I’ve done some pretty stupid things over the years while traveling. In fact, sometimes I wonder how I’m still alive, relatively sane, and still have all of my limbs intact.
I’ve gotten a ride home drunk at 2am in Panama with police officers carrying machine guns. In Costa Rica I’ve walked across a crocodile and shark infested river up to my neck. I’ve wandered dark empty streets at night and gone to the homes of complete strangers in Morocco. I’ve ridden a bicycle without a helmet through mad traffic in Vietnam. I’ve nearly drowned in a riptide on the Caribbean coast. I’ve walked home alone in Thailand after last call and had a man expose himself to me on the street. I have even been lured into the home of scammers in a sketchy neighborhood in Cambodia.
Call it dumb luck, sharp intuition, or divine grace, that despite these absurd mistakes, nothing that bad has ever happened to me.
When I let my ego go unchecked and my rationale fall to the wayside, the universe has a way of nudging me to wake up before I drive off the cliff. The close calls have been like dress rehearsals, showing me what to do on opening night.
As much as I appreciate my close calls, I wouldn’t wish them upon you. Instead, I hope that you will arm yourself with information and listen to your intuition. While only you can hear your voice of wisdom, I’m here to support you with information. Because why have your own close call, when you can simply learn from mine?
If you want to travel the world on your own, but worry about the risks or dangers, let these safety tips give you the confidence to know that you can still do it without compromising your safety. By having these tools by your side, you can feel solid when you chase adventures, challenge your fears, and open your heart.
Ready? Here we go:
It’s very common to feel disoriented when you arrive somewhere foreign. The language, the culture, the landscape, the laws, all seem so different you may feel clueless about how you’re supposed to act. Some travelers respond by escaping the “local culture” and hiding in resorts or expecting the locals to conform to their needs.
However, as visitors it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on our new environment to both protect ourselves and give our respect. Do research, ask questions, and listen. Approach people with sensitivity and curiosity instead of judgment or fear. The more you seek to understand your surroundings, the more your surroundings serve to protect you.
Before I travel to a new country I research the basic treatment of women in the local culture, the expectations of women travelers, the appropriate attire, the general safety of the particular town(s) I’m visiting, and common scams so that I’m tipped off immediately and don’t get in too deep. I get my information from guidebooks, travel blogs, and Lonely Planet’s Thorntree Forum.
When I arrive at my destination, I ask locals and other travelers for the inside scoop. I typically ask if it’s safe for me to walk alone, what areas I should avoid, if there are dangerous animals/poisonous snakes (depending on where I am), where it’s safe to swim, and if I can drink the water.
Try not to get obsessive, this research shouldn’t take more than an hour, and don’t listen to everything that you hear. Remember, it’s all opinion, not truth. You likely will receive contradictory information. Take it with a grain of salt and filter the information through your own understanding. Keep what resonates, forget what doesn’t.
Use the information that you gather as helpful guidelines, not hard rules, as you explore and draw your own conclusions.
Often our greatest fear in solo travel is the vulnerability that comes with being alone. I understand that fear, because I’ve felt it every time I arrive somewhere new. This fear tends to come from discomfort more often than danger.
Learn to lean into the discomfort that arises when you’re alone. When you feel strange in a restaurant by yourself, afraid alone in bed at night, or nervous on a long bus ride with strangers, instead think about how strong you are. The more comfortable you can become in these uncomfortable situations, the more empowered you will become in your life.
Trust yourself and your capabilities, because ultimately YOU are the only one who can truly keep you safe. This trust is far more valuable than anything you will read in a guidebook or on a blog.
Connect With Other Travelers
Feeling safe and strong alone will empower you tremendously, but as humans we’re not meant to be alone all of the time. We’re meant to connect and have community, and being part of a tribe offers greater safety than being out on our own.
Though contrary to what some may think, traveling alone can be even more social than traveling with others. Through youth hostels, expat cafes, family run guesthouses, yoga studios, retreat centers, and organized tours, I have met many locals, transplants, and travelers. Some were my companions for the day while others have become lifelong friends.
I love and value my alone time, but I also appreciate the strength that comes from community.
