The world is a beautiful place. But it can be a scary one too. This isn’t news to anyone, but especially not to female travellers. Most female backpackers that I’ve spoken with, and pretty much every female travel blogger that I follow has had to face a dangerous situation on their travels. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of keeping yourself safe on the road. Of course, no one likes to expect the worst, and most of the time you don’t need to. But taking these precautions is just like taking out travel insurance — a lot of the time you end up not needing it, but when you do, you really need it. So if you’re planning a backpacking adventure, don’t forget to use these tips to protect your safety and give you the confidence to travel worry-free.
Do your homework on your destination
Deciding on your destination is hands down the best part of the planning process — but that doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games. Because it’s not just about where you want to go, but about where you can go. There are a number of things that can hold you back from visiting your dream destination, and sadly one of the factors that affects women the most is safety.
There are a number of things you can do to find out if your destination is safe for solo female travellers. Firstly, make sure to check the travel advice provided by your country’s government. For example, UK citizens should use the GOV.UK website to see if travel is recommended to your destination of choice. Although these resources don’t usually give safety advice specifically for female travellers, they are useful for getting a general overview of the country’s safety.
To find advice specifically for female travellers, there’s a great selection of articles online which list the best and worst countries for female backpackers. Make sure the lists have been published fairly recently to get the most up to date advice. One of the best articles I found is this amazingly detailed list from Asher and Lyric, which looks at the statistically best and worst countries for women’s safety.
However, sometimes you’ll find that the lists differ a lot from the experiences shared by the female travel community. For example, I absolutely loved my time in Sri Lanka, but after my time there, I wouldn’t recommend travelling through the country alone. However, Hostel World has listed it as one of the safest destinations for female travelers. So make sure to not solely rely on lists — explore travel forums to find out the experiences of other female travelers. Of course, everyone’s experience will be different, but it’s important to gather as much information as possible before you make your final decision.
Always come prepared
No one wants to imagine the unthinkable happening when they’re supposed to be having the adventure of a lifetime. But the reality is that there are many things that can go wrong on the road, so taking the right precautions is vital. Make sure to prepare for every eventuality by making safety a top priority whilst packing for your trip.
One of the most important things to do is split up your money. Having all your cash in one place is a serious safety risk and should be avoided at all costs. When one of the contestants on Race Across the World kept £1000 in one bag, I literally gasped. This wasn’t a novice traveller either — they’d been backpacking for years! Losing any money puts you in a vulnerable position but losing a big chunk of will no doubt cause you some serious issues. When packing your cash, make sure to split it between your main backpack and hand luggage, and don’t forget to carry some on your person too.
There are a few other things that you should always carry on you for safety. A rape alarm is an absolute necessity. They take up no room, you can get them for just a fiver, and they can save your life. It’s also worth taking a spare phone with you, as there’s nothing more terrifying than being stranded in an unfamiliar country with no way of contacting anyone. It doesn’t have to be fancy, a £10 Nokia brick will do the job. Plus, they’re so hefty you could probably use it as self-defence.
And speaking of self-defence, you should always carry something on you to use in case of attack. Most women probably already know about the keys between the knuckles trick, but an alternative to this is a cat self-defence keychain. If you do end up using it, it could be a life saver, and if you don’t, you still end up with a pretty new key ring — there’s really no downside.
Tell people where you are
No matter where you’re going, make sure that someone knows where you are at all times. Even if you’re just popping to the shop down the road, it’s still vital that someone knows the direction you’re heading just in case anything goes wrong. There’s a number of ways you can do this, the easiest being via text or instant messaging. Make sure to set a general rule with your check in buddy for how long they should wait before seeking help.
Or if you’re tech savvy, why not try using an app to do the hard work for you? There’s plenty of apps that you can use to share your location with your loved ones automatically, without you having to press a single button. Find My Friends is the most popular location tracker app. Your loved ones will be able to see your location on a map, and if you ever feel unsafe, you can send out an alert that shows your contacts your current location, the time and your battery life. The app is completely free and compatible with all smartphones, so it’s definitely worth a download.
As well as letting someone know about your short-term travel plans, you should also give them a copy of your itinerary. This gives them a sense of the direction that you’re going in case you somehow lose contact. Make sure to include contact details for all the accommodation that you plan on staying at, so they’ll always have someone to contact in case something goes wrong.
