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Is it safe to travel as a solo female backpacker?: My Tips For Solo Female Travellers

I hear it all the time.

“Is it safe to travel as a solo female backpacker?”

To be honest, I asked myself the same question before I went travelling across the world.

The thing is, you do hear the horror stories of solo female backpackers meeting serial killers or weirdos abroad. It does happen.

But actually you hear about bad things happening and serial killers in most countries, including the one where I’m from.

It kind of makes you realise that bad people are everywhere so the idea that going abroad is significantly less safe than it would be in your own country is very unlikely to be true.

Still, despite knowing that, I had my reservations because of warnings by my family and what I saw on the news.

black backpackers, black backpackers dangerLuckily, my desire to travel was much stronger than my fear of the unknown, so I set off travelling.

It was the best thing I ever did.

black backpackers, solo female backpacker, solo female traveller

When I travelled abroad, I was able to separate the myths from the facts. As with anywhere, it was necessary to take sensible precautions and be vigilant.

However, I found that if you take the same level of caution abroad that you would take at home, then there is no significantly higher risk of danger overseas.

Now I’m not going to sit here and pretend that nothing bad ever happens to backpackers who travel abroad. You can’t guarantee complete safety anywhere.

But you can take steps that will reduce the likelihood of getting hurt abroad so that going to another country won’t be any more dangerous than travelling in your own country.

In my case, that country is the UK.

When my family heard that I was going overseas, they asked: “what about all the terrorist attacks that have happened overseas?”.

This question completely ignored the terrorist attacks and stabbings that happened in the London Underground in 2015 and the various attacks by Islamic extremists and far-right terrorists that occured in 2017 both in the UK, Europe and America.

In fact, there were 4 separate attacks in my home country of the UK in 2017.

So the illusion of safety on your home turf is just that – an illusion.

Of course, the likelihood of falling victim to random acts of violence in the UK is thankfully fairly low. But my point is that the risk is as ever-present in developed Western countries as it is anywhere else.

If this risk doesn’t dissuade you from leaving your house in the morning, then hopefully it won’t prevent you from travelling either.

black backpacker sitting on a cliff

The safety tips below are not only designed to reduce the risk of illness or injury while travelling, they can also give you a greater sense of security and reassurance when you venture abroad. The tips are not an indication that you would be in any kind of danger, but they’re recommended for the same reason you close the door to your house at night – you just never know.

However, if you’re after a trip of a lifetime and you’ve never been travelling on your own before, I also recommend that you check out my blog: ‘How To Plan a First Trip Abroad’.

Safety Tips For The Solo Female Backpacker

black woman beach, black backpacker, solo female backpacker, solo female travellers

So how do you strike a balance between being careful and staying safe?

I believe that taking the steps below will help you to find that happy medium.

We’ve already established that in general, you are as safe abroad as you are at home.

I just don't believe that it is as dangerous out there for travellers as people assume.

But I would argue that travelling as a solo female backpacker comes with its own unique challenges and concerns.

This is for the simple reason that women are naturally more vulnerable than men. The same is true regardless of where you go.

So in this section, I go beyond the basic safety precautions to give specific advice to solo female travellers.

To be honest, the advice is useful to anyone that travels anywhere, but it is particularly aimed at solo female backpackers who venture overseas. 

Stick to Well-Trafficked Streets

thailand street, solo female backpacker,

Back alleys are always a bad idea.

Stick to the areas where there are many people present.

Even if you are walking alone at night, you will at least have the benefit of knowing that there are other people around you should you need help.

Read The Reviews Before Booking Hotels

One way to avoid the pitfalls of booking a bad or unsafe hotel is to read the reviews online. These can often be found on Tripadvisor, Booking.com, Airbnb and whatever website you are booking from.

If there doesn't appear to be any reviews, then be sure to research or Google the accommodation in question. Be very cautious if you cannot access any reviews or feedback at all about the hotel.

Be sure to ask questions about their security and safety procedures. Pay particular attention to their policies on room security, customer privacy and luggage storage.

Oh and one more point about hotels and accommodations. In large hotels/hostels, it’s easy to miss signs that someone is following you. You’re less likely to notice sketchy people loitering about than you are in smaller accommodations.

Just something to think about I guess.

Carefully Guard Personal Details

Hotels and hostels should not say your name or room number aloud when checking you in. Reputable accommodations will usually have much stronger safety procedures than booking a random hotel.

Couchsurf With Caution

Couchsurfing is great isn’t it? It’s an easy way to save money as a solo female backpacker and furthermore, it’s an awesome way to meet people and get to know the surrounding area.

Most of the people you meet will either be really nice or just OK. It’s unlikely you’ll meet an axe-murderer or rapist. Especially if you read the reviews before you stay at their house. The couchsurfing platform allows you to review and rate people you have stayed with.

