Travel Safety Tips for the Smart Adventurer

By Alissa Bell: seeker of paths less traveled and active adventures on 6 continents


Adventure travel and travel safety are closely related for many of us.  We love getting out of our comfort zone, wandering through unfamiliar places, and taking just enough risk to keep things interesting.  But at the end of the trip we still want to come home with ourselves and our important belongings intact.

It’s a little strange for me to write about travel safety because I believe travel is way less dangerous than most people make it out to be, especially if you’re in the frequently worried-about category of “solo female traveler.”   Most people in the world are good and kind, as you probably already know if you love to travel.

But when we venture to unfamiliar places, carrying all our most important things, and sticking out like… well… like a blond woman in Liberia for example, I think it’s true that we do end up more vulnerable than we would be at home.  So even if, as the popular travel justification goes, “There’s more crime in my home city of X than in this edgy and exciting country Y” (sound familiar Mom?), that doesn’t mean we should completely let down our guard.

I believe in getting out there, seeing for myself, and dispelling the negative stereotypes that cause many people to view large chunks of the world as “dangerous.”  I recently traveled solo for five months through seven African countries, had an amazing time, and my views on safety and risk (and actually, lots of other things, but that’s a different post) will never be the same.  Here I’ve collected my top travel safety tips so you can learn from my mistakes as well as my smart moves.

What kind of travel safety tips are these?

These tips can apply to anyone, whether you’re backpacking around the world or taking a quick jaunt to Europe.  They are a general framework for reducing your risk in unfamiliar environments, and I feel they really get to the heart of the issue without over-optimizing for things that don’t really matter.

Because they’re based on my experience and I like traveling in developing countries, these tips are especially relevant for travelers who like to explore “adventurous” destinations.  You know, the kind where the last transportation you took involved chickens and engine trouble and the friendly locals want to know why the heck you’re in their village.

For that reason there are a lot of common travel safety tips you won’t find on this list, like “leave valuables in your hotel safe” or “watch out for ATM fraud.”  This is because, if you travel like I do, your guesthouse doesn’t have a safe (you’re lucky the door locks at all) and you haven’t seen an ATM in weeks.  Risk can be hard to judge in these unfamiliar environments where everything looks a little rough around the edges and cultural norms are vastly different from home.

Read on for some travel safety tips you may not have seen before, and some that you probably have but I feel they’re important enough to repeat.  I’m going to break them into four sections:

  • Things you can do before and throughout your trip to cover your bases.
  • What to keep in the back of your mind while you’re out and about.
  • Steps to take immediately if something feels off.
  • How to cope in the unlikely case that things do go south and you are the victim of a crime.

Preparation and Good Habits

Travel safety Abidjan Ivory Coast rough neighborhood
View from my hotel in a rougher neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Reduce the most common non-crime risks first.

Usually when people talk about travel safety they are mostly referring to crime, like theft or assault.  This stuff is potent and can really run away with our imaginations, though the truly scary stuff like assault is not as common as most people think.

The rest of this post addresses personal security and crime, but first I want to make one very important point: often crime is not the biggest threat to your safety!  Don’t spend so much energy worrying about crime that you overlook bigger and more common risks.  For example, in West Africa your two biggest risks as a traveler come from transportation accidents and health issues.  If you want to stay safe and healthy, you should absolutely address those bigger risks first (hint: in most of Africa, be off the roads by dark, get your vaccinations, and take malaria precautions).  I’m not going to cover these things in detail here because they vary so much from place to place, but this is a super important part of travel safety, so do your research.

Keep valuables and passport on your body.

This is how you limit the “oh shit” factor if something does go wrong,

Recently I traveled for several months with a small fortune in US dollars and Euros stashed in my underwear.  No, I wasn’t smuggling anything.  I was traveling in West Africa, where sometimes it can take weeks to get from one working ATM to another, so I chose not to rely on ATMs at all.

