There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about the safety of female travel. One side is saying it’s not safe for women to be traveling on their own, especially in places like the Middle East. The other side says that women have just as much of a right to travel as men and shouldn’t be persuaded by the fear-mongering media. There seems to be a lot of female travel safety advice doled out to women, some that should be listened to and some to ignore.
Wear a fake wedding ring.
This is the most common advice given to solo female travelers and is controversial at best. The Canadian government even released the advice in an official brochure about women traveling alone. This advice is not always given by the women who are actually traveling. Will a wedding ring keep someone from harassing or attacking you while abroad? Probably not. The case of Sarai Sierra is tragic, but she was married and wore a ring to prove so. While in some cultures, seeing a wedding ring may keep men from harassing you, in others it could put you at risk for theft, even if it is fake.
On the other hand, some expert female travelers swear by the fake wedding ring tactic. Mariellen Ward of Breathe Dream Go tells people that her husband is Indian: “It changes the relationships with people I meet, and it makes me feel safer, part of the ‘Indian family.'”
Instead of wearing a fake wedding ring, you could learn a few key phrases (“Please leave me alone” or “I’m going to meet my friends.”) in the local language. I also recommend taking note of the local dress. If the culture is more conservative and you’re wearing short shorts and a tank top, you’re going to get unwanted attention whether you’re wearing a ring or not. And it never hurts to carry a whistle or personal security alarm that emits a loud noise if someone is getting a little too close for comfort.
Only stay in well-known hotel chains.
There are many people who prefer to stay in well-known American hotel chains while they are traveling overseas. I can definitely see the appeal in this, as the hotels are typically in safe areas and easy for a cab driver to find. But they aren’t immune to problems, as American hotels have been the targets of bombings in countries like Indonesia. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stay in hotels or that you shouldn’t travel, but rather that you should be aware of your surroundings.
Instead of only staying in well-known hotels, try staying in local guesthouses or bed and breakfasts. You will be able to experience more of your destination’s culture as well as spending less money.
You should only travel in groups or on tours.
My friends and family always ask whom I’m traveling with and are put at ease when I tell them I’m going with a tour. I don’t believe that you always need to go with a tour group to stay safe, but sometimes leaving the details to the professionals can wind up in your favor. For example, I traveled with a tour group in Croatia and am planning a tour in Turkey because I will feel more comfortable not having to worry as much about language barriers and meeting people. But this is not a hard-and-fast rule. There are plenty of places that you can travel safely on your own.
If you don’t want to travel with a tour but want to still meet people, I recommend staying in hostels or meeting up with locals through groups like Meetup.com or CouchSurfing.
>>Read more about using CouchSurfing and Meetup.com when you travel.
Lie about having a boyfriend, husband or group of friends waiting for you.
This one isn’t necessarily bad advice. While I don’t condone lying for the sake of lying, there’s something to be said for exaggerating your circumstances. If someone’s bothering you, it doesn’t hurt to say, “I’m waiting for my husband” or “I’m late to meet my friends.” And if someone asks if you’re traveling alone, I don’t recommend saying yes. Don’t tell strangers where you’re staying. It’s also a good idea to register with your country’s embassy before you go so that if you get into trouble, someone will be able to help you.
>> See the post on the benefits of white lies when you travel.
Stay only in tourist areas.
You can get robbed anywhere. The most well-known scams and robberies are in well-tread areas like Rome’s Spanish Steps (rose scam, anyone?), Barcelona’s La Rambla and Porto’s waterfront, as Kristen told us. In my opinion, staying only in touristy areas makes you more susceptible to theft or assault. Don’t let fear prevent you from getting outside of the central area.
If you’re interested in seeing more of the city, but don’t want to wander on your own, look into day walking tours led by locals. Having a resident wander with you is much safer and just as fun!
Follow the #WeGoSolo hashtag on Twitter for more great solo female travel advice.
- An Expert’s Safety Tips for Female Travellers, Journeywoman– Solo travel veteran Evelyn Hannon offers excellent and simple advice for keeping safe while traveling.
- The Art of Solo Travel by Stephanie Lee– This Indie Travel guidebook tells you everything you need to know about traveling alone for the first time.
I bring a rubber door stop with me when I travel. If I’m staying in a hotel room by myself I just stick in the door from the inside which makes it hard/impossible to open the door from the outside. A probably unnecessary precaution, but I guess it’s more of a mental comfort, it gives me a little peace of mind when I’m in an unfamiliar place.
I am married and was thinking of wearing a cheaper plain ring and leaving the real thing at home.
This is my first trip as a solo married female traveler so wondering if others have done the same or just don’t bother wearing a wedding ring at all.
Thanks for the great website, I’ve always packed light but i’m pretty keen to try travel on luggage only!
I travel with my husband, but I do wear a fake wedding ring.
I felt I was less harassed when in Egypt than others in my tour group without them, but the other main reason I do it is because it would wreck my whole holiday if I ever accidentally lost them!
I have traveled all over the world as a solo female. I never wear a fake ring and I’ve stayed in every possible type of accommodation. I think the thing women need to do to be safe is dress conservatively and wear big sunglasses. I’m not saying you need a burka (unless you know you are in an area that requires burkas) but in general dressing like a grown up staves off most unwanted attention. Also, if you are American, don’t smile so much. I live in the rural, western part of the US and we smile/wave/greet everyone. In most places in the world, this is at least odd and may be seen as overtly flirtatious.
Oh dear, none of these. I stay in hostels, go about on my own, and certainly don’t think I’ve ever told anyone I had a fake partner/group of friends.
I think the most effort I make is to dress moderately, but I think this has a lot more to do with the desire to blend in in other places than it does with worrying about my safety.
I’ve mostly traveled in Central America, but I think a key thing to keep in mind is to try to know the language, and notice local behaviors. I generally try not to bring attention to my self and dress modestly, non-expensive jewelry, small purse or no purse. The door stop is a really good idea and I may start doing that. I have noticed that over friendliness can come off as flirtatious, which I try to minimize to just nice.
I have never done an extended trip by myself and I don’t know if I would be comfortable doing one. I would do allot of research first and probably would be more comfortable in partaking with group tours or staying in accommodations with other fellow travelers, but that’s me.
I think the way society thinks these days is disgusting.
I was talking about a rape of a local girl by Americans in Okinawa recently, and my female japanese friend defended them by saying it’s partly the girls fault for hanging around outside the base to flirt with men.
Victim blaming is gross and disgusting. Men are far more likely to end up in trouble while travelling than women, but the media still portrays travelling as a danger to women. Statistically, the place you are most likely to be mudered/attacked or raped is actually sat in your own home, so I think everyone should think about that before doling out outrageous scaremongering advice, like “women shouldn’t travel solo” etc.
Caroline Eubanks says
@George I definitely agree. I’ve been told some silly travel advice, much of which I mentioned above, and I agree that I’m more likely to get raped, murdered, etc. in my hometown. Ultimately it’s up to each individual female which of this advice she listens to. I just want us to all keep safe out there.
I wear a $70 wedding ring from Wal Mart and leave my real one at home. If someone wants to steal it, it really is ok. I pretend to be heterosexual with a husband. I don’t go where I’m told I should not. I dress in a conservative, boring manner. I wear comfortable shoes. When I was in Benin I had a local male accompany me and had a much nicer time than the day before on my own.
One of the biggest issues I’ve found was traveling in South America with blonde hair got me a lot of unwanted attention. Most of it was harmless, and I would never dye my hair to avoid it, but it is something to be aware of. You have to know when it has gone too far and not be afraid to seem rude or abrupt when saying no.