Guide: How to travel safely alone?
How do we travel alone, as a woman, as a young person, on a small budget, safely? It is likely that this question will come to everyone’s minds! I have been traveling for over 10 years, and the vast majority of these trips were solo trips both inside and outside Europe. I have created a set of rules and guidelines to help me explore freely, and to guarantee that my parents can sleep peacefully, while I travel around. This guide will help you create an easy routine, to be able to travel as much as you want, wherever you would want!
It is worth starting the preparation before the trip, clear communication and clarified roles make everyone’s job easier. When I travel alone, it gives me the greatest sense of security to know that everything is at hand: I don’t have to look for a pharmacy in case of a headache, I don’t have to go from restaurant to restaurant in the absence of internet. In Morocco, for example, my medication brought me back from the brink of fainting, after I managed to eat a dubious dish. If I would have fainted in my room probably no one would have searched for me until the next morning.
The contact person
You will need a person who can be fully trusted, you can count on him/her, and who can really help. Reliability is important because you will share a lot of personal information with that person. In addition to reliability, the ability to help is also an important criteria, it can be very useful if that person speaks foreign languages, if can handle administration, this will make your job easier!
For me that person is my mom, and my partner (if he stays home, and it’s not travelling with me). I know for sure that they would bring me home even from the end of the world! In addition they both know my travel habits very well, they know that I never put myself in unnecessary danger.
I know for a fact that my mother is extra creative! One of my most embarrassing experiences was when she couldn’t reach me on my way back to the university, and she wasn’t sure if I could catch my connecting bus. Sometimes bus and train stations are where the pickpockets try their best to catch someone’s belongings, so she was worried. She called the office of the bus company, managed to get the phone number of the spare driver, and called him. The second bus driver (who was a spare so he wasn’t driving) shouted back if Mónika was on the bus because her mom couldn’t reach her.
First and foremost is important to give the itinerary, broken down into days to the contact person. An Excel or Word spreadsheet is suitable for this. Key elements: date, location, accommodation (address, contact), arrival, departure. In the case of detailed programs, this can also add other information. In the case of a more spontaneous trip, you can tell the contact person what is the plan for the day when you are contacting him/her.
Accommodation address and contact details
It is very useful to forward the booking confirmation to the contact person, so it can be credibly verified that the accommodation has been actually booked and confirmed back. The accommodation can be contacted by phone if the traveller does not check in at the agreed time. Receptionists usually speak foreign languages, and even if they do not disclose personal information and the whereabouts of the traveller, they can notify you that someone has been looking for you.
Address of consulates and embassies
With a few minutes of searching, this information is immediately available, but it doesn’t hurt to have it at hand, sometimes speed also matters. The European Commission’s search engine is dedicated for this: SEARCH
It is good to know that in case of EU nationals, if the country of your nationality does not have an embassy in the destination country, you can apply for protection from a foreign mission of any EU Member State! In practice, however, bilateral agreements are in place and a foreign mission is appointed in advance to assist unrepresented citizens.
Local emergency numbers
Within the EU, the usual 112 will work in all countries, but in the case of third countries it is worth saving them in advance in your phone, and good to give them to the contact person as well.
It can also have a deterrent role if the attacker sees that the traveller is talking to the authority on the phone and the competent authorities have been notified.
A photocopy or photo of travel documents is also important for the traveller, but the contact person may also need it, in case she/he will act on behalf of the traveller!
You can also officially register on the Consular Service website before you travel, making it easier for the authorities! The information provided during registration will help you find the traveller, contact your family, relatives if you get into an emergency (natural disaster, riot or any other problem). You can register here: Hungary REGISTRATION, Romania REGISTRATION . It is worth informing the contact person about the fact of registration!
Medications and first aid
Pain and fever relief
High heat, fatigue, pressure changes due to flight, environmental changes can easily cause headaches. Due to the strong sunshine and improper use of sunscreen, skin burns can be associated with fever and headaches in the evening, but the climate can also cause fever, it is not bad if we have an antidote. In this case, menthol tablets also come in handy, as the air conditioning can cause you trouble!
Bruises and stings are a constant part of a hike or a journey. It is good if the injury can be treated properly and immediately and you can forget about it! In other climates, our body’s responses and reactions can change completely, so it’s not worth playing with this. A small bottle of wound disinfectant can help!
It’s a constant danger, especially if you’re trying local dishes or street food, drinking tap water! It can easily ruin even the most beautiful travel if your stomach is upset, so it’s important to have tablets with you that can save your trip! One of the best parts of travelling abroad is trying the local dishes, who would want to give this up?
A trip is usually a more intense period for your body as well, unusual weather, intense exercise, little sleep, mountains make the terrain more difficult, so it is important to supplement your minerals and vitamins properly. The calcium tablet is excellent against sunburn and weakness too!
Within Europe, as an EU citizen you are entitled to free emergency care if you have a valid European Health Insurance Card , but this does not provide full protection. The properties of good a insurance involves that they pay in advance, and have 24/7 customer service. I think prepayment is useful because you won’t have to bother with the card’s daily limits on the spot, and you won’t have to deal with billing difficulties afterwards, they will handle that part. The details of the insurance and the customer service number should be provided to the contact person who can mediate between the insurer and the hospital if necessary.
During the trip: Best practices
24 hour check-in
Give a sign to the contact person that you are okay at least once every 24 hours. This can be anything from a WhatsApp message to a video call! For countries where you can have internet connection without trouble a 24 hour window is more than enough. It is easiest to do it before going to bed or waking up, as most accommodations will have an internet connection or a desktop computer that can be used in case of lost or stolen devices.
