I’m doing more solo female travel lately, and I realize that I pretty much am on my guard all of the time. It’s sad that as a woman traveling alone I have to be more cautious than a man, but c’est la vie.
Here are some of the strategies I use to stay out of harm’s way.
1. Pay Attention to Your Surroundings
I do this whether I’m hiking at Mission Trails alone or walking through the streets of Athens. I simply make sure that I’m conscious of what and who are around me.
I don’t wear headphones so I can hear if someone’s getting close behind me. Occasionally, if there’s no one else about on the street or trail, I casually turn my head so I can see if anyone’s in my peripheral vision. The key is to not look scared, whipping your head one way and the other!
2. Don’t Put Yourself in Danger
Walking through Athens, I suddenly found myself on a street filled with homeless youth. None of them approached me, but I casually crossed the street and went in a different direction. Probably nothing would have happened, but who wants to take chances?
Also in Athens, I had a lovely shady walk through a park. Occasionally, I was the only one on the trail, and I got a little nervous. But then I spotted what seemed to be a homeless man among the trees.
“Hellooo laydeee! I hope you have lovely vacation!” he shouted and mumbled something else. I didn’t blink, so he tried again in Greek. I just picked up my pace and kept walking.
3. Pretend You Don’t Understand
In every city, men will speak English, either trying to get you to buy something from them or…well, you can imagine. I was in the literal meat market in Athens and men were calling out to me in multiple languages.
Talk about a meat market!
There’s no reason to respond to people on the street trying to sell you things. A firm shake of your head without making eye contact gives them the idea. But they’ll try to draw you in by asking where you are from and telling you that you’re beautiful (you are; you already know this).
Don’t acknowledge that you understand and keep moving.
4. Listen to Your Gut
In Athens, after visiting the National Archaeological Museum, I headed to a nearby park to cool off and check out a statue of Athena. I wasn’t far into the park when I got a queer feeling in my stomach. This wasn’t a good place to be. I couldn’t put my finger on why; after all, there was a police officer on his motorcycle at the entrance (granted, he was absorbed in his phone). I wandered in further. A few men eyed me from benches.
I promptly turned around. There doesn’t have to be a reason for you to listen to your intuition. If you feel a place is off or that there’s danger, leave. Never question it.
5. Ask for Recommendations
Google is fantastic for finding attractions and restaurants in an area, but it doesn’t tell you, for example, that you have to go down a skeevy street to get to them (now that would be a great feature!). Ask the clerk at your hotel or a waiter for advice for whatever you’re looking for. They’ll let you know if it’s not in a safe neighborhood and divert you to a better place.
6. Talk to Strangers
Seems odd advice in an article about solo female travel safety, but connecting with other travelers or locals is a great way to be able to let your guard down a little. After all, there’s safety in numbers. And it keeps you from getting too lonely.
On the boat tour I took in Santorini, I befriended a group of Dutch folks who were happy to have me join them for dinner. We didn’t exchange names even, but it was nice to have someone to talk and laugh with for a few hours.
7. Slow Down and Pay Attention
In my youth, I was quite bullheaded about forging on through a city, pretending like I knew where I was going. I remember the very first place I ever stayed in Europe was a bed and breakfast on the outskirts of London. My ex and I had to take a bus into the city. The problem was, we didn’t write down the hotel name or address! We wandered around for hours until we luckily found it. This was, of course, before phones memorized all these insignificant details for us.
I try to get my bearings in the neighborhood around my hotel. Whipping out my phone to look at a map sometimes feels like a dumb idea in some areas, so I use wifi at restaurants to map it out and then memorize the directions as best I can.
I can also learn how things work by paying attention. At the bus stop in Fira, I simply stepped back and watched the other frantic tourists ask when the bus was coming. I learned what to do without having to say a word.
8. Try to Blend In
Here’s how not to blend in: wear your giant backpack backwards across your chest. Stand on the corner with a map opened up. Look confused. Talk loudly in English. Wear clothes that scream American (sports teams, English words).
Look, we can’t help being Americans or tourists, but standing out like a sore thumb means that you may be targeted for pickpocketing or a more serious crime.
I carry a sling bag that I can casually wear under my arm to protect it from getting snatched. It’s big enough for a water bottle, my phone, and a small coinpurse. I tend to wear plain colors. Nothing flashy or revealing. I don’t want to give a creepazoid any more reason to bother me.
I have to say, I’ve never been in a situation that I felt was super dangerous or frightening. I know a lot of people think that traveling alone is scary, but I find that if I’m mindful, I eliminate all reason to be afraid. And there are so many wonderful benefits of solo female travel!