I licked my lips clean after I just devoured an impeccably cooked duck at a hopping tapas bar in Barcelona. I waved down the bartender and was turning to go as he caught my eye. A cute boy across the room winked and then made his way over to me. When he asked if he could take the seat next to me, I detected a hint of an accent in his voice, but couldn’t quite place it. I decided that sure, I would stay and entertain the thought of a cute boy on my last night in Barcelona – I wasn’t that full after all.
After a couple of drinks with Rob (name changed), I learned that he was from Ukraine, living in San Francisco where he got his green card after marrying a “friend” and that he was quite charming. I also realized, however, that he kept dropping little white lies. I don’t know if he was too drunk to remember that his story was changing, or he was hoping that I was drunk enough not to notice. While I was intrigued by the stories of his time in Ukraine, I wasn’t impressed with the other facets of his life. Marrying a “friend” for a green card and vowing to marry anyone else that needed help with theirs. Claiming he didn’t smoke, yet lighting up a cigarette when the chance first presented itself. And more alarmingly saying that he still lived with his “friend” that he married (now divorced), but wouldn’t bring another girl to the house because he didn’t want his “friend” to know he was dating. All little white lies that I am acutely aware add up to a big red flag as a solo female traveler in a foreign country.
Trying to push my worry aside, as Rob and I paid our tabs, he asked me to go for drinks and I obliged. Both of our hotels were in opposite directions, with the tapas bar being in the middle. I said that as long as we went somewhere close to my hotel (I didn’t tell him where I was staying), I would agree to one more drink. He told me he knew the perfect spot.
As we walked a mile in the opposite direction of my hotel (I blindly trusted him to tell me the truth), I was shocked when we sat down at a shanty and shady sangria bar… right next to his hotel. As we sat down, my gut instinct was already yelling at me to RUN. I told him I needed to use the restroom and to please not order drinks without me because I didn’t want him alone with my drink. When I got back from the restroom, a pitcher of sangria was already sitting out on the table, my glass filled to the brim. There sat Rob, stupidly grinning at me. (Was he really that cute?) It took me all but three seconds to make contact with him and walk away without giving him any explanation.
As I walked away, head held high, sure that I had just dodged a bullet I wondered how close I had gotten to danger. To this day, I still don’t know whether my gut served me right or if I had walked away from a truly kind man. All I know is that my gut told me to go, so I listened. But on my walk back to my hotel, I couldn’t help but wonder, what if I didn’t listen? How many other solo female travelers had ignored their instincts only to regret it later? Was I one of the lucky ones?
7 Tips for Solo Female Travelers to Stay Safe and Have Fun
1. Always follow your gut
When traveling solo, it is okay to be rude, mean, or a b*tch if that is what it takes to keep you safe. You need to go into every scenario on the defensive, and if someone or something makes you feel uncomfortable – leave. And you don’t have to apologize for doing so. What you have to remember is that you will never see this person again. It’s okay to leave them in the dust without explaining why. Them making you feel the way you feel is enough to run the other direction.
2. If necessary… lie
Rule number two of solo travel is that it’s okay to lie if you feel uncomfortable. I usually tell white lies like, “I’m not alone I’m waiting on my boyfriend to get here”. Or, “I suddenly don’t feel well I have to go”. If I’m staying in an Airbnb I never tell anyone that. I always lie and say I am staying in a hotel and never disclose my true location.
3. Travel during prime travel hours
To stay safe on the road, it’s important to follow the trends of travel. While I am guilty of catching the 5 am flight, the safest option is to fly during daylight hours and land at your new destination during daylight hours. Catching a flight at 5 am means that you’re hailing a cab at 3 am. And landing in a new destination at midnight means that you won’t get to your hotel until one in the morning. Stay smart about when you’re taking off and landing to best avoid any problems or feelings of uncertainty.
If you do have to travel during “off” hours, I highly recommend hiring a driver beforehand so that you feel comfortable knowing someone is waiting for you when you arrive at your destination.
4. Always tell your friends/family where you’re going
Whenever you make travel plans, always keep your loved ones updated. If you book an Airbnb, forward it to your parents. If you stay in a hotel, make sure someone knows which hotel it is and how to get ahold of them in case of an emergency. Forward your flight information to people so that they can track when your plane departs and when it lands. And always call or text when you arrive somewhere new.
When I plan multiple weeks of travel, I make a calendar for my parents so that they know my movements every couple of weeks. When I make new plans, I send them a new calendar.
5. Be cautious with your belongings
As far as tips for solo travelers, another precaution to take is one with your personal belongings. While your safety is of first importance, the safety of your belongings comes in second. Make sure that you’re always keeping an eye on things, never carrying all of your belongings with you at once, and try to separate your money into different bags. When you go out, leave your passport at home and travel with an ID or vice versa. Always make copies of important documents and leave them in your room, and never take out more money than you need from the ATM.
6. Don’t get drunk
One of the main safety tips for solo female travelers is to always watch your drink, and watch how much you’re drinking. It’s important to stay aware of your surroundings at all times and if you’re drinking too much, that is impossible to do. Make sure that you’re drinking water after every drink and pace yourself. It’s okay if you want to drink, but never get drunk when you’re alone, and if you feel unsafe, ask the bouncer or bartender to help you.
7. Research your destination
Before you head to a new country, always research what that country is about. If you’re visiting a predominantly Muslim country, pack appropriate clothing. If you’re visiting a country that may be experiencing some unrest, make sure to know where the US embassy is in case of an emergency. And always look up the number for “911” in each country you’re going to.
Traveling solo is fun and exciting. But things can always go wrong, even if you’re traveling in a group. To ensure that you’re living your best solo female travel life, always be prepared, follow your gut instinct, and get out of there if you don’t feel safe. Do you have any tips for solo female travelers? If so, drop them in the comments below so that others can read them and stay safe on the road!
Do you want more tips on solo female travel? Check out these posts: