Safe Places and Not-so-Safe Places for Solo Travelers

Woman hiking Patagonia

There were many people hiking in Torres del Paine Patagonia. It’s safe hiking for solo travelers.

All travelers want to be safe. Travel alone? Then the safety issue can seem like a bigger deal.

I’ve written extensively about how to travel alone safely. I’ve written about basic travel safety tips and advice on how to blend into a culture even if you really can’t. I’ve offered information on how to avoid getting sick when you travel and what to do if you do get sick as a solo traveler. (That’s when solo travel is lonely!)

But one safety basic I haven’t addressed is location. Where is it safe? Many of us who travel solo on a regular basis know instinctively when a place is safe and when one isn’t. But new solo travelers may not be so naturally astute.

Here are a few generalizations to give you an idea of how to assess a location for it’s safety.

Safe Places for Solo Travelers:

What’s safe is easier than what’s not so we’ll start here.

  • Places where families go tend to be safe – zoos, amusement parks, aquariums… if it is designed for and attracts families, it is safe.
  • Typical tourist sites such as museums, churches, castles, are safe.
  • Well traveled hiking trails (if you see someone every 5 minutes or so) tend to be safe.
  • Small towns, where everyone knows everyone, tend to be safe. They keep each other in check.
  • Public spaces in cities such as markets, pubs in good areas, shopping districts are safe. I’ve said it before, public is always safer than private. In public we are naturally protected by social values. In private, we are subject to the values of those around us.
Open market in Cambridge

Open market in Cambridge – public spaces are safe.

Not-so-Safe Places for Solo Travelers:

Sometimes it’s obvious when a place isn’t safe. Other times, it’s your Spidey senses that tingle and tell you to leave. Listen to them. Here, again, are some generalizations.

  • Restaurants and other places near train stations: It’s not that these places are unsafe in and of themselves, it’s that these are natural places for people to hang out who want to scam or pickpocket a tourist. If you need to go to a restaurant near a train or bus station, try going a few blocks away.

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  • Remote areas for hiking or camping where there is no chance for help if required. They require extra precautions.
  • Bad parts of town: There are areas in almost every town and city that are not safe and you can’t always tell by the way they look. A nice looking neighborhood could have things going down that you don’t know about. Likewise, what you consider dangerous looking at home could be very safe in another country. Don’t judge an area by the looks of it as much as by the people who are in it. If you think you may have entered an area that isn’t quite right, leave. If you don’t know how, choose your person carefully and ask for directions.
  • Bars: I like going out to live music at night but I’m very careful about where I go. I check out the place in guides and online but I also get a local’s take on the place. Is it a place they would send their sister alone?
  • Private spaces: Any time you go out of public with someone you lose control of the situation. As a solo traveler, I don’t like losing control. Don’t go to after-hour parties in places you don’t know, house parties, private cars or cabs with strangers.

The Ultimate Safe Place for Solo Travelers

When traveling alone – going to safe places, avoiding unsafe places – it’s important to remember that the place you’re staying is your most important safe place of all. Try to keep your accommodation to yourself. Meeting new people traveling solo is a wonderful experience but an evening is not enough time to know a person’s character. Keep your hotel, B&B or hostel to yourself so that it is always safe. You may want to have a read of Safe Answers to Common Questions which tells of how I discreetly dodged the issue of telling people where I was staying.

Travel Solo. Enjoy. Be safe.

Rydale Guest House Ambleside

By answering questions discreetly no one at the pub ever knew that I was staying at Rydale Guest House.

  • Lisa

    I try to stay away from accommodations close to train stations. Even if safe, the rooms tend to be overpriced and shabby. Otherwise, I do extensive research on neighborhoods in the city. I tend to rent apartments (weekly) in “local” neighborhoods that are still within a 10 minute walking distance to major tourist sites. Bonus: cheaper restaurants with better food and getting to mingle with locals.

  • Nikki

    I also buy guides like Lonely Planet and look at http://www.wikitravel.org

  • Nikki

    I usually read the reviews on Tripadvisor (even if I booked the hotel on another website). If it’s dangerous, it will be mentioned.