If someone has no reviews or negative reviews, then it’s best to steer clear. I mean, they might be alright, but as a solo female backpacker, you don’t want to bet your life on it.

The same applies if you are the host. Reviews on Couchsurfing works both ways, so never take chances on someone you’re unsure about.

My tips for solo female travellers is to only stay with and accept other female backpackers to play it safe.

Let Friends And Family Know Where You Are

If you are a solo female backpacker, then it is always good practice to let friends and family know where you are. Even if you switch locations a lot, you should tell people you know about all of the places you intend to go.

This means that should you run into any problems, people will at least know where you are or where you intended to go, which makes it easier to get help across to you if and when required.

Don’t Ignore Red Flags

If someone makes you feel uncomfortable for any reason, it can be easy to overlook this.

Sometimes we overlook things for cultural reasons, because we're not sure whether the bad feeling we get is simply due to different customs.

However, it is always best to err on the side of caution, especially if someone isn’t respecting your personal space, behaving inappropriately or their behaviour doesn’t appear to be a cultural norm.

If that is the case, then as much as possible, avoid any situations where you are alone with that person and if their behaviour escalates or becomes really inappropriate, don’t be afraid to report them or tell someone you trust about your concerns. You may find that you are not the only person to have those concerns.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

Politeness is a creep’s best friend. If someone is being aggressive, overly pushy or they simply won’t take no for an answer, then don’t be afraid to assert yourself if necessary. This is similar to the advice above, but there’s another aspect to this tip as well.

Let’s say you’re with a group of people that you met just a couple of hours earlier. They’re nice enough, but not really your type of people. Moreover, they invite you to a house party in a remote part of let's say, Thailand, where they’ll be doing lots of drugs.

You really don’t want to go, nor do you fancy spending time on death row at the Bangkok Hilton should those narcotics ever get discovered by the cops.

So what do you do?

Don’t ever be afraid to say NO. Even if it doesn't earn you any brownie points among your peers.

Trust Your Instincts

This goes hand-in-hand with the advice given above. If you get a bad feeling about someone or a situation you are in, then that is a sign that either something is wrong or it's making us super uncomfortable. Either way, it is important to trust your own intuition, even if others think you are being paranoid.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry. As the old saying goes: “You may be paranoid, but that doesn't mean they’re not out to get you”.

All jokes aside, we’re often made to feel that our feelings are irrational. I know that in the past, I’ve often had my fears or concerns brushed away, because people assume I’m “just being a woman”. But I know that whenever I ignore what my gut says, I usually end up regretting it.

Call it the woman’s instinct.

Dress Conservatively

scarf, backpacking north east india

I hate giving this advice. No really, I do. There’s something just so patronising about telling women to “cover up” or “dress conservatively” in foreign environments. You should be able to wear whatever the hell you want without some creep pestering you!

However, despite the archaic nature of the advice to solo female travellers (which is really just a sad commentary on the world we live in) dressing conservatively does help if you’re in a place which is very religious. This is especially relevant in places where the culture dictates that you’ll get lots of unwanted attention if you wear short sleeves or skirts.

The same also applies if you’re in a country where women are expected to wear headscarves.

Nowadays creeps don’t need a reason to bother you, so if wearing something a little more demure reduces the number of oddballs attempting to ruin your trip than I reckon it’s a price worth paying!

The one circumstance where I believe dressing conservatively actually is good advice is in places of worship, where everyone is expected to dress moderately. Then in those circumstances, I believe it’s simply a question of respect. In any case, I’d be remiss to skip the obvious when it comes to safety and dress codes.

Blend in as much as possible with the local culture - and you’re less likely to be a target.

Research Your Destination

It was 11pm and as a solo female backpacker, I was probably not as panicked as I should have been. After all, I was in Japan, wandering around the mean streets of Osaka, blithely trying to find my way to the hostel.

When I say ‘mean streets’ I’m only half-joking. When I got into the hostel, the other travellers told me that although the area was safe by Western standards, it was still considered the most “dangerous” part of Japan. How true that is, I don’t know. And that’s the problem: I didn’t know.

I should have done my research.

So my first time backpacking advice for any solo female backpacker wondering the streets alone at night? Do your homework.

Study a Map Before Heading Out

travel planning, how to plan a first trip abroad

This kind of goes hand-in-hand with doing your research. But if you're heading into unfamiliar territory, particularly if it’s a hiking trail that will take you deep into the belly of nature, then a map (and a compass) is your best friend.

The last thing you want is to get stuck in the middle of nowhere with no idea who or what is around nor how to get home.

Technology Is Your Friend

how to plan a first trip abroad, online travel itinerary

Be sure to use technology to your advantage. When I went travelling, I used Google Maps, currency exchange apps, compass apps and a whole slew of others to make my trip that much easier - and safer.