Like the time I arrived in Morocco without any plan and without knowing the language. I got to the bus station, disoriented and the only foreigner, with men staring at me from all directions. As soon as I saw three guys with big backpacks, I approached them. We ended up traveling together for about a week and in their presence I didn’t get hassled at all.
Or when I got to Koh Rong and was told not to hike to the remote beaches alone because of poisonous snakes and the possibility of getting lost. I made friends with some travelers in my hostel and we went on the hike together, unscathed.
The key is finding the confidence to go on your own, having freedom to do what you want, and meeting others who you can share experiences with when you feel called.
Respect the Locals
I genuinely believe that by offering respect you are more likely to receive it. Whether that translates to covering your knees and elbows in Morocco or entertaining the friendly banter of a Caribbean Rastafarian, you set the stage for a positive experience when you honor locals and their customs.
Be accepting of the paradigms in this culture, rather than attaching to the paradigms of your culture. Be open, respectful, and understanding, without losing yourself and what you believe. Know that you are the outsider and it is up to you to bridge the gap.
Never, I Repeat, Never, Walk Alone Late at Night
Alright, I never say never, but really, unless it’s entirely necessary, just don’t walk alone late at night, ok? Really, please, don’t do it. Even in the safest of places, it’s not a good idea.
In Kampot, Cambodia I was told that it’s safe to walk alone at night. I did, but felt creeped out, and didn’t do it again. Later I heard a young woman had been murdered along the river a few months before. In Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, everyone will tell you not to walk alone at night. A friend of mine, a local, was robbed by gunpoint when she ignored the advice. In Chiang Mai, a city that feels extremely safe to me, I walked home alone late and was followed by a man on a motorbike who eventually pulled down his pants and started masturbating in the street.
I don’t want to scare you, but don’t take the risk. Instead, come home earlier, stay out with your friends, take a taxi, or if you’re at a friend’s place already, just stay the night.
Find a Taxi You Can Trust
Sometimes it’s tough to know whether you’re safer walking alone or getting into an unknown taxi. I’ve been in this position, and I’ve even had some scary moments with taxis trying to scam me or take me a different route. If possible, ask your hostel or hotel for the number of a taxi that you can trust. Call them for a ride. If you’re out and you can’t get a hold of them, ask the bar or restaurant to call a taxi they trust for you.
Be Confident, or at Least Fake it
Our insecurities and hesitations are what make us vulnerable. Think about it, if you were to scam or rob someone, would you choose the person confidently walking down the street, or the one looking lost standing on the corner?
One of the greatest methods for self-protection is self-assurance. This goes back to trusting yourself. The more you believe that you’re capable of being safe alone, the more you will radiate it. Others can actually feel your energy, and you will consequently repel those who want to take advantage of you, and attract those who are inspired by you.
But what do you do when you don’t feel confident? Fake it.
Even as an experienced traveler, there are still times where I feel unsure of myself. I’m aware that this can attract the wrong kind of attention, so I do my best to fake it.
In the company of strangers, pretend that you know what you’re doing. If you’re asked if you already have a place to stay, say yes. If you’re asked if you know where you’re going, say yes. Look ahead and move forward even when you’re lost. If you need to consult a map or ask for directions, step inside of a reputable hotel, restaurant, or shop, and figure it out in there.
Set Boundaries and Don’t Waver
There’s a reason why people feel safer when they live behind walls and fences. There’s a reason why countries are divided by borders. There’s a reason why we learn from a young age the words “yes” and “no.”
Boundaries enable us to declare what we do and don’t want to come inside. Boundaries express to others what kind of treatment we do and don’t allow. The firmer and clearer your boundaries are, the less likely you are to be taken advantage of.
That said, setting boundaries is a challenge. As humans, and particularly as women, we often feel compelled to please others. We may worry that our boundaries will offend someone else. However the only way to truly respect yourself and others is by clearly and kindly letting your boundaries be known.
Whether it’s finally yelling at a Rastafarian woman chaser that I’m not interested after politely declining his advances again and again or informing the tuk tuk driver that I don’t need a ride to go two blocks, the more deliberately I communicate my boundaries, the more I protect myself from what I don’t want to enter my existence.
Have a Safe Haven
Sometimes, it does get to be too much. The hassling and harassment can grow exhausting and when you stop being aware is when you start being at risk. These are the times when you need to escape and recharge before getting back out into the madness.
