On Traveling: Solo Safety Issues

by Beth Whitman (January 14th, 2013)

Woman Jumping in the MountainsUpdate 2/6/13 – This post was written prior to my learning of the murder of Sarai Sierra in Turkey. I’ll be following up soon with my thoughts on solo travel as it relates to Sarai as well as the unbelievable backlash at women who want to travel solo.


Late last year, many of you answered our newsletter survey. What you wanted more of was info on solo travel, traveling as a woman and budget travel.

This is the first in what will be a series of mostly Monday posts called On Traveling that will cover a variety of topics. Missed the survey but still have an opinion on what you’d like to hear more about? Leave a comment below. Simple as that :-)


First, a little background…

I started Wanderlust and Lipstick (the book series and website) because I had traveled solo for much of my life and I wanted to encourage other women to do the same. I started teaching classes For Women Traveling Solo after returning from a year-long backpacking trip through the Pacific Rim countries. I taught 2.5 hour workshops at community colleges in the Seattle area and loved it. But when the internet exploded, I knew that I could get my message and words of inspiration out to a larger audience.

So, that’s how this all started. I was moved to help other women get out on their own to travel by providing tips and, hopefully, a bit of kick ass inspiration.

If you’ve ever considered a solo journey, you’ve likely heard your friends, family and colleagues say that you can’t travel by yourself because…

  • It’s unsafe
  • You’ll be lonely
  • You’ll have no one to eat meals with
  • You’ll have no one to talk to
  • It’s more expensive to travel by yourself
  • You can’t leave your husband/partner/friends/kids/etc. home while you’re off having fun
  • Yadda yadda

Today, let’s explore the safety issue.

Indeed, as solo women travelers we may be more frequently targeted by a thief or sexual predator but that doesn’t mean we have to be more vulnerable. We’ve got our 6th sense and by paying attention to our surroundings and going with our gut, often we can avoid high risk situations and/or extract ourselves quickly from potentially dangerous encounters.

I interviewed numerous women when writing Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo. Some of these gals had shared stories about nearly being attacked. Though my sampling may have been small, all of these women admitted that from the beginning of the encounter, they had a feeling that something wasn’t quite right but they didn’t know how to remove themselves from the situation. They didn’t want to be rude, they didn’t feel confident enough to stand up for themselves or they didn’t know what to say.

I think we’ve all been there. We accept a ride from someone who may seem a little creepy but because he’s a friend of a friend, we think it’s OK. And because we’re in a new city, we’re grateful that someone’s willing to show us the way home. We allow a conversation to go on a little too long with that stranger on the train in Amsterdam because we don’t want to be impolite and we’re feeling a bit lonely anyway. Or we accept a dinner invitation from from the cute guy at the backpacker hostel in Bangkok because, well, he is so cute (despite the tattoos on his knuckles).

And while I think every one of these situations COULD yield a life-long friendship (and perhaps even a real romance), the opposite is also true. It’s quite possible that danger could be lurking just beyond that winning smile.

So how do you know the difference?

First and foremost, are you putting yourself in a risky situation? Walking back alone to your hotel late at night because you don’t want to pay for a cab? Hitchhiking in an unsafe neighborhood? Sipping drinks alone at a bar while you wait for a friend to arrive?

The above examples are all things I’ve done. And none of them are probably the wisest of moves. I’ve been really fortunate, but I’m also hyper alert in these situations. Doing the best I can to ensure no one’s following me when I am walking alone; turning down rides Woman walking in snowfrom suspicious characters (hey, for the record, I haven’t hitchhiked in more than 20 years); not striking up conversations in bars when I’m on my own.

While it’s true that there may be some luck involved when it comes to being safe, it takes awareness and confidence to avoid issues in the first place and then even more confidence to extract yourself when you’re uncomfortable in a situation.

There are some people who will read this and say I’m blaming the victim. But I’m not. I’m simply saying that when it comes to traveling solo, many times we can take precautions to ensure our own safety and that we can extract ourselves from potentially harmful situations if we don’t buy into the idea that we have to be nice ladies all of the time.

Having said that, we should be open to new experiences and the opportunity to meet others while we’re on the road. The truth is that it’s quite common to travel to another country and be invited to someone’s home as their honored guest.

Suss out the situation, be alert to potential dangers and have fun if you really feel like the situation is safe.

For those nervous newbie travelers or those maybe not as confident as others, I always recommend taking a self defense course to provide you with a bit of courage. Walking with self confidence might be all that it takes for a would-be thief to pass you on the street rather than trying to snatch your bag.

The bottom line is that other people’s fears that they project on to you, that “it’s not safe to travel alone,” should not even be in your vocabulary. It’s not the “alone” factor that necessarily makes a situation unsafe. Often it’s the “being careless” factor.