You can also connect with apps that help you to learn more about the area you are in and how to navigate it. So finding your way around should be much easier.

Get Advice From Locals

Local people know the area much better than you.

Of course, you can do all the research in the world, but the best advice comes from people who actually live in the area.

Getting advice from locals is not just useful from a safety perspective. It’s also a great way of, well, getting to know and mingle with the locals.

Know The Local Emergency Numbers

Even if you don’t speak the language, it is always good to know the local emergency numbers, because you’d be surprised at how easy it is to find someone to translate for you.

You’d also be surprised how many countries have operators that know a little bit of English for their emergency lines. In any case, knowing who to call in times of trouble is never a bad idea.

Some countries, such as Thailand have foreign police that you can call upon when disaster strikes.

These police officers are English-speaking volunteers who are specially recruited in Thailand who can help you if and when you run into trouble. I'm not sure if there are other countries which have a similar system.

Again, it’s best to research this before your trip and have the local emergency numbers handy before you go abroad.

Keep Your Valuables Safe

One thing I always did was carry a dummy wallet, full of nominal change, whenever I was out and about. The real money was stashed away in the hotel room safe or placed in a hidden compartment in my day bag.

That way, if I ever fell victim to a pickpocket or mugger (I didn’t), then their loot would be minimal.

Similarly, while you are in transit, be sure to keep an eye on your valuables at all times. If you can help it, avoid putting your suitcase or backpack in the compartment beneath the bus. Unfortunately, luggage has been known to go missing from these areas, which are out of sight.

This happened on a bus I was on.

I was lucky not to have any stuff nicked, but others on the bus weren’t so lucky.

If you’ve got no choice but to leave your valuables in a place where you can’t keep an eye on it - put a padlock on it. Another tip is that if you do get a padlock, do not get one with a code.

If you forget the pin or if someone has several unsuccessful attempts of breaking into that padlock, then you’re locked out of your own bag. (Like I was after an encounter with a dodgy hostel owner in Thailand).

Besides, you don’t want someone to guess your padlock code and have free access to your stuff.

Get Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is something you can’t afford to overlook when setting off on your journey. All it takes is a cancelled plane, a nasty bout of dengue fever, a bad fall on the mountain or food poisoning to send you off to the hospital.

Do you really need a £3,000 bill to top it all off?

Most backpackers have the ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude - until it does.

The small investment in travel insurance will be worth its weight in gold should you ever find yourself in an unfortunate situation.

Make Copies of Important Documents

how to plan a first trip abroad, travel insurance

Be sure to make copies of your passport pages, visas, travel insurance documents and other key details. In the unlikely event you get sick or injured, you want to avoid any complications or delays to treatment caused by missing paperwork.

Don’t Walk Alone at Night

If you can help it. It also depends on where you are and how many other backpackers are around. Saying ‘don’t walk alone at night’ is fairly basic advice to be honest and as a solo female backpacker, I heard this all the time.

However, the reason I've included this in my tips for solo female travellers is that being a single woman on her own does make you vulnerable.

You’re unlikely to stay lonely for long, which should make it easier to bring a friend or two when you travel at night.

Exude Confidence

Appearing calm, confident and in control is the key to self defence for any solo female backpacker.

Give off an air of confidence whenever you’re travelling alone. The more confident and assertive you appear, the less attractive you’ll be to a potential predator.

But it does make you more attractive to other backpackers who’ll be intrigued and curious about your confident and sassy demeanour.

General Safety Tips For Backpackers

This section really just focuses on general safety tips when travelling anywhere – especially abroad. In this section, I’ve purposely tried to avoid repeating the advice already given above.

However, it is particularly relevant to solo female backpackers who are thinking of travelling overseas.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

 travel safety, how to plan a first trip abroad, first time backpacking tips

Always be aware of your surroundings. If you do get dropped off in the middle of nowhere (as can happen when you travel abroad), then be sure that you know where you will be before that point, or at the very least have a Plan B in case you do get stuck. That’s probably the best safety advice I can give.

The same applies wherever you are - on a beach, in a restaurant or hotel. If anyone around you is acting suspiciously or makes you uncomfortable for no reason - don’t ignore your instinct.

It’s better to be safe than sorry. Remove yourself from the environment as quickly as possible and be sure to tell a member of staff if the situation escalates.

Don’t Accept Random Food And Drinks

drink spiking, travel safety, first time backpacking tips, how to plan a first trip abroad

Most people are a little wary of accepting drinks and food from random people they meet overseas. But people do let their inhibitions down when they are on holiday. We’ve all heard the horror stories about tourists getting drugged and mugged or worse.

If you are in any doubt about the safety of what you eat and drink or it tastes a little off - trust your instincts. The price of being cautious is a wasted meal.

But the price of literally ignoring your gut feeling could be anything from a nasty bout of travellers' diarrhea or in the worst case scenario, a nightmare you’ll never recover from.