Stay in a hotel or hostel that has a nice common area where you can chill out and interact with other foreigners. Yoga studios and expat owned cafes are also great places when you need to forget that you’re in a foreign country.
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
I’ll be the first to admit that my ego has gotten me into trouble. At times I want to prove that I’m a badass more than I want to honor my body or my life.
Like the time I ran out into the ocean alone in Costa Rica, despite the red flag warnings, and nearly drowned. Or when I jumped through the burning ring of fire on the beach in Thailand, without any strategy or experience, and burned and blistered my entire back.
Don’t be fearful, but still be humble.
I don’t have any experience rock climbing, so it’s probably not the best idea for me to free climb across a cliff, even if all of the locals are doing it. I’m not a strong swimmer, so going out into the ocean when it’s turbulent, not the safest of plans. When I first learned to drive a motorbike, you better believe I wasn’t ripping around corners.
Know your strengths and your experiences, heed the warnings, and treat yourself and the forces of the universe with respect.
Wear a Helmet
I know it looks silly and messes up your hair, and none of the surfer boys wear one, but just put it on anyway. Your head is precious and you only get one.
Don’t Flash Your Cash
When traveling in developing countries, please remember that most Westerners make more in one hour than many locals make in an entire week. Sometimes in an entire month. You can imagine how this disparity can cause resentment. Perhaps people who steal assume that the person they stole from didn’t need it anyway.
No matter where in the world you are, the more you show how much you have, the more you become a target for people who want to take. I recommend keeping most of your cash and your electronics in a safe or in a locker in your room, leaving expensive jewelry at home, and keeping your bank balance to yourself. Bring as little as possible with you out at night and next to nothing when you’re going to the beach.
Keep Your Valuables Close
If you’re walking around the city or the beach for the day, only take as much as you need. Carry a small amount of cash and leave your passport behind. However on travel days, you will have all of your belongings with you, which means a higher risk of losing something valuable.
In this case, keep your valuables either on your body or in a small carry on bag. Always keep that bag with you, and if you fall asleep on the bus or on a train, hug the bag and sleep on top of it.
Drink Bottled Water and Take Probiotics
Food poisoning is not only unpleasant, but it can actually be dangerous. Unless you’re certain that the water is very clean and pure, opt for bottled water. Aside from foreign bacteria there can be many harmful pollutants in water in developing countries.
I’ve had such bad food poisoning on a remote island that I nearly blacked out from vomiting. It was not a pleasant experience, ‘nuff said.
To arm yourself from the bacteria in your environment and in your food, be sure to regularly take probiotics. Learn more in my post How to Travel the World and Never Get Food Poisoning.
Watch for Critters
If you’re traveling in the tropics, insects and wild animals can potentially pose a threat. Be aware of where you place your foot, always stick to a trail, and if you’re walking in deep jungle, you may want to wear rubber boots.
You can avoid encounters with tarantulas and scorpions by keeping your belongings clean and off of the floor and checking your bedsheets at night. Use coconut oil on your skin to ward off mosquitoes and keep sand fleas from biting you on the beach. Resist the urge to scratch your insect bites and always keep them clean with soap, water, and perhaps some tea tree oil to prevent infection.
For more on this, read my post How I Cured Myself of Mosquito Bites Forever.
Have a Positive Attitude
The energy you put forth into the world is often the energy that greets you. Therefore, if you want to have positive experiences, express positivity.
I’ve noticed consistently that when I smile, treat people with kindness, and have a positive attitude, even in challenging situations, my entire experience improves. If I’m frustrated, perceiving things negatively, and behaving impatiently, the frustration and struggle seems to grow.
I don’t mean that anytime something bad happens to us it’s somehow “our fault.” Life is far more complex and compassionate than that. Rather, by choosing a positive outlook, we can empower ourselves to find higher ground no matter where we are.
Listen to Your Gut
Even if you did everything on this list perfectly, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always be safe. Life doesn’t come with guarantees and no one can give you full proof answers.
But there is something that will. Your intuition.
As animals, we have a built in response that warns us when we’re in danger. The same way we feel when we’re hungry or tired, we also feel when we need to stop, say no, or run. Often that feeling comes from our tummy, but it may also speak to us from a voice deep within.