My underwear had a large pocket in the front in which I placed a plastic baggie holding my cash, passport, backup memory card with photos, paper with key contact information, and a few days of malaria prophylactic pills.  I did this any day I was on the move between guesthouses (often), or if I felt they were safer with me than in my guesthouse while out exploring town.

When I was mugged in Sierra Leone late one night after my transportation from Guinea was delayed, I was sooo very glad I had taken this precaution.  He got my phone, camera and Kindle, but I kept my passport and cash stash.

Some travelers like to use money belts for this, but personally I find the underwear with pocket to be more comfortable and less visible under my clothing.

Stay inside at night unless you know it’s ok to go out.

This one can be a bummer sometimes, but as a woman traveling alone I think it’s key.  I was on the move to a new unfamiliar place every couple of days, and while many were probably safe enough, I had a blanket policy to be in my guesthouse (or possibly a restaurant directly across the street) by dark.  I only broke this policy voluntarily a couple times, to walk back from a late dinner with trusted locals or expats who knew the area well.

The one time I unintentionally broke this rule, because my ten hour shared taxi ride from Guinea was delayed into the night, I got robbed walking from a taxi to the hotel door. Wrong place, wrong time, bad luck.  The next day the dark and scary street where I was robbed transformed into a cheerful and energetic market where I felt perfectly safe.

You may have more leeway here if you’re in a group and/or are an intimidating-looking male, but don’t let either of those factors give you a false sense of security because they aren’t a guarantee of safety. You’ll also find that each place is different, and in low-crime areas with plenty of people wandering the streets at night it might be totally appropriate to break this rule.

Ask the locals.

Once you arrive, ask people you meet – guesthouse owners, restaurant owners, fellow passengers on the bus – if they know which areas are dangerous.  I received a lot of good advice this way while traveling in West Africa, including the advice (which I ignored) to change plans and not stay at the hotel I ended up getting robbed outside of.  Oops.

It’s not foolproof, but usually the locals would give me very reasonable advice, like “you’ll be fine anywhere in the day but don’t walk around after dark” or “don’t go to that city right now, they’re having riots over the election results.”

Take all opinions with a grain of salt and consider who you’re talking to.  Some people may be overly complacent or not understand the risks that come with being a visitor in an unfamiliar place.  Other people will be too alarmist.  Expats in particular seem to live in bubbles of security guards and private drivers in Africa, and were often shocked that I had survived more than a day or two of wandering around on my own.  Was I taking too much risk, or were they being paranoid, or did my low-profile travel style actually made me less of a target than them?  Hard to say.

Build local connections.

Getting to know locals is one of the best parts of traveling, and as a bonus I think it also keeps you safer.  When I traveled in West Africa I would always talk to the driver or fellow passengers in my bus or shared taxi as I traveled to the next town.  Sometimes this was as simple as offering them part of my snack or asking where they were from.  Often this led to recommendations for a trustworthy guesthouse, or in some cases – especially in super friendly Liberia – a personal escort to one.  In some places I would literally be handed off from a taxi driver to a guesthouse owner to a Peace Corps volunteer to another taxi driver to another guesthouse owner to…   This was a great way to meet more trustworthy people, and if any of them weren’t trustworthy, I think it helped that they knew I knew someone else in town who they might be accountable to if they tried anything funny.

When you arrive at a guesthouse, chat with the owner as you’re checking in.  Especially if it’s a small family-run place.  Ask how long they’ve had it, how business is, etc.  You’ll learn a lot and maybe make a friend.  You may also earn helpful extras, like when they send someone with you to the taxi park in a sketchy part of town when you leave.

If your guesthouse or hotel has a security guard, introduce yourself and make friends.  Let them know you’re glad they are there to keep you safe.  I did this while camping solo on a beach in Liberia – something I was a little nervous about – and the night security guard  stationed himself right next to my little tent for the entire night.

In Africa and probably many other parts of the world, in-person social connections are key.  The more you can integrate into a community, even briefly, the more people will be looking out for you.  It’s like a protective shield of fascinating, heart-warming travel goodness.

Back up any data you care about.

