Travel Tips

Is it Safe to Travel Alone? How to Know

November 6, 2011

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Before I did my round the world trip in 2008, I was apprehensive / afraid / nervous / curious / excited (depending on the day) about solo travel. I hadn’t experienced solo travel yet. Other than a bit in Hawaii, which seemed way easier to me than a foreign country). I wondered “Is it safe to travel alone?” 23 countries later my “fear” of solo travel is long gone. But a mindful relationship with my gut is still going strong.

“Always do what you are afraid to do.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

How did I deal with my fear of solo travel? I went traveling. I love the above quote by Emerson. It reminds me that so often in life the key is to just begin. I’m a planner. And I have a healthy respect for obsession with planning and spreadsheets. So I’m all for trying to make smart decisions vs half-assed ones. But after some preliminary planning and research, jumping right in to things is how I like to live.

I went to Panama on a trial RTW trip, of sorts. I was nervous that I didn’t know anything about solo travel. And nervous that I didn’t know if I would like it. It felt a little silly that I was going to completely overhaul my life for a couple years to begin something I might not even like. Spoiler alert: yes, I liked it. So after Panama, I was still a bit nervous about the safety concerns of traveling solo. My sister & her husband were definitely nervous about me “traipsing around the globe for a year”. They turned themselves into my security team. I traveled slightly differently because of them. But it also made our relationship of their initially not wanting me to go, much easier. I accepted their fears and they helped talk a little extra sense into me.

Most solo travel tips are just common sense. But there are some things you don’t really have to think about as much when you’re traveling with one more person. When I got back from my RTW trip, I wrote about some tips for solo female travel, that helped me deal with the fear. My best tip though:

Use your gut to differentiate between a danger to you or just a curiosity about you.

Meknes Morocco door

As much as some women will tell you that it doesn’t matter what you wear or what you look like as a traveler, in some places it seriously does. I ended up doing a small group trip from Intrepid through Morocco. It was a nice break to experience a country with other travelers. And as I mentioned in 10 Reasons to Visit Morocco, “the constant attention can be over the top if you’ve had a long day and sometimes you just wish you were invisible, but for the most part, it’s just curiosity… and maybe 50% the blonde hair and blue eyes bit. At least now I know that I would hate to be a celebrity! By the time I got to Barcelona, I was like ‘uh, no one has told me that I’m beautiful yet today or offered 1,000 camels for my hand in marriage!'”

It also helps to have someone at home who knows where you’ll be when. My sister was my “power of attorney” at home. She had my email/bank logins/shared calendar, got my mail etc. She would know days I was in transit. For example, that I was leaving Istanbul for Greece. And I would “checkin” with her when I arrived to a new town and about once a week otherwise. This helped her anxiety about me being alone, and helped me feel more confident that someone knew where I was, just in case.

What fear have you overcome while traveling?

Note: You can also check for travel advisories and research before you go on sites like Lonely Planet.