Taking a gap year as a solo female backpacker is often seen as too dangerous or risky, and as a result solo travel as a woman can be a little daunting, but it really doesn’t have to be. Travelling the world solo is one of the most empowering, rewarding and downright awesome things you will ever do, and despite what the mass media or well meaning relatives say it can be overwhelmingly safe too with the right knowledge, preparation and precautions. So here are the top 10 expert tips to help you reduce any risk to your personal safety and security whilst on your travels.
Travel safety, especially safety for solo female travellers is something I have written a lot about before, but it is a topic that comes up time and time again and one of the single most common questions I get asked about every single day, so I thought it would be a good idea to just go over some of the best and most effective tips for women travellers to stay safe on their gap years and backpacking adventures.
It is important to remember that the world in general is quite a safe place, and the simple fact of being a woman does not automatically make you more of a victim or make it too dangerous to travel. There is a lot of statistical, academic and scientific research to back that up.
There is risk out there, for everyone, but the real level of that risk and the realistic chance of becoming a victim of a crime and the severity of it all has to be put into a realistic context.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t risks however, of course there are, but there are ways to minimise those risks and it is essential that you don’t let fear dictate your actions. Preparation is good, paranoia is not. As I have said before, one of the main tricks to keeping yourself safe when travelling the world simply lies in two things.
Understanding the potential risks and dangers,
Reducing that risk as much as possible.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of expert tips or an in depth discussion on spotting, avoiding, deescalating or dealing with potential problems, all that is for other articles and discussions where I go much more in depth into the issues involved. There are also the common sense safety essentials that should go without saying. But here is a top 10 list of the most popular safety tips that all women about to embark on their round the world adventure can use to immediately reduce any risk to themselves.
This is an important tip as one of the most effective ways to ensure your own safety is situational awareness.
All that means is being actively aware of your surroundings. It can be so easy to put your earphones in on a long bus journey, lose yourself in your surroundings and not concentrate, and that means you are making yourself an easy target for any potential theirf, mugger or anyone who may want to do you harm, and you will not spot any potential trouble until you are right in the middle of it.
So stay aware of your surroundings and be cognizant of the things around you, your belongings and the people around you at all times, and you will be far more likely to spot and avoid any potential trouble before it even happens.
Confidence is absolutely key. Even if inside you are feeling a little lost or nervous, don’t worry, just acting confident will make a huge difference. Fake it ’till you make it!
Predators, thieves and con artists all prey on those who look like an easy target and look weak – it’s a natural animal instinct – so be the exact opposite of that. Be the person that makes them think you are more trouble than you are worth. Make them think that they will regret approaching you or trying anything on and they will soon move on to the next potential victim who looks like easy prey.
Act and look like you are confident, know where you are and what you are doing and it will greatly reduce your chances of being picked out as a victim.
Look like just another one of the crowd as much as possible and don’t stand out, if you don’t stand out, the chances of you being picked out as a victim are significantly reduced. Basically, this tip is all about not drawing any undue attention to yourself.
By being mindful of what you look like and how you act you can blend into the crowd, not stand out and by virtue of that not make yourself a target, and a lot of this does come down to what you wear and how you look. Look around at what local women or local expats are wearing and follow suit, you don’t have to completely copy that of course or go to extremes, just use your common sense.
If you look like you belong, you’re more likely to be looked over by potential predators or thieves or scam atists. If you wear anything that screams ‘tourist’, You may as well be painting a massive neon target on your back!
Wearing a bikini top and short shorts may be appropriate on the beach in Malibu for example where a lot of women will be wearing the same, but it just isn’t appropriate walking around Haft-e Tir Square in Tehran. Dress comfortably but sensibly, be mindful of and respectful of local customs and sensibilities and try not to stand out.
But it is more than what you wear, it is how you act too. Don’t get that huge tourist map out and stand around looking lost, be careful of that massive bulge where it is obvious you have a ‘secret’ money belt, you know what I mean. Act like you belong, and try to look like you belong too. A part of this goes right back to the confidence part of these tips.
