In honour of International Women’s Day, I’m going to try and dispel some myths surrounding travelling abroad (particularly alone) as a woman. It can be daunting, but with a little bit of planning and a few safety measures in place there’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t travel wherever you like and have an amazing time while doing it.
I’ll confess, I’m a planner, and when I travel I make no exception to that rule. I’m the kind of person who will spend hours scouring the internet finding out as much information as I can about the location, price, and standard of accommodation before I book. Even when I spontaneously booked a weekend trip to Manhattan the day before I left whilst on my year abroad, I still took the time to weigh up numerous different neighbourhoods and hostel options before I spent the extra $30 necessary for a single room and convenient Subway access. Think about the kind of activities you will be doing, make sure you budget appropriately and have enough money for your whole trip and get insurance that covers you for everything you’re doing.
If you’re planning a longer trip to somewhere unfamiliar, it’s worthwhile spending time researching the country you are visiting, the neighbourhood of the city you’re planning to stay in, and everything about your accommodation. Is there a 24-hour reception? Will you have somewhere to store valuables? Are you in a shared room? Have a think about the number of people you’re comfortable sharing with (some hostels have single rooms all the way up to eighteen bed dormitories) and whether you’d prefer single or mixed sex accommodation.
Technology can fail, so as well as taking a picture of your passport and all other travel documents and reservations on your phone (and backing them up!) keep a small notebook with the contact details of your accommodation, details of the nearest British Embassy or Consulate (or nearest consulate that can provide assistance to British citizens if you’re going really off the beaten track!), and how to reach any contacts you may have in the area.
This all sounds like a lot, but I know from experience having the re-assurance that all of the above is done makes your trip a lot more smooth-sailing and fun.
There’s nothing more you need to do in many cities that you wouldn’t do normally in say, Birmingham or London. Be wary of new people, and exercise normal levels of caution even concerning fellow solo travellers. Hostels, in particular ones that have a schedule of social activities, are a great way to meet new people and are therefore often the best option for solo travellers. Activities will be led by co-ordinators so you’ll have the option of reporting any concerns to them. Basically, use your common sense and don’t be afraid to report anything suspicious about fellow travellers to your accommodation staff or the local authorities. Be careful what information you disclose, just like you would at home, and don’t tell strangers too many details about your accommodation and travel plans.
On the streets, use the same methods to keep valuables safe as you might at home. For example, you wouldn’t walk down an alleyway at night texting, with your smartphone out in the open, at home so don’t do it overseas! It’s advisable to leave valuables like your jewellery and passport locked in your accommodation, I personally only ever take one form of identification out with me at a time and leave any cards (even shop loyalty cards) that I can at home or in my accommodation.
When using transport, let someone know of your plans and if they change. Research travel options in your destination and decide what’s fastest, most assessable or convenient, and safest. Ultimately, it’s worth paying $5 more for an Uber if you feel unsafe taking the Subway late at night and there may be some places where public transportation in general is too risky for solo female travellers. When travelling I always text a friend or family member the details of my journey and let them know when I’ve arrived safe, apps like Uber or Lyft are great where they are available because you get the details of the driver and car of your ride before they pick you up. I always screenshot this information and send it to a friend. If they’re not available, use taxi services recommended by your accommodation provider and never hitchhike or accept rides from strangers.
If the worst happens
Unfortunately, you can take all the precautions in the world and still be a victim of a crime. The first thing to remember is this shouldn’t put you off travelling, a vast majority of trips made by women pass without incident. What happened is not your fault, and you should never blame yourself for the actions of a criminal. Your first instance should be to find support, either from local authorities or from the British Embassy. You should not keep the crime to yourself, as not reporting it until you return to the United Kingdom may mean the local authorities may not be able to take action. If you’re unsure about the reliability of the local authorities or how the legal proceedings work, seek advice from the nearest Embassy, Consulate, or High Commission.
Ultimately, travelling alone has always been an incredible experience for me. There is a wide array of support available to you if you are a victim of a crime overseas and you should not let the small possibility of anything bad happening put you off a great experience. All you can really do when travelling is plan well and exercise appropriate amounts of caution when you arrive – don’t let your guard down because you’re sunning yourself for two weeks in Zante!
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a wide array of advice for women travellers as well as information about what to do if you are a victim of a crime, crisis or sexual assault while abroad. For all of the latest foreign travel information, head to the FCO's Travel Advice website. Follow the FCO on Twitter @FCOtravel, watch their videos on YouTube and add them on Facebook to get instant access on all of the latest travel updates.