When I decided I wanted to travel I never could find someone to come with me. So I decided that I didn’t want to wait to experience the world and that I would just go and to hell with everyone else! I’m a homebody by nature so the thought of going to foreign countries by myself gave me a lot of anxiety. But go I did and here are some tips on how to travel solo safely that I’ve picked up along the way!
Don’t pack so much shit!
When I traveled through Austria, Slovenia and Italy I stayed with an old friend and traveled over my 30th birthday. My friend and her family bought me so many things that the large backpack and small backpack that I started with couldn’t hold everything. In hindsight, I should’ve mailed some of that back before I continued on to Italy by myself.
I took the train from Trieste, Italy to Florence and the train is not like an airplane. There are too many stops and opportunities for people to take your things and disappear into another rail car or off the train entirely. If you step into the toilet you can’t leave your things out and I had way too much to take in the stall with me. When I got to Venice I went to go find a bathroom and I noticed a man behind me, never catching up and never falling further back. When I walked by the man taking the money to use the toilet I saw his glance fall and stay on someone behind me and I knew instinctively that it was the man who had been following me. Up in the bathrooms, it was one large room and four stalls, two each reserved for men and women. I went into the large one, did my business, and when I walked out the man was standing against the counter watching me way too carefully. My hands were totally full of all the things that I had acquired and when he started to walk toward me I yelled, “No!” and some other choice words at him. Luckily, another man walked out of the stalls and started shouting at the man in Italian and chased him away.
When I came downstairs again to go catch my next train, the man taking money looked really surprise to see me with all my things. It really pissed me off, but mostly at myself. If you look like a silly tourist, you’re a target. The lesson to learn here is to pack in such a way that you still move freely and there aren’t things hanging out that look tempting to pickpockets and thieves.
Make copies of important documents
Since I usually travel solo I have to make sure that I always have access to my documents… there’s not anyone there to save me. I leave a copy of my passport with my mom and my HR Manager at my day job and carry a couple copies with me.
On top of that I also take a photo of my passport with my phone since my phone is always on me and it’s the thing I am the most protective of. I also always make sure I know where the nearest US Embassy is just in case I get myself into trouble.
Talk to the locals and the hotel staff. When I’m in a new city I like to make sure I know the areas of town I should avoid and at what times of day to avoid them.
Don’t be an asshole…learn the language
Seriously, at least a little. Learn how to say, “no” or “help” and for God’s sake learn how to be polite in the language native to the city you’re in. Tourists already have a bad rap folks, let’s make people happy to have you! It’s also good to know how to ask for help in case you are injured or become lost. For example, in Paris I was walking from my hotel to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. This was less than a year after all the terror attacks that besieged Paris, so there was a lot of military police walking around Paris in formation carrying weapons. When I travel I carry a canvas bag that zips on the inside, has extra fabric on top for me to fold over (and I fold it toward me so the flap is against my hip) and has a strap long enough to go across my body.
While I walked, a homeless man, completely out of his skull, grabbed my bag and started trying to pull it off of my shoulder while screaming at me in French. Instinctively I fought back and our interaction ended with me grabbing his hair and throwing his head away from me while I screamed, “Non! Ça suffit!” or, “No! That’s enough!” at him. About the time his head flung away from me the police came around the corner. It looked like some asshole American woman was assaulting a poor homeless man. A bartender from across the street had seen the whole show and came running to us and I suddenly had the presence of mind to shout, “J’ai besoin d’aide!” or “I need help!”
Luckily between the amazing bartender and other passers-by the whole thing got sorted and the police escorted the man away. Having some basic language skills is NEVER a bad idea and with the internet and all the information on it, there’s no excuse.
Take group tours
Or if you want to stay solo stay where there’s a lot of people. There’s strength in numbers and in groups you’ll have people to talk to. I tend to go my own way, so I usually low-key tack myself on to the back of a larger group so I’m not such an obvious target.
Be careful with your transportation
In Italy, there are certain certifications that a cab has to have and they must be posted. If you’re unsure, ask someone who works wherever you are. At the train station in Rome, I found an employee of the station and asked him to get me to where the cabs are. He was happy to help and I had a pleasant, and safe, cab ride to my hotel. Train stations can be crowded as hell and the crushing crowds are not always the sort of numbers you want to find yourself in. If at all possible, position yourself in train cars so you can see the people pushing in around you.
Don’t dress like a tourist
Or act like one for that matter. Touristy t-shirts, stopping to take a billion photos, talking loudly in English, or worse, talking loudly (and poorly) in the language of the country you’re in makes you stand out. It also makes you look like an asshole. Do some research before you visit another country.
Listen to your gut
Honestly, you’ll know if something is off. If you feel freaked out about something or somewhere, you should leave. Nothing is worth putting yourself in danger.
The moral of the story here is that you should have a plan. Doing things totally off the cuff while you solo travel sounds like a lot of fun, but then you’re taking a lot of chances. I like to have an idea of any possible place I’m going and then have an idea of places to stay and where I want to go. Take these suggestions, think things through and come up with some of your own. Go forth and see the world! Your future self will thank you!