This is more about damage control than prevention, but one of the most common sad tales I hear from other travelers is that their phone or camera was stolen and they lost their treasured travel pictures.  I’ve had my phone and camera stolen too, but fortunately I had been religious about backing my pictures up to the cloud every day using mobile data, so I didn’t lose a thing (that I couldn’t replace).

If you don’t have internet access for a long time, you can bring multiple memory cards, swap them out periodically, and keep all but the current one in your money belt.  This way if your device does get stolen, at least you won’t lose your pictures.

Avoid displaying wealth or expensive things.

The bigger the wealth discrepancy between you and the country you are traveling in, the more important this is.  Walking around areas with lots of poverty, you should be extremely strict.  If you are in a major European city and even the locals are flashing bling, you can be a little bit more moderate.  The key is to not stick out any more than you have to.

In a place like Uganda or Cambodia, this means wearing no jewelry and simple clothes, not carrying a camera or phone in an obvious way, and not showing large amounts of cash when paying for something small.

Be especially careful in big cities.

In any country the most dangerous places are usually the bigger cities.  In Africa for example there is a pattern of young men, desperate for money and sometimes bearing the psychological scars of war, moving to the city to look for work with limited success.  Away from the social support network of their communities and shielded by the anonymity of a large city, they become tempted by crime.

By contrast, in small communities the desire to maintain a good reputation is often a deterrent from crime.  If you are going to choose a time to be extra careful, it should usually be when you are in a big city.

Travel safety in Monrovia, Liberia
Monrovia, Liberia – be especially careful in big cities.

Be willing to spend money to increase your safety at strategic times.

Even if you like to travel on a tight budget and play things by ear, there are times when spending a little extra and planning ahead will go a long way toward improving your safety.  One of these times is when arriving in a city.  Your odds of crime go up in a city, and usually so does cost of accommodation, which means this is where insisting on a strict budget is most likely to get you in trouble.

I learned this the hard way when I got mugged while looking for a cheap hotel late at night in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  If I had simply been willing to pay a little more for my hotel, I would have ended up in a nicer part of town and probably been fine.  After that I was very careful to book hotels in advance – and stretch my budget – in other capital cities like Monrovia, Liberia and Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.  The peace of mind was totally worth it.  Your safety is worth that extra money.

While Wandering Around

Street in Lira, Uganda
Does this feel like a safe place? How can you tell?  (Answer: It’s Lira, Uganda, and it’s quite safe.)

Carry things securely and inconspicuously.

Most theft is petty crime of opportunity, and you can do a lot to avoid providing an easy opportunity to a would-be thief.

I like to avoid carrying a purse or bag when I can.  My favorite way to explore a new town is to put a little bit of cash and my phone inside a zipped front pocket of my travel pants.  In areas where armed mugging or physical confrontation are highly unlikely, you can wander worry-free all day long like this.

If you do need to carry more and you’re in an area known for bag snatching, consider the old trick of carrying a simple plastic shopping bag, the kind locals might carry mangoes or soap home from the market in.

If you must carry an actual bag in a higher risk area, use a backpack or a bag with a long strap you can wear across your body.  Keep it attached to you at all times and away from whichever side vehicles are passing on.  If you see the locals wearing their backpacks on their fronts while walking through a crowded area, you should do the same.

Be aware of your surroundings.

This doesn’t mean you should be tense and paranoid.  You’re going for a zen-like state of relaxed alertness.  Don’t assume everything is a threat, but at the same time try to notice as much as possible.  Assuming you’re traveling because you want to see the world, you’ll see more of the good stuff this way too.

Is the street you’re on headed for a different type of neighborhood?  Has the atmosphere changed?  Are there lots of women and kids around (good sign), or is it mostly men (pay a bit more attention in cultures where this isn’t typical), or are the streets feeling eerily deserted (retreat!)?

Use your peripheral vision.  Is someone lingering in your personal space or tracking your path a little too closely?  Approaching with unexpected urgency from across the street?  Looking around them suspiciously or acting in some other unusual way?

