How to Travel Solo and Be Safe (for Women and Men)

Trust your gut. Your body knows before your mind does. Listen. If your body tells you not to go down that street in the dark – don’t. I’ve stopped my friends from walking down a street with me in Bogotá because it felt off.

Don’t get so caught up in checking off the sites to see that you forget to listen to your gut. If you listen and act on it, your gut gets stronger and gives you more and better advice. Follow it.

Solo Travel Tips:

Don’t say you’re traveling alone or where you are staying to all and sundry.  I was followed once in Ecuador. Why are they asking you? This is a personal question and similar to asking a person’s age in the first 2 seconds of meeting them; you don’t have to tell them. Invent a partner if you like – if you’re feeling the least bit anxious.

Taxis: keep your luggage next to you on the back seat not in the trunk. If there is a dispute with the driver you can open the door and leave with your stuff. I had to do this once when it was clear the taxi driver didn’t know where my guesthouse was located after he assured me he did know and expected me to pay for his blunder. I got out of the car with my luggage. Drivers encourage you to put it in the trunk so they have you hostage in case there’s a problem.

Leave your passport with hotel or hostel and carry a copy.

Picnic at markets if the food is too pricey or makes you puke. Fruit, cheese, and

olives work for me. Add a few hard-boiled eggs and I’m set.

Eating out solo: I love to listen to people talking and watch the passing scene. If you like bring a book, do some writing, or be more daring and ask to sit with others. In many countries this is encouraged unlike in the States where it is frowned upon.

Be careful who you are intimate with. It may be a lark for you or him, but feelings

can be hurt.  Be responsible and don’t lead someone on making him or her think its love. Be careful dating, you don’t want to trust someone too soon. I may be the only person who left South America with the same camera I started the journey with. Expensive items have legs and can exit quickly.

Learn how to greet people rather than just intrude on their space. Manners are important and people in most countries outside the West are taught to say hello, Buenos Dias, etc before asking questions or blurting out comments.

Assume that everything will go well for you. It works until it doesn’t then you must learn deep breathing and how to stay calm. I do kundalini yoga and meditation every day – it helps.

Decide to be happy. Leave your Western ways in the West, shed your pre-conceived ideas when your passport is stamped and enter a new country with a fresh perspective.

There will be moments of culture shock.

It happened to me yesterday. I hired a Thai tech guy and he wanted me to pay him by depositing the money in his bank account. For this I had to pay extra even though I have an account there too. I will continue to do business with him so I said, I’m going to close my account, having all ready decided to do so earlier.

The bank teller said, “You can’t close your account here – you have to do it in Chiang Mai.” Four hours away from here. How idiotic is that?

So I asked to see the manager, “There is no manager here,” the teller told me, smiling. In Bangkok Bank, the biggest bank in Thailand, with shiny countertops and bonafide tellers, I am hearing this.

I soon calmed down after talking to my friends from Belgium and Italy about life here. They have businesses in town so they are used to the mafia malarkey mentality. I had an iced coffee and remembered I am in a foreign country, I’m a guest here; this is not my home country. I am visiting until I buy land, then it will be my country too. Oh right, I can’t buy land here, only leases.

The most important thing to remember is to have fun, be safe, learn something new, make friends, and take photographs.

Flying free of the West solo takes practice but you’ll get the hang of it. Soon you’ll be smiling and feeling drunk on your own freedom – let it happen.

In 6 years of world travel I’ve been robbed only once and “lost” one camera, gratefully without bodily harm. Read or hear the audio on the incredible journey from the rooftop of the world in Nepal to the magnificence of Machu Picchu here:

Kitten Heels in Kathmandu, Adventures of a Female Vagabond

How to Travel Solo and Be Safe is excerpted from my new magazine:

Vagabond, it will be available soon in the iTunes store for iPads.

Mary Bartnikowski

Discover Mary’s worldwide adventures on Youtube: