Traveling safely – a guide for solo woman travellers

Hi Frugalistas!

One of my lovely readers, Linda, recently contacted me about hotels in Paris that would be safe for her as a solo traveller.  Now, most of the time I travel in Europe I also travel alone.  It therefore got me thinking about the things I do to make sure I keep myself safe when I’m travelling solo.  Travelling safely is an important travel skill to master, so here are my top tips for safe and confident solo travel:

1.  Pack light

I know, I say this all the time, but packing light is travelling safe.  If you pack lightly you have less stuff to worry about.  On the train, it is easier to keep track of your luggage.  Not being weighed down by heavy bags and backpacks also makes you less of a target for thieves or pickpockets.

Could you stop a determined thief from running off with a bag like this?

Could you stop a determined thief from running off with a bag like this?

I’m not an obsessively neat person, but when I am traveling I am meticulous in always packing my suitcase with everything in exactly the same place, and packing my handbag exactly the same.  I can then see at a glance if I’ve forgotten anything, or if anything is missing.

2.  Leave your precious jewels at home

Whether it’s your priceless tiara (come now, I know you’ve got one!) or just something of sentimental value, leave any jewelery you really don’t need that is of any value at home.  If you love your bling go for great chunky costume pieces that impress but don’t tempt……

Personally, I stick to just my wedding band and a pair of classic earrings for every day, with some classy costume pieces to dress up my outfits.

Depending on where you are traveling, single girls may find a cheap wedding band a good investment as a security against unwanted male attention.

3.  Choosing a hotel

I like to choose a hotel that has 24hr reception.  When it comes to location in large cities I like to choose a central neighbourhood that is well to do and has a good restaurant/cafe scene, so I’ve got plenty of food options.  That also means that there will be other people around eating out.  I also like to choose an area with good public transport links, so if I am coming back in the dark I don’t have far to walk.

In Paris I prefer the 7th (near the Eiffel Tower) or the Marais

In Paris I prefer the 7th (near the Eiffel Tower) or the Marais

I avoid areas near the railway station (as a general principle, they can be less safe) or night club districts (apart from anything else they tend to be noisy!)

4.  Using public transport

At the train station, keep around other people, and never, ever leave anything unattended.  That means taking your luggage into the loo cubicle (another reason to travel light!)  Get into carriages with other people.

During quiet travel times, like at night or early mornings (and weekends in some places) use bigger train stations in preference to small ones.  Train stations that are connections for multiple lines are often a good choice as there are more people moving through them.

At night, buses can be a good option because you’ve got the driver, and many of them will have CCTV cameras etc as an extra security measure.

At night on the train, plan in advance so you don't need to study the maps and line plans too obviously

At night on the train, plan in advance so you don’t need to study the maps and line plans too obviously

If you are catching public transport at night study your route in advance so you know exactly where you going and when to get off.  Work out the shortest possible route, and try hard not to check your map, or the train/bus route.  You will look more confident.

If you are anxious, or don’t feel safe, take a taxi.  Keeping yourself self and secure is always money well spent.

5.  Getting out and about

Be aware of local tourist scams.  Most guide books, and many blogs will mention the common ones.  I have personally experienced the “ring scam” in Paris about 4 times, so these things are not urban myths.  If you are worried or unsure, ask at your hotel or hostel for specific things to keep an eye out for.

Watch your personal belongings extra carefully around large crowds, popular tourist sites, airports and train stations.  That is where scammers and pick pockets often congregate.

Pay particular attention when out at night.  I prefer to eat locally at night so I don’t need to catch public transport, and so am I walking in familiar territory if it’s dark.  If you are nervous about going out alone at night, eat your main meal at lunch, then just take a sandwich or something light back to your room for dinner.  Or eat dinner early – although in Europe that will cut down your options.

I still love eating out at night, but I do safely

I still love eating out at night, but I do safely

Look like you belong.  Not always easy depending on your colouring and where you are travelling.  But look confident, don’t dress like a tourist (no bumbags/fanny packs or security pouches round your neck for example) and try not to study your guidebook or map in a prominent position where you will be easily seen.

6.  Keep yourself nice

LImit your alcohol.  Have a drink (or even two or three) but make sure you limit yourself so you can keep your wits intact, and you don’t look or behave like you’ve had a bit too much.  Naturally, normal rules about taking care in accepting drinks from strangers, watching your glass etc apply.

I love a drink (or 2 or 3) as much as anyone, but make sure I stay in control

I love a drink (or 2 or 3) as much as anyone, but make sure I stay in control

Don’t go off with strange men unless you are prepared to manage the consequences.  Yes, just like Mother told you.  She was/is right.  We all love to talk to locals when we travel.  Some of those locals may be men.  We may even want to meet men when we travel.  That’s normal.  But do take care in letting people know where you are staying (vague is better with someone you’ve just met), accepting rides etc.  Remember when you’re on your own in a strange town, you’ve got no wing man to give you “that look” to protect you.

