You finally got the courage to book a big trip away on your own – wow! It’s a huge step, so exciting but also really quite daunting. Will you be ok? Will you get lonely? How will you communicate if English isn’t the first language? What new foods will you try? Will you be able to get around ok?
All of these are perfectly normal and good questions to ask before you leave, to ensure you’re completely prepared…but an even bigger question you should be asking is ‘how do I ensure I keep safe?’.
Read on for my personal safety tips for women which have helped me through twenty years of travelling the world extensively. Some are obvious, some maybe not so, but remember that your safety is always the number one priority, so if you need to swap out that extra pair of shoes for a door alarm, just do it and know it will be worth it for your own peace of mind.
Before You Leave
Being prepared is always key for every adventure. Make sure you leave a copy of your itinerary with your family or loved ones so they know where you are due to be each day and can check in with you. If you make changes to your plans, don’t forget to let them know. I use a free App called TripIt which I can share with family members and it will advise any changes to your flights etc as well as detailing hotels and any other travel plans.
Check that the country you are travelling to isn’t on a security alert. Register with a company like Smart Traveller to receive updates should anything happen which could impact your plans.
Make sure you have insurance for the duration of your stay, and read the small print. Does it cover you if you participate in what they call ‘risky activities’? If you are cruising, is that covered? Are you travelling for longer than the policy will allow (many don’t cover more than 90 days). What is the excess? Will it cover you if you have to cut short your trip due to a family emergency at home (I just got stung with this one…)?
Have you got any visas you may require, and arranged in plenty of time (some can take ages to process)? Don’t get stranded at the airport, they won’t let you board the plane without the correct visa.
Do you have an onward flight? Another reason boarding can be denied is if you can’t prove that you are leaving the country you are originally flying into. Usually, even a bus ticket is enough to overcome this if you’re travelling at your own pace without fixed plans. Alternatively, there are sites which can provide you ‘proof’ of a plane ticket for about $14, valid for 48hrs, one in particular called Best Onward Tickets. I’ve not used this one myself, but have several friends who have, and highly recommend it.
Do you have at least 6 months validity in your passport? Again, some countries are really strict about this and won’t allow you into the country without it – Bali is a key one.
Make sure your passport is intact. Some immigrations have been known to refuse entry because of a tear in your passport – not even joking. Don’t get stranded because the cat got to your passport the day before you left.
Use a TSA approved padlock for your suitcase/s and if you can strap it too, even better. I have been held up in immigration and been the last person to pick up my suitcase only to find a group of people gathered around my case, picking the lock on it…the more deterrents, the better. This lightweight one, recently reduced, will do the job.
Place some form of identification inside your case as well as outside. There are some good people out there and should there have been any mix-up, you want people to be able to contact you and return your case asap.
If you live alone, don’t post onto social media that you are going away…you are telling people that your house is unattended for the period you’re gone! I also recommend you put your FB settings to private, as some scams and kidnapping cases have been successful due to the villains gaining personal information from Facebook.
Want inspiration for where to travel to next? Check out my Top 10 Cruise Destinations You Need to Visit
They say it over the tanoys all the time, but seriously, don’t EVER leave your bags unattended at the airport. It only takes a few seconds of you taking your eyes off your bag for a professional to swipe it…sadly, I say this from experience too. They have a well-rehearsed act, likely to include a way of distracting you, such as a couple fighting loudly…the minute you look away, your bags will be gone.
Even when you’re on the plane, it has been known for people to have things stolen from the overhead lockers. Keep all valuables in a bag at your feet.
When you arrive at your destination, ensure you know what your mode of onward travel is. You may be asked if you’re looking for a taxi, by an unregistered driver – never go with these people. Either go to the taxi rank, take an Uber, or some other official form of transport. Ensure you have local currency in case the taxi/bus doesn’t take credit cards. You may also need to have your hotel/address written in the local dialect if English isn’t widely spoken (another one from experience in Hong Kong!). Usually there will be an information point at the airport and they can translate for you to show a driver.
Choose the best quality hotel you can afford – check interlocking doors, ensure they are locked from both sides so no one can access your room.
Check for spy cameras (especially in the bathroom), yes, seriously…especially if travelling to China or Russia, but also in Air BnBs where owners have been found to keep spy cameras in the property. You can buy small lightweight camera detectors which work using infrared to detect any lens in the room, such as this one below.