Now it doesn’t matter what you do or where you go, there will always be some parts of your appearance that will make you stand out in certain parts of the world. That is completely unavoidable and I would never suggest you even try. In those circumstances it is still relatively easy to look like an expat or a foreign worker in that country, and combined with an air of self confidence and a little bit of the local language, will help you significantly reduce the risk of being noticed – and targeted – by undesirables.
Learn A Little Bit Of The Local Language.
This is always a polite thing to do anyway, and learning the basics such as hello, goodbye, please, thank you and so on just shows a little respect for your host country as much as it helps you blend in.
Knowing how to say no thank you in the local language is an instant signal to touts that they may be better off moving on, knowing a few basic phrases such as asking for a drink or asking how much something is may signal to anyone watching you for nefarious means that you are comfortable in your surroundings and may not be as easy a target as they thought.
It is also a really good idea just to memorise and learn a few phrases that will help you raise the alarm in an emergency or ask for help if you need it. The word ‘help’ is not universal, and if you think something is wrong and need to ask a stranger for assistance or you need to ring the emergency services then having at least a phrase or two in the local language will at least give them an immediate idea of what you need.
Be Sensitive To Local Custom And Tradition.
Understanding the place you are in and the culture you are visiting is essential when backpacking so you can be sensitive to local customs and manners, everything from wearing appropriate clothing at religious sites to watching the topics you discuss with a local. Doing so will help you avoid bringing any extra attention to yourself and reduce your chances of accidentally finding yourself in a bit of trouble without meaning to be.
Keep Your Valuables Hidden.
This should be a bit of a common sense one really and again, is all about not drawing any unwanted attention to yourself. Even if you look like a cross between Mr T and half of the Kardashian clan at home, it is no reason to look like an explosion in a jewelry shop when you are travelling. Just leave the jewelry at home. If you must accessorise then at least do so with cheap, replaceable baubles from a local market.
And I know everyone simply must travel with all of the latest tech and an entire extra pack of go pro accessories now, but it really is not a good idea to have them all on display all of the time. If you do, you are essentially a huge walking neon advert to every thief, pickpocket and con artist in the area. Carry your tech in an innocuous hidden part of your bag and only take your gadgets out when you need to, and be mindful of how you carry it when you do.
There are plenty of theft proof daypacks on the market now with a lot of features like slash proof materials, lockable zips, openings next to your back, hidden pockets and attached zip wires. These features aren’t infallible but they do add that little extra layer of armour to your safety arsenal.
Bonus Tip Two.
Ladies, don’t slap me when I say this, but hide a couple of your valuables in your bra. (Okay, get all the double entendres out of the way, I heard them in my head as I was typing that, but I’m serious!)
You can get specifically designed bras with secret pockets and special hidden wallets that clip on to your bra strap, but a bra with extra padding (with the padding taken out) works just as well, and you can easily hide some paper cash in a waterproof bag in there. Think about it, it’s probably the most difficult place to pickpocket for obvious reasons, right? And probably the last place any potential mugger or pickpocket will look.
I’m not normally one to recommend money belts of any kind, with only a couple of innovative exceptions I generally hate the majority of them with a passion because they are usually not very discreet, are always around your waist or neck so will be the first place any smart mugger will look (and if they are around your neck can also be used as a weapon against you), but since you already have a natural hiding place that you are wearing anyway, why not take advantage?
If you want to take things that step further, WanderWave have a truly safe and discreet money belt system designed specifically for women that attaches to your bra and bypass the usual problems with traditional money belts.
Be Careful With Alcohol.
A lot of this is common sense really. I know this is your gap year and you want to have fun, that’s fine, no one is going to deny you that. Just be careful. Have a bit of fun and a social drink with those awesome backpackers you met at your hostel, just do it in moderation and don’t get so drunk you lose control and have no idea of what is happening around you, or to you.
It is always a good idea to keep your drinks to sealed cans or bottles when you are at a bar too, and just like you would on a night out at home make sure that no one can slip anything into it.
Avoid Walking Alone At Night If Possible.
