“It’s time to see the world,” I said to myself as I stepped off the plane and approached the UK border.
This past semester, I studied abroad in Bath, England and loved every second of it. I saved up money over the summer and throughout my sophomore year of college so that I could travel all over Europe. While having the means to travel was the first step, I realized I needed to become more travel-savvy before embarking on my first trip away from Bath.
Traveling solo is a great way to boost your confidence, even if it feels scary. While visiting Prague, I took a long walk on my own along the river, and while in Zagreb, I broke off from the group to check out a museum I was interested in. Walking around a new city by myself, I felt incredibly empowered and independent.
I was lucky enough to travel with at least one friend for every trip except one. However, even traveling with friends required awareness of my surroundings. There were tips I picked up on my own, as well as things I learned from the women around me. All in all, they all contributed to me having a safer, more comfortable experience while traveling.
Here’s How You Can Stay Safe When Traveling in a Foreign Country
Top Ten Tips
Travel with a friend if possible. It made me feel one hundred times safer traveling with a friend. We watched each other’s backs and we knew we’d never be wandering around alone. If you’re traveling solo (which you deserve to do if you want!), seek out the women around you.
Get a SIM card and phone data plan. While staying in England, I paid for a month-by-month data plan for just £10 per month (which amounts to about $13). All of the countries I traveled to accepted Vodaphone plans, but check before you travel if your plan will carry over. Not only did data make it easier to figure out how to get from place to place, it also made me feel safer.
Keep certain items on you at all times while walking around: a phone charger (make sure you have the right adapter! Not all countries have the same outlet configuration for plugs!), your phone, money and/or a credit card, and keys to use as a weapon if necessary.
Have a point of contact. Someone should always know where you are (or at least what city you’re in): send your parents or a trusted person your contact info, flight info, and lodging info. Check in with them regularly with a quick text- “I landed!”; “I’m taking off!”; etc.
Plan ahead where you’re going, what you want to see, and how to get around. This includes figuring out public transportation, making a map with Google maps to see what sights are near each other, and how to get from the airport to the city and back.
Check if there are any women-only hostels in the city you’re visiting, or female-only rooms in the hostel you’re staying in. (I stayed in an amazing women-only hostel in Amsterdam called Hostelle.) If you can’t find or afford either of these, I found sleeping on the top bunk made me feel safer in a co-ed room. I never stayed in an AirBnB, but check out reviews for those as well before booking.
If you’re traveling to a more conservative place, don’t stick out. This tip feels a bit tricky because while you should feel comfortable and dress as you want, sometimes it’s best not to look like a tourist. Know what the local customs are ahead of time and pack accordingly. (Not only is this a safety tip, it’s a way to make sure you’re being respectful of other cultures.)
If you plan to enjoy the local bar or club scene, have a plan. Make friends with the women in your hostel and stick together. Know how you’re getting back to your lodging. If you get tipsy, make sure you have someone who’s watching out for you.
Be vigilant. This one is an umbrella tip that includes a number of others: Make a habit of looking over your shoulder, especially if you’re in a crowded area. If you have a coat or jacket with inside pockets, use them. If you know you’re going to need something, don’t start rifling through your backpack in the middle of a crowded area- go into a cafe or a museum. Don’t walk around with earbuds in. Don’t get absorbed in your phone- even if you’re trying to figure out directions- in the middle of the sidewalk. Don’t get so caught up in taking pictures you’re not aware of your surroundings. Etcetera.
Trust your gut. If you feel uncomfortable, abort the mission. If someone is trying to talk to you and you feel uncomfortable, pretend to be on a phone call and quickly walk away or walk into a cafe or restaurant. Self-preservation is your number one priority, not being nice or amenable.
While it’s great to travel with friends, women deserve the chance to travel independently as well. Whether you’re about to embark on a semester abroad, travel after graduation, or take a gap year, remember that this is an incredibly special time that may not come around again soon. I found that even if there may not have been an immediate danger, these tips helped me feel more comfortable while traipsing around an unfamiliar place.
Even though it’s important for women to keep the above tips in mind, certain tips apply to all travelers.
The Goal is to Have an Amazing Time During your Travels, so Here are Some General Travel Tips
Use Skyscanner to find cheap flights. One fun, spontaneous way to travel is to type in your local airport in the “From” section, then put “Anywhere” in the “To” section. See what cheap flights pop up!
Use HostelWorld to find reviews on hostels (avoid the ones with bedbugs, even if the price lures you in!) These will often also help you ascertain if other solo female travelers felt comfortable staying there.
Check the weather beforehand! You would not believe the difference appropriate shoes make in the amount of fun you have.
If you are a student, bring your student ID. Some museums give student discounts.
Make a budget and stick to it. Think about how many places you want to see, and don’t use up your savings in one place. (The cost of travel is never just the flight and the lodging- you have to think about public transport, food, shopping, museums, etc.) You can save on food by packing a sandwich or two, and by researching cheap restaurants in the area. Do your research.
On the other hand, don’t go to Budapest and eat McDonald’s the whole time. Try the local cuisine at least once!
Know the currency exchange rate- get an app like Currency Plus for a quick reference.
Research common scams and watch out for them. For example, don’t take a taxi if you can avoid it, as taxi drivers often scam tourists by taking them on longer routes than necessary and overcharging.
Keep your documents safe- bring or buy a lock, as hostels will usually offer lockers for a small fee. Make a copy of your passport so you don’t have to carry the real thing around all the time.
Check if streetside ATMs are safe to use- if not, try to find a bank. (Questions like these are ones to save for the hostel manager or AirBnB host.)
Know the local/country emergency number.
Travel light- for a weekend trip, you really only need a backpack. And leave room for souvenirs!
Walk as much as possible. Not only are your own two feet a great way to see a city, they’ll save you a ton in travel costs.
Lastly, and most importantly, if you go to Prague, get a freshly baked chimney cake with Nutella. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
For additional resources, check out solo traveler world.