PHOTO: Knowledge is power for women traveling solo. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
Studies have shown that more tourists are hitting the open road and traveling by themselves than ever before. For women, however, traveling solo can bring about certain safety issues.
Headlines of two 20-something female backpackers who were killed last year while staying in Ecuador only drive home the point that traveling alone might be more dangerous for women.
However, some women travelers believe the danger is highly overestimated.
“Much of the world has much less common crime than the United States does, and much less violent crime, meaning you’re often safer traveling than you are at home,” said Teresa Mears, writer and publisher of "Miami on the Cheap", who took a nine-month trip around the world alone.
The only place where she has felt uncomfortable was in Morocco, where couples have also said they’ve been harassed by people trying to sell them things.
“I’ve traveled alone to Israel, the Palestinian areas, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Syria (before the war) and was always treated with great courtesy and never felt threatened,” said Mears. “I’ve also traveled alone in Europe, Asia and Latin America as well as throughout the United States.”
Here are some additional travel safety tips from Mears and travel agents:
Carry money and passport securely:
“The most common crime, whether you’re alone or in a group, is theft,” said Mears. “Some places, I carry a purse. Some places, I just have a tiny purse close to my body. And in a few places, I kept everything in my pockets. Know where you’re going, so you don’t accidentally end up in a bad area.”
However, Mears has still been pickpocketed twice. “Once on a bus to the Vatican in Rome, where the friend I was traveling with met the same fate and once at a market in Mexico, where I was also with friends. Companions are not always a protection against crime.”
“When I travel outside the U.S., I try to look less like an American,” said Mears. “I never wear sneakers, shorts, fanny packs or things that immediately pinpoint me as an American or as a tourist.”
Leave documents with family:
“I am a single woman and travel frequently, so I always leave an itinerary with my children, and I call one of them daily,” said Margie Lenau, travel consultant and owner of Wonderland Family Vacations.
“I also leave all of my important documents with them, in case they are stolen or lost. This way, they can be replaced more easily.”
Buy travel insurance:
“Travel insurance is mandatory and I do not travel without it,” said Lenau.
“If I get a simple infection, that can be all it takes to recoup the cost of that insurance. This insurance can help when my luggage is lost, too, so I can purchase necessary items I may need for meetings or tours.”
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Join a group:
Just because you’re traveling solo, doesn’t mean you need to be alone.
“If you are a solo, you can travel without being alone by booking a group tour, where you have the comfort of a tour leader and others in your broader group, but you still have the independence and flexibility to create your own adventure,” said Greg Geronemus, the co-CEO of smarTours.
“Going solo on a group trip also allows you to meet new people and make new friends without being tied to the person you're traveling with. We see it all the time on our trips. Women initially travel with us independently, but often find life-long friends.”
“Walk like you know where you are going,” said Renee Tsang, of Renee Tsang Travel.
“People will be less likely to stop you if you show confidence in yourself and your surroundings. Wear an engagement or wedding ring, even if you don't have one.”
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Dress appropriately: “
Dress appropriately for the region/country you are visiting,” said Marjorie Laflin, CTC, of It's A Fine Day travel.
“You wanted to buy new clothes for the trip, but if you stand out as more well off than the general population, you make yourself a target. If you want to dress to impress, choose Monaco or Ibiza, not Mozambique or Indonesia.”
Get off social media:
“First off, bravo to anyone that is willing to travel solo,” said Samarah Meil of Amarillo Travel Network. “It is a great way to meet others and really get to know yourself. Always use precautions—such as not posting too much on social media channels on where you are traveling, until after you return. You never know who can find out where you are via those avenues.”
Mears would still recommend traveling solo to women.
“Do it! You end up meeting more people and getting into more conversations with locals and other travelers because you are not talking to traveling companions,” she said.