Is Solo Travel Safe? Essential Gap Year Safety Tips For All Solo Backpackers.

Solo travel Sri LankaSolo travel is an amazing way to see the world and countless backpackers head off on solo gap years every single day, have a life changing adventure and have the absolute time of their lives, but is it safe to travel solo? Is backpacking or taking a solo gap year really too dangerous? Especially for women? Let’s look at the absolute facts and see if solo travel really is safe or not with expert safety advice for all solo backpackers.

I have been travelling the world for almost twenty years and the absolute majority of those travels have been solo. I absolutely believe that – as much as I love travelling with friends and others too – solo travel is absolutely the best way to see the world and has made me into the man I am today!

But telling people I travel solo and enjoy it has come close to having me committed a few times! The reactions I have gotten over those years have ranged from looks of disbelief and claims that I am insane, to looks of wonder and exclamations of how brave I am.

The truth is I am neither. I’m not insane, but neither am I particularly brave. I simply have no fear of travelling because I have analysed the potential risks and taken steps to minimise them as much as possible. I can understand these reactions to an extent though, people generally fear what they don’t understand. The general media scaremongering about solo travel often runs at a fever pitch, especially when sensationalist reports about a backpacker becoming the victim of a horrific crime surface. Most people don’t even step out of their comfort zone enough to go to the movies alone so they don’t understand why or how I can head off to some tropical island or exotic city armed only with my trusty carry on backpack.

So why is there such a huge amount of fear about travelling solo? Why is it that it is still seen as a strange, risky thing to do? Is solo travel really that dangerous?

Michael Huxley Simien National Park Ethiopia

Media Scaremongering.

The truth is the media play a huge role in the scaremongering about solo travel. Sensationalism sells and unfortunately when high profile incidents of terrible things happening to backpackers do occur the media just love to exploit it and use a lot of hyperbole, giving the impression that these incidents are the norm.

They aren’t. Far from it.

And people are genuinely scared about this! This fear is to an extent understandable. The worlds media sells that fear. They peddle shock value because that is what sells and then ramps them up to unnatural proportions.  It warps travellers perceptions of the risk they face and makes them far more afraid than they need to be.

The truth is these incidents are sensational precisely because they are rare! But every time they are given such predominance in the media the usual reactions always resurface.

“She should never have been travelling alone.”

“Backpacking around the world is too dangerous.”

“I would never let my son/daughter travel alone anywhere, the world is too dangerous.”

These same reactions surface every time any backpacker travelling the world is the victim of a horrific crime, and they need to stop.

High Profile Incidents.

When terrible things do happen to backpackers abroad, they are obviously reported on and create this mentality that everyone is at risk. It creates an image of entire countries being crime ridden no mans land where criminals, muggers, murderers and rapists are waiting around every corner for innocent backpackers to show up.

In 2014, two young backpackers Niel Dalton and Aidan Brunger were both knifed to death in Malaysia over a simple argument in a terrible incident that made international news. That same year Gareth Huntley, another British backpacker, had his throat cut in an apparent argument.

Hannah Witheridge and David Miller were both murdered on Koh Tao that same year in an incident that received wide coverage in the press all over the world.

Recent news reports of what happened to the young backpacker Grace Milane are both horrific and heartbreaking at the same time. Grace Milane was travelling solo around New Zealand, and was in Auckland when she was apparently murdered in a tragic and absolutely senseless crime.

What happened to Grace Milane, just like any of these incidents, are all terrible, but they all are single, horrible incidents that could have happened to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Horrific crimes happen everywhere, even at home, and in no way are an one of these or any other relatively rare incidents a reflection on how safe solo travel is for the majority of people.

Is Solo Travel Really That Safe?

Michael Huxley hiking through the desert in Masada National Park Dead Sea Israel

Yes it is. One thing I absolutely don’t want to do by talking about these incidents is add fuel to the media fire that assumes all countries are the same and that every backpacker heading out on a solo round the world adventure is at high risk of the same thing happening to them.

I find such thinking both ridiculous and worryingly disturbing by the lack of critical thinking shown by everyone involved. I mean the human race cannot collectively be this stupid, right?

All anyone has to do is look at the latest statistics. Now there are no specific statistics for solo backpackers, or backpackers in general for that matter but we can be generous and include the statistics for every type of tourist and traveller out there which are recorded.

There were over 72.8 million visits overseas by UK residents in 2017, and according to the latest provisional data from the Foreign Commonwealth Office there were 23,311 consular assistance cases around the world between April 2016 and March 2017. Very similar numbers to the last officially released data in 2016 where consular assistance was provided to 23,000 travellers out of 70 million.

So going on the latest statistics alone, that is 23,311 travellers and tourists who needed help, out of 72.8 million. 23,311 out of 72.8 million!

