Solo Travel Safety: 20 Common Sense Tips

havana street

This Havana street was vibrant during the day. But when I arrived at midnight, it was intimidating.

To use common sense is to act in ways that most people would consider prudent. It is to use good judgment.

However, what is prudent in an unfamiliar culture is not necessarily the same as what is prudent at home. Common sense in one country is not necessarily common in another. Therefore, travelers must have travel common sense. You need to follow certain guidelines that will protect you regardless of where you are. Here are a number of safety tips that are, really, just good common sense.

Solo Travel Safety – preparation before you leave.

  1. Do your research and know the risks of your destination before you arrive.
  2. Schedule your arrival in a new location early  — well before dark.
  3. We are trained to be polite and to keep our voices down in public. Before leaving, take some time in your basement or some other appropriate place to yell – loudly. Find your voice so that you can use it if needed.
  4. Practice a few basic self-defense moves before leaving. Have a read of this post: Six Tips for Common Sense Self Defence
  5. If you’re going far and for a while, make sure you register with your government as a citizen abroad.

Solo Travel Safety – in an unfamiliar location.

  1. Always stay in public. This is what saved me in my situation in Paris.
  2. Stay in touch with home on a regular basis.
  3. Draw in the support of total strangers – people of your choice – if you feel unsafe.
  4. Carry the name and address of the place you’re staying in the local language on a card.
  5. Don’t flash expensive items or jewelery.
  6. Keep your passport and other important documents secure in a money belt and have backup copies.
  7. Be aware of your surroundings, where the exits are, who is with you, land marks to orient yourself… don’t wear an ipod so that you are and look distracted. It makes you a mark.
  8. Stay sober and well rested.
  9. Lock your room carefully and use a safe for your valuables when possible.
  10. Let the desk clerk or some other trusted person know where you are going.

Solo Travel Safety – technology can help.

  1. Keep copies of your documents using cloud computing or simply by emailing basic information to yourself in several distinct emails.
  2. Keep your cell phone handy so that you can call for help if necessary.
  3. Down-load a GPS to your phone if possible and also a translator.
  4. Use ATMs to get money and don’t take out large sums at one time. You can also consider prepaid credit card.

And, the greatest common sense safety tip of all: trust your instincts. Listen to them. If something doesn’t feel right, get out of there.

  • Janice Waugh

    Yikes. Such horror stories. I’m so glad that you came out of both situations well.

  • Fabiana Fabis

    I have been in two separate potentially dangerous situationstwice. First time was at a four star hotel attending a medical congress. The frontdesk guy glanced strangely to the carrier that took me to my room. It was on the first floor and had double french doors with curtains. It was almost open to the street if not for a spacious lawn in front. I checked the latch. It was broken. I rolled my suitcase back to the check in and demanded to choose amongst the free rooms. Both guys looked at me in surprise. I was going to be raped or robbed or both. Second time, again another congress, a super fancy hotel. I walked in about midnight and had my key card in hand. I was chased by two cleaning guys up to my room door. They tryed to open by force but I locked it with the safety lock. I tryed to call the frontdesk but my phone was dead. There were no cellphones at that time. They had prepared the room, they were watching me since my arrival. So, I opened the window and shouted my lungs out until the manager and the police came about. The guys were long gone when I opened the door. Six months later the hotel sent me a letter telling they were finally identified and arrested.

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  • Rolando

    Amazing Blog once again! I have to say that you guys have
    shared amazing Blogs. Which can be proved very helpful for every traveller,
    like me. I always apply these common tips during my tour, but still i’m going
    to bus
    vacation packages
    , and i’ll keep all of these tips in my mind to make
    my trip more funful, and thanks a lot for sharing this sorts of amazing blogs
    with us.

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  • Lily

    Thanks for these great tips, they’ll be helpful when I leave to travel solo for the first time next week to India!

    I especially like the link to your other article about self-defence tips. Hopefully I’ll never have to use them while travelling, or at home, but still good to know. Screaming loudly using my “outside” voice is definitely something I need to practice as well!

    – Lily

  • solotraveler

    What an amazing story. Thanks Kevin, this is a cautionary tale we all need and, your heads up about the Searth & Rescue card is very helpful.