  • Lisa

    Agree 100%. I’ve travelled extensively and the only time I’ve ever been targeted by a pick-pocket (in Rome) was when I’d hurt my knee and was wearing a brace. I paused and bent over to adjust the strap on the brace. The pick-pocket “bumped” into me then cleaned me out while “helping” me up. I have no doubt that he targeted me because he knew there was no way I’d be able to run after him.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Thanks for the comment. I think intoxication is a bad idea in any situation.

  • Rojacaliente

    I would be careful of taxis (legit & gypsy) at night, especially if you have been drinking. In many of the countries I have lived, most of people I know who were robbed or violated where done so by cab drivers especially if they were intoxicated. In general, I find travelling alone quite safe even as a female (50 plus countries by myself) but taxi drivers tend to be my biggest nuisance and source of insecurity. To be honest, I think the real danger in travelling in most countries I have been to is connected with transportation i.e. buses and ferries.

  • Nisrine Hallak

    Awesome advises. Thank you , thank you. I am a newbee solo and I am loving it.
    I will never forget these tips , especially that I am going to Spain and Portugal soon.
    My biggest concern is choosing the accommodation, I really have hard time to guess the convenient safe area.
    Last year I booked in Sydney in an area called King’s Cross, a very nice hotel with good reviews, then I found out that this area is normal during the day and actively bad in the evening: prostitution mostly, crimes , robbing…
    As a young solo , new to solo travelling, can you advice me how to choose a good area in cities?

  • Milujem Cestovanie

    Thanks for the useful tips ;) …I usually travel with someone, so you can share the experience. I want to try solo traveling this summer though ;)

  • lisamctigue

    I’ve traveled solo for nearly and year and been in the Costa Rica for three weeks. I recommend people avoid it. Crime is up (so many incidents since I’ve been here). The prices are equal to the US. It’s easier to find pizza and burgers over local foods. Many people have called it the US’s 51st state. Other travelers said Guatemala and Nicaragua are what Costa Rica was 5-10 years ago. I grew up in the Caribbean, so I get the basic safety rules. But, when groups are getting mugged and held at gun point in the middle of the day it’s hard to know what is safe.

  • charmaine
  • leelaurino

    always a concern when i arrive in a new town…. off the train and where is the center of town or the hotel….. have learned NEVER arrive at night or late in the day even if traveling in the daytime wastes some ‘sight seeing time’ NEVER do this.
    Janice you are far more brave than i am, hiking would only be with an organized walking trip…… ref: bears in Denali on solo trip …. or a photo shoot in the storage area for boats on the canal in London, NOT A GOOD IDEA>..

  • segacs

    It’s time to dispel the myth that solo travel is inherently dangerous, or less safe than travel in groups. I’ve traveled to over 30 countries in the past ten years, and only once have I had the misfortune of having something happen to me — I was mugged in Costa Rica in broad daylight — and that time I was traveling with a friend. In all my years of solo travel I’ve never had anything go wrong. And I’m a woman, and not a particularly imposing one at that.

    Sure, it’s important to trust your instincts and to do your best to blend in (though my pale-as-a-ghost redheaded self doesn’t blend too well in much of the world). But places where families go can attract predators, and tourist attractions are usually the most unsafe places as far as bag-snatching or other crimes against property go. And let’s face it, if you’re a solo traveler who lives in fear of every bar, solo hiking trail or train station, you’re not going to have much fun.

    Bad luck can happen to anyone. I’m not advocating going out wearing a baseball cap, fanny pack and bright orange t-shirt with the name of the city you’re in, and an expensive camera around your neck. But if you’re sensible, solo travel is just as safe as group travel. Sometimes even more so, since solo travelers tend to meet more locals and other travelers, get more advice, and be more aware of their surroundings; group travelers can often be insular and therefore careless.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hulakathie Kathie Reynolds

    Train travel….be vigilant of your surroundings. I have watched unsavory types hop on a train at a stop….and act like they are passengers. Then when the trains begins to pull away from the station, they grab items such as small luggage even stuff in overhead shelving, and jump off the train. Usually they target older folks or naive kids who can’t leave the rest of their luggage or traveling companions to chase after them. I saw these thugs in Italy and in Morocco. Keep stuff locked to shelving or keep a tight grip. I always stare at anyone who gets on the train and sits a little too close. Sort of like letting them know I am aware. They can look so relaxed, chatting on cell phones etc…. just beware!

