“Wow, you’re so brave for traveling alone. I would never be able to do that. Is it even safe?” That’s something I’ve heard many times from my fellow female friends, and honestly, neither did I expect myself to travel solo after my first attempt to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. But here I am, adding more countries to my #solotravel adventures, with the U.A.E. and Malta being the latest on the list.
But first, just a little backstory about my first solo trip when I was somewhere in my mid-20s. Kuala Lumpur was ideal as I’ve been there multiple times with friends and family, so I was familiar with the area.
Initially, I was filled with anxiety and a little excitement with it being my first solo trip ever. I hadn’t planned much except meeting a friend over lunch there. I’m really more of the type to wing it and go with the flow.
It was a short weekend trip anyway, so I didn’t think too much of it. But that’s where the problem arose. I felt extremely bored during the trip as I had no one to talk to and I didn’t know what to do exactly. I found myself less driven to explore new places in the end, so I visited the same places as always. And to make matters worse, the initial hotel choice was beyond terrible that I had to forfeit half the payment and book another hotel.
However, despite how bad that first trip was, it did teach me some vital tips that I continue to use wherever I am, be it alone or with company.
1. Always be aware of your surroundings, and be mentally prepared
This should be a no-brainer as you would have heard this countless times before, but it’s the absolute first rule of traveling anywhere (even in your home country). A lot of things can happen within a split second, so keep your eyes and ears open as much possible.
And always trust your instincts. For me, I always like to check my sides when I’m out every few minutes if I sense someone behind me. Of course, I do try not to make it too obvious as I would also look at the buildings and sights around while at it.
If you’re one who loves to plug their headphones in and head out, it may be wise to ditch that as your senses can be compromised. This would not be ideal especially when you’re unfamiliar with the area. Furthermore, it also makes you miss out on a lot of the bustle that’s happening around you.
It’s also good to research on crime rates of the country you’re visiting, and which areas to avoid. This gives you a rough idea of the place and what you should look out for.
2. Don’t act or look like a tourist
Now, we’ve all heard of tourist scams, and sometimes it’s hard not to act/look like one. But if you go around wearing tourist apparels (e.g. the ones saying “I love (country)”), you’re only putting yourself up to be targeted. After all, they’re meant to be souvenirs to be brought back home. And furthermore, as a solo female traveller, you wouldn’t want to attract unwanted attention.
3. Double, triple check your belongings before and when you’re out
Room key? Check. Wallet? Check. Phone? Check. Passport? Check. Hotel/Hostel address? Check.
Make sure you have the necessary items on you before and while you’re out. It’s always a good idea to have a sling across bag that goes at the front, instead of a bag that hangs off one shoulder. If you’ve planned a long day of traveling and choose to carry a backpack, opt for one that has a flap with a button or clip over the zipper area.
And don’t keep your phone or wallet in your back pocket(s). You wouldn’t want to be a victim of theft or pickpocketing.
Never leave your belongings unattended, even if you need to go to the bathroom. And never accept drinks from strangers.
4. Don’t walk alone in dark alleys
During one of my solo travels, there was a time that I unknowingly ended up in a dark alley after making a few wrong turns and had no way but to go through it. Just then, a guy came out from nowhere and was walking behind me. I made a few turns to see if he was following me, and my suspicion became reality. Freaking out internally, I had to trust my gut instincts and walked quickly to a bustling street.
As I felt him coming closer, I quickly pretended to call someone to pick me up and talked until I felt safe. Thankfully, the guy just walked past me as soon as I made that move.
Sure, it could be just that he was going in the same direction as I was, but I wouldn’t want to take any chances.
Moral of the story: Don’t walk alone in dark alleys, and if you do end up in one and feel someone’s following you, walk as fast as possible (don’t run) to an open store, building with security, or bustling street.
Call (or pretend to call) someone, and speak to them until the coast is clear. If you want to be extra cautious so as to make sure you’re not followed, head to an open establishment for a bit before going back to your lodging.
5. Make sure you’re not engrossed with your phone
This pretty much works with tip #1. Being engrossed with your phone makes you less aware of your surroundings, and it could also make you miss out on the sights. Traveling after all is a way to get away from busy life, so why worry about the latest IG stories or posting up photos of your travel? Unless there’s a timeline, these things can be done when you’re back at your lodging.
6. Opt for lodging that is near popular landmarks
When I travel, I prefer to spend a little more on accommodations that are near popular landmarks as the last thing I want is to be stuck in traffic everyday during my stay. I mean, I’m only going to be there for a few days so I would want to maximize my time spent.
It certainly also saves up money on transport if the hotel is within walking distance of the landmarks. And to add another pro to the list, the streets would most likely be bustling till late so it’s a safer choice (but do still be cautious).
Pro-tip: Always check out the accommodations’ reviews and policies prior to booking. This will give you a clearer picture as to what to expect during your stay.
7. Pack light
As a solo traveller, it’s wise to pack light as you’d be the one handling your luggage. No matter what kind of travel you’re planning, make sure you’re able to handle the weight of your load on your own as you’d be moving with it at least on the first and last day.
8. Make a trip itinerary
After my first solo trip, I’ve learnt that this is important. Much thanks to technology, you can easily research on the top sights, foods to try, and so much more. Your itinerary doesn’t need to be planned in great detail, but it does help to have a list.
If it’s an event you’re intending to visit, look out for its date(s) and plan accordingly. You may also want to consider booking day tour(s) where a guide brings you and other travelers around the famous attractions. This serves as a good way to make new friends, and certainly releases some stress of planning transportation between areas.