This especially applies if you happen to be walking in a deserted or sparsely populated area. If you do go out at night try to be with or around other travellers from your hostel, or spend that little bit of cash and take a taxi, uber or grab. Of course a little bit of common sense should be applied here, taking a stroll through the crowded Merlion Park in Singapore to catch the light show late at night shouldn’t carry much risk, walking around empty back streets in London at 1 am looking for a new hostel probably isn’t the best idea. You get the drift. A big part of staying safe when travelling is avoiding risky situations or taking steps to minimise that risk, and this is really no different than the common sense approach you would take at home. I mean would you walk down that dark alley on your own at night at home? No? Then why would you do it in a strange city?
Carrying a weapon is obviously illegal in many places and for those same legal reasons I can never recommend that anyone actually does that. However a small can of cheap hairspray could feel remarkably like a bargain basement pepperspray when sprayed in someones eyes and that long, pointy keyring looks as if it would be painful if it was jammed into the side of someones head. Just saying.
Be Prepared Before You Arrive Somewhere New.
Arriving in a new town, city or country, especially late at night, is often when travellers are at their most vulnerable. You will probably be tired and a little groggy from a long bus or plane journey, you will be disorientated and perhaps even a little bit culture shocked in the first day or two. It happens to everyone, don’t worry. The big problem is that also makes you a prime target for touts, thieves and other unwanted attention. This is where it really pays off to prepare things beforehand and is one of the few occasions where it is a good idea to book your accommodation in advance (splurging on a private room for the first night at least is a good idea to just to allow you to rest), and get a metered and licensed taxi there or pre book an uber or grab.
Most hostels and guesthouses will have free or cheap walking tours of the city and it is often a good idea to sign up for one after a day or two of getting yourself settled. Odds are you will be perfectly safe and sound exploring on your own, but being with a local guide who can answer any questions and a few other people will give you a lot of confidence and even let you meet a few new friends too.
Trust Your Gut Instinct.
This seems like a bit of a cop out piece of advice but believe me it isn’t. Your gut instinct is one of the best and sharpest weapons you have for keeping yourself safe when travelling the world. If something doesn’t feel right, if that person you are talking to is making you feel a bit uncomfortable or you just have a bad feeling, then trust your gut and leave. Get out of there. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
Don’t worry about being polite. That seems like a strange tip, I know, but hear me out. If your spider sense is tingling and your gut is telling you that you need to get out of a situation, the last thing you need to worry about is being rude or offending anyone. Just get out.
Be Aware, Be Prepared, Don’t Be Paranoid.
The tips and advice given above are designed to help you reduce any potential risk out there as much as possible, so that you can get on and enjoy your gap year or backpacking trip in peace and safety, but they aren’t there to scare you or worry you into thinking that the world is a much more dangerous place than it really is.
Remember that being prepared and being careful are good and wise things to do, being paranoid is not.
Not every person that says hello is out to scam you, not all the attention you get as a woman is negative (sometimes you will feel like a celebrity as whole families just want a photo with the tall, pretty blonde westerner), often you are provided extra protection as a woman by other women and even by men, and despite what you may hear not every man is out to rape you. So before you get out that pepper spray and start screaming at everyone who comes within a 2 mile radius of you just remember, the world is generally a safe, welcoming and wonderful place.
Be open, welcoming and generally positive about your travels. Travel is in general terms overwhelmingly safe and not everyone is out to get you.
Simply having the knowledge and the tools to reduce the risk that is there means that you are prepared for the worst, not expecting it, and you are more ready and able to protect yourself and keep yourself safe if the worst does happen.
I really hope these basic tips have eased your fears a little and given you the confidence to look at all the different ways you can stay safe on your travels.
The absolute reality is that thousands of women travel safely every single day, and by taking reasonable steps to ensure your safety and security there is absolutely no reason you can’t too.
This isn’t a comprehensive list and there are a lot more in depth ways that you can reduce any risk and increase your chances of staying safe, but by keeping these basic tips in mind you are already well on the way to reducing the risk that is out there to acceptable levels so that you can relax and enjoy your awesome round the world adventure, and return home safe and sound.