  • Kevin

    Aaron, made an excellent point, traveller’s don’t think of thieves out in the Boonies. News Flash! They are everywhere. Taking a buddy along also ensures your safety in case of injury. Don’t let a big head send you to the trail alone. To many things can happen, even causing fatalities. I speak from experience. Solo’d up a mountain, because I thought my 15 years of Backpacking prepared me. Long story short. Became delirius, got lost, & unbelievable..My cell had a faint signal & reached dad. That’s when Search & Rescue came. 2 1/2 hours later found me. Helicopter – $2,500.00. Ambulance – $1,200.00. My cost – $0.00. some States sell Search & Rescue cards. mine was $10. Buy a fishing or Hunting license & it is no charge. Now that I wrote another short story, the lesson is, your health & life are more important than money. Don’t do the Boonies alone.

  • Kevin

    this one was mentioned, but I want to expand on it. Do keep your money in 2-3 place on your body. And inside a hiking boot is best. That boot can do some damage to a petty thief B 4 he gets it unlaced..ha..ha..And, if you get a chance, pass on the ATM machine for two reasons, they can be places where your watched and 2nd, In Costa Rica the fee was $10.00 U.S., go inside where there is always a guard in Central America and transfer money from your bank. Last, but not least. Carry more of the Native Currency than U.S. Dollars. It’s less attractive to pick pockets. i just can’t stop sometimes :) Don’t carry all your cash or cards. Most Hotel’s & even Hostel’s have a safe. Hope I didn’t repeat anyones comment there. that’s all folks…

  • solotraveler

    To many great tips. Thanks everyone!

  • Aaron

    I would add that if you are heading out into the wilderness, you should definitely find a buddy, especially considering that well touristed hiking trails can be a hotbed for thieves. I’ve always found this to be really simple, as the few other solo travelers I’ve encountered on local transport to rural areas have always been keen on banding together, at least for the time being.

  • ryn

    Great tips.
    Here’s my additions:
    1. When traveling overnight in a public transport, take the aisle seat.
    2. Only move to the window seat when you are sure the person who will be sitting next to you is of the same gender.

    These two simple tips may save you from being awoken from you slumber by groping hands.

  • Spinster

    The taxi tips are good. I took taxis during the time I was in Glasgow; not only was it safe, but taxis there are also cheap – just a little more than taking public transportation. I’ll keep that fake-male-person tip and taxi-upon-late-flight-arrivals tip in mind for future taxi rides.

    I forgot to mention that I make copies of all important documents and give them to my closest family members, as well as keeping self-copies. When I moved, I saved the documents on their computer so that it’s always accessible. E-mail copies are better because even if a computer crashes (like mine 😐 ), one can access e-mail from anywhere.

    Again, these are really good tips. Just adds more tools to my travel kit.

  • TY

    Nice tips.

    I also have the following habits when traveling alone:
    1. Separating my cash and putting some in my shoes, some in my bag’s inner pocket, jacket pocket, etc.

    2. When I take a taxi, I pretend to be making a call with my mobile phone to a friend, speaking slowly & clearly (but naturally), pretending to be telling my friend (usually I quote a guy’s name) where I am coming from, where I will meet him, and quoting the license plate number.

    3. For single women, wearing an inexpensive and simple ring on the ring finger also helps to give the impression that you may be in contact with someone (your husband).

  • Spinster

    I signed up for the U.S. Embassy in my current location about a month ago because I read somewhere that it should be done for short- or long-term trips or expatriates. The site allows one to register there when going on any trips abroad. Sounds like a good just-in-case system to me.

    Thanks for the other tips also, especially the self-defense tips.

  • Lisa E / ChickyBus

    This is a great list with excellent advice. I agree with all of it, especially the part about following your intuition.

    Also–I think that solo travelers should not be afraid to spend some money on a taxi if arriving somewhere after dark. I try to keep costs down, but my safety always comes first. Money spent to keep yourself safe…is money well spent.

    Thanks for posting this list–it’s really useful!

  • solotraveler

    Kevin, thank you for your comments on all the posts. Great to have another solo traveler on board for the conversation.

  • Kevin

    These are great tips.Being aware of your surroundings and also presenting your body language where it shows confidence goes a long way, some places more than others. I would like to add for those of us Solo’s who are the adventure type (Off the beaten path) & budget travelers. Check out some Hostels, they are very cheap, suprisingly nice, and virtually everyone you meet is a Solo and many times from around the globe. This can give you a travelling companion for a short or long time, increasing safety.