9. Give yourself time to adjust to the new environment and time zone
If you’re moving from one time zone to another, it’s always good to keep the first day empty. This will give your body some time to rest and adjust to the new environment. I would highly recommend taking a short walk around your lodging in the day time during your first or second day, so you get familiarized with what’s available nearby.
Some hotels don’t have a restaurant operating full day and/or room service, so you may want to find the nearest café or restaurant to satisfy your stomach. Alternatively, you can always order food in.
Pro-tip: It’s always good to carry medications for the likes of headache, nausea, and motion sickness. Despite having traveled a lot, I still find myself a victim of migraines when I travel long distance.
10. Talk to the locals
What’s travel when you don’t embrace the culture of the locals? And what better way to do that than to talk to them? It can be intimidating at first, so try with the staff at your lodging, restaurants, and shops first. Sometimes, even asking for directions from passer-by could be a great conversation opener.
In certain regions (e.g. Europe), locals offer their services to be your personal tour guide to bring you around landmarks locals love. This serves as a great way to understand their lifestyle and culture better.
11. Don’t overshare
As much as it’s easy to open up and share details of your life when a conversation kicks up, it’s important to not overshare.
Don’t share where you’re staying. Don’t tell people you’re traveling alone.
When you start getting overly personal questions, remember that you don’t owe them anything and decline to answer politely. Trust your instincts in drawing the line. After all, they’re still strangers and it’s wise to be extra cautious.
Avoid posting photos with geo-tags on your social media until you’ve left the place, or country at best. This also applies to posting up your flight details, which is not a wise choice as it creates opportunities for identity theft and other issues.
12. Don’t wear flashy items
Three words – “keep it simple”. Leave your luxury branded-apparels and bling-bling back home, unless you want to become a possible target for theft.
If you love accessorizing, bring along some costume jewel to jazz up your outfits. Or you can purchase some local, hand-made ones from the arts markets or stores.
13. Wear an engagement/wedding ring
It’s sad that this has to be on the list, but if you don’t want unwanted attention from men, this works (most times). Even if you’re not engaged or married, purchase a cheap ring that can pass off as one. Just make sure it’s not too flashy; you wouldn’t want to be a victim of theft.
If you’re looking to date, it’s still wise to have one on. And remember, to always meet the guy in a public place so that you can leave anytime you feel uncomfortable. If you live in a hostel, bring your roommates along to the initial meeting. It’ll also give you a good insight to the kind of personality the guy has. Yet again, always trust your instincts and never leave your drinks unattended.
14. Keep note of emergency hotlines and your country’s embassy
It’s always a good idea to remember the emergency hotlines (e.g. police and ambulance), and where the nearest embassy for your country is. This is, of course, just a precaution in case of extreme cases happening, such as loss of passport or accident.
15. Always make sure to head out with a full battery on your phone (and a portable charger if needed)
When travelling, you’re bound to use Google Maps or other navigation apps; all of which decreases battery life. So, do be sure to make sure your phone is charged fully before you head out every day. It also pays when you need it for emergency use.
16. Make sure you have sufficient data
In this day and age, you can’t get anywhere without data (as mentioned in tip #15). Sure, many places offer free WIFI but that differs in every country. It’s always good to purchase a local SIM upon arrival. The last thing you’d want to be is stranded with no reception or data.
17. Keep photo copies of your passport and ID
Regardless of whether you bring your passport and ID whenever you head out, it’s good to have a photo copy available digitally and in hard copy. Make copies of your passport detail page and ID, and keep them with you at all times. You can also e-mail yourself a copy, and save the photos in your phone gallery. This is in case either, or both, gets stolen – you’d have the photo version available to report to the authorities immediately.
18. Even if you’re lost, look like you know where you’re going
In order to avoid being a possible victim of crime, always look like you know where you’re going even if you don’t. If you need to look up directions, head inside an establishment before whipping out your phone to check, or ask the staff.
19. Dress appropriately
Together with the number of things to research before a trip, you should also look up on the dress code in the country. For example, certain parts in Middle East (e.g. Sharjah and Iran) has dress codes for both men and females that even tourists needs to abide by. So, do dress appropriately for the culture so as not to be a victim of unwanted attention.
20. Learn a few common words and phrases of the language the locals speak
Simple phrases and words such as greetings, “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, “please”, “do you speak English?” can come a long way when visiting another country whose primary language isn’t English. In fact, it does change the mood of the conversation when locals know you’re trying to learn their language and will be more obliged to help out.
In certain countries I visited like Germany and Switzerland for instance, signs and menus are mostly written in the native language. So, it’ll definitely help if you have sufficient juice on your phone to aid in translating them, or seek help from the locals. In my experience, it was definitely faster to ask for help, and it also gave me some opportunities to showcase the phrases I know.
21. Book rides through ride-hailing apps instead of flagging for them
Well, an exempt is if you’re in the mall’s taxi queue. But if you’re not, it’s best to book rides through apps such as Uber or the local taxi app, so that you can enter your destination easily and get a standardised fare. This will save you time from getting a driver that doesn’t know how to go to your destination, or one offering you a “tourist” price. Furthermore, your trip is tracked and if you do face an emergency, you can easily report via the app.
Traveling as a solo female does require you to be extra cautious, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun still. In fact, it gives you time to simply be, and understand yourself. You also can operate on your own timing, and visit places that interests you.
Some solo travelers would suggest to join Facebook groups to find other travelers in the country, which is a great way to make new friends. You should most definitely make the most out of your trip as long as you follow these simple and vital tips.