Remember, travel is not as scary as you think it is once you get out there!
Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.
Solo Travel Makes You A Superhero!
Solo Female Backpacker Safety Tips.
Solo MALE Backpacker Safety Tips.
The Reality Of Fear And The Truth About Travel Safety.
Travel Safety Advice. The Good, The Bad And The Downright Crazy.
Get The Books.
If you want to gain a more in depth knowledge and understanding about how to reduce the risks of travelling and keep yourself safe on the road then you need these books.
With comprehensive advice from ex military personnel, self defence experts as well as qualified health care professionals and utilising the unique REACTE system of personal safety, Gap Year Safety is an absolute must read for anyone about to set off on their gap year. It delves much deeper into issues such as how to stay safe and not become a victim, how to recognise, avoid and deescalate potentially violent situations and what to do and where to get help if things do go wrong, Gap Year Safety is an invaluable resource to keep yourself safe on your travels.
Solo Female Backpacker deals with all these issues and more specifically from a woman’s perspective, with the same essential safety tips and advice from ex military personnel and self defence experts as well as inspirational stories from women who have travelled independently around the world.
With the information and knowledge contained in these books, many dangers and troubles can be avoided altogether, or at least dealt with safely if they do occur.
Both books are available in traditional paperback, or in eBook format across all platforms including Kindle, Apple and many more.
These are some great tips, thank you so much!
You are very welcome, thank you for reading. 🙂
I love your posts Michael 🙂 I’m leaving to backpack solo around South America for 6 months in 2017 and I have to admit I was scared to go at first but you have really given me a lot of confidence. I’ll definitely be following your advice to the letter and I’m sure with that I’ll have nothing to worry about.
I’m sure you won’t either Lisa, have a great time in South America. 🙂
It is posts like this one that is giving me so much confidence in my decision to travel solo. Thank you xo
I’m really happy to hear that! Safe travels 🙂
I love these tips! I’m actually travelling through Thailand with my boyfriend at the momennt but I am finding that I can employ a lot of these tips anyway. You can’t be too careful!
Thank you, I totally agree!
Nice tips! Not only for solo travellers or for women, any traveller can benefit from using them.
Definitely, and I hope they do. 🙂
Great tips. You can never be too careful, bad things can happen anywhere at any time, even in the safest of places
Thanks, yes they can and I hope that is a message a lot more people take away from my post. No place (with the exception of active war zones of course) is inherently dangerous, bad things can happen to good people anywhere, even at home.
A smart list for all female travellers, it really does pay off to be careful and take precautions.
It absolutely does I agree, and thank you.
I am so bookmarking this and keeping it for when I go travelling. I won’t be alone (my GF is with me) but I think these tips will still apply.
They definitely will! Enjoy your travels.
Great tips, and I think that they are not only work well for solo female travellers but for men and couples or people who are travelling together too.
Oh definitely, the absolute majority of safety tips and advice can work as well for either gender, solo or otherwise. There is the occasional exception to that rule of course but on the whole safety and security training and advice is not really gender specific. It is only presented as such to make it easier for women to find the article.
I loved this post, you’ve really helped me look at my worries a little bit more rationally, thank you.
Thank you Sarah I’m really glad to hear that.
You are so right. Fear keeps a lot of women from travelling solo but once you realize as long as you practice common sense you will be safe, there should be nothing to stop you. Thankyou for this post.
Thank you for reading. 🙂
There are some good tips in this article, the problem is for women that fear is very real and the risk of being raped or being sexually assaulted anywhere in the world is very real too. It is just different when you are travelling as a woman and as a man you can never understand that.
Of course men and women have different experiences when travelling, I have never claimed differently, nor have I claimed to understand that experience. That has nothing to do with the facts about travel safety, because what I do understand is the facts and statistics about the dangers both men and women face, and I also understand that the safety tips, techniques and preparations to reduce the risk of becoming a victim are applicable to both genders equally.
Such amazing tips and so important. Thank you.
You are more than welcome Laura, I’m glad you liked the post. 🙂
Thank you so much for writing this, I’m dreaming of/planning my gap year at the moment for early next year, and you have really helped in more ways than you can know.