That means 72,776,689 travellers abroad needed no help at all and travelled perfectly safely!

Those are pretty good odds by any standard! But let’s improve them even more shall we? Those 23,311 who did need help includes everyone, from those who were the victim of an actual crime such as theft or violence and those who needed medical assistance right through to those people who got a bit too drunk and lost their passport!

Yes solo travel is absolutely safe. Despite what is often reported in the media the facts and statistics state that the absolute majority of backpackers come back from their gap years and travels without incident, and the risk of becoming the victim of any serious crime is very low.

So statistically speaking the absolute vast majority of people travel perfectly safely and soundly with no incidents at all.

Does that mean there is no risk? Not at all. There is risk in any aspect of life, and that includes staying at home as well. Bad things can happen to anyone at any time anywhere! But what it does show is that travel is not inherently dangerous, that heading off on a gap year or backpacking adventure is no more risky than staying at home.

But these facts obviously don’t crack the thick skulls of those who still insist that despite the data, despite the facts, that travel is still absolutely dangerous, that the world is still dangerous, and that obviously applies to women as well because, well, reasons.

Is Solo Travel More Dangerous For Women?

Solo female backpacker traveler safety

And this is another fallacy that just refuses to die. No, travel, solo or otherwise, is not more dangerous for women based on their gender alone.

Men and women do have different ways of perceiving the world and as a result will obviously have different experiences of travelling in it, but that does not in any way mean that it is more or less dangerous for either gender based on gender alone.

The simple fact is that according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, formerly known as the British Crime Survey, data for at least the last fifteen years consistently shows that whilst women in general have a much higher fear of crime, men are much more likely to become victims. It also shows that whilst women are more likely to become victims of all sexual assault, the crime that women are in general most afraid of, men are significantly more likely to become the victims of all other types of violent crime and be killed as a result.

Different? Absolutely, one gender more in danger than the other? Well I’d argue that it was actually it is men who are in more danger. But that doesn’t fit with a lot of narratives.

Women do have different risk factors than men when travelling, just as men have risk factors that women don’t have, but it is extremely important to remember that risk factors for either gender are statistically low anyway and can be reduced to easily manageable levels with the right knowledge, the right preparation and reasonable, common sense safety precautions.

There are some gender specific safety tips and precautions that are unique to solo women travellers just as there are a couple of unique male traveller safety advice based on each genders differences, but on the whole the general safety tips are pretty much the same and again can minimise the risk factors for either gender.

So put very simply, women can travel the world safely, and should never let fear, scaremongering or misguided and outdated fallacies about female travel stop them from following their round the world dreams.

Women can, and should, travel solo around the world just as safely – if not more so – than men, and have very little to fear with the right knowledge, mindset, preparation and precautions.

Solo Travel Is Safe.

So we have established that solo travel is statistically very safe, that odds are you can head off on your solo round the world adventure, have the time of your life and come home safe and sound, but that doesn’t mean risk doesn’t exist. Of course there is always going to be some element of risk and danger in whatever you do and that includes if you stay at home too. The trick is knowing what those risks are and having the right knowledge and skills to minimise that risk and deescalate, avoid or escape any dangerous situations if they do occur.

Solo Travel Vs Group Travel.

Tour Agency Indonesia

Obviously there are going to be some differences between travelling solo or travelling with friends or in a group, and it is easy to argue that it is obviously safer travelling in a group.

I mean there is safety in numbers, right? On a group tour or travelling with friends you have other people to watch your back and maybe even a guide who knows the area you are in well if you are on a tour. There are some pretty obvious advantages there, but that doesn’t mean travelling solo is dangerous in and of itself.

All it means is that if you are travelling solo then you and you alone are responsible for your own safety. I completely understand how scary that concept is at first but trust me once you get used to doing it, it becomes second nature and it really isn’t that hard at all.

Travelling solo just means that you have to do your research a lot more thoroughly, you have to know your own innate strengths and weaknesses, you have to research the places you are going, understand the potential risks that are out there and what you have to do on a personal level to spot, avoid, or get out of any risky situations.

How Do I Keep Myself Safe When Travelling Solo?

I have a whole section devoted to specific aspects of travel safety, and a ton of articles giving much more information on basic travel safety essentials, specific tips for solo female backpackers and solo male backpackers, as well as books giving much more in depth insight into travel safety, and I wholeheartedly recommend you read all of those as part of your research, but here are some of the absolute essentials that you need to know before you go.

Pre Trip Preparation.

