The Badass Chick’s Guide to Safe Solo Travel

One of the most common questions I get with long term travel is regarding safety while traveling solo as a woman. Above everything else, my safety is my utmost priority in my solo adventures. And yours should be too, especially if you’re considering long term travel. I know how scary it can be if you’re not armed with proper information on this topic.

In here I list down effective ways that I have personally used that made my travels happy, fun and most of all safe.

1. Preparation is key

Grand Tetons

My first solo travel experience~ Jackson Hole, Wyoming, September 2008

The key is preparing for the places that you intend to visit. One way you can do is by researching the customs and cultures before you get into the country. Are you going to a country that is ultra conservative and are you bringing the right kind of clothes? Are you going off the beaten track where there’s not a lot of tourists? Are you traveling to a country with political turmoil, riots, protest, etc.? I am into serendipitous moments but I also suggest to read at least a few things about the places you intend to visit before you go. Solo travels can be a very exhilarating experience as long as you are on the safe side. And just like the old saying goes- never go to war unprepared.

2. Bring the right tools

umbrella

I needed this big umbrella after all the rain I experienced traveling around Belgium

Before I set out on my trip, I researched the things that other solo female travelers brought in their trips. Two of the items I brought are a whistle and a doorstop. I didn’t have to use my whistle but I have used the doorstop at some guesthouses. These are very light items so it’s good to have it though I basically didn’t need them at all. Other than physical tools, the most important thing to have is travel insurance.

3. Keep valuables in a safe place

It’s amazing how this advice is too simple yet many travelers have had cases of theft. When checking in at hostels, make sure that there are lockers where you can  lock your valuables. Try not to bring anything that’s very expensive. It can save you a lot of headache and worries. Also, bring a separate bag for your valuables- gadgets, passport(s) and wallet and keep it with you at all times especially during overnight bus or train rides. There are a lot of news on theft on overnight buses and they are true. Thieves have more time to search through backpacks on very long bus rides. In my whole journey, I only encountered theft once and it happened in a hotel in my home country.

4. Trust your Intuition

I’m a big proponent in learning about yourself through solo travel. However, it is also important to know what your strengths and weaknesses are in making your decisions. One interesting tool you can consider is by taking the Myers Briggs Type Indicator Test. I took this test and found out I have an INFJ personality. According to it, people with this combination have highly intuitive capabilities. However, only 1-3% in the entire population possess this combination making it the rarest of all the 16 types. Learning more about myself has helped me use my natural ability to tap into my intuition in making decisions which lead me to safe and fun travels with people that I felt I could trust.

I believe that women are more at an advantage when traveling solo. Every woman who has been in a bad situation knows the profound truth about ‘woman’s instincts’. It is the very same instinct you use when deciding if you are in a safe or unsafe situation in your travels. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, something is wrong. But even if you are not highly intuitive, you will get to develop your intuitions (and your BS detector) when you travel, which is another reason why solo travel is such a beautiful experience. Listen to it and you’ll know when you’re on the right track because the moment you ignore your intuition, you’re in big trouble… traveling or not.

5. Tell a trusted person your whereabouts

I love adventures and I always try to be more present with my travels.  I actually don’t bring a phone when I travel. Well, I have an iPhone but I don’t buy a sim card. The only time that I had a phone was when I was in Thailand and the Philippines but I traveled without a phone line for the rest of my trip. This might sound too adventurous to some but even if I’m unreachable, I make sure that there is one person who knows exactly my whereabouts. It doesn’t matter if I suddenly decide to go to a secluded island, move to another guesthouse or take an overnight bus from hell, my parents are informed exactly where I am or else I will get a love email  in deep Tagalog words and it will annoy me so I do my reporting like a military. It doesn’t matter who you tell your whereabouts is as long as one person knows in case of emergency they can track you.

Meeting new friends while wandering around the rural areas of Bohol

I chose South East Asia as my first starting point because I was aware of my comfort level. I know that I cannot just jump to a challenging continent no matter how  adventurous that might sound.  Locals of third world countries unless educated, don’t travel. So when they see a white person, it’s either European or American and they think any white person is rich. If you don’t fall into this category, you are a local. I am naturally fair skinned but I deliberately got tanned so not to be harassed by Asian men. Asians value fair skinned people to be more beautiful and a sign of wealth. This also explains why there are tons of whitening products in Asia.  Since I’m one of them, they didn’t think that I am a rich foreigner and I get to enjoy local prices too. This put my risk of getting robbed to almost zero percent. Most of South East Asia is very safe but If you can blend in, your risk of getting mugged or harassed goes down.