That’s really amazing to hear Natalie thank you, I’m sure you’ll have an awesome time travelling the world and you know where to come if you have an more questions. 🙂
This is amazing, thank you. It is always worth just having a think about how you can make yourself a bit less of a target, especially when you’re on your own and have no one to watch your back.
It always is. Thank you for the comment Poppy.:)
This is such an important post, thank you. I’m sharing this with everyone. Definitely buying your book too.
I appreciate that Melissa, thank you.
I love this! Such good advice. Thank you for posting it.
Thank you Mia. Happy to help. 🙂
I’m sorry but how is you mansplaining safety to women going to help us? It is far more dangerous for women to travel, especially alone. You just don’t get that.
Well first of all the facts and statistics disagree with you. It is men who are more likely to become victims of crime overall and more likely to become victims of every type of violent crime with the exception of sexual assault, which women are more likely to be victims of. (See the British Crime Survey for the past ten years, Home Office statistics and also British, American and Australian consulate assistance statistics if you want to look that up.) Second of all, it is sexist to assume that I can’t advise anyone just because of my gender, because I tend to think that my physical training, qualifications and experience in the military, the martial arts and teaching self defence to both civilians and professionals, as well as my academic knowledge with a degree in Criminology, tend to give me a fair bit of authority in the subject. My gender doesn’t come into it.
Yes! This! I love this post, thank you.
Thanks Abbie, glad you enjoyed it. 🙂
I think splurging for a private room and a taxi when you first arrive is an excellent idea, not only is it safer it just gives me so much more peace of mind too. Its fine to go exploring and look for new places when you are more alert and have your bearings after a day or two. Solid advice Mike.
Thank you very much Amber, I hope people find it useful. And peace of mind is just as important as practical safety tips too. 🙂
This post is giving me so much confidence for my trip already, thank you
That is awesome to hear! Thank you.
Thank you for this, the tips are fantastic and it has given me a bit more confidence about my own safety when I go away in April.
That is great to hear! Where are you going?
I found this article after seeing your post on that awful rape in Australia and I have to say I love it, the tips are spot on and you are absolutely right that safety is all about the steps YOU take to reduce risk to yourself. Most articles I read on this subject talk about female empowerment and then in the same breath devalue women by saying how dangerous the world is for them, but I think you have done more to empower women by putting the tools and the knowledge of how to protect themselves in their own hands. If I could put an emoji giving you a round of applause here I would!
Thank you Michelle, I never thought about it like that but I’m happy to accept it. 🙂 If my advice makes women safer and more confident, I have done what I set out to do.
Love these tips, thank you for this article.
Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it and I hope you find the tips useful. 🙂
This is amazingly helpful, thank you. Definitely buying ur book now! Xo
Thank you very much, hope you like it. 🙂
Having travelled for a couple of years myself now (mostly solo) I absolutely agree with you that the world is very safe for women (and men) in general terms. Saying that taking steps to reduc risk is vital too and these are excellent tips. Great article.
Thanks so much, I hope people find it useful. 🙂
Amazing post, it is so important for people to consider their safety when travelling, even if the risk is low it is all about being prepared.
I totally agree. Thanks for the comment.
Very useful, I love it.
Thanks Natalie. 🙂
I think confidence is absolutely key and that is such a good tip for any woman travelling alone. Everyone has different levels of confidence of course but even if you have to fake it until you can get to a comfort zone or place of safety again it can save you a lot of unwanted trouble.
Thanks Lucy, of course everyone has their own comfort levels and confidence, but you are absolutely right displaying confidence outwardly will put off a lot of potential trouble.
Amazing article, thank you for writing this! I have been doing research on it and have read a few other posts on the topic but this one really helped. Thank you.
Thank you I’m glad you found it useful. 🙂
An amazing post with a lot of truly helpful advice, every woman going travelling should read this.
Thanks Joanne, I’d love it if they did! ;D
Really helpful post, thank you.
You’re very welcome, I’m glad you enjoyed it!
