8 Vital Hacks To Keep Yourself Safe On A Solo Trip
You've done your homework preparing for your trip.
You've signed up for STEP, the US State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. You've left a copy of your itinerary with someone you trust back home. You've photocopied your passport and visas and stashed them separately from your travel documents.
But safety precautions shouldn't stop once you arrive at your destination.
There isn't a one-size-fits-all prescription for staying safe.
While most people in the world are thrilled to meet someone new and happy to help you out, a solitary traveler can seem like an easy mark to thieves.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent being targeted by criminals while traveling.
1. Find out what the criminals are up to before you leave.
While researching hotels and tours, make sure to also look for information about scams and crimes in your destination country.
Knowing ahead of time what you might encounter can help you avoid it, and plenty of travel bloggers write about these issues.
A common scam in Peru involves someone asking if you have change, then giving you counterfeit bills.
If you're aware of what's out there, you can spot trouble before you fall victim to it.
2. Act like a local.
Obviously, fitting in when you're a foreigner can be hard.
Even if you look like the people in your host country, chances are you still seem foreign.
Your detergent makes your clothes smell different, your table manners are different.
These instances may intrigue the locals and lead to some great friendships, but they can also make you stand out to the wrong kind of people.
When you find yourself alone in an unfamiliar area, do your best to act like you belong there.
This doesn't mean you need to dye your hair or buy new clothes, but you can alter your behavior to make it seem like you know the lay of the land, and if anyone gives you any problems, you'll know exactly how to deal.
3. Don't advertise your “wealth.”
Keep in mind while some people steal simply because they're criminals, others steal because they're desperate.
This is most important in countries where the average income is significantly lower than in the US.
Even if you aren't rich by American standards, people in poorer countries often perceive Westerners as wealthy.
Avoid brand-name clothing, even if it's common in the US.
In some places, you might find your Nike sneakers cost twice the monthly salary of the average local.
It's also a good idea to leave sentimental jewelry at home.
4. Use a decoy wallet.
Pickpockets are a problem everywhere, especially where large groups gather in small spaces, like buses and subways.
When it comes to more brazen crimes like armed mugging, carrying a decoy wallet helps.
Fill an extra wallet with an expired driver's license and credit card and a small amount of