Are the locals avoiding someone?  Many times the locals can recognize a potential problem faster than you can, because they know what is normal appearance and behavior in their own culture.  If they seem uneasy about someone, you probably should be too.

Constantly update your assessment of how safe you are.

Yet another contributing factor to my mugging: after hundreds of positive interactions, I had decided that West Africa was safe.  I’m a contrary person and I was excited to go home and tell all my worried friends and family that they were wrong.  So, I trusted someone who was pretending to help me and then he robbed me instead.

Mostly people in West Africa are nice, but the problem was that I relied on a story in my head instead of updating my risk assessment based on the current situation.  I was in a known bad part of town, at midnight, with all my luggage, looking lost while trying to find a hotel.  If there was ever a time to be on high alert and not trust anyone, that was it, but I missed it.

What I learned from this was the danger of making assumptions.  Entire countries are not “safe” or “dangerous.”  It’s much more nuanced than that.  It depends on exactly where you are (one block away might be safer or less safe), what time of day or night it is, what you have with you, how you are acting, what the local culture is like, and many other factors.

So don’t get attached to any particular story about how safe or unsafe a given area is.  Just look around you, be observant, and make a realistic assessment of your safety based on all the information you have right now.

Don’t take out your phone too often.

There are several reasons to be cautious here.

I met so many travelers, as well as locals in places I have traveled to, who had their smartphones snatched out of their hands while walking or riding in a taxi.  If you’re in a car in an area where this is common and you need to use your phone, roll the window up enough that someone can’t reach in and grab it.  In Africa the other passengers would remind me of this if I forgot.  That’s how important it is.

Walking down the street while looking at or talking on your phone not only makes it easy to steal, it also means your attention is divided and you are probably not very aware of your surroundings.  This makes you a doubly attractive target for theft or potentially worse.  If I need to use my phone while out and about, I find a relatively open space away from the main flow of people and vehicles.  If it’s a busy area, I position my back near a wall so I can have a clear view of anyone who might be approaching me, and I look up from the screen often.

I often use cached google maps on my phone to navigate a new place.  Some people still use paper maps for this.  In either case, constantly stopping to check your map makes you look lost.  Your best bet is to memorize the next stretch you’ll be walking, then pull off into a shop or discreet place to check your map or phone as needed, then repeat.  If you are in a high risk area maybe best to not pull it out at all.  Simply go into a shop and ask a real person for directions.

Interact with the locals.

This one may not work everywhere.  In a busy modern city you may not want to walk down the street saying hello to everyone you pass.  But if culturally appropriate, for example in smaller towns, I feel this helps weave a web of positive attention and connection that might deter a potential criminal.

Smile and greet the woman selling mangoes.  Give a nod to the security guard outside the bank.  Stop and ask a real person for directions.  I don’t have evidence to prove it, but my gut says this makes you a less attractive target for crime because 1) it shows you are confident and comfortable in the environment, and 2) it means more people are paying attention to your presence.  Plus, it makes traveling way more fun.

Market woman in Lira, Uganda
A woman selling greens at the market in Lira, Uganda. Say hello to her!

Consider carefully who you are going to trust.

This could really be its own post.  When it comes to adventurous, off the beaten track travel, trust is a core part of the experience.  You will be invited into peoples’ homes, offered rides, given food, and flagged down for conversation.  If you reject all these overtures you may as well be staring out the window of a giant tour bus.  The downside, of course, is that by opening yourself up to authentic interactions you also make yourself vulnerable.

This is everyone’s own personal call based on risk tolerance, experience, and gut instinct.  Most people are trustworthy.  A few are not.  To help know the difference, consider factors like where you are, what the cultural attitude is toward the situation (is it common to offer rides to people in this part of the world?), what motivations the person may have for their offer (do they seem curious, helpful?), how pushy or eager they are being, how committing the situation is (will there be other people around or do they want to take you somewhere hidden) and whether their story all adds up.  If unsure, it’s fine to stall and talk with someone a little longer to get a better sense for the situation.