I’d read the reviews of the bar or restaurant before going as well and where possible stick to the popular places. If you notice people acting a little weird in the restaurant or bar you are in - yes, that includes the staff - then I’d reconsider your decision to eat there.

Be Aware of Scams

tourist scam, how to plan a first trip abroad, first time backpacking tipsIt’s almost impossible not to get scammed when you’re a seasoned backpacker.

In the vast majority of cases, these scams are a simple case of being overcharged as a tourist.

However, you can reduce the likelihood of being seriously ripped off by making yourself aware of the common tourist scams out there.

For example, if a random person on the street invites you to a tearoom in China, just refuse. This is a well-known scam where you are then taken to a backstreet cafe where the local gangsters force you to pay hundreds for a simple cup of tea.
Look it up if you don’t believe me.

The most trustworthy information comes from official tourism bodies, government websites and recognised guidebooks and travel agents.

I’d look this up before you get to your destination to avoid getting duped by fake tourism boards.

Protect Yourself From Diseases

spray mosquito spray, mosquito repellant, how to plan a first trip abroad, first time backpacking tipsBe sure to use repellent in tropical climates and take anti-malarial medication where necessary. The best repellents are the ones containing DEET.

There are many natural alternatives on the market, but I found that these were usually not as effective - particularly during the evening when the numbers of mosquitoes tend to increase.

Wearing long clothes in the evening will also help to protect you from mosquito bites.

Take any necessary vaccinations you need, and don’t forget to take any prescription medications you may need. You’ll also need a doctor’s note for prescription drugs.

The steps above will help to minimise the chances of you getting sick while you are travelling.

Safety When Camping

camping, hiking, travel, how to plan a first trip abroad, first time backpacking tipsIf you plan to go camping alone - or even with others - I’d try as much as possible to stick to designated campsites.

While it is tempting to experience the great outdoors and opt for the most remote and untouched location you can think of, just know that this is playing Russian Roulette on your safety if you go alone and independently.

You may be perfectly fine of course, but if it’s a country you’re not familiar with, it’s best to err on the side of caution. It’s always safe until it isn’t.

In some countries, militia groups hang out in the woods, dangerous animals such as alligators may be a little too close to comfort and if you do run into problems, nobody will be nearby to help.

The biggest danger is that you may get lost and run out of resources such as food, water of batteries in the middle of a dense forest.

I’m not trying to scaremonger here - in fact, as a seasoned backpacker, I despise people who do this. However, the risks are very real and in my view, are just not worth taking.

As an alternative, consider making use of organised tours and accommodations that offer you the opportunity to camp in remote, relatively untouched places, but with the support of an organisation or with other campers nearby.

Book Transport From Reputable Organisations

book uber, book taxi, google maps, how to plan a first trip abroad, first time backpacking tipsWhere possible, it’s best to book taxis in advance or via a reputable hotel or airport. These taxis are more likely to be licensed and traceable with less chance of things going wrong.

Conclusion

Whenever you venture abroad, you never quite know what’s around the corner.

In other words, you never know whether you’re going to have the greatest journey in the world, or whether the trip will be a complete bust.

That’s part of the natural risk when you do anything new.

Hopefully the advice given above will help you to significantly reduce the risk of running into trouble abroad.

But don’t get it twisted.

You’re not going to find monsters lurking around every corner, or predators waiting to pounce on you.

The last thing I want is a blog on health and safety to turn into yet another scare story.

If the truth be told, even if you never spend a day overseas, all of the advice in this blog would still be relevant. After all, staying safe should always be a priority.

It’s just that sometimes, people let their guard down on holiday when they are chilling out on the beach or trying to get acquainted with the local culture.

The safety advice isn’t meant to give the impression that there is more danger abroad than there is at home.

Instead, it is a question of taking a balanced approach.

The balanced approach means having the freedom and the courage to assert your dreams of travelling, while minimising any potential risks.

Exploring the world changed my life for the better. It was honestly the best thing I could have done and I would have regretted not going otherwise.

I’ve never wanted to be that 80 year old woman years down the line, who is haunted by the ghosts of dreams that were never fulfilled.

You only have one life, so what the hell, make the most of it. Do it safely, and the world is yours.

As a solo female backpacker, I also took my own safety advice outlined above.

And I never felt I was in danger while I was overseas. Ever.

This blog is designed to inspire you and build an online community where you can get all the resources you need to travel. The Backpackers Travel Hub was created to make travelling accessible to everyone - not just the posh people! So drop by and visit the Facebook Group Backpackers Travel Hub. The group contains exclusive tips, and content designed to inspire, motivate and empower you. No sales or annoying gimmicks - just good, solid content. You can also take a peek at the JaninesJourneys Facebook page here. Happy travels!

Don’t forget to check out my blog on how to plan a solo backpacking trip.

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