  • http://www.hikebiketravel.com Leigh

    Great advice Janice.
    I hate to live in fear but I do use a strong dose of common sense when I travel alone. I agree with Kelly – and also listen to my gut. 
    One time biking on a lonely trail I got creeped out by a guy – so I called by daughter (on the same time zone) & asked her to call me back every 15 minutes until I got to my destination. That worked though that’s not the spot I want to be in.
    If I hike alone I let someone know where I’m going and when I should be back – and I try to choose trails where I can take my dog. I also don’t mind carrying a bag of dog poop which I can use a deterrent.

  • Traveling Ted

    These tips are sound advice for the solo traveler to follow. I sometimes travel remote hiking places by myself. This is sometimes not a good idea. A fellow from my hiking club disappeared in Colorado over a year ago without a trace. If you do this, definitely need to take extra caution as even a twisted ankle can become dangerous.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    I totally agree with you Iain. I wrote this post a while back – 10 Ways to Look Confident http://solotravelerblog.com/solo-travel-safety-confidence/

  • http://malloryontravel.com Iain Mallory

    Totally agree that there are places that are inherrently unsafe but it is unfortunate also that what is safe for one type of solo traveller i.e. a man is not for a woman. It is a sad fact that women need to be even more careful than men.

    I actually enjoy going out of the normal ‘tourist’ areas and to date have not experienced any serious problems.

    I used to teach self defence in the forces, the two primary defences we can employ are being vigilant, observing what is happening around you and displaying an outwardly confident persona. Basically most attackers look for ‘victims’ those that they believe will offer little resistance, they will avoid those they think might fight back.

    I am not advocating entering areas of obvious risk, that is just stupid, but remain confident, do not portray yourself as a potential target and it is less likely you will be percieved as one.

    Safe travel is about using common sense and although the circumstances are often vastly different than when in our own neighbourhoods some of the principles are the same.

    Thank you for sharing the tips Janice personal safety and security is obviously of paramount importance to any traveller, solo or otherwise and these are great.

  • http://www.bluegreenonline.com Henry Williams

    If you stick to the typical tourist sites as listed you will always be fine its when you tend to stray you get in trouble

  • http://nomadicsamuel.com Nomadic Samuel

    These are solid tips.  I definitely agree with you that areas in and around train stations tend to be shady.

  • http://www.budgettraveladventures.com/ Jeremy Branham

    Good tips for travelers.  I never gave too much thought to specific places when I traveled because my gut/instinct told me a lot.  However, practically speaking, good advice for places not to go.  However, I do like getting away from the crowds at times so it’s just about talking to others and knowing where is safe.  I think the more you get away from cities, the safer it probably is.

  • solotraveler

    Interesting. Fear is definitely an important defense mechanism. Thanks for sharing the title of the book.

  • http://solowomantraveler.blogspot.com/ Kelly @LifeOptimist

    Great tips! The only thing I would add is listen to your gut. There’s a great book called “The Gift of Fear” that teaches you to trust your instincts – at home and while travelling. I rely on my gut a lot.

  • solotraveler

    When I go out in the evening I tend to take a taxi home. And I take it alone. I don’t want others knowing where I stay. Dark streets at night, even with a group (unless they’re old friends) is a pass for me.

  • http://flipnomad.com flipnomad

    great tips janice… i also like going out to bars to listen to live music though i try not to stay up that late… walking in dark streets late at night seem to be an unsafe thing to do in a place that im not familiar with… unless if im travelling with a group of people :-)

  • http://www.elsiehui.com Elsie

    Thanks for the post! :) Looks like you had fun!