By following these simple guidelines I travel solo safely and confidently.  I would love to hear from other solo women travellers about what works well for you, so we can share and all learn to do this important travel skill better every time we travel.

Related post: When to save and when to splurge


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25 Comments on “Traveling safely – a guide for solo woman travellers”

  1. RosemaryK (@AussieFrance) 23/08/2013 at 8:54 pm #

    Good advice that will surely be appreciated by women travelling solo.

    I quite often take the Paris metro alone and one rule I always respect at night is to make sure I get into a carriage with other women in it, preferably several. If not, take the carriage closest to the head of the train. Also, don’t use your smart phone. Reading a novel and not a guide book is a good idea because you look more like a local. You could especially keep a slim French novel in your bag for this purpose! If anyone gets up close, simply move closer to other passengers.

    Having said that, I’ve never had a problem in the metro. If using the bus, sit close to the driver.

    One other thing. Australians tend to “dress up” at night which is not the case in France. You’ll attract less attention, particularly if you’re young, if you forget about very short skirts, shorts and décolletés at night.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 24/08/2013 at 8:42 am #

      Great insider advice for Paris Rosemary. Another good principle Mother was/is right about is not going out ‘looking like that’ especially on your own.

      I love the idea of carrying a local language book for the train at night!

      Thanks for more great insider tips!

  2. B 23/08/2013 at 9:52 pm #

    In some places, a prominent phone conversation when you get in the taxi can be useful, as in, “Hi, I just got into the taxi on such and such street so see you in ten minutes!” Adding the taxi number to the concerned but invisible (possibly fictional) friend has also been suggested.

  3. Pamela 24/08/2013 at 10:38 am #

    Really good advice. I was in Paris solo this year for about 10 days and found people really kind and helpful. I’m 66 and walk with a stick so don’t use the metro because of all the stairs. I either walk or take taxis, much cheaper in Paris than London. Drivers were mostly very friendly and polite (the others just silent) – I heard almost the life stories of some. Having a reasonable amount of French helps a lot and makes life more interesting. But if you don’t, make sure you have the full correct addresses of your destination printed clearly on a piece of paper and give it to the driver. Believe there’s a scam where some drivers just take foreigners to the airport when all they want is to go somewhere local in the city.
    I always have the main meal at lunch, usually very much cheaper, and was always treated with great courtesy and pleasantly by waiters, never pushed into bad tables as you sometimes hear about women on their own. At Le Grand Colbert I was seated in an area where there were other solo diners (all men apart from me). The man at the table next to me was an artist, sketching the scene between courses. We struck up a conversation and had a marvellous lunch together, chatting and laughing. He was a professional artist, French, from St Remy de Provence and invited me to call next time I’m there, and bring my husband. So dining alone can be very pleasant and enable you to meet interesting people. My hotel, the Recamier, at Place St Sulpice was excellent, well located, stylish, comfortable, helpful staff, great friendly ambience. It was like a home away from home. Every day I’d return and have the complimentary afternoon tea and meet the other guests (many also travelling solo), in the little salon. We’d exchange stories of where we’d spent the day and often quite useful information. So never be afraid to travel alone provided you follow sensible advice as above. And always always follow the normal French courtesy of wishing someone Bonjour Monsieur or Madame up front. It makes a lot of difference. Otherwise they think you’re rude and are likely to be curt in response. Best wishes, Pamela

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 24/08/2013 at 11:44 am #

      Agree with all your thoughts, Pamela. I too have had some lovely experiences chatting to people in Paris restaurants as a solo diner. A main meal at lunchtime is also very frugalfirstclasstravel-friendly, as even pricy places are cheaper at lunchtime.

      I really like your idea of having your destination written clearly for the taxi driver.

      I’ve written separately about getting on with the French and French shopping etiquette. They can be searched in my archives under France.

      Thanks so much sharing your experience as an older solo traveller.

  4. Blake 24/08/2013 at 6:09 pm #

    Great advice! I especially like your public transport advice. I always try to learn the subway map before actually using it-Better to look confident than staring at a map in confusion 🙂

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 24/08/2013 at 6:46 pm #

      Yes, looking confident is key I think. I always “learn” my route before I head off for the train. If I’m going to be passing through the big central stations I do that for day time travel too.
      In Europe most trains have little maps of the line route inside the carriage. I try and sit near one of those so I can follow along if need be without looking obviously at a map

  5. Anne @ Pretraveller 24/08/2013 at 6:37 pm #

    Jo, thanks for a great article. My other tip is to be more aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable then leave by any means possible. If you notice someone following you make sure you go where the other people are and don’t panic – you can’t make good decisions.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 24/08/2013 at 6:48 pm #

      I agree wholeheartedly, Anne. Regardless of where you are (and whether you “should” feel safe) and who you are around, if you don’t feel comfortable, it’s not a safe place to be. You can’t make good decisions if you are anxious or worried.

      Thanks for adding to the collective wisdom!

  6. Great tips! I try to pack light but sometimes it is difficult. My personal tip is to be a little paranoid about your surroundings. Keep your head on a swivel and be aware of who is nearby. Otherwise, travelling solo is lots of fun!

