This year marks the 8th year that I have been traveling abroad. That may not seem impressive for some of the seasoned travelers out there but it is a BIG deal for a girl who didn’t catch the travel bug until the age of 24.
Oops, did I just give my age away?
I have learned a lot during these past 8 years and I am finding my groove in packing, planning, and protecting myself while away from home. Recently, I have been asked a few questions regarding safety for first time and solo travelers. This is a great subject to think about during the planning phase of your upcoming trip, regardless if it is international or domestic. I have come up with several suggestions on what steps I have taken and what resources I have used to be safe while traveling as a couple, in a small group, or solo.
I am providing 4 suggestions that I personally used during my recent solo trip to Greece.
These are only four tips out of many available, so I recommend that you do your own due diligence and research on other travel blogger sites for diversified advice.
1. Communicate with your POCs
With today’s modern technology being so easily accessible and affordable, there is no excuse to not be in constant contact with your point of contacts (POCs) throughout your journey.
A POCs knows your itinerary inside and out. They know all the details including lodging, emergency information, tourist attraction location addresses, and transportation arrival and departure times.
Let me be clear. YOU are responsible for providing ALL the details to them before you leave as well as keeping them frequently updated with your whereabouts, ETAs, and overall status.
Who are good POCs?
- Responsible Relatives or Friends
- A significant other, if they are not traveling with you
Because international calling can be very expensive, consider any apps that allow you to text or make calls for free over a WIFI connection.
Apps I like to use include the following:
- Google Talk
- Facebook Messenger
Download all the apps and make sure all your POCs and emergency contacts have also downloaded the same app(s) and are connected with you.
Note: I provided a short list of different apps because not all apps work in all countries. For instance, Line and WeChat work better for me in Northern Asian Countries while Viber and WhatsApp worked well for me in European and South American countries. Just check before you go.
Create a group chat and send the update to the group to save time. Plus, everyone will be on the same page. Here is an example of me messaging my group of POCs on WhatsApp once I arrived to my destination. See screen shot below.
When you are headed to a destination, screen shot your current location as well as the map/directions of the destination before starting your trek and while you still have access to WIFI. Include the name and address of your destination. When you arrive to your destination, simply send a text that states you have arrived.
Also, text the details of the people you are with. Make sure to include the full names of each person and even a photo if possible (a selfie with the person will works great).
If this seems like overkill, oh well! It is super efficient and gives your POCs all the details they need to help you out if something goes bad. Better to be weird and safe then sorry and alone. Find a way to obtain the info in a manner you are comfortable with and send the info as soon as possible.
2. Blend In:
Learn the cultural norms of the location you are visiting, wear the local fashion, and act like you belong. If your confidence is low, traveling is a great way to force you to build it quickly. If you prepared ahead of time, you should feel pretty confident.
Even if you try to blend in, you will most likely still standout. However, the easiest way to spot a tourist is the way a tourist presents themselves.
Now, depending on the location (rural vs. urban),canvas I will do certain things. I always study the streets and directions before starting off on my journey. Simply because I don’t want to look lost when walking and I want to walk with purpose.
Personally, for me it’s hard not to stand out. I am a tall, dark tanned girl with blonde hair (naturally blonde of course, haha). So I don’t ever really “blend in”. But when I walk with purpose, I give off the vibe that I know what I am doing and perhaps that I have been living in the area for a while. If I am in the city, I will wear a baseball cap and/or sunglasses. I don’t carry a flash bag or big backpack.
A tip for both girls and guys who don’t want to be bothered: I find that when I am solo, guys try to yell things at me to get my attention. I feel rude for ignoring people and I worry that I might offend for not responding, so I always have headphones on when I walk around the city so I seem like I can’t hear them.
Please note that I am not actually listening to any music or talking on the phone. I just want to look like I am so I won’t be bothered or seem rude for not acknowledging cat callers or unwanted attention. I don’t listen to music or talk on the phone because I want to be able to hear and be aware of everything that is happening around me.
3. Plan Ahead with Offline Apps and Set Up Alerts:
Download paper and or offline maps of ALL the places you want to go and the locations you will be staying at. I don’t like to plan every minute of my trips but I like to have maps for all the places I think I might want to visit.
I like the MAPS.ME free app and Offline Map Navigation. Screenshot of MAPS.ME below.
Use the apps to create a list of near by resources such as gas stations (if you are renting a car), ATM, banks, and money transfer locations.
Create a list of emergency numbers and hotel addresses and number. Share it with your POCs.
Don’t drive at night if you can help it (it’s hard to see signs on roads in other countries).
Also, set up alerts for the city and countries you will be visiting or passing through. You can set up alerts on the city and country you are visiting to keep you updated on critical local information. I set up Google news alerts and I register with my country’s Embassy in the various countries I visit (if you are a U.S. citizen you can start by visiting the S.T.E.P program webpage).
For example, when I was visiting Greece I set up both types of alerts and I received updates in near real-time and in advanced of planned events such as protests and demonstrations.
4. Be Friendly But Don’t Be Naive:
Look. When you were a kid, your mom told you not to lie. Momma was right BUT, I believe there is an exception when you travel.
As a solo person, it’s okay to lie and say you have a partner or a colleague or a friend waiting for you back at the hotel and you can’t stop and chat. It’s good for locals to think that you are not traveling alone. They may be genuinely nice but why take chances when you are by yourself.
Again, better safe then sorry.
Be nice to people but don’t ever give out accurate or full details about yourself or itinerary. Sometimes you will need help from locals, such as with directions or something. So obviously, that is a good scenario when you should give accurate and relevant information.
Don’t give out information unnecessarily. Locals ask a ton of questions to foreigners/travelers.
Where are you from?
Why are you visiting?
Who are you with?
What do you do for a job?
What are your plans?
Not everyone means to harm you but if there is not a CRITICAL reason for a local to know accurate information about you, don’t dish out the truth. You can even have fun with it and make up a fake background story.
In the end wanderlusters, the key to safety when traveling is knowledge and planning.
The reality is that most people in the places you will visit are super nice and welcoming but it pays to be cautious and prepared.
So have fun traveling!!
Let me know if you liked these suggestions, if they worked for you, or if you have some more to add (share in the comments).