Ultimately, use your instincts.  If it doesn’t feel right, disengage.

Once in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast I was approached by a very friendly young man who said he was an artist and wanted to give me a tour of a ruined old building.  I asked his price.  He said there was none.  This was a red flag for me.  Maybe he just wanted to practice his English and learn about America, but more likely it was going to lead to uncomfortable pressure to buy his art.  Worst-case scenario, he had some other motivation for trying to get me into an abandoned building.  I politely declined, saying I was in a hurry.  He politely wished me well, and that was that.  He was probably a nice guy, but something felt weird and it wasn’t worth the risk.

If You Feel Uncomfortable

Trash in Monrovia, Liberia
Sometimes a neglected area of a city can feel less safe, like these grounds of an abandoned hotel in Monrovia, Liberia

You’ve been paying attention to your surroundings and something doesn’t feel right.  Your heart is beating faster.  Here are some ways to get yourself out of a situation that feels uncomfortable.

Get someone out of your personal space.

You’ve just noticed a person has been walking behind you for a little too long.  Assuming you’re in a place with other people around, slow down and step slightly to the side, as if you are interested in something you see there.  Most likely they will simply pass by and continue walking.  They probably just happen to be going the same way you are and may not have the finely tuned sense of personal space that most Americans do.

You slowed down and they slowed down too.  Now what?  Cross the street as if you’re headed for a shop or intersection.  This actually happened to me in a market in Sierra Leone once.  It was an older, mentally unstable looking man.  I crossed the street.  He crossed too.  Now what?

Go into a shop and wait.  If you need to, ask the shopkeeper for help.  In my case I ducked into a shop and bought a sachet of laundry detergent that I didn’t really need.  I chatted with the shopkeeper.  The man who was following me lingered nearby in the street.  Subtle!  Not knowing what else to do, I told the shopkeeper I was waiting for the man to leave.  The shopkeeper went out and shooed him away.

I waited a while longer, then left in the opposite direction.  Of course, in the meantime the young male shopkeeper had propositioned me and oddly offered to polish my nails – so much for a safe haven!  But at least I wasn’t going to have a crazy old man trying to get my smartphone out of my zipped pocket.

I didn’t feel I was in real danger in the market in the middle of the day, so I just kept walking after it was over.  But if you feel the risk is higher, don’t be afraid to ask some to call you a taxi or walk with you to somewhere safe.

Don’t be afraid to be rude.

If someone is in your space and making you uncomfortable, you don’t always have to be nice.  This can go against instincts for conscientious travelers who see ourselves as ambassadors of our country and culture.  It can also be extra hard – I’m generalizing here – for women, who are often socialized to feel we should be nice and polite almost all the time.

If your gut tells you to disengage from a person and they are still following you or trying to interact with you, it’s ok to not be nice.  Really, repeat that out loud a couple times.  It’s ok to not be nice.

The higher the risk, the quicker you can reasonably jump to being not nice.  Middle of the day in a safe place?  Maybe you’ll start with “please leave me alone” and escalate from there if they don’t listen.  At night in a sketchy place and someone approaches you aggressively?  In my opinion this is grounds for yelling, cursing, running away and if necessary fighting without a second thought.

Create a clear physical and verbal boundary.

This is related to the point above, but I’ve found it such a useful technique that I want to highlight it.

In most common scenarios, people can’t hurt or rob you if they are not physically close to you, so you want to be careful about who you allow in your personal space bubble.  But it’s often hard to judge someone’s intentions.

In places with many tourists you may be approached aggressively by touts or would-be guides who just want your business.  Curious people may approach you in ways that set off alarm bells for you because it would be uncommon in your home culture.  How do you know the difference between this and the start of a potentially dangerous situation?