Secure your main room door with a door alarm or chair if necessary. Don’t open door unless you know who is outside, hotels will be happy for you to come to reception for an issue, they won’t often knock on your door.
Check the area you are staying in, ensure it isn’t a dodgy part of town. Use online webcams to check an area out, almost every town has its own webcam now so you can have a look to get a quick overview of the locality.
Check with concierge/reception at your hotel for recommended places to explore or eat, ask there if there’s anywhere to avoid.
Ensure you’re dressed appropriately, do you need to be covered due to local customs? Always be respectful and lean on the conservative side if you’re not sure.
Always wear a cross-body bag to keep belongings in front of you and so you can grab more easily if straps are slashed (by passing motorbike thieves – it happens).
Take particular care in busy places like markets where pick pocketing can be rife. Don’t put your phone in your back pocket and keep a hand on the opening of your bag.
Use a handbag clip to keep your bag hanging under the table next to you, never on the floor where it can be grabbed. You can buy some really cool ones online and they weigh very little, I always have one in my handbag with me.
Carry 2 wallets in your bag, if you have to give one up, you still have a second. Separate out cards for the same reason, one in a zipped pocket of your bag and one in your wallet or phone.
Don’t walk around the streets wearing headphones! You need to aware of your unfamiliar surroundings at all times, and won’t be able to hear any potential danger with headphones on. Keep them for the gym or plane!
Use a personal security alarm – don’t take pepper spray which is illegal in some countries and never travel with a weapon which can be used against you, but the loud sirens are usually allowed in most countries and will attract attention if you need help. I really like these ones, which attaches to your bag and is activated by a rip cord, so you can just pull it to set it off. Also has a flashlight which is always useful for trying to put keys in locks at night!
Always travel with a bottle of water in your bag, never get dehydrated when travelling or be desperate to have to drink local water which may not be safe.
Keep some local currency on you in case you need to use a pay phone or to pay for a taxi if you’re lost.
Wear comfy, practical shoes in case you need to move quickly out of danger.
Remember to tell your bank that you are travelling so they don’t block your cards and you end up stranded with no money!
Travelling for work? Read my Travel Tips for Business Travellers
In An Emergency
Your Consulate will mostly likely have an office in the capital city of the country you are travelling to, and are there to help you. If you lose your passport, or get into any type of danger, visit or call them. The below are links to assist you find your own country’s consulate whilst overseas, you just need to select the country you’re in.
Australian Consulate DFAT.gov.au
British Consulate https://www.gov.uk/world
US Consulate https://www.usembassy.gov
Have a code word system with your ‘in emergency’ person. For example, in my family we have a code that if we call home and ask how one of our deceased dogs is, they know there’s a problem.
Don’t try to be a hero. I know you’ve seen many an action hero movie where someone risks their life to save the day, but in reality, that rarely happens… Get official help if you need it, and if you are in a situation with a weapon held to you for your belongings – give them up. Your life is worth more than whatever is in your bag, no matter how much it doesn’t seem like it at the time.
That said, do bring attention to your situation, in the case of say, someone stealing your phone. Sometimes you’ll find that locals will be able to stop the thief for you and get it returned – you’ll be amazed the kindness of strangers!
Don’t forget, if you do have any incident, you will need to report it to the local police. Your insurance company won’t pay out without this.
Ok, so some of that may seem a little bit daunting and make your nerves even worse – please don’t let it! I always think it’s better to be prepared and mindful of these things than to go completely unaware and not have a clue what to do, should you get into trouble, right? And if you follow these personal safety tips for women, you shouldn’t run into too much strife.
I totally understand the challenges of packing lightly, and adhering to an airline’s strict weight allowance, trust me, I spend my life living to this! So, when I say that a door alarm or personal security alarm is worth sacrificing that extra bottle of face cream, I really do mean it!
Most of all, go have a ball and create memories that will last a lifetime, because there really is nothing like travelling the world, meeting new people and learning new things!
Check out some of my other posts if you want inspiration of countries/towns to visit and if you have any other tips for ways to keep safe, please post them below!
Thanks for reading, see you next time!
Wendy A x