  7. Aubrey 30/08/2013 at 7:13 am #

    Lots of really great tips here and some great comments as well! I totally agree about memorizing the metro maps, except I’m not great at that, I sometimes get flustered and completely forget especially if it’s super busy. So I try to write down the name of my stop in a little notebook I carry, along with stops at the beginning and ending of the line for reference.

  8. Johanna 30/08/2013 at 7:23 pm #

    Awesome advice. So many people make themselves vulnerable and think that everyone has their best interests at heart when they are on holiday travelling. The hardest thing for me is always packing light, but I can when pushed, put all I need into a rucksack that I can easily carry on my back – despite the fact that I’m too old really to be a conventional backpacker!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 30/08/2013 at 8:11 pm #

      Hi Johanna, yes, I thinks that’s one of the key issues – many women, who are normally quite sensible, can become very naive and overly trusting once they get in a foreign country or a strange town. I’ve had a number of friends over the years find themselves in quite sticky situations (especially with men they’ve met) that they would just never do at home.
      Thanks for adding to collective wisdom on this important topic!

  9. Lyn 04/09/2013 at 7:25 pm #

    Thanks to everyone for the great advice. Ver valuable to a new traveller.

  10. Dianne W 28/09/2013 at 7:23 am #

    All very good tips. I don’t “travel light,” but always have my items under my total control. I carry my passport and money in a neck wallet worn cross-body under an item of clothing. For other daily carry incidentals (camera, map, phone, etc.) I use a security purse from Pacsafe or similar. Wear the purse cross-body and keep it latched and under one arm. Don’t use a smartphone or iPad while walking (many thousands are snatched every year right out of people’s hands) and don’t put a phone, iPad, or iPod down on a cafe table. Happy travels, they will be if you’re aware and watchful.

    • Pamela 28/09/2013 at 11:39 pm #

      Agree, definitely don’t put your smart phone or tablet on café/bar table. Common ploy is for a plausible looking person to approach your table and ask a question (eg “Aren’t you Mary Smith? Are you American? OR Do you know where the closest Metro is?”) At the same time they put their newspaper/book, shopping bag or whatever on top of your phone and when they leave, take it with them under their newspaper/book. By the time you notice it’s gone, it’s too late. Also, try to avoid cafes/bars that are fairly clearly set up for tourists – they seem to be targeted more by thieves. Though even at places more frequented by locals you aren’t entirely safe from this type of scam as some of these sneak thieves go after locals too. That said, I visit Paris quite frequently, sometimes on my own, and I’ve never had a problem with thieves (in past few years have also visited UK, Poland, Hungary, Vienna, Russia – likewise) – but I always wear a cross-the-body handbag, avoid walking in crowds and keep my wits about me. Always look confident (even if you don’t feel it). Thieves tend to target people who look vulnerable and nervous or are so obviously excited about looking at and/or photographing a tourist site that they clearly have no idea what’s going on around them. Also, be aware that in some countries, particularly Russia, if you photograph Lenin (or similar look a likes or costumed people) they’re going to demand money from you. They can be quite a nuisance pushing themselves forward for you to photograph or inviting you to pose with them and then want your money, some are not satisfied with small change. That’s fine if you’re happy with that. But they can be a nuisance. So learn to say nyet beforehand or just ignore.

      • frugalfirstclasstravel 29/09/2013 at 7:19 am #

        Thanks, Pamela, for alerting readers to other potential scams/ploys.

        Appearing confident is obviously the number one tip though!

  11. Late Start Wealth (@LateStartWealth) 27/09/2014 at 2:38 pm #

    Having traveled around the world for the past two years as a solo female, my favourite tip is to NEVER hang your purse from the back of your chair, it can be grabbed without you knowing. Always place it in front of you, even if it has to go on the ground. Place at least one handle around your ankle area.

    If I go out by myself and going to be later than 11 pm, I always cab it back, it’s worth every penny. (And surprisingly not that expensive in some of the larger cities.) Unless it’s a concert or show where many people are exiting and taking the train at the same time – the safety is in numbers.

    When checking into a hotel, I always wear a wedding ring and mention my husband MAY be able to join me, if he can get away from work, that is…and ask for two key cards. I learned this the hard way in Egypt when I mentioned I was single when I checked in, somehow every other male employee knew I was single and was harassed to the point I had to complain to management. (I have no such husband, but they don’t know that – you never have to provide a marriage certificate.)

    Learn to say a few words in a unique language, so when someone does pressure you for sales, or a scam, chat away in those words like you don’t know what they are saying and they won’t understand you. I use Ukrainian and Hungarian – I just jabber a few nonsensical words, keep walking and they’ll leave you alone.

    Always sit at the bar and always take the detour. Smile and be chatty – I’ve made the coolest friends that way. The world is generally a great, friendly place with most people happy to help.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 27/09/2014 at 2:59 pm #

      Fantastic advice – I particularly like the one about the two keys in case your husband arrives.


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