Sometimes I find it extremely helpful to make an unquestionably firm “stay away” gesture, coupled with “No” or possibly a firmly stated “No thank you” or “No, sorry” if you feel like a tad of politeness is warranted.  By doing this you have created a clear, almost physical line with your gesture and tone.   If they then cross it, you can reasonably assume their intentions are bad and act accordingly in self-defense.  Most of the time people are not actually intending harm and will simply drop the interaction, but if they don’t, you have valuable information and you can stop wasting energy wondering whether you are overreacting.

Walking through Abidjan around sunset a man veered toward me and began “s’il vous plais…” (French for “please”).  He was probably going to ask some innocuous question.  But it was getting darker, I was alone in an unfamiliar part of town, for some reason his approach made me wary and I didn’t want him to have an excuse to come close to me.  A firm but not unkind “No, desole” (No, sorry) with my hand out, palm facing him, and he continued on his way.

If You Are a Victim of a Crime While Traveling

You did your best, but things have still gone south.  If you travel enough it’s bound to happen at some point, though chances are good that it was just a non-violent robbery.  Here’s what to do during and after it goes down.

Know the likely threats and how you will respond.

People often talk about travel safety in general terms, but there is a big, big difference between having a phone snatched out of your pocket and being violently assaulted.  Fortunately the former is way more common than the latter.

Your priority to protect yourself first, then your stuff.  You shouldn’t be carrying anything with you that you’re not willing to lose.  This means if someone wants your bag and they are armed or prepared to use physical force, give it to them!  Yes, it’s tempting to tell your story at the bar of how you kicked the mugger’s ass and kept your stuff, but it’s not worth the risk of getting beat up or stabbed.

When my mugger started to get rough in Sierra Leone I made the decision to give up my bag.  I regretted it until I heard later that he threatened someone else with a knife later that night, and had also somehow robbed a bunch of burly local men on other occasions.  Not fighting back was the right choice given that I didn’t want to be injured alone in an empty street in a country with notoriously poor medical care.  Make this decision in advance and mentally rehearse it, or your first instinct may be to fight back and escalate the situation like I started to do.

On the other hand, if an obviously unarmed kid grabs your phone and runs away in a crowded area, you may have good results by running after him and making a scene.

The opposite side of the spectrum is when someone is attacking you and they’re not after your stuff.  This happens way less frequently than you think (yes mom, really), but unfortunately it does happen.  In this case, fight back like your life depends on it, and fight dirty.  Go for the eyes, groin, knees, bite, scream, whatever it takes.  Your number one priority is to keep the attacker from getting you to an isolated place like a building or car.  Do whatever it takes to make this difficult for them.  Fortunately I don’t have personal experience here, but I’ve heard this advice and I think it’s solid.

Get yourself to a safe place.

If you’ve just had a scary interaction, you’re understandably flustered and may not be thinking clearly.  You probably want help, but be careful who you trust.  After I got mugged, I spent a little too long hanging out in the dark street with the rest of my stuff and a lot of cash still hidden in my clothes, talking to other young men who said they would get my stolen bag back for me.  I was so flustered that I even admitted to still having money with me when they asked if my money got stolen!  I know, I know…

Now, I truly believe these nice young men were just trying to help me.  They did indeed recover my bag later, albeit with all the valuable stuff already removed, presumably by the original thief.  But once I realized the mistake I’d made in revealing too much information, I felt stupid and extremely vulnerable.  I checked into a room at the nearest hotel and shoved furniture in front of my door.  When someone came knocking a little while later saying he’d recovered my bag, I asked him to leave it at the front desk for me to get in the morning.

The suspense of wondering all night whether I was actually going to get my stuff back was horrible, and I felt silly in hindsight for being so paranoid.  But it wasn’t worth the tiny chance of letting some guy into my room in the middle of the night to look for the cash hidden in my underwear.

Make a rational decision about what to do next.

After getting mugged right outside the hotel where I stayed, I was tempted to run away the next morning and find a new place to stay.  But in the light of day and with the assistance of the helpful staff, I realized the hotel was perfectly safe inside and was also my best chance at getting things straightened out.  They took me to the police station, walked with me to get food, accompanied me to buy a new phone and change my money, and generally took amazing care of me.  They were also my link to potentially getting my stuff back if the police found the guy (they didn’t).

