The first question I almost always get on my solo trips is a variation of "Who would let a young woman travel alone?"
The answer is me. I made that decision for myself, thank you very much. Yes, there are dangers and situations of real concern but we can't live our lives in fear! What we CAN do is make sure that we are as prepared as we can be and just go for it - in every aspect of life.
So for anyone who doesn't have a travel partner but does have a dream destination or anyone who just WANTS to travel on their own, here are some tips and tricks that I've found to be helpful in preparing me as much possible to be safe and at ease when experiencing a once in a lifetime trip:
1. Determine if you need a rental car prior to the start of your trip.
It's safer and more reliable than using Uber or Lyft, although I've never had a negative experience with either. I've done the math many times and a rental seems to always only end up being about $20 more than using rideshares if you're planning on doing a lot.
EXCEPTION: Don't get a rental if the area you're traveling to has no parking. You'll end up spending more time and money than if you use rideshares in this case. Call your hotel or use your phone map to figure this out.
TIP: AAA members often have special discounts. ANOTHER TIP: Airport locations are easier to book from at the last minute, if you want a specific vehicle, or if you're planning to arrive late or early in the day.
2. Take daytime adventures.
Sightsee as much as you can during the day. You'll physically get to see more, you'll run into more people who can recommend other sights to see, you'll find more places will be open during the day, and you'll end up doing less walking alone at night.
TIP: If possible, adventure in areas that aren't too remote so that there are people around in case something goes wrong or you get lost not knowing your way around.
3. Always keep cash on you—but not in your wallet.
You never know when you're going to need to hail a cab, pay to enter the beach or tip in cash. Plus, ATM fees in touristy locations can often be expensive. Always take some cash out ahead of time and keep it on you separate from your wallet in case you, unfortunately, lose your wallet.
TIP: I use my bra as a pocket. No shame.
4. Get your food recommendation from locals, not the internet.
Don't get me wrong, I Yelp and Google everything and everywhere. But I always make a point to ask locals what to eat and where to visit while I'm in town. They know their home better than anyone.
TIP: Internet forums and Facebook groups are a great way to learn from locals ahead of time if you're a hardcore planner.
5. The carryon-luggage-double-up is a must.
The purse, backpack, or bag handle goes AROUND the luggage handle. It's magic. This makes you feel like you have less to carry around as you walk from place to place, stop for food, or rifle through your bag to find your phone, ID, and plane ticket 10,000 times while in the airport.
TIP: If you're in the market for some new luggage, there are bags made specifically for this.
6. Invest in safe and secure travel bags.
Get yourself a purse or bag that closes completely and is difficult for other people to open. This lessens the chances of people getting into your bags and you losing things. When you're traveling frequently with a lot of different items in your bags, you'll be surprised how easy it is for zippered luggage to be popped open or zipperless handbags to spill over without you noticing.
7. Don't be afraid to make friends.
There are plenty of good people out there. Don't be afraid to learn from other travelers or locals. Absolutely meet up for a day at the beach, for a walk through a famous museum, or for a meal at a local restaurant if you feel comfortable.
TIP: Just don't give out unnecessarily specific or personal information like where you're staying and don't accept rides from anyone.
8. Keep your solo status to yourself.
This one may just be a personal preference, but I don't like to let people know I'm traveling alone most of the time for two reasons. One is that it keeps bad people from thinking you're an easy target. Another being that it keeps annoying people from trying to latch onto your plans for the night to "show you around."
TIP: I usually say that my boyfriend or family is meeting me shortly.
9. Have stand-out luggage.
Buy an uncommon luggage pattern or tie an uncommon scarf or ribbon onto your luggage. It will be so much easier to find when claiming your luggage and keep people from mixing it up with theirs.
TIP: If you're nervous about this, you can also invest in baggage trackers.
10. Plan your route ahead of time.
If you're going to be driving or using public transportation, plan your route before you start the day. It's much more stressful to do in the moment, especially when it comes to public transportation and if you don't speak the language... or if you're in NYC... even if you understand every word someone is saying to you about NYC public transportation, it ends up sounding like a different language if it's your first time.
TIP: TripIt and other similar travel planning apps are helpful.
11. Don't be afraid to ask someone to take your picture.
Ask someone else to take photos of you in front of places you want to remember visiting so that you don't end up with a bunch of photos like this. Even with a GoPro, taking photos of yourself that you like enough to want them as lifelong keepsakes is tricky if the weather is wild or you only have a minute to snag a photo.
TIP: Choose someone you think you could outrun... just in case (joking but not joking). ANOTHER TIP: If you plan on taking a lot of photos, bring a small camera so you don't take up all the space on your phone.
