Due to the popularity of the previously written post ‘How to Keep Your Money Safe While Traveling?‘, I decided to share more tips on staying safe during your travels. Solo travel in particular makes you more vulnerable for theft and harassment, compared to traveling with a friend or partner. Below are some of my best safety tips for solo backpackers!
Preparation is key!
Make sure to research your destination thoroughly: Where are the ‘dangerous’ areas located? What are the common travel scams? What is the government travel advice?
Also, it’s a matter of general preparation. Examples:
- Make sure to have a rough idea of the city lay-out in order to avoid a sneaky taxi detour.
- Learn a bit of the local language.
- Carry a phone number and address (in the local language) of your guesthouse with you.
- Consider to pre-book your accommodation in your first destination (e.g. for my RTW trip I pre-booked my Johannesburg hostel and arranged a transfer)
Avoid taxi scams
When I arrive at a hectic taxi/riksja/tuktuk stand, I often select the driver who is least interested (or is maybe even taking a nap). Chance is little that he or she will have malicious plans. Another tip is to ask your hostel/guesthouse for telephone numbers of reliable taxi drivers in town. It may require a slightly longer wait compared to taking a taxi off the street, but at least you know you’re with a reliable driver. Beware of taxi’s which already have 1 or more person(s) in it (although in some countries this is common practice).
Don’t flash fancy electronics and jewelry
I’m terrible in this. I always carry my DSLR around my neck. However, I would advice you not to do this and keep valuables out of sight. This also includes expensive (or expensive-looking) jewelry or laptops/tablets.
Don’t dress too sexy
A travel safety tip for the female solo backpacker. Make sure to check the dress code of a country. However, even if the dress code ‘allows’ sexy clothing, make sure you feel comfortable wearing it in your destination. I usually adapt to what other young local women wear.
This is one of the most important safety tips for solo backpackers. Always have a plan or at least act like you have a plan. In my experience, one the most riskiest situations for theft is arrival at a busy bus or train station of a new destination. Instead of looking lost, pretend to know where you’re going and find a calm spot to plan your next move.
You’re less vulnerable when you are with company. When traveling by bus or train, I usually try to make contact with a fellow local passenger. There is 99% chance he or she will take good care of you during the trip. I also often let long-distance bus drivers know that I’m a foreigner. For example, during a bus ride from China into Laos (this bus ride is famous for theft), the friendly bus driver arranged a 1-person bed in front of the bus. During this bus ride three people got mugged (all sleeping in the back of the bus). I truly believe it’s the little things that can make a big difference.
Listen to locals
Remember that locals always know best! Ask about specific risks/scams in your destination, safe/good places to go out, reliable tour operators etc. Read more about ‘Going local’ here!
Don’t get drunk
Drink moderately. When alone, there is no one to look after you and to safely escort you home.
Avoid arriving at a new destination after dark.
Try to avoid arriving after dark as much as possible. If you have no other choice, ask a hostel or guesthouse to pick you up on arrival. Especially in some towns/cities in Africa and South America this is highly recommended.
Don’t get too confident
After a being on the road or staying in the same place for a while, there is risk you might think: ‘I’ve been here for so long, these things don’t happen to me’. Don’t do this! Don’t get sloppy, don’t underestimate situations and don’t get too confident as a ‘seasoned traveler’.
Keep your guard up, but have an open mind.
There is a fine balance between trusting everyone and being paranoid about every little thing. Try to follow your gut instincts with regard to strangers. If you have the slightest doubts, ‘abort’ all contact or try to find a safe solution. E.g. If someone invites you for dinner at his/her home and you don’t feel 100% safe, find a fellow traveler to come with you. However, remember: the majority of people you’ll meet on the road have good intentions!
I wrote this post with more adventurous destinations in mind (e.g. Africa/South America/Central Asia). The bottom-line of all the above-mentioned tips is common sense.
During your travels, there is a big chance you will apply most of these tips naturally, without (over)thinking it. This is the way to do it! Don’t worry too much, don’t be scared and don’t be paranoid. Travel should be fun!!
Recommended further reading
The ultimate guide to backpacker jargon
6 Ethical travel dilemma’s I encountered as a traveler
How to Keep Your Money Safe While Traveling?
Safety tips for the adventurous solo backpacker
What do you think of these tips? Do you have any additional travel safety tips for solo backpackers?
Have a copy with insurance-info, ICE-numbers etc with you at all times.
Yes good one Nanda! I believe that tip is also in the Money and Backpacking article :)
Good tips! Adding 2 I always use: make some pre translated sentences in english or your own language versus the local language, of which you know you’ll use them upfront. E.g: Can you drive me to … some important locations and your homestay/hotel.
The second: divide your cash money over more than one place and same goes for copies of your passport.
Thanks for the additional tips :) Pre-translated sentences are indeed very handy. Fortunately, these are often in my guidebook!
It’s pretty complete I guess, great post! Solo traveling is one of the best things in the world, but a bit more research, being confident and taking precautions is so important. Maybe one more: if you go exploring nature on your own, especially in non-guarded places, it’s important to let somebody know where you’ll go and when you expect to be back! But I just try to find a buddy most of the times when I’m hiking/exploring nature.
These are the most common things that need to take care while traveling. You should update with few other tips like, use debit card for payment, keep your docs safely, always inform your parents of someone in the family where you are heading to, and last one is always keep a plan B for any unexpected things happened while traveling.