When you get a “bad” feeling about a certain place, or a person, or anything, go with it. If a voice inside of you spontaneously tells you “no,” listen. Our bodies often know better than our brains.
The key is to work beyond the fears that have been programmed into us by society, the media, our families, and our peers for our entire lives. Connect with what is really happening around you right now, quiet your mind, and be present in the moment. When you’re really listening, your voice of intuition will guide you.
What have you found to be the best ways to stay safe while traveling? Or, what safety concerns do you still have?
Excellent post! And one that even seasoned travellers should read over – a few of the points here were things I needed to be reminded of. I feel safe in Asia so far, but I’m heading to Latin America this autumn and I feel a teeny bit anxious about it. Thanks for calming my fears – there are lots of ways to stay safe 🙂
You are so welcome dear!! Also, be sure to get a copy of my next ebook The Single Girl’s Guide to Traveling the World, coming out by the end of the summer 🙂
The timing of this post could not be more perfect (or discovering this blog for that matter)! I’m leaving on a solo trip through India and SE Asia starting in early January. Thank you for all the great advice and insight you’re putting out into the world with your blog 🙂
That’s awesome! You’re so welcome. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter and stay in the loop, at the end of the summer I’m releasing my next ebook The Single Girl’s Guide to Traveling the World
Thanks you for giving female travelers this information. I have lived all over the third world, SE Asia and S America….and yes, you are very lucky to be alive, or to not be a rape victim. You may have saved a few lives with this article…if they listen.
I have a lot of angels around me. So grateful to be able to share this wisdom with others to help them protect themselves.
Great article! I particularly resonated with what you said about respecting the locals – it’s obvious really but the way you put it made a lot of sense. More understanding between cultures is always a good thing! Intuition is a weird one for me because I often feel under threat when there is no threat, so in order to live my life I have to actively ignore a lot of the warnings my brain is constantly giving me, and remind myself that I am safe! I’m in touch with my intuition in the sense that I know what direction feels good, but that icky feeling that something’s not right is frequently a false alarm for me. I usually get by unscathed though! 🙂
I hear you Tess. Actually, it’s something I’ve recently been dealing with a lot. Sometimes that icky feeling is actually trapped trauma that’s inside of us that’s triggering the fear response. Keep sending yourself metta and it should help a lot. Also, visualize white light surrounding yourself as a form of protection.
Thanks for that insight about stuck trauma, very interesting. I’ve just started 12 weeks of therapy sessions so hopefully that will help release it. Still doing the metta meditation every day! 🙂
You’re welcome! Check out yin yoga too. I teach it in Costa Rica, hopefully I’ll make videos soon. It’s all about opening the connective tissue in our joints where emotional and physical trauma is stored.
I think you’re spot on about yin yoga. When I feel extra sensitive or anxious holding poses for longer and slowing down feels right, but this part of me feels like I should be ‘doing’ more. It’s good that you specifically recommend it because it gives me more confidence that I know what my body needs and to trust it!
Personal safety and self defense is so important for us women travelers and we should all be prepared to fight back effectively if the need ever arises.
I have been teaching Krav Maga to women and girls for over 5 years now and we teach a very effective technique which I feel should should be in every woman and girls arsenal. We are a women only event, run by women, for women, and this is the extremely effective technique what we teach to women of all ages.
The technique is the “groin grab” self defense technique which is to be used against a male attacker, which is now taught in many womens self defense classes, and there is actually a little trick to it…
To execute this technique, you’re going to take your hand and quickly grasp between the attackers thighs underhand. Its going to feel like you’re “cradling” the testicles. Quickly grab them and dig your fingertips into the fragile skin BEHIND the scrotum. Then, once you have a good grip, you turn your hand into a vice, with your fingers digging inwards, around the back and over the top of the testicles. If you do it right, you should feel the testes INSIDE your hand which is holding the scrotum. You want, whenever possible, to hook your fingers over and around at least one testicle. One of them is enough.
Then, with your hands in a claw and your fingertips latched around the testes, you turn your hand sharply, as though you were turning a doorknob. Simultaneously, squeeze hard and pull the testicles away from his body as fast and as hard as you can. Do not let go of them. This is important. What happens then, is that your assailant usually screams out in pain and then tries to grab the wrist of your hand holding him in a futile attempt to try to get you to release him. Don’t. He then quickly loses one of the natural advantages he usually has over us (his strength) within a matter of seconds. Vomiting, curling over, collapsing and convulsing is common. Shock and unconsciousness can set in within 8 seconds. When he collapses, which he will, you get away to safety as quickly as possible and call for help.
