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!
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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.
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Love the tip about blending in! It makes so much sense.
Thanks Rose, that’s one of my favourite bits of advice too!
Honestly I do think so much of this safety advice is overkill, but I suppose it all depends where you are. As a woman myself we always need to be aware of any potential risk but not let it stop us from doing what we want. Your advice on acting confident is 100% though, I remember hearing somewhere that most crimes are opportunistic and muggers, robbers etc tend to avoid people who may be difficult and that is always my go to advice.
I wouldn’t say overkill, you certainly wouldn’t need to use all of these tips all of the time in every place I completely agree with you, the majority of places the majority of the time have a very low if not practically nonexistent risk factor to your personal safety, but there is no harm in being prepared anyway, having the knowledge there if you need it and practicing good personal safety best practice, such as maintaining your situational awareness. For example I can count on my hands the amount of times I have had to use my martial arts skills to save my life or get me out of trouble on both hands, yet I always have that knowledge there ready to help me if I need it. And you are absolutely right, with the exception of rape most violent crimes including robberies etc are crimes of opportunity and what you are talking about there is the predator psychology, where people who want to do you harm are looking for victims who appear weak or distracted. If they see you as a potential threat or a problem, or even more trouble than you are worth, it significantly reduces your risk factor.
I just wanted to say I really appreciate the time you put into posts like these. I read your first post on solo female travel last year when I was planning my gap year and it really helped me and gave me the confidence to go ahead and travel (I was genuinely letting concern put me off previously) because I knew I had done everything I could do to keep myself safe so that meant I would probably be safe. And I was! Thank you so much.
Thank you so much Maria, that is amazing to hear and I genuinely appreciate you telling me. Safe travels!
I love all these tips. I am sure that there are so many female travellers who are worried about potential risks and your tips have helped more of them travel.
Thanks so much, I certainly hope so!
These are some great tips. Travelling alone as a woman can be SO dangerous and it is really important to know of where to stay away from and who to avoid and to be wary of your surroundings.
Travelling solo, even as a woman, is actually in general terms very safe Emily, but you are right it is essential to reduce any potential risk as much as possible by being aware of potentially risky situations and how to avoid them.
I have not long come out of a really bad break up and on a whim decided to take my savings and have booked a trip to Thailand. It’s only for a few months but it is all I can afford for now and am hoping it will help me take some time to myself. I am really excited about it but also really nervous as I have never been away alone before, let alone for three months, but after reading all of your posts on solo female travel it has really put everything into perspective and has made me a lot more excited than nervous!
I’m sorry to hear you went through a rough time Kira but honestly travel is one of the best healers in so many ways, and three months in Thailand will be amazing! You’ll have an absolute blast, and if you ever need a confidence boost about travelling on your own or about safety you know where we are!
Amazing article for women travellers everywhere, thank you for writing this. I agree that staying aware is one of the best things any woman (or man) can do to keep themselves safe. If you are not paying attention and have your earbuds in or are staring at your screen then that makes you an obvious easy target. Every woman should read your advice.
You are genuinely more than welcome Rachel I really hope you and every other woman reading this finds it useful (and men too since the advice is 95% universal!) And I absolutely agree with you, paying attention to your surroundings is SO important. Thanks for commenting.
Reading your advice now I have to completely agree with everything you are saying. Looking back there were many times when I was younger (when blogs weren’t really a thing) and travelling around seAsia where I unintentionally put myself at risk by not paying attention, getting a little too drunk when travelling solo and heading back to my dorm alone and so on, nothing major of course, there were many other solo travellers all doing the same and just enjoying the backpacker lifestyle, and I was lucky that I have never been the victim of a crime or had anything really bad happen to me, but I could have definitely taken more steps to reduce the risk of anything potentially happen. This is a great article, keep up the amazing work.
Thanks Joanne, we all did things when we were younger that we cringe at when we look back on I am sure! I am certainly not one to judge on that score! ;D But it just goes to show that in very general terms the world is very safe and yes there is some risk out there, of course there is, and we can reduce that risk with specific knowledge and precautions, but either way odds are we will be generally safe when travelling so that risk and the fear of it should be put into perspective. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.
I just bought your solo female backpacker book from Amazon (I got the physical copy because I just prefer proper books) and wanted to tell you that it has given me so much confidence. The advice is so well given and I am starting to think about it and implement as much as I can now before I even start travelling, just so I am more prepared. Absolute required reading for any women traveller.
