Traveling (Solo) Safely

January 24, 2008

in Drink, Health, Safety, Travel, Web Tips

A quick post between travels and loads of laundry . . . Expect budget reports on Venice and Malta next week.

If you’ve linked over to the blog from BlogHer or Vagabondish, welcome! On the BlogHer page, you may also have read the post by Barbara at Hole in the Donut about Traveling Safely which outlines hard-won advice about using money and dressing wisely and trusting your instincts about safety when you travel.

Safety is something I think about quite often as a (female) solo traveler. An experience in Venice this week reminded me of a number of precautions I take in addition to those described by Barbara (and myself here) to ensure that any unpleasantness doesn’t develop too far. Male or female, solo travelers are simply exposed to more risks — after the jump, a few more tips on being cautious and staying safe.

+ Watch your drink. Unfortunately, I’ve traveled and lived in too many places where the unscrupulous place drugs in unsuspecting people’s beverages. While this usually ends in robbery of the unconscious victim, rape or other abuse is sadly never out of the question. I’ve known more than a couple people who’ve fallen victim to this scheme in Russia who were luckily not robbed (perhaps the criminals were just practicing?), but who did face medical and psychological consequences afterwards. Here are tips to keep in mind:

+ Purchase and carry your own drinks from the bar.

+ Keep your drink in your hand; don’t put it on the table or the bar.

+ If you’re with a good friend, have them hold your drink if you head to the restroom or outside to smoke; if you’re alone, DON’T finish a drink that’s been out of your sight.

+ If you’re concerned about a drink you’ve been given, “accidentally” spill it in order to resolve any question about drinking it.

+ Use your camera phone to take pictures of the “new friends” you’re hanging out with and send them (MMS) to a friend.

+ Don’t take these “new friends” back to your place. Don’t drink with these “new friends” at your place. (This puts all of your possessions at risk, not just the ones you carry. Exposing your address also makes it very difficult to keep these “friends” away if you decide on second thought that you never want to see them again.) Think twice before following them to their place, as others may be waiting there for you.

+ Note that drugging happens to men as often as it happens to women, perhaps even more often abroad as men are less likely to think they’ll be victims of such a crime.

+ Limit your drinking. If there is ever a time to be vigilant about sobriety or near-sobriety, it is when you are alone in a foreign country. Don’t go out to get drunk and keep your drinking within reasonable limits. Recognize that drinking can put you at greater risk, clouding both your judgment and your memory. If you are in a culture that “requires” you match drink for drink, take yourself out of the game early. Sip, spill, leave your glass full, turn your glass over, remove yourself from the scene if you must; if you prefer not to drink at all, generally the excuse that you are an alcoholic is accepted at face value.

+ Always know where you are and how to get home. Essential to your safe escape is a planned escape route. That means knowing the bus or train you need to take and what time it leaves the station/stop. That means having a ticket ready or enough money for a ticket available. That means going out close enough to where you’re staying to walk home if you need to. That means wearing the right shoes to walk if you have to. It can also mean knowing the number of a taxi company and having enough money for a cab — but I would encourage you not to rely on unreliable and expensive taxis!

Keep in mind that if you follow your “new friends” home or travel halfway across town to another club, you will be disoriented and may have difficulty getting back to where you’re staying easily, safely or cheaply. Always carry a map.

+ Be aware of your surroundings. This is something anyone, especially female, from a large city has probably already cultivated. It means knowing where you are and how to get home, as mentioned above. It also means being aware of where people are, who is nearby, whether spaces are well-lit, where you can find help or a safe space if you feel you need one. It may mean being dressed appropriately. Again, it means not being too intoxicated and it probably also means not listening to an iPod or talking too loudly (especially in a foreign language!) on a mobile phone.

+ Have a safety friend. Real or imaginary, though real is better on the off-chance you actually need help. Don’t tell acquaintances you’re traveling alone, making up a travel partner if you have to. Keep in contact (again pretending when necessary) with your partner throughout the night via text messages or phone calls. Make a curfew known and tell your “new friends” that your partner is expecting you home then. Having a host via Hospitality Club often plays this role for me, but you could likely get the (night) counter staff at the hotel or hostel to play along. Just be sure to get their number before heading out. If you regularly find yourself the object of a lot of unwanted attention, wear a ring and always mention your (imaginary) fiance(e) or spouse back home!

+ Never carry more than you need to — cameras, cash, wallets, iPods, phones, passports, jewelry are all easy targets for thieves. Ask yourself not just do I need this tonight, but can I get by (the next few days, the rest of my trip if it has to be replaced) without this?

These are just a few additions I would make to Barbara’s list. What advice would you add to keep other travelers safe? Leave your ideas in the comments.

Update:  find 41 more tips for solo travelers over at Travelhacker.

{ 2 trackbacks }

All Women Blogging Carnival Stops By This Week | Woman Start Your Business Now
02.04.08 at 4:34 am
Have Y Chromosome, Will Travel « Less Than a Shoestring
12.29.08 at 5:09 pm

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 antigenre 01.25.08 at 5:37 am

Great tips. Now I wish I was travelling somewhere!

For me, learning a handful of key phrases in whatever the local language happens to be has been essential. That would have to be my biggest piece of travel advice. Making an effort with basic greetings and the like will go a long way with people and make you look like less of a bumbling tourist at the same time. Knowing how to ask for help if you are lost, sick, injured or robbed (like I was in China) will save your sanity and possibly more. Lonely Planet guides are great for these sorts of phrases. At least have your guide book/dictionary handy.

Have fun in Malta!!

2 zeroratio 01.26.08 at 3:32 am

Haha… and I thought traveling solo is a simple adventure.

Thanks for the great tips!

3 Scribetrotter 01.29.08 at 3:08 am

Fantastic tips!

I’m particularly careful about hotel/hostel room safety when traveling solo, including locking the windows at night (and using a plain rubber doorstop if the lock doesn’t work), and keeping a flashlight close by – in my shoe is a useful place.

In addition to personal safety, I’d add a few about money – like never losing sight of it, paying only after receiving a service, and being cautious with counterfeit goods, especially anything touted as a gem.

4 Barbara Weibel 01.29.08 at 11:53 pm

Hi poetloverrebelspy: Thanks for linking to my post on safety tips at http://www.holeinthedonut.com. Loved your safety ideas, too, and I’m adding many of them to my personal list! Barbara

5 poetloverrebelspy 02.03.08 at 3:43 pm

See this post featured this week at Rambling Traveler.

6 poetloverrebelspy 02.06.08 at 7:06 pm

This post recommended over at Confessions of a Career Breaker. Thanks Swirlie!

7 Celine 02.12.08 at 6:07 pm

Very good tips. I’ve started travelling solo lately and this is useful information. Thank you for sharing. :)

8 poetloverrebelspy 02.16.08 at 10:55 am

Find this post included in the Carnival Against Sexual Violence, hosted by abyss2hope.

9 poetloverrebelspy 06.08.08 at 10:05 pm

Looking for more tips? You might also like the post 10 Tips for Safe Travel as a Single Woman.

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