We asked Peggy Goldman, president of Friendly Planet Travel, an international group tour operator, to share her top tips for safer solo travel.
We also asked Goldman to provide her picks for five safe spots for solo travel.
Israel is a 24-hour society, says Goldman, and it's customary there for women to go out at night and walk alone. "There's also huge attention paid to the security of the people in Israel. It's a place where you can go and shop and won't be bothered," she adds.
Cuba is a very safe destination for women to travel by themselves for a few reasons. "The crime rate is low, and the people are very friendly and accommodating," says Goldman. "There's also a big sense of equality in Cuba, so women shouldn't feel uncomfortable when visiting alone."
If you want to feel welcomed and safe in your travels, give the Emerald Isle a try. "Ireland has the most extraordinarily friendly and outgoing people, who make you feel right at home," Goldman says. "You can speak to them on the street, and it's not going to be misconstrued. If you need help, you can literally knock on someone's door, and they'll be happy to help you."
Switzerland is clean, orderly and a very active country, and since people are often out on bicycles and walking around, it's not uncommon to see women alone, notes Goldman. "There’s also excellent public transportation, so you'll be able to travel the city easily without getting lost."
Amsterdam is another city where people are very active, and because of this, people are used to seeing men and women on the street by themselves, notes Goldman. "People walk and ride their bikes a lot. In fact, you can even rent bikes when you visit, so you could easily explore that city by yourself, and you wouldn't stand out in the crowd."
Find out if you can stay on a specific floor or area. "Many hotels have recently added this option, whether it's a women-only floor, a room on the second floor of a motel-style complex or rooms close to the front desk," notes Goldman.
When you get to your hotel, take note of all the locks — and remember to use them. "Many hotels offer a deadbolt lock, an additional lock and a door jamb that you can set in place," says Goldman. "You should never be lazy about using all of them, because using all of them practically guarantees that someone cannot break into your room."
There's no reason for random strangers to know you're a solo traveller. "Women travelling by themselves will often stop at the concierge to ask for assistance or to say that they're going out. However, it's probably a good idea to have those conversations on a telephone from your room so passersby can't hear that you're travelling alone or where you're going," advises Goldman.
Before you leave for your trip, picking up a whistle you can carry with you is a good idea. "The best thing you can do if you don't feel comfortable when approached on the street by a stranger is to blow a whistle," Goldman says. "If it's a benign person, he's going to look at you like you're crazy. If it's not a benign person, he's going to run like hell. In either case, you will save yourself some trouble."
Keep the phone number of the hotel front desk and a cell phone with you. "If it's your cell phone from home, it should be turned on to make and receive international calls. You'll be happy you set this up if you experience an emergency and you want to call someone," advises Goldman. "Even if it's a situation where you don't need necessarily 911 but you may need some help, having the front desk number can help you get in touch with someone you can trust quickly."
No matter where you go, it's always smart to read up on local customs, but this is especially pertinent if you're travelling solo. For example, Goldman notes that if you're travelling alone, some vendors might see you as an easy target to sell items at an unfair price. "Do a little research in advance, and learn what the negotiating habits are in the place that you're visiting. This way, you know what the customs are when you go out into the market," she advises.
Having done her fair share of solo travel, Goldman advises against going to bars alone. "While I sometimes have visited the bar at the hotel, I usually don't go alone to bars on the street. While there's nothing wrong with visiting a bar alone in the United States or similar countries, it could send a message that you don't intend to send if you're somewhere completely different," she warns. "It's not the case in every society, but unless you're very familiar with the culture, you probably shouldn't visit a bar alone.”
Minimize what you carry with you when you're out of the hotel sightseeing. Goldman suggests carrying a little bit of cash and an ID and credit card, and leaving your purse at home. If you can't do that, then carry a purse that has a zipper. "While many trendy purses today are in the tote style, don't use them for travel. If someone can stick their hand in your purse, you are opening yourself up to pickpockets."
At most destinations, you won't need your passport for any reason, says Goldman, so leave it at the hotel. "It should stay locked in your hotel with your ticket and any other credit cards that you have on your trip."
Knowing how to say "help" can go a long way toward keeping you safe. "It's an easy thing to learn, and if you get stuck and need help in a hurry, it's very good to know how to say "help" in the language of the destination you're visiting," says Goldman. "While you're at it, you should probably also learn "hello," "thank you" and "where's the bathroom?" she advises.
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