Travel Well,


Related links:
How to Save Money for Your Travels
Getting Over Your Fear of Travel

Photo credit:
Woman Jumping – Cory Spruit
Woman walking in Snow – Marco Lazzaroni




On January 15th, 2013 at 4:23 am, Theodora said:

I think solo female travel often does involve taking risks — as in, going out to that bar on your own, or walking back to your hotel on your own. And I think you’re right, though, to be aware of being alert.

I’m personally not averse to taking these risks, because that’s how one ends up having adventures — which is part of the fun of solo travel, I think.

On January 15th, 2013 at 5:34 pm, wandering educators said:

I think travel has risks, of any sort. But I agree, being careful and aware is a great first step.

On January 19th, 2013 at 8:33 pm, gabi klaf said:

i think it is powerful what you say, your message to women that they can travel the world alone. i used to think i could never do that, now after meeting so many solo female travelers, i know i can. your message to women, the info you give is sooo powerful. i just posted about ‘almost being raped’ which was terrifying for me on my spirituality site. like you said, always be aware and careful. thank you.

On February 6th, 2013 at 8:26 am, Sandy said:

I too think solo travel involves taking risks whether your are male or female. As females, especially in some areas of the world, we are much more vunerable, however, I love to travel solo. I can do what I want, when I want – it’s often really so much easier when you have learned to be comfortable on your own. And, as you point out, you must be aware of your surroundings, enjoy yourself, but don’t take unnecessary risks and practice smart travel habits.

On February 8th, 2013 at 3:00 pm, Beth Whitman said:

Amen, sister, on doing what you want, when you want to :-)

On February 9th, 2013 at 10:08 pm, Irena said:

Life is a risk. Whether you live in isolation in the country, in the bustling suburbs or a crowded major city. Sometimes, stuff happens and there is nothing we could do to prevent it. That’s life.

And things can happen to the most careful and risk-averse folks. The world is filled with truly terrific people and some folks who are predators. It’s a fact of life. And when even trained folks such as law enforcement can’t tell the difference, the average citizen cannot always know who represents danger (would that it were true that our intuition always worked. Sometimes it simply does not.) either.

Some people (men and women) seem to appear to be more vulnerable to those predators. Some of us also appear less vulnerable and we need to think about the various aspects that contribute to these perceptions and modify our dress, actions, behavior accordingly. This is just common sense.

The idea is not to make it easier to become a target. And to be aware of what does make us “pop” as one to a predator.

Terrible things like the murder of the young mother in Turkey do, sadly, happen. But people are victims of crimes in their own homes, victims of people they know!

Travel with mindfulness and awareness. And common sense. And realize, in some situations, you may NOT be able to travel solo all the time to all the places you want to (I hate to say that, but today, that IS true. There are places where a lone trained SEAL would be in danger, so we should not think it is about being a woman alone.)

Unfortunately, the negative fallout from this particular incident with the young mother in Turkey will encourage those who want to see women stay home to say “See, I told you so!” but women must resist this pressure.

Life is too short to miss out on travel. And the reality is, statistically speaking, that most of us will be hurt or killed in our own homes (accidents) and neighborhoods (most car accidents are something like within 10 minutes of where we live!). Not on a trip.

The fearful will use this as an excuse. The controlling will use this to make others fearful.

Hopefully, others, like Beth and women who travel, will encourage women to keep traveling.

On February 11th, 2013 at 7:54 pm, jane said:

I so agree with what you have written travelling solo for the last 2 years currently through India again cant stay away from this country, you develop a very strong sixth sense for personal safety.

There are certain places in my home city I would never venture alone at night, doing your research keeping your wits about you and keeping a sense of humour goes a long way when travelling solo as a women. Being a blue eyed blonde in this country attracts attention anyway, so short of dyed hair and contact lenses, being extra vigilant at train stations and large gatherings is a must.

When in Bihar recently with its deserved reputation of lawlessness I teamed up with a couple for a journey to Nolanda when our car was stopped by a large group of men in demand of money I was the first to hit the lock button, having to pay a small amount of money to extract yourself from a potentially dangerous situation was worth every cent.

In saying that though I have found the majority of people are good and welcome you to they’re country respecting dress and cultural boundaries is a must. Dont be in fear of having that conversation with a complete stranger, you could make a friend for life, being a single women though always have your strategic exit plan in place, single women do travel and can do safely, I was given emergency contact numbers for the police and women’s help line before attending the Kumbh Mela by a wonderful couple I met at a wedding, these are carried in my phone.

Happy safe travels all you single women.

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