Traveling alone for women can be scary and intimidating. From the hollering and whistling from men, to being targeted for theft, there are many concerns that women have when traveling by themselves.
I've been a female for my whole life (did I really just type that?) and traveling on my own for three years, and I can say that the number of times I've felt unsafe are few. Besides the occasional street harassment and almost getting kidnapped in Morocco, (that's a whole different story), I've managed to fend off trouble by using a few different methods, that I hope work for you as well.
1.) Try to blend in as much as possible.
I've come to terms with the fact that I'm not going to blend in very well in places like Haiti or Italy, seeing as I'm white and blonde, but there are ways to try to blend in so that people may think that you're a local, or at least that you know what you're doing. I can't count the number of times I've identified a group of Americans walking toward me solely based on what they're wearing. That being said, leave the American brand names at home. While I'm traveling, I try to ditch the North Face jackets, the Nike shorts, and my old, oversized sorority t-shirts. Wearing simple, non-flashy clothing will divert attention away from you and you'll look just like a local.
Things I recommend / don't recommend:
- Plain, neutral tennis shoe are a yes. (something like Keds)
- Skinny jeans are pretty universally accepted.
- Neutral colors are good. Nothing too bright that would make you stand out.
- No college hoodies or gear (that's pretty much a dead giveaway).
- Negative on the North Face / Patagonia jackets (also a dead giveaway)
- No short shorts. It's not really a thing elsewhere.
- NO CROCS (that may just be me hating crocs but PLEASE NO).
- No religiously immodest clothing (country depending, but the less you stick out, the better).
- No yoga pants (also not a thing elsewhere except for working out) (the basic girl in me cries about this every day :'( )
*Note: I'm a massive feminist and I hate that I'm making recommendations for what women should/should not wear. I'm a huge proponent on women wearing whatever makes them feel comfortable / confident. These are only recommendations to help keep you the safest possible while traveling.
2.) Use street smarts.
Be prepared, use your brain. Read up ahead of time, study the map beforehand, learn phrases that will help you communicate. Stay away from dangerous areas. Walk with your head up and with confidence.
3.) Get a cross shoulder bag (with multiple buttons/zips), and wear it in front of your body.
Pickpocketers are professionals, and they are good at their craft. If they identify a tourist, they can target you easily, especially if you're not paying attention. I watched a documentary recently where a professional pickpocketer in Naples, Italy pickpocketed someone that had something in their sock. I MEAN WHAT!?!?! I swear by the cross body bag, and try to avoid handbags when possible. If you keep it in front of you, you can hold on to it easier, but if it swings behind you, you have no idea who could be digging around in your bag behind you.
4.) Learn about the men where you're going.
In Northern Europe, you won't likely get any extra attention. But in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, you'll probably get hoots and hollers and whistles, particularly if you're blonde. It's just the way it is. Don't be afraid of talking to men, but pick up on cues and be selective of who you talk to. Never speak to someone who is whistling at you. Don't even look, just carry on walking. Don't smile at strangers. That's something that takes getting used to, coming from America. But try to avoid it, because it can often be seen as an invitation.
This sounds dumb, but wear a fake wedding ring if need be. It's a great way to divert unwanted attention from men trying to talk to you or flirt with you. I can't count the number of times I've switched my diamond ring from my pointer finger to my ring finger to show that I'm "married" so I can get away. Of course, you have to make sure they're not going to rob your ring, so be cafeul about that.
If you do meet a man, be so careful about who he is and where you go with him. Alert your hotel or hostel staff that if you're not back at a certain time to please check on you.
5.) Avoid looking like a tourist.
Unfortunately ladies, that means maps and cameras. I bring my camera everywhere, but I have a bag big enough to carry it, and try not to whip it out in places where I'm by myself. Bring a map with you, but don't walk with your head in it. If you need to look, pull over to the side or stop off at a cafe or restaurant before planning your route.
6.) Learn the emergency numbers to where you are.
This is self explanatory. Ask your hostel or hotel staff and you can add it to your phone just in case. Smart phones will allow you to dial the emergency numbers even if you're out of your home country.
7.) Don't drink to get drunk.
I never ever ever EVER get drunk while traveling by myself. It's just a recipe for disaster, and no matter how good of a drunk you are, you don't know where you are or the local culture, and you would never want to put yourself at risk just for a good night out. Have a few drinks and be social, but please, take care of yourself.
If someone is harassing you, or you feel you may have got too drunk, ask the bartender to call you a reliable taxi company to get you home. They are looking out for you and want you to be safe too.
8.) If it makes you feel more comfortable, get an international phone plan.
I've never done this, but it is a good way to update your family on your location or use the internet if you get lost. You can always use hostel/hotel/restaurant/public wifi if you need it, so I've never found it necessary. But do what you're comfortable with.
8.) Fake it till you make it.
Smile. Keep your head up. Look confident. Act like you've been traveling for years, even if you haven't. You'll only draw attention to yourself if you look confused or lost. If you're scared or in a bad situation, duck out. Don't ever put yourself at risk for something that makes you uncomfortable.
Solo travel is fun because it is a challenge, not because it's something that's easy or going to come naturally right away. While it's important to be aware of your surroundings and what you're doing, please know that not everyone is bad. Remaining fearful and living your life being terrified of street harassment or being pickpocketed is no way to live. Enjoy yourself. Most people aren't out to get you.