The 24 hours can also be kept in countries where you do not plan to use mobile internet, you can only access the internet in accommodation and restaurants. On the other hand, there can be longer hikes, nomadic tent adventures where only 48 hours will be feasible. However, it is not recommended to set a longer time! In the event of a problem, the longer duration also makes things difficult for the authorities and the relatives.
24-48 hour window is a reasonable time frame, but it has nothing to do with police deadlines, there is no need to wait 24/48 hours from the disappearance to the start of a police search! If there is a reasonable suspicion that the traveller may have been harmed, the authorities (anywhere in the world) will begin the search.
Coordinate your daily program
The contact person, in a good and easy case, is a parent or friend to whom you would tell your experiences anyway. Tell them in advance what your daily plan is, approximately when will you get back to the accommodation, when you will call them next time. You can also send pictures on the go, in return, the person you trust can follow your path and notice sooner if there’s a problem!
Authorities should be contacted as soon as there is a reasonable suspicion that the traveller may have difficulties. Before that, it’s worth checking out the latest social media activity to see if they have shared content, and if so, when! If the contact person knows the traveller well, they will notice if their activity is different or the silence is lasting too long.
Tour selection, itineraries
Traveling alone, especially as a woman, sometimes involves giving up on plans, for example, it is not recommended to walk around alone in a forest in a new country, go alone to a trip with a male tour guide, walk alone on busy highways, or hitchhike. The more challenging hikes are also worth skipping, in case of injury there will be no one to help. Along with the routine, more and more items will be removed from this blacklist for example, I have tried them all on my own. But it is to be expected that the risk will increase in this case, a park guard may surprise you by following you down the hidden tracks of the forest, even at Machu Picchu, which is one of the most frequented places in the world.
Easy and safe choices include staying in the crowd, using local public transportation, going on organized tours, or looking for a travel buddy on the go, hostels are always good starting point for that!
If you are not looking for a travel buddy on the way, local organized tours are a great option, the steep mountains can be visited completely safely, and the knowledge and preparedness of the local tour guides will help you!
Over time, these rules can loosen up as you slowly get into the routine. But in the beginning it is worth paying attention to everything! For example if you have no other option but to go on a guided tour alone with a male tour guide you can ask for their nametag, take a photo and send it to the contact person.
You don’t have to be alone all the way! I have friends from almost all over the world! A proven recipe is hanging out in the common areas of the hostel, there you can find the largest number of solo travellers, and here is the easiest to find travel companions.
If this kind of getting to know each other is not your game, then the second option is free sightseeing tours! In these cases, a group with a similar interest comes together, it is easy to mingle and find someone sympathetic with the same travel style.
I would not recommend using dedicated travel buddy connecting services.
The singled out
In countries where you do not speak the official language, it is useful to pick out a person who is well recognisable by a unique hat, t-shirt, hair, etc. and who is checking in on the same plane, buys a ticket for the same bus, gets off the same bus. If you have a problem, you don’t know which bus to get back on, you can’t find the boarding gate, you just have to look for that person!
Once this tip actually saved me! If you’re wondering around in a town, it’s visible that you’re a tourist, and after 5 minutes, anyone can tell with 100% certainty that you’re traveling alone, so in order to have control it’s worth breaking from time to time your walking rhythm. Sometimes go faster, sometimes slow down or even stop for a second, look around, and alternate between them without logic! If someone follows you, he will immediately stand out from the crowd, as he too is moving without logic!
In Cuzco I was followed by a young man, when I stopped he also stopped, when I went backward he turned back as well, he even took off his hood to make some modification so I wouldn’t notice him. And we played this for 10-15 minutes, he was waiting for me to reach a more quiet section of the street. So I waved the first taxi and told him what happens, I even showed him the guy, but the taxi driver didn’t believe me! Despite this he took me for a ride, as my accommodation was really close, I didn’t wanted to go straight there, so we circulated for a couple of minutes. There he offered to wait 5 minutes in front of the entrance, in case something goes wrong and I would need to leave, he also asked me not to go back to notify him if the check-in was successful, and advised me to spend the rest of the day inside.
Who are you?
You will inevitable meet interesting people, whit whom you are going to chat on your way. It is important to be prepared for these cases as well, to know in advance what information you can share about yourself and what questions you should avoid answering.
When I travel, I like to mingle with locals, I love talking with them, get to know them, but it’s important to draw boundaries, where the information we give out would compromise the safety of our journey. For me, such a category is the length of the trip, the purpose of the trip, the next destination and usually my plans during the trip, the name and address of my accommodation, the fact that I am traveling alone.
Try to find a larger hotel near your accommodation in advance, remember the name and address. In case you get lost, ask for directions to this larger hotel! If someone insists to accompany you or goes after you, you can walk in there without any hassle and explanation and leave the reception area when you feel safe. Another good strategy is asking the directions to a tourist attraction nearby your accommodation, from where you can already find your way.
It may seem like paranoia, but there are many cultures where the etiquette and custom is that if someone asks for direction they should accompany the person to the desired address (Morocco, Vietnam, Kenya). In such cases, it is very easy to notice that you are alone, to remember where you have stayed.
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After the trip
Are you wondering about the safety of the internet you are using during your trips? The security of the internet connection used during the trip is questionable, so it does not hurt to change your passwords to your e-mails, social media accounts, internet banking, etc., after you arrive home, and set the territorial restriction on the credit cards.https://www.youtube.com/embed/iNqYe6FPk3g?start=2&feature=oembed
Social media presence
A good rule of thumb: if you travel alone don’t share your experiences right away! No matter how intense the experience is, it’s not worth risking your safety because of it. Thanks to location and searchable keywords, anyone can find them in their explore page, and from there they can find out that you are a solo traveller, where are you, etc.
Share them when you get home or you leave that city, or even the country!
I hope this checklist was useful, and will contribute to your safe travels when you are wondering around the world flying solo!
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