Connect with other female travellers
Making friends on the road is one of the best parts about travelling. It’s so easy to click with other travellers since you get to know each other inside out in no time at all. And not only does your newfound friendship make travelling a lot more fun, but it can make it a lot safer too. Having someone to watch your luggage, keep an eye on your drink and just generally watch your back is so useful. Plus, you’re far less likely to be a prime target when you’re in a group, so don’t underestimate the power of a travel companion.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to make friends on the road. If you’re staying in a hostel, try getting to know other visitors. Most hostels have social events, like film nights or bar crawls, which makes it easy to get to know people in a short space of time. If you’re not a fan of hostels, try using technology to find a few travel companions. There’s a great Facebook group called Travel Meet Ups – The Solo Female Traveler Network that connects female backpackers around the globe. Or you could try downloading Bumble BFF to find fellow female backpackers near you.
As well as linking up with other backpackers, it’s also worth getting to know local women too. They’ll be more knowledgeable when it comes to local safety, and they can give you some great recommendations for what to do in the local area. Why not try striking up a conversation with the hostel staff? They’re bound to be helpful, and they probably love to travel too so you’ll become friends in no time.
Watch what you wear
What you wear can have a huge impact on the way you’re treated when travelling, especially if you’re a woman. It may not be fair, but it is the reality — so you need to be prepared. When doing your research on your travel destination, don’t forget to look into how the local women dress. You should aim to blend in as much as you can with the locals to avoid any unnecessary attention. And don’t forget that in many countries, this tip isn’t just about your own safety, but respecting local customs too.
When creating your packing list, you should include plenty of long-sleeved tops. If you’re travelling to a hot country, make sure that they’re loose and made out of breathable fabric, such as linen or cotton. The thought of wearing long sleeves in a hot country may sound unbearable, but as long as the clothing is loose enough then you shouldn’t overheat. Plus, the sleeves will protect your skin from the sun, so it’s a win-win! Another travel essential is a big scarf or shawl. The list of uses for this accessory is endless! You can use it as a head covering, a shoulder covering, a leg covering, a sarong on the beach and even a blanket to protect you from the chill of the AC that’s always blasted on the plane.
Another tip that’s popular amongst solo female travellers is wearing a fake wedding band. If you feel like a man is putting you in a dangerous situation, you can point to the band to make them think that you aren’t travelling alone. In a lot of cases, this is enough to make a man back off, so you can continue to enjoy your trip.
Be cautious of overnight travel
Overnight transport is easily one of the most convenient forms of travel. The tickets are usually cheaper, you save some exploring time, and you save money on a night’s accommodation. Aside from an uncomfortable night’s sleep, it seems like the perfect way to get around. But for women, it can be anything but. Travelling can make you feel vulnerable enough, let alone doing it whilst you’re asleep.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid overnight travel altogether — just make sure to take the necessary precautions. The absolute best thing that you can do is make a female friend on the road who can travel with you, as there’s always safety in numbers. That way, if things seem really dodgy you can take it in turns to stay awake and keep watch. If you don’t have any companions to travel with, try to make friends with whoever you’re sitting next to (who should ideally be a woman, if you can choose your seat).
You should also make sure to have your essentials with you at all times. If you just have a few, you can store them on your person. But the chances are that you have more than you can fit in your pockets, so make sure to put them all in a small bag of hand luggage. To keep it safe whilst you’re sleeping, loop the strap of the bag around your leg so it can’t be taken without you noticing.
Finally, and most importantly, make sure to research the route before you take it. Some transport companies are safer than others, and some routes are safer than others. A lot of the time, it’s best to go by reviews from travellers who have personally experienced taking the specific route that you want to take. If it looks dangerous or unsafe, always make sure to take day transport instead. Yes, it can take up more time and money, but it’s always worth it for your safety.
Don’t forget to have fun!
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t painted the cheeriest picture for female travellers. But this doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom for women on the road! I’m not sharing these tips to stop you from travelling — I’m sharing them so that you can make your trip as fun and as worry free as possible. Because there’s going to be an element of risk in every country that you travel to, only by being prepared can you mitigate against these risks. So be safe, but don’t forget to have fun too! Use these tips to make your next trip the best one yet.
Do you have any travel tips that you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments below!