  • Choose the right destination for you. Every traveller is different and has different levels of experience and different ideas of what is safe or not. I have travelled to some of the supposedly most dangerous places on the planet, including places that have very undeserving reputations of being dangerous such as Ethiopia and Israel and Palestine. I think these destinations are great and would recommend them to anyone, but if you are new to solo travel and are a little nervous or apprehensive, choose a destination more firmly on the backpacker trail where you are far more likely to feel comfortable and ease yourself into it.
  • Research your destination. This is essential. You can’t be prepared for any potential risk if you don’t know what that risk is. Official government advice such as from the UK government’s Foreign Travel Advice website is an excellent place to start, but remember it can be quite alarmist and should be taken as a basic start to your research. Read up as much as you can on your destinations, look to bloggers and websites of travellers like yourself who have been there recently to see what the current situation is really like.
  • Research the basic scams and common crimes. A lot of common travel scams are pretty universal and it is always a good idea to do your research before you go and just get clued up on a few of the more common scams that locals may try on you.
  • But don’t let this scare you! This is absolutely essential. Remember that you are researching these things to be able to spot them in the rare circumstance that it does happen to you, not terrify you into thinking that they will absolutely happen! 
  • Get insurance. This is just basic common sense and odds are you will probably never need it but you will be SO glad you have it if you ever do. It is absolutely essential, so just get it.
  • Consider taking a course or reading up on travel safety. There are plenty of backpackers who have travelled solo around the world who you can hit up for advice and plenty of blogs to read to get solid advice from, but it can also be a good idea to take that up a notch as well and listen to experts who have not only travelled solo but are specialists in travel safety too, and there are some great travel safety books and gap year safety course who can just give you that extra level of safety consciousness for when you travel. By no means is this essential but if it gives you that extra level of confidence and adds a few tools to your safety arsenal they can be a real benefit.

When You First Arrive.

  • Time everything right. Arriving at your destination for the very first time can be exhausting and confusing, especially when you are already tired from a long flight, so try and schedule your flight to arrive mid morning or early afternoon to give you time to get to your accommodation and settle in whilst everyone is still awake and everything is still open.
  • Splurge a little and pre book. Being spontaneous is one of the best things about independent travel and travelling solo, but this is one of those very few exceptions to that rule. Give yourself the luxury of booking a nice private room for a few nights so you know you have somewhere to go when you first get to your new destination and pay that little bit extra for a registered taxi to get you there from the airport.
  • Give yourself some time. Time to settle in, acclimate and rest is essential at the start of any new gap year adventure, so give yourself a day or two with no plans than just to recharge your batteries and get used to your new surroundings before you head off exploring.

Basic Travel Safety Tips On The Ground.

  •  Keep loved ones informed of your plans. Stay in touch regularly, make a plan of when and where you will make contact again and give them a rough copy of your itinerary, as well as updating them as it changes! That way if something does happen to you they are likely to know a lot sooner. US Citizens can even use the awesome Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to register your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
  • Develop your situational awareness. All this means is staying alert and being aware of your surroundings, that’s it. Pay attention to your surroundings and the people around you and learn to trust your instincts.
  • Develop confidence, and fake it if you aren’t. Confidence is a huge protective shield that you can wear like a suit of armour. Most strangers who may want to do you harm are opportunistic predators and the weaker you look, the more you act like a victim, the higher your chances of becoming one.
  • Blend in. This isn’t always going to be possible of course but at the very least try and look like a local ex pat as opposed to a fresh off the boat tourist. Wear similar comfortable clothes to the locals going about their everyday business (and no I don’t mean national cultural dress), look and act as if you belong there and act as if wherever you are going you have been there a million times, learn a bit of the local language, just enough to be polite and sound as if you aren’t a tourist. Blend in and people are less likely to prey on you as a tourist and potential walking ATM.
  • Don’t advertise your wealth. Okay carrying a DSLR is almost mandatory and it is hard to hide, but you don’t have to put your laptop, tablet, fancy smartphone and expensive jewelry on display too. You are just making yourself a potential walking target. Be smart.
  • Stay sober. Look, I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s fun here. A gap year is a holiday too after all, so by all means go and have a drink but do it in moderation. Use your common sense. You wouldn’t get so blind drunk at home that you have no control and no idea what you are doing or where you are so why do it when you are travelling? Again, use common sense.
  • Always be respectful and polite, until it is time not to be respectful and polite. This is basic common sense again, being respectful and polite will just make your travels so much easier, but you also have to know when you have to make that switch and not be afraid to be firm and rude when you need to be if someone like a tout is bothering you or even downright aggressive if the situation absolutely calls for it. Just remember though this should be reserved for extreme situations.
  • Know where you are. Always have a good idea of where you are in relation to other places so even if you get a little lost you can easily orientate yourself. Keep local landmarks and general directions in mind.
  • Know where important buildings are. At the same time you are orientating yourself to where you are, do a bit of research beforehand and know roughly where and how far the local consulates, hospitals or clinics, police stations and other emergency buildings are, and how you can get to them in an emergency. Try and formulate a mental map in your mind. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just enough so you know which direction you need to run to in an emergency.

