the title of this article is Safety Tips for Solo Travelers, regardless of whether you’re traveling solo or in a group, everyone should follow basic safety.

Now I’m not saying you need to become a black belt in Krav Maga, you just need to do a little research and use your brain and instincts.

Don’t be that person….

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen tourists with huge backpacks stop, open it up and filter through items while exposing all the contents on a sidewalk or park bench, find what they were looking for, stuff everything back in, leave it unzipped on the ground and WALK AWAY to take a picture where they are so engrossed in getting the right shot they completely ignore their bag.

Don’t be that person.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in the safest city in the US.  Do not ever leave your possessions unattended.

Research and Preparation Before Your Trip

Review official sites for information

Step one for safety is research. Go to the US Department of State (aka the State Department) at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en.html. You can find out if there are any warnings regarding travel a specific area. This is one of the best sources for solo travelers to assess safety.

They also provide information on the type of documentation needed to travel. Most places require only a passport, but there are exceptions and it’s good to know ahead of time.

If you’re using a travel agency, they are also good people to ask. Many of them have been on the trips and are familiar with the areas or can ask a colleague that’s been.

See What Other Solo Travelers are Saying about Safety

You can also research online and see safety tips for solo travelers from people that have recently visited a location.

Be careful when doing this.  There are a lot of people out there who think everything is unsafe and even more that think solo travelers are welcome everywhere and safety is nothing to worry about. It’s about finding your balance.

As an example, there was a solo female traveler who said that she thought Old Town Quito Ecuador was perfectly safe would have booked her hotel in that area except for all the negative comments. When booking my trip, I didn’t feel the same.

After doing some research, I decided against staying in town when even the hostels showed pictures of gated entries and locks.  Instead, I booked in a residential area about 15 minutes away that was very safe.

I felt safe in Old Town during the day since it was so crowded and there were police everywhere, but you could tell it wouldn’t be the best place to wander around alone at night.

If you’re not sure, err on the side of caution.

Ask Locals for Their Advice

Once you’re there, ask. Your research will tell you the things of concern and you can always ask the people at the hotel. They are locals and familiar with how to keep their guests safe, especially solo travelers.

Using Quito again, I knew that there were illegal taxis and the hotel manager told me how to tell the difference. She understood I was traveling solo and gave me a map with areas to avoid highlighted. 

Then she highlighted a list of incredible things to see that I wouldn’t have known about.

Never ever bow to someone else’s opinion of “safe”, especially if this is one of your first trips as a solo traveler.

If you’re more conservative, you should honor that. Don’t feel like you have to push the envelope to prove you had an adventure.

My Favorite Safety Tips for Solo Travelers

Tip #1: Don’t carry a purse or backpack

First of all, you will scream tourist to any potential pickpocet. Secondly, they’re both difficult to carry.

You want something like a small cross body bag that’s RFID and slash proof, and that has a clasp that hooks the zipper at the top which makes it more difficult for a pickpocket.  While you won’t need this everywhere, it’s good to invest now and just take it with you.

When you eat or shop, it can remain attached to you, making it more difficult to steal. If this sounds like overkill, there have been instances thieves pulled purses off the back of chairs at restaurants in Florida during heavy cruise season.

Follow this link for the cross body bag I use.

Tip #2: Keep the bag on you and try to keep a hand on it at all times

You can do this and look casual, especially if you’re using a cross body bag. If you carry bigger camera equipment, consider if you really need it that day and/or consider a larger cross body.

I also have one of those document holders that go around your neck and find it useful at the airport and on cruises.

It’s often tucked in the cross body as my “wallet”. As an extra layer of protection, it’s also RFID proof and has multiple zipper pouches for my passport, driver’s license, credit cards, and money. I put it under my shirt if I’m wearing it.

Follow this link for the neck wallet I use.

Tip #3: If you have a lot of cash, put it in different places

I keep some cash in one pocket of the document holder, some in a second pocket, and some in the cross-body bag. This way no one sees the full amount I have on me as I open to pay for things.

Since I use the document holder as my wallet, I keep about $60 or so in a side pocket and that’s what I use when I’m buying something and another $40–$60 in the cross body in case I need a bit more.

The rest is either in the main pocket of the document holder sealed away or in the hotel safe.

Tip #4: Watch your passport

A lot of places will recommend locking your passport in the hotel safe and just taking a copy of it with you. US passports are a high commodity in some areas.

This being said, test the hotel safe first. Make sure it really locks.

Tip #5: Secure your belongings in the hotel

If something doesn’t fit in the safe, I put it in a bag and lock the bag with a luggage lock. I usually lock all my luggage so it looks like it’s something I do rather than one bag having a lock which could call attention to it.

Also, don’t put a valuable item in your backpack with a lock and leave it in the room. Put it in your larger bag and lock that. It’s a lot more difficult to steal a suitcase or duffel bag unnoticed.

To be honest, I’ve never felt my items were unsafe in any hotel, but just in case you do, these are some basic tips.

Tip #6: When out and about, never — and I mean NEVER— go down an empty street. Especially something like an alley-way where people can’t see you

Always stay in main areas and around other people, especially when traveling solo.

I was in Germany a while back and wanted to see some cute little gingerbread-like houses. The map I was following took me through a residential area, but then it got a little sketchier.

I wasn’t feeling safe and was going to turn around when I noticed a man behind me.

I’m a big believer in using your instincts and while he was just walking and looked normal, something didn’t feel right.

I crossed the street, went back the way I came, and picked up my pace. He stopped and then quietly turned and followed, staying on his side of the street.

After walking fast for two blocks, I was back in the residential neighborhood. There were people out so I integrated with them. The man turned and went down a different street.

Was he just another lost tourist and thought he’d follow me? I don’t know. But I wasn’t comfortable and I still don’t regret turning back around. 

Even though I never did get to see the  gingerbread houses, somehow that just doesn’t matter.

Tip #7: Keep the address and phone number to the hotel on you

This comes in handy if you are lost. It’s one of those things you only need one percent of the time, but when you need it, you’re a bit desperate and it’s like a miracle in your bag.

A great example is when you can’t remember the name of the hotel or the taxi driver doesn’t know it but you can pull out the address and point.

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