This is another great post with some real, practical tips. Thank you. Especially love the tip about it being okay to pre book a first night and a taxi, it sounds daft but it is easy to get carried away with the whole backpacker thing and do the opposite, which isnt always a good thing when you aren’t at your best.
It definitely is Louise and we have ALL made that mistake and got carried away at some point, it’s all about learning from that and reducing the risk in the future. 🙂
I love the tip about not being paranoid. I have done a lot of reading on this for an upcoming trip and the impression I get is that there is so much fear of travel born mostly out of paranoia, with so many women saying that the world is far more dangerous for women just because of the fact they are women. Thank you for taking the paranoia out of the safety advice and sticking to honest, practical tips. Love it.
Thank you Louise, you are so right. Fearmongering is a real and very dangerous thing. I hope I get the balance right between informing people about ways to stay safe without scaring them.
I completely agree with you that risk is everywhere and that as women we all need to be taking sensible steps in reducing that risk to stay safe when at home as well as travelling. I think we all have a personal responsibility for our own safety and these tips are perfect for any woman to do just that. Great article and even better advice.
Thanks Melissa, I think you are absolutely right about personal responsibility. It is all about how YOU take steps to look after your own safety.
Great article and so important! Thank you
Thank you for reading. 🙂
Confidence is such an important thing and as a woman this is something I have struggled with, but I have noticed a big difference with how I feel and act now than when I did on my first trip last year, and I do feel much safer, its all about your state of mind
Absolutely. If you are constantly fearful, you will find things to be afraid of.
Amazing post with a lot of good tips, it is important for women to stay safe when travelling
It really is Claudia, thank you 🙂
Love the tips and the non scaremongering in this post, I think women do have a lot to worry about when travelling but I think reducing the risks as you say is very possible too.
Thanks Sarah, it definitely is possible, and I think dealing with the issue of travel safety in a realistic and sensible manner is so important. There are already too many people scaremongering and allowing feelings to override fact.
Am buying your books right now, this is such an amazing post and really want to know more as I am really nervous about starting my gap year next month. 😢 There are just so many bad stories and my parents aren’t helping, it is genuinely making me think twice about going.
Thanks Katie, I really hope my books and advice reassure you as much as they teach you about staying safe abroad, because I never want to add to the fear and worry that is out there already. Travelling is very safe and you genuinely have very little to worry about. Look at how many women travel solo every single day and come back safe and sound and with so many amazing stories to tell. There is risk out there of course, just like there is at home, and these tips and advice are just here to a) tell you how you can minimise that risk and b) give you the tools and information to avoid/get out of a situation or keep yourself safe if the absolute worst does happen. Please don’t let people put you off, you will have an amazing time, and if you still feel worried or nervous please feel free to send me an email, I’ll give you a one off free safety consultation! 🙂
You are so right, it is important for every woman to take every precaution when travelling because there is risk but that doesn’t mean travelling is too dangerous
Love these tips, thank you!
I never understood those people who go travelling but take a load of expensive, real jewellry with them? What is wrong with people? A few costume jewellery trinkets is fine, but real jewellry? C’mon! The sad thing is I see it all the time too. I do love the idea of that wanderwave money belt though, I’ve only ever seen the ones that go around your waist or neck (never a good idea).
I know exactly what you mean, and you’re right about the money belt too, that’s why I love the wanderwave!
Some amazing tips and genuinely important for all women travellers. Thank you.
Thanks for reading Megan I’m glad you think so. 🙂
Excellent advice, but would you recommend taking some self defence classes before you go?
It depends Joanne, if you want to take up a martial art that suits you and do it long term then go for it, but a couple of classes may not teach you enough to remember when you need to.
Thank you. 🙂
Definitely some important tips here! Thank you.
Love this so much. Great tips without the usual condescending of ‘its so much more dangerous’
Glad you approve, and I totally agree. I hear ‘it’s too dangerous for women’ all the time and it is annoying.
Such helpful tips, as much for calming a few fears as practical. Thank you.
Thanks Kerry, and I’m glad you found them useful. 🙂
Amazing post! Love it.
Thank you so much!