When you have been on the road wandering for a while, you take a lot of things for granted, especially when it comes to safety measures.
For example, many behaviours become habitual. In my case, I always fall asleep as soon as I am in any vehicle (standing up, in a bus on a winding mountain road, leaning on a pole!), I always lock the zipper on my bag and then put my arm or leg through the loop so it doesn’t get stolen. I realize these little habits when I am with people who don’t travel as much.
We often hear people’s concerns about travelling alone. Usually, fear arises from our insecurity in the face of the unknown. Above all, we fear the danger surrounding us when we step out of our comfort zone. What we forget is that this danger exists everywhere, at home as well as abroad. The only difference is that we constantly adopt measures to keep ourselves safe when we are on familiar ground.
I thought I’d share some of the tricks I’ve developed over time that help me feel more confident when travelling.
20 solo traveller safety tips
1. Carry your day bag in the front, especially on public transport, where you could fall prey to pickpockets.
If you have a purse with a zipper, keep your hand on it at all times.
True story: I was in Lisbon waiting for the tram, and I saw 1000 free spaces around me. A little girl came to sit right next to me, which was fishy! That’s when I noticed my bag was unzipped (Oh boy, she did it so fast!). As soon as I closed my bag and put it closer to my body, the girl got up and went in search of a new victim. Once we got on the tram, the same little girl tried to push me around to try her luck a second time, but I had my eye on her! The moral of the story is to be mindful of your surroundings and where you keep your money.
2. If you have a lot of cash on you, don’t keep it all in one place.
Make sure to divide it into several pockets and between your different bags. Also, keep an extra reserve hidden just in case.
Nomadic tip: Hide your money with your tampons/sanitary pads or your box of condoms, if you’re a guy. Honestly, no one is going to dig through those!
3. Make a photocopy of your passport, as well as your credit cards.
Keep everything in the cloud storage like Google Drive or Dropbox, in your emails and in your phone’s photo album.
Why not also send a copy to your emergency contact, a relative or a friend?
4. In your contacts, enter the name of the person to contact in case of emergency as follows: ICE – [Name of person].
ICE is the international standard for In Case of Emergency. If anything happens to you, it will be much easier to contact that person than if you, for some reason, programmed your sister’s name as “Carpet.”
*Now, you can program someone as your emergency contact in your phone.
5. Hiding your phone under your pillow is over!
A person can slip their hand under your head so quickly while you’re sleeping and poof, gone! Believe me, I’ve heard all kinds of stories from people in a hostel!
My advice: Tuck your phone into the pillowcase and turn the opening towards the wall, where it’s less accessible.
6. Research and read reviews about the area when you book your hostel/hotel to make sure it’s not too close or far removed from the action.
I’m not saying it’s always dangerous, but why put yourself in a situation like that if you can avoid it? In these times, don’t be too cheap. Pay the extra $5-10 for a room in a safer place and to have peace of mind.
True story: In Vietnam, I booked a room that I thought was well-located on the map. To my surprise, I had to cross a construction zone and a field to get to my hotel. That evening I asked my two friends to accompany me to my room and then the next day, I changed hotels. I wasn’t feeling it, and if there’s one thing I listen to in life, it’s my instincts.
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7. You should always read reviews and listen to your instincts (this also applies if you couchsurf or book Airbnbs).
In the “anything can happen” section: When I was in Amsterdam, I met an American who FLIPPED because the girl he was staying with via couchsurfing had locked him at her place for the whole day! In short, just because you’re a guy doesn’t mean you’re safe.
8. NEVER leave your valuables in the baggage hold while using transit.
This advice is good for the hold on the plane, the luggage compartment under the bus, the rack for suitcases on the train and even the trunk of the taxi. Put anything of value in your day bag that you keep with you at all times.
9. Use the safe or the locker available to you at your hotel or in your dormitory.
In case there isn’t one, ask the reception if they have a safe where they can keep your cell/laptop/camera. Just beware; sometimes it’s so safe that you forget your camera there when you check out!
Nomadic tip: Before locking your valuables in the safe, try closing it with nothing inside to see if the combination works properly. You wouldn’t want to lock it with ALL your belongings including your passport, especially if it’s defective and doesn’t open with the master key! This happened to me!
10. Choose the right time of day to withdraw money from an ATM and do it in a place where there is some foot traffic.
If you don’t feel comfortable making a transaction or if someone appears too close to you, cancel the transaction and look for another ATM. Ideally, don’t keep a large sum of money with you. Keep the minimum pocket money you need and leave the rest safe.
11. Do not leave your personal items on the beach unattended.
Tell yourself there’s someone, somewhere who knows you just left your things unattended. They probably won’t be there when you get back. This applies even more in the evening, when you’re a bit tipsy and venture into the water for a midnight swim!