12. Sit at the bar if you want to meet people and sit at a table if you don't.
13. Go through a quick safety checklist before getting in your Uber or Lyft.
I have never had an issue with rideshares but that doesn't take away from the importance of following safety precautions before you get into a car. They may be working for a popular rideshare service but they are still strangers. They can wait one extra minute. It's worth it, I promise.
TIP: At the very least, make sure your driver knows your name before you get in the car to confirm they're your assigned driver. You can also check to make sure the childlock is off, as shown in the photo above.
14. Have a reliable case on your phone.
Breaking your phone while traveling solo is so stressful. Trust me, I've been there. Most of us rely on our Map app to get just about everywhere and most of us have someone at home who wants to check in to hear that we're alright. Keep that in mind and invest in a good phone case prior to your trip.
TIP: Have a paper copy of any important tickets or pieces of information just in case your phone breaks. I like to write down the address of where I'm staying as well.
15. Keep your face out of your phone.
For so many reasons, don't walk around with your eyes glued to your phone. Three major reasons? Missed views. Traffic. Easy target. Walk like you know where you're going and people will bother you a bit less. This applies to the creepy person driving their car too slow by you, the person trying to hit on you, or the annoying preacher on the street. Walk with a purpose.
TIP: If you need to talk to someone while on your way somewhere, call instead of texting. Keep your eyes alert.
16. Walk as much as you can and take main roads.
If the area is safe and walkable, walk it. You'll end up seeing so much more this way. Remember, you've never visited this place before so you don't know exactly what you want to do and see! Allow yourself to view all the options. Your favorite part of your trip could be something you hadn't planned!
TIP: Always take the roads that are well lit and/or have sidewalks... even if this adds an extra minute or two. More people and drivers will be able to see you better.
17. Say no to oversized bags.
They may attract more attention from someone looking to steal a bag and they're annoying to lug around all day anyway. They also may not be allowed in some venues, events or museums. You don't want to have to go all the way back to your hotel or Airbnb to switch bags.
TIP: Small stylish backpacks are my favorite for traveling. But remember tip #6!
I don't care if you're traveling to snowy mountains or the Savanna, if you're going to be out and about all day while it's sunny, wear sunscreen. You'll thank yourself in the long term when you have healthy skin and in the short term when you don't have to sit on sunburned lobster legs during your travels home.
19. Do your research when booking hotels.
Some hotels can look great in their advertised photos, but it's so important to read multiple reviews and to look at customer-posted photos in order to get the most realistic picture of what your stay would actually be like.
TIP: I use hotels.com to book because it gives you one night free for every 10 nights you stay. Still, I'm always sure to check other websites for info and deals. This is another subject to use internet forums and Facebook groups for.
20. Beach-sleep with your favorite cuddle buddies: Phone, Keys, and Wallet.
If you're on the beach alone and think you might fall asleep, place your valuables under the curve of your neck or arch of your back if it's comfortable enough (carve out the sand under your towel a bit) or sleep face down with it under your arms... just in case someone tries to quick-swipe your beach bag while you're asleep.
TIP: I always try to remember to pack Ziplocks for the beach so I can throw my valuables in there and put them under my towel in the sand if I feel like I'm going to fall asleep.
21. Always have some sort of protection on you.
Even if you don't think you'll ever have to use it, it will make you feel safe. The best personal safety devices are the ones that don't require you to get too close to whoever is bothering you. For this reason, your keys or a pocket knife may not be your best option.
TIP: I have pepper spray and a tiny but extremely loud pocket alarm. Both are allowed in airports. Occasionally, bars/clubs won't allow these but I've never met a bouncer or hostess who won't hold them at the door.
22. Bring a second form of ID.
Having an out of state ID is suspicious to some ID-checkers so if you're planning on drinking while you're traveling, it can help to have a second form. A second form of photo ID is best. More importantly, if you flew to your destination and lose your only form of ID it's a real struggle to fly home.
TIP: A passport is the best second form of ID since it allows you to fly home if you lose your license. For bars or liquor stores, photo student IDs will work as a second form and sometimes multiple credit cards with your name on them.
23. Share your location.
Share your location with people you trust and frequently talk to. Not only will this help if something were to go wrong, but it also will bring a little peace of mind to your loved ones who are missing you while you're away.
TIP: You can share indefinitely or just temporarily.
24. Document your trip.
This isn't just for memories. If you travel a lot, writing down and taking photos of the things you liked and didn't like will help you plan an even better trip to that location next time if you choose to go back. Take brief notes on your choice of hotel, means of transportation, restaurant selections, and places visited.