It’s never too late to perform this technique at any stage of an attack, and that even includes the option of reaching down if he’s on top of you, but it is easiest to do when the testicles are exposed and closest to you where you can grab hold of them. I’ve actually met several women in my life who have fought off their attackers in this way and one did it when her attacker was on top of her and raping her at the point he lost control. Don’t ever hold back. Some women scream while they are doing this, and some women think of a loved one being harmed to help overcome any bad feelings of hurting someone else even if they are being hurt themselves. Do whatever you have to do if you feel it helps.
If done properly, and done with enough force, this technique can even lead to the testicles rupturing. It’s actually easier to do than most women believe, and just about all of us have the capability to injure an attackers testicles in this way – whether we are young girls still of school age, or whether we are great grandmothers. We have no part of our bodies as vulnerable as a mans testicles. After all, if you think about it testicles are just small objects of extreme vulnerability to pain squishiness wrapped in a delicate layer of skin which offers them no protection at all from this kind of counterattack by a woman. Most importantly, this fact holds true no matter what size your attacker is, nor how strong he is. And no matter how angry he is, and how much he’s threatened what he’s going to do to you, he’s going to drop. Don’t let anyone (usually men) try to convince you otherwise.
I know that this advice would have been a difficult read for many women, but our lives are worth far more than a rapists testicles and we should be prepared to do whatever it takes to get away to safety. Please help to share this advice with as many other women and girls in any way you can. It could one day be a life saver.
Wow, thank you for sharing this. You’ve also reminded me that it’s definitely a good idea for all women to take self defense classes. I imagine this technique has certainly saved women from being raped if not killed.
I remember watching a TV show in which a petite woman in her forties told her story of how she was awoken in her bed one night by a much larger and stronger man who was unclothed from his waist down. He threatened her to do as she was told “or else”.
It was then that she remembered advice given to her by an aunt, who had also learned the same advice from female members of her family, to “grab twist and pull” on a mans testicles “and not let go of them” if ever in trouble.
So she grabbed, twisted, and pulled on his testicles. He initially started to fight back until she realized that she could squeeze much harder than she was doing already, so she used both her hands and squeezed much harder. The effect was dramatic. He started convulsing, curled over, and begged her to phone the police just before he passed out from the intense pain.
She phoned the police, and when they arrived they were confronted by a slender built woman still holding on to the testicles of her attacker, a big brute of a man who meant to harm her but who was now out for the count! He was jailed.
I’ll never forget this story nor her bravery. It shows that we CAN fight back, and make use of a very powerful natural advantage we have.
Thank you for sharing Kay!
Firstly I have to mention what a beautiful blog you have. You’ve found a new follower.
There is a popular video on youtube in which woman has shared her story of how she fought off a man who attacked her within her home when she was only fourteen years old by squeezing his testicles and refusing to let go of them. He ended up in hospital followed by twenty five years in jail.
Looking at the responses to this video it appears that many girls have been inspired by her bravery. How great that we can share life saving information with each other on great blogs like yours.
Here is a link to the video:
I believe that listening to real success stories really help in providing inspiration and building confidence and self belief.
Thank you so much Helen. I’m really glad to hear this post has opened such a great dialogue for empowering women to protect themselves xx
Great blog by the way Camille, you’ve just found a new follower!
I’d like to join in this conversation and add something which I learned when I once had a conversation with a Somali woman. It was so sad hearing about how they were treated by some of the men in their society, but they shared with each other a technique they call “Qworegoys” which they claim works every time and strikes fear into men.
Qworegoys is the name of a self defense move that grandmothers, mothers and daughters all share with each other. It is when being attacked by a man you squat down, reach between his legs under his sarong, quickly grab his testicles and squeeze hard, twist and pull on them and do not let go.
He might initially hit or kick, but they are to tuck in their heads and take the blows on their backs and hang on long enough to cause the attacker to lose all his strength and faint, which takes only a matter of seconds. If you can squeeze hard enough to literally “pop” the testicles then all the better… I was told that “Qworegoys” is an extremely powerful and effective move for women of all ages and strengths.