7.  Easy on the alcohol

Thai Food & Drug council gave me this shirt that says no to alcohol

I was traveling in Lombok Indonesia with a group of six solo travelers who loves to drink. One night we all had dinner, played cards and it was getting late and everybody was getting drunk and I was getting sleepy so I excused myself for a much needed beauty rest. The next morning, I woke up to see Indonesian police and gangsters outside our guesthouse. Apparently, the guys in the group got into a riot with the locals who are trying to exhort money from them. Surely, these locals and policemen guarded the whole guesthouse so the guys could not escape. The guys gave us girls their wallets and valuables because the Indonesians wanted to take at first 1 million then 1 billion rupiahs as bail money.  They were then taken to the police station. Luckily, they ended up paying 300,000 rupiahs instead because they watched and learned from me how to haggle really well. After the stressful incident at the station, they could not go as fast as they can away from Lombok. This is probably the worst situation that I have seen in my travels and it’s all because of alcohol.

Here’s the deal if you’re the only person in the group who doesn’t drink, it’s totally okay. You don’t have to fit in to be “cool”.  Save travel money on other interesting things instead… such as an impromptu decision to travel around Europe.

8. Learn Self Defense

I love doing fun activities where rubber shoes are not required. For the past four years, I’ve been obsessed with yoga. But yoga wasn’t my first love. It was martial arts. Little did I know when I was a teenager that I’ll be able to use this for my future solo travels. It’s just something I truly enjoy doing.

If you’re going to take this route, here’s exactly what I did: months before my take off date I went back to my practice and train with a high quality instructor. Do check with your doctor first if you’re fit enough and make sure you get clear on your goal of learning self defense. Having this skill is like riding a bike. You will always have the skill, provided you don’t mess with your body (see advice #7). Not only do you get to protect yourself, you also get a physical flexibility that carries over to other areas in life such as flexibility in adapting to challenges on the road, flexibility in interacting with different kinds of people and even flexibility with your travel plans. Learning this can definitely improve your self confidence and in a way face some of your fears.

I could go on and on with its health and mental benefits but the reason why I’m advocating learning self defense for women over the ‘use common sense approach’ is because I had complete common sense when a man grabbed my butt in broad day light in a tourist spot while I was traveling alone in Southern Sri Lanka. The skills that I have saved me from not panicking and getting to a worse situation or worst discourage me from taking more solo adventures. You will never know when and where there will be a harassment.  This is also why I find the ‘wear a fake ring’ advice useless. Unless you are really married, there’s no need to wearing one and deceiving people. People can smell weakness from afar. Grow some ovaries and be the real deal.

Remember: Badass chicks not only go everywhere, they also know how to take care of themselves.

Bad ass chicks wear their helmets

One of the biggest reasons why I went on this big trip is because of the the brother that I never had, my cousin Oliver. In 2009, he had the most tragic motorcycle accident one could ever imagine. He was 20 at that time. Minutes before he died, he was fully alive with his heart beating strongly due to his young age. But because he smashed his head and brain too hard on the ground, he completely lost his life. People in their 20′s don’t die especially if it can be avoided with a simple use of a helmet.

Sometimes life throws you something like that. And when you lose someone so dear very early in life it not only shakes you, it turns your world upside down. You also get to take your dreams very, very seriously.

Here’s the truth: nobody is fearless. The very first day I landed in Bangkok airport, greeted by no one and not understanding a single word or writing made me so afraid that when I got to my hostel I was shaking the whole night and couldn’t believe what I was doing.  I wanted to back out. Sometimes even writing a blog post like this one scares me. The trick I have learned is acknowledging that fear exists and learning how to work with it. When you get pass that point, you will build a tremendous strength of character that can move you forward to the direction of your dreams and help other people along the way too.

It is my hope that you don’t wait until you lose someone or worst yourself, to do things you’ve always wanted to do just because you’re scared or waiting for ‘something’. If you can take only one thing from my blog, I hope you take your dreams very seriously and if I can save a life just with this advice alone, my writings here have already been a success.

Stay badass and keep on chasing your dreams.

With love,

Anna

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2 Responses to “The Badass Chick’s Guide to Safe Solo Travel”

  1. Flo
    November 27, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

    Anna! Love love this post! You’re truly an inspiration and yes, badass! See you soon :)

    • November 28, 2012 at 9:13 am #

      Thank you so much Flo! :)