I stayed there for another night and was glad I did.  It was a safe place with honest staff and a security guard out front.  But you can bet I was locked securely in my room by the time the sun went down!

File a police report.

It may seem like a pain, but it’s important, and the sooner the better.  I’ve heard stories of stolen things being recovered this way if done quickly.  At any rate, you’re going to need it for your travel insurance claim.  You do have travel insurance, right?

Also, the experience of filing a police report in Sierra Leone or Tajikistan or wherever may be interesting enough to make it worth your time.

Use a money transfer service if you need cash.

If your money was stolen and you can’t easily get more from an ATM, find a local bank that does Western Union or Moneygram transfers.  These services have high transaction fees (like $20-$35) but they are available almost everywhere in the world.

You can set up your own account ahead of time and send money to yourself online, or you can leave emergency instructions with a friend or family member to do so if you call and ask.  I’ve never done this but I think the latter is a better bet if you might be somewhere with no internet access.

Get medical help if necessary.

Chances are really good that this will never become necessary for you.  But if you were physically assaulted, get yourself to a hospital or health center for proper care.  If are somewhere with a high HIV infection rate and you were raped or think it’s possible your attacker’s blood contacted an open wound, you need to find post-exposure HIV prophylactic medication and also potentially emergency birth control.  If your travel insurance has an emergency help line, call it and get a support team to help you sort things out.

Give yourself a little time to recover, then learn and move on.

If your positive travel experiences have been interrupted by a negative one, you may feel like the most important thing taken from you was your confidence.  In my case, I had to learn to trust people all over again after being mugged, which was stressful in the middle of a solo trip through West Africa.  I was about to head into Liberia, which has a bit of a bad reputation (not really justified in hindsight), and I almost changed my travel plans out of fear.

I ended up going to the beach for a couple days, paid a bit extra for a comfortable and secure room instead of camping as I’d planned, and let my frazzled nerves calm down.  Then I got right back to it, a little wiser, a little more street smart, and with a slightly more balanced view of what it means to be safe while traveling.  In time I did learn to trust people again, but I’m probably better off with now with the knowledge that things really can go wrong if you make stupid mistakes.

So give yourself a little time to relax, contact your family or friends and get some support, and think about what you can learn from the situation.  Were there better decisions you could have reasonably made, or where you just in the wrong place at the wrong time?  Use this knowledge to make yourself a smarter, safer traveler.  Then remember that most people in the world are kind and good, and get back out there.

Travel Safety Tips for Women

Travel safety Dakar Senegal
Local women walking in Dakar, Senegal

You’ll notice this is way down here at the bottom.  It’s not because I don’t think female travelers are important!  In fact, I have been a solo female traveler myself and I think women should feel free to explore the world.  This section is at the bottom because I believe most good safety tips apply equally well to all genders.

In some places women may be at a disadvantage because we are seen as easier targets for theft and are more common targets for sexual violence.  A man walking alone carrying no valuables may not have anything to lose, whereas a woman more likely does.  This simply means we need to be even more vigilant about following these safety tips.  We have less margin for error.

If I had to pick one tip from this whole list, I would say solo female travelers can improve their safety the most by not going out alone at night in certain places.  I hate having a self-imposed curfew, but I think it’s worth the added safety when traveling alone in certain types of places.

There are also times when I believe being a solo female traveler is actually a safety benefit!  When I travel alone off the beaten path I often find it easier than men or groups to create connections with locals who are watching out for me.  I get more offers for help, more escorts to and from my guesthouse, more taxi drivers making sure the doors are locked, etc.  So don’t assume that as a woman you are automatically at a disadvantage.

Ok, that’s all folks.  I’m not going to end this with “stay safe,” because I always hate it when my friends and family say that while I’m on the road.  I feel they are missing the point.  Instead, I’m going to end with what I always wish they’d say instead: Happy travels, and have fun!

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