They were quite surprised that women in the West didn’t share this advice with each other as much. I told them that as young girls we are made aware if the vulnerability of testicles, but they responded that Qworegoys took things to a completely new level in effectiveness !
So all other women out there, lets do our bit and share with each other this amazing technique of fighting back by grabbing, twisting, pulling and crushing testicles if we are ever attacked by men. Now I always remember the word “Qworegoys” and how these poor women learned to fight back so effectively, and I always share this information with other women whenever I can.
Thank you so much again Camille. Peace and Love, Misscuits
Thank you for sharing!! Actually, other people have shared this info in my post with safety tips! Definitely a good one for all women to know. xoxo
No es buena idea,esto es un mito de las mujeres,primero es difícil conseguir un agarre y si se consigue aunque aprietes en un segundo de un golpe fuerte el hombre deja ko a la mujer.
Interesting posts. there is sensation while doing solo travel, namely that we can decide what you need and we need by itself. of course there are restrictions if you are a woman, which is principal regarding safety and comfort. very interesting that you have a habit of it. glad to read your posts. thanks.
Thank you, glad you enjoyed it!
Take a quickie self defense class back at home! That one helped me feel ultra empowered 🙂
Yes! I’m going to look into it 🙂
I feel as if I have found a soul mate. thank you for this beautiful, beautiful, beautiful blog.
Aw thank you Rozanna, you are so welcome <3
My fave of your posts. Helpful and inspiring, thank you!
Thanks sweetness glad you liked it!! xo
Excellent advice , Thankyou for sharing. Stay safe and happy travelling X
Thanks so much!
I confess I’ve actually used this testicle squeezing technique described more than once, though not as dramatically.
I kind of learned it almost accidentally wrestling with my older brother. I was 12, and he used to pick on me some and wrestle with me. He would sometimes taunt me a little, and we were pretty competitive sometimes, though I had never won. I had three older brothers and I was the only girl, so I was a tomboy when I was young.
One of my girlfriends had told me about going for the balls, so I decided to one day. I got a good grip on his nuts and he was literally and immediately begging for me to stop, and I was just holding him through his shorts. I let him go but I was thrilled, it was the first time in my life I had basically beaten him.
He was mad and told me not to do that, but I told him if he wanted to wrestle, I did see why I should have to hold back. He started to wrestle one other time about a week later, and this time he was wearing jeans. He was fighting hard trying to pin me on my stomach, but I was able to spin around and get my hand between his legs and squeeze hard, which I did because he was wearing jeans.
He immediately cried out and jumped back, called me a name and limped away holding his groin. That was the last time my brother ever tried to wrestle me, and that was one of the prouder moments of my life when I had basically beaten him a second time. I made him quit the last two times were ever wrestled. It wasn’t until high school that we even talked about that incident again, and I realized there was a lot of guys I could handle if I really had to.
I also once used this as a mild form of self-defense against my own husband. This really wasn’t very dramatic, but I was trying to sleep after a busy day of vacation. I was very tired, half asleep, and he was pressing me for sex. I told him no more than once, but he kept pressuring me. He was right up against my back, his hard member poking me.
Without even really thinking, I reached back, grabbed his testicles, I crunched them a bit with a short but firm squeeze, just clinching my fist once. He immediately rolled off me and didn’t bother me the rest of the night.
He asked me about it later, and I admitted I did it on purpose. He didn’t press the issue, and he didn’t seem particular mad, but he told me his nuts ached all night, and ached on and off for a couple weeks after my one squeeze. It did not apologize and truthfully I was glad he was hurting a bit, I hoped it taught him a lesson.
I had warned him before. I had a few boyfriends before my husband, and I always kind of playfully but with a tad bit of seriousness warned them early in our relationship I could destroy them if I really wanted to, or turn them into a girl.
While I would never want to have to do that, I am confident I could pretty quickly do so if I needed to. I worked in a factory for a decade in my 20’s, and my hands and arms are strong from the daily lifting I did. At one point I could close a 150 pound hand gripper.
Since that evening, I have occasionally reminded my husband I could destroy him, and I notice this always causes him to become more calm and passive.