Be Prepared Not Scared.

Backpacker safety on a gap year

Remember, solo travel is in general very safe, the statistics show that. Odds are you will go out there and have an amazing, fun and carefree adventure. All of these tips, all of this advice, all of this preparation is simply designed to reduce any potential risk – no matter how rare – as much as humanly possible and give you the tools, knowledge and information you need to survive if the worst does happen.

The media may make the world of solo travel sound dangerous. It is not. Constant negative press and pressure from society as a whole may make you worried, nervous or even scared about travelling alone. Don’t be.

Solo travel truly is one of the best ways to see the world, it will push you out of your comfort zone, empower you and make you a stronger, smarter and infinitely more awesome version of yourself, so don’t allow anything or anyone scare you from discovering the freedom and adventure of travelling solo.

Buy The Books.

Gap Year Safety.

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 this book.

Gap Year Safety is the essential, comprehensive safety resource for anyone about to embark on their first gap year. Delving 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.

It is here to answer all your practical safety and security questions, relieve you of your fears and worries of what may happen and provide you with the tools, knowledge and information you will need to make sure you stay safe on your trip. With the information and knowledge contained in this book, many dangers and troubles can be avoided altogether, or at least dealt with safely if they do occur.

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, this book is an absolute must read for anyone about to set off on their gap year or round the world adventure.

Gap Year Safety: The ultimate guide to safely travelling the world is available in traditional paperback, or in eBook format across all platforms including Kindle, Apple and many more.


Solo Female Backpacker Guide To Safely Travelling The World.

Travelling the world independently as a solo female backpacker is one of the most amazing, rewarding and empowering things you can do for yourself, but as a woman there are practical and safety concerns that you have to deal with.

Solo Female Backpacker deals with all these issues and more specifically from a woman’s perspective. With 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, there is no reason why you can’t or shouldn’t set off on your own independent round the world trip.

So if you are dreaming of setting off on your very own gap year but you are a little nervous about travelling solo or as a woman, you need to buy this eBook! Full of practical advice for you to ensure your backpacking trip is as safe as possible, Solo Female Backpacker will also give you the inspiration and the push you need to travel the world on your own terms.

The Solo Female Backpacker guide to safely travelling the world eBook is available as an instant download to your Kindle device.

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.

Basic Travel Safety Advice.

Gap Year Safety: The Ultimate Guide For Safely Travelling The World For Sale Now!

Solo Female Backpacker: Guide To Safely Travelling The World For Sale Now!

Solo Female Backpacker Safety Tips.

Solo MALE Backpacker Safety Tips.

The Downsides To Solo Travel No One Will Tell You About.

The Reality Of Fear And The Truth About Travel Safety.

Top 10 Solo Female Backpacker Safety Tips.

Top Tips For The Solo Traveller.

Travel Safety Advice. The Good, The Bad And The Downright Crazy.

Why Solo Travel Is Awesome!

Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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Posted in Travel Safety
13 comments on “Is Solo Travel Safe? Essential Gap Year Safety Tips For All Solo Backpackers.
  1. Anita says:

    I often travel solo and the first most importnat thing is to choose the right destination. Woman traveling solo can ho everywhere but not everywhere her life will be easy and safe

    • Anita destination has nothing to do with it. There is no magical ‘safe’ destination for either gender and no specifically dangerous one either (with the obvious exceptions of conflict/disaster zones). In general terms travel safety is all about the individual and the preparation and knowledge they have, not gender.

  2. C. Randen says:

    I love solo traveling. The hardest part is getting my wife to stay home!! 😉

  3. Chloe Gunner says:

    Yes! I haven’t travelled solo in a while now since I met my Ben, but I still think it is a great way to travel and as a woman when I was travelling solo it felt no different to me than when I travel with Ben now. I have always followed your blog for years and followed the safety tips and advice and I agree prep, knowlege and confidence is everything, and apart from a few uncomfortable experiences with taxi drivers trying to overcharge me not once have I felt really unsafe or had anything bad happen to me.

  4. travel bro says:

    Great tips, thanks for sharing! Don’t understimate the power of being well-prepared. Researching your destination really only takes a couple of minutes and can save you so many headaches!

  5. Izzy says:

    Solo travel is very safe, probably more so than travelling in a group as you have to have your wits about you more. I have travelled solo for three years now almost solidly and have rarely had any problems and have never had any real dangerous situations. As you say it is all about taking steps to look after yourself.

    • That’s exactly the point Izzy, and I agree about the complacency of being in a group too. There are good and bad sides to every way and no one right way to do things, but ultimately your safety is down to you.

  6. Tom says:

    Absolutely it is safe, as long as everyone takes steps and the responsibility for their own safety as you say

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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