Nomadic tip: Use an empty bottle or tube of sunscreen if you really want to bring cash and other items with you to the beach. You may have to do a little DIY, but it’s much less risky to have your sunscreen stolen than a wallet.
I suggest something discreet like this:
12. Invest in cloud storage space like Google Drive or Dropbox Pro to regularly backup your documents and photos while you’re on the road.
Digital nomad tip: There is an application for iPhone called “IFTTT” which automatically transfers all the photos from your iPhone or iPad to a predefined folder on Dropbox. You don’t need to worry about whether your photos are backed up or not.
13. Keep some cash aside (like $50-100 USD)
Save this for the day you want to take a taxi instead of walking because you are not comfortable in the area where you are, to book a room that costs a little more in a better part of town or for the hostel that offers airport transfer when you land late at night.
You will thank me when you forget that you have to pay $35 USD for the visa (payable only in $USD) which allows you to enter the country!
14. Send your itinerary and reservation info to your emergency contact.
This is a habit we should all adopt, even when we’re not traveling alone. When you receive your flight/train/bus/hotel confirmation, forward it to your mother or your best friend.
And when you get to your destination, don’t forget to send out a little smoke signal. I’m not talking about sending an email to everyone, just a message to your boyfriend along the lines of “Hello honey, I landed in one piece at Kuala Lumpur airport. I’ll text you when I arrive at my youth hostel.”
15. To be safe, without being paranoid, it’s a good idea to tell the people at the reception what you’re up to.
You know, just something like, “Hey guys, I’m going for a trek in the jungle today; send out the troops if I don’t come back.” Anyway, you know the deal!
True story: When I was in Australia, I woke up one morning with the idea of going trekking alone. (I was a little bored, my roommates were working and I had vacation that day). When I got out there, I freaked out a little when I saw cobwebs across the entire width of the path and spiders the size of my hand! And then my imagination ran loose: If I get bitten and I die (since all bugs in Australia are poisonous), nobody will know, because I didn’t tell anyone I left. So I came back… empty-handed!
16. I don’t need to tell you that the more bling you wear, the more attention you will draw to yourself.
Save the jewels for your girls’ nights. Or wear some cheap costume jewellery you bought at the night market.
17. Ask the reception at your hotel/youth hostel for a business card and a map of where you are.
Request for them to show you where the hotel is on the map to get get your bearings. Keep the business card with you in case you get lost.
For example, in China, keep your hotel address in Mandarin handy because nobody speaks English.
18. Invent an imaginary travel companion for yourself.
My travel buddy is called “Victor”! It’s handy when it comes time to say “we” instead of “I.” This way, I avoid letting people know that I am alone.
Victor often takes the blame in embarrassing situations. For example: “It’s Victor’s fault, he told me to join him here or do this.” It’s also an excellent excuse to get rid of someone. You can say that Victor is waiting for you and that you have to join him! In some destinations, the mere appearance of wearing a wedding ring (married to Victor, of course!) can be very useful.
19. Bring travel items that are designed to keep you safe.
For example, you can use a neck passport pouch (harder to steal than a waist pouch). You can get a bra pouch for smaller items like your credit card, cash or room key/card.
There’s also a pickpocket-resistant day pack with camouflaged zips and pockets.
Consider getting a large leather laptop bag with magnetic button closure with a side lock for extra protection.
Some people like the security of a doorstopper with an alarm that alerts you if someone tries to break into your room.
I’m definitely adding a portable safe to my Christmas list this year. It’s perfect for the few places that don’t have lockers or a safe.
Also, some people like to have a whistle on them to keep predators (including humans, animals and zombies) away.
20. Finally, if you want to sleep soundly, take out travel insurance!
Travel insurance will save you a lot of hassle and, above all, a lot of stress. In case of theft, once the police report is completed, you will only have to contact them to make your claim. For our nomadic needs, we have already done the research and we found that SafetyWing Travel Insurance suits us best. They also offer protection for extreme sports! Bring it on extreme canyoning in Vietnam or skydiving in New Zealand!
For more details on travel insurance (and why we swear by it):
- SafetyWing: The Best Travel Insurance for Nomads to Travel Further, Longer and More Often
- 7 Travel Insurance Myths
- Confession: I have already travelled without travel insurance
- Those hard times travelling
- How to easily understand travel insurance for Quebecers
In conclusion, listen to your instincts! Your sixth sense is much stronger than you think.
Yes, maybe I missed some crazy moments because I stopped to listen to my gut feeling. That being said, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the moment because I would have been stressed and anxious about something going wrong.