As I’m sure all of you diligent readers are aware, Sanket keeps a wonderful blog here at Nomadic Lives, and I’m honored to be a part of it! I especially love the site’s raw and personal take on picking up and leaving to travel — a lot of it hits pretty close to home for me too!
One of the most common excuses people give for not traveling is fear. And I understand where they’re coming from: there are obviously plenty of dangerous places in the worald! But having traveled the world extensively over the past few years, this statement of fear never fails to make me a little sad. The thing is, if you do your research and keep your head about you, there’s no reason why your trip abroad needs to be any more dangerous than your life back home. From your belongings to your person, here are some security tips for solo female travel that I’ve discovered from my years on the road:
Register your travels with the State Department.
One of the first steps I take when I’m preparing for a trip is to register my trip with the government. This means that in the case of natural disaster, uprising or other events that require evacuation from the country, the government knows where I am and can assist me. It also means you’ll get updates on the current situation in-country sent to you during your trip, rather than having to check online over and over again.
Know the local laws
Laws vary from country to country, and believe it or not, you’re subject to the local laws of the country you’re in, regardless of where you’re from or whether or not you knew about this law. For example, in the UAE, you might not be aware of the fact that foreigners—even non-Muslims—are required to obtain a special license in order to buy alcohol. And that’s only one of many examples of laws you may be unfamiliar with. Make sure you know what not to do prior to your trip; the last thing you want is to spend your holiday in jail or face unexpected fines!
Do as the Romans do
You’re free to be yourself when you travel, of course, but you’ll want to be sensitive to the local customs, and sometimes you may want to temper your personality to fit in a little more. For example, if you go to Istanbul during Ramadan, you may want to opt for longer shorts, skirts or even trousers, despite the summer heat. It isn’t illegal to dress as you would for any other European holiday, but because the majority of the population is conservative especially during this month, you may attract unwanted attention if you bare a lot of skin. When in doubt, see what the locals do, and use that as a guide for your own behavior.
Bring a lock
Especially if you’re staying in hostels, you’ll want to make sure you have a lock with you so that you can secure your electronics and valuables while you’re out sightseeing or asleep. Although many hostels purport to have locks available for rent, you’ll often have to put down a deposit to borrow these (frustrating) or will be stuck using a cheap lock that is easily picked (useless). Even if you’re staying in a hotel, you might want to secure your bag with a TSA-approved luggage lock — both en route and in the hotel when the cleaning staff come through. It may seem like you’re being overly cautious, but it is one of the best ways to keep your things safe.
Read up on common scams
I hate talking about scams, but unfortunately, they’re an almost unavoidable part of travel, no matter where in the world you go. From that overly-friendly local who “just wants to give you directions” (but who really wants you to pay him for having guided you in the right direction) to that taxi driver who “just happens to be offering a low rate that day” (but who really will take you to a shop where he earns commission before he agrees to take you to your actual destination), there are a lot of scams out there. The easiest way to become a victim of these scams is to be totally oblivious to them. The best things you can do are to read up on common scams prior to your departure and to keep a good head on your shoulders. Of course, not every friendly local is out to scam you, but you will want to be aware of what’s going on!
Know where it’s safe to be
Along with reading up about local scams, you should always make sure to read up on which places are safe for tourists to visit. One great place to start is at the State Department’s website, where they’ll give you a broad look at safety in the country as well as issue specific Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings if they deem certain parts of a country unsafe for travel.
Grab some useful apps
These days, smartphones can do so many things. I include this under the topic of security because there are so many apps that can increase our safety in an area. For example, if you have a woeful sense of direction like I do, having some sort of cached GPS app on your phone will ensure that you can always find your way back to your accommodation at the end of the day and aren’t stuck wandering aimlessly around the streets. You can also find a lot of free or cheap calling apps that will allow you to get in contact with anyone should a situation arise. I recommend outfitting your smartphone to the fullest prior to your departure so that you have everything you could possibly need while on holiday.
Protect against digital threats
Part of outfitting your phone should definitely be installing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) app. These apps have gained popularity recently since they allow the user to disguise their true location and watch Netflix while traveling abroad, but they’re much more useful than that! See, not only does a VPN route your web browsing through a third-party server (which makes your browsing difficult to track), but it also encrypts your information so that passwords and other personal information can’t be intercepted by hackers. Since hackers like the target travelers, you’ll definitely want a VPN on your smartphone, laptop or other WiFi-enabled devices prior to your trip.