Female Solo Travel Safety, My Worst Dates with Travel
Updated: Sep 2
Photo by Estee de Villiers
My worst travel date is when I ALMOST never made it home. Don’t let that be you! Use these tips to keep safe on your next trip, and have fun along the way.
In dating, confidence is key. In travel, it’s protection through preparation. You would never go on a date without making sure you were protected, vetting your date, keeping a friend informed, learning about them, and being cautious. It’s the same with travel safety.
Read on for my worst dates with travel, and what I learned from them.
Table of Contents
Great Wall of China, Mutianyu Section
MY WORST DATE WITH TRAVEL
I opened the door of the taxi before a cement road barrier, forcing my driver to stop or otherwise damage his vehicle. I leaped out of the car and quickly opened the trunk to remove my friend’s bags, at which point the driver began hurrying the bags back in. We had accepted a ride from a taxi company that passed our destination, would not tell us where we were headed, and would not stop his car. Once I shut the trunk, I walked straight into the hotel and reported the incident to the concierge and security personnel. After arriving in Beijing’s airport, my friends and I had accepted a ride from a taxi company. As I would on a first date, I pulled out all my tricks. I had my friend keep her phone open with an emergency number ready to call. We rolled down our windows if an escape became necessary, and we questioned the driver in prepared Chinese phrases, asking details about where we were headed. Because I was prepared, we made it out safely. Luckily, nothing happened to my friends or me, but we sometimes ask ourselves, what would have happened if we were not prepared?
let's talk travel protection
Travel wallets are the new sexy. Invest in a good one. My favorite is a neck wallet with a long, adjustable band I can extend to keep my wallet around my waist and tucked into my pants, over leggings, or beneath a dress. Wearing one this way allows you to keep it flat against your body, and if you are wearing a lower cut blouse, the straps won’t be showing. I sleep with mine when I'm traveling in some countries. When taking a train in Maharashtra, India without closed sleeper cars, I felt a lot easier knowing my passport, money, and travel debit card were sleeping easily too.
VET YOUR DATE
Would you go on a Tinder date without Googling or Facebooking your match beforehand? Probably not. So, make sure you’re just as careful with choosing which countries you choose to visit. When I am in countries with "a bad track record," my mind is always on high alert. You’ve heard, "Be on your guard," but what does that mean? When standing in public places, keep your back against a wall. This is especially important when you need to make a phone call in public. I found that doing so in a country like Morocco where sexual harassment is normal often deters cat callers. Statistically, some of the countries you will be traveling to are safer than popular American cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. This is where your street smarts come in. Keep your eyes up, looking straight ahead, and walk at an even pace when in public. (In Japanese cultures, eye contact is rude, and in Morocco, it can be seen as an invitation).
KEEP A FRIEND INFORMED
Taking a taxi or Uber? Take a picture of the license plate on the car. Did you arrange to have a driver pick you up, or to go on an organized tour? Send details of your trip to a trusted, loyal friend just as you would do before a first date. If you’re taking the ride with friends, decide beforehand who will sit where. Make it a habit to keep one hand on the door’s handle. I usually refuse to keep my baggage in the trunk (unless the driver has been hired by my hotel, in which case they have a record of where I am). I’d rather hold my bags, so that I can get out if I need to. Tell your hotel’s front desk where you are going. It pays to be cautious.
CALL YOUR FRIEND
Pretending to talk on the phone while in view of suspicious persons can be a great deterrent, even if you don’t have cell service or an international plan. But it’s important enough to switch to a cell company with a travel plan, so you can make an emergency call if you really need to. (Plus, your friends miss you). In Fez, Morocco, I used my emergency international plan to find a doctor to treat a severe allergic reaction to henna. (One word of caution, test everything first).
Ben Youssef Mosque, Morocco
LEARN THEIR LIKES AND DISLIKES
Be sensitive to hierarchies because you might not be aware of what is underlying your interactions, especially when you are traveling in a country with a long history (Morocco), where thousands of years have informed the cultural norms
Outside the mall in Casablanca, Morocco, I accidentally started a small riot by not following this most important tip. The first taxi in a long line of cars approached my friends and me with a ride. (Apparently, the taxis wait patiently for their turn). When he appeared to be making sexual comments to his friends about me, I decided we should accept a ride from another taxi that had gained my trust. Intuition and travel experience told me not to, but what ensued was a hasty fight, Arabic insults were hurled across the taxi cabs in the hot sun and escalated in the men attempting to pull my friends from our chosen taxi and force the doors open. It’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself in this situation but diverting attention through appearing disinterested not only works when being unwelcomingly hit on, it works here too. Keep your cool. One of my favorite mantras is "Be easy," and I’d say it to myself here.
don't get TOO serious too fast
Don’t give out your hotel name or location. Do not invite anyone into your room (Yeah, your Mama told you!) If a bellboy insists (probably because they want a tip), do not let them carry your bags through your door. My first night in a foreign country, I had booked a one-night stay during a long layover at the New Delhi airport. An airport employee was rather persistent about following me to my hotel with my luggage. He asked repeatedly if I was alone, where my friends were, and what time I was leaving. Lying, I told him my flight was a couple hours later than it actually was. I was worried he would try to meet me before my flight, or worse, try again to get in my room. We’ve all done this to avoid awkwardness with bad first dates. Haven’t we? A little white lie never hurt anyone, and a little truth could hurt you. Be wary of other travelers so long as you don’t exclude yourself from valuable experiences. Believe it or not but a lot of travelers come to foreign countries with poor intentions. As if you were at a bar or club in the states, guard your drink, keep your hands on your valuable items (if they are not in your travel wallet), don’t turn your back to anyone, and keep your phone number to yourself. The same can be said for locals too, but where travel safety becomes unsafe, is when it puts the likelihood of you opening yourself to new experiences in danger. My first time in India during 2014, I had a wonderful experience when the caretaker at my apartment complex, Mohan, brought tea and bland foods to me. I was in bed for three days from a combination of food sickness and the dreary monsoon weather. My body was clammy, and the soothing chai tea was a welcome invitation, a reminder that in travel, when you can’t always protect yourself from dangers like contaminated food or bad weather, there are still others who can.
FINALLY, PREP BEFORE YOU GO OUT
1. Learn phrases in the local language to defend yourself against would-be-harassers, join the Hollaback movement of women.
2. A portable door lock will help you sleep more soundly, especially if you are a woman traveling alone.
3. Pepper spray is a yes! for your carryon. I keep mine attached to a keyring on my safety wallet for easy access. BUT remember to stow your pepper spray before flying. (One of my first flights in a foreign country, I accidentally carried mine through security at an Indian military airport. Trust me. You don’t want the pat down).
4. For U.S. citizens, I recommend enrolling the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. You’ll get emails with travel warnings if you include your travel plans when signing up. Countries have foreign officials committed to keeping you safe.
5. Store emergency numbers in your phone (for law enforcement, hospitals, embassies).
6. Make sure you have a clear label for your emergency contact in your phone.