Wow, thank you so much Caroline, I really am so happy to hear that it has given you confidence! Honestly that was my main aim in writing it. Have an amazing time travelling and stay safe, and as always come back here if you need any other advice or encouragement, you are always welcome!
Thank you for sharing these tips, they have been a huge help!
Happy to help Ava
Very important tips, gracias. I have had my trip postponed for now for obvious reasons but am still planning my RTW trip, maybe in 2021 now, and this has calmed a lot of my worries. Take steps to reduce own risk. Great message.
Thank you, hope your trip isn’t postponed for too much longer. Safe travels!
After reading some of the comments on this post I am genuinely embarrassed for some of these women who feel the need to be all offended all the time. The fact is travel safety is an important topic for women, I am planning a big RTW trip after lockdown ends and it is something that I as a woman am very concerned about, and the tips and advice in this post and on your other posts on travel safety, not to mention the honesty about the subject, is appreciated and has been very useful for me. So thank you, and don’t listen to some of these idiots.
Thanks very much Yvonne, genuinely glad the posts have been useful. 🙂
Great tips, especially about not letting fear get the better of you.
Thank you, and that is definitely one of the more important ones!
This is amazing! I love this post! I don’t mind admitting that as a woman I always think about solo travel as something scary. I just worry about getting into situations that I can’t escape from, but you’re right, there are so many things we can do to help avoid these situations!
Thanks Shelley, but again I ask why? Why should you being a woman mean that solo travel has to automatically be dangerous or scary? Anyone and any gender can come across uncomfortable, risky or even dangerous situations but anyone can also mitigate that risk and take steps to keep themselves safe. Hopefully these tips will give you some confidence.
And what makes you qualified to talk about the female experience as a man?
I’m not talking about the female experience, I’m talking about travel safety which I happen to have a lot of qualifications and experience in. You DO see the difference there, right?
This is safety advice, not gender advice, and as a woman I’ll take that from anyone who knows what they are talking about.
Great advice, a lot of common sense stuff there too, the type of stuff we were always told to be aware of when going out on the town! Everyone should pay attention though and a little reminder does no one any harm. So much of our own safety is in our own hands!
Most travel safety advice is absolutely rooted in common sense Amy, you are right. And I couldn’t agree more that our own safety is our own responsibility. Safety is all about the specific individual, not a gender or a race or any other irrelevant factor.
Yes to the bra trick! I’ve been doing this myself for as long as I can remember.
Haha, I have been seeing my best friend do it for years too (thanks to her for the original tip!)
Great, solid safety tips BB! I agree completely that it isn’t travel itself that is dangerous but it’s all about reducing risk wherever you are and whatever you are doing. Love that .
Exactly Tracey! Thank you so much!
Briliant tip, the one about staying alert is just so important! I see so many travellers (men and women) just absorbed in their phones and just not paying attention it is ridiculous. Excellent post and love, love, love the site! Hope we meet you on the road someday and Happy Christmas!
Thanks, and Happy Christmas to you too!
Good advice to anyone travelling out there. Stay safe!
Thank you. 🙂
My tip for staying safe is not to get drunk. I’ve heard and seen terrible things that started with not being careful when going out at night.
Thanks for the tip Kate I absolutely agree, no one is saying don’t have a few drinks and a good time of course, but the second you get drunk and can’t control your circumstances your risk factor raises significantly.
What is your advice on taking MMA or Ju Jitsu for staying safe? I really want to do something like that.
Well MMA is a sport, not an art. I know that sound a bit pedantic but it is important, believe me. I think any training in the martial arts is a fantastic thing, I have trained in them myself since I was a kid. Ju Jitsu is an amazing art and suitable for a lot of people but I would first off suggest that you take a bit of time trying a few out and find an art that suits you (there is no one perfect art, some are just suited to some arts more than others), and then devote some real time to some proper training and stick to it too. You aren’t going to just take a few classes and be able to handle yourself like Chuck Norris. Good luck with finding your new dojo. 🙂
I agree with all of these so much, especially the tips on blending in and acting confident. If you look confident, you appear like a less of a target! Great read!
Thank you, and very true.
Great tips, and I love the message about taking control of your own safety. That is exactly what it is about and we really do need to change the whole narrative on travel being dangerous for women.
That is so true Lucy, I could not agree more!
Practical and insightful tips and all great for my next solo trip, it really is about taking control of your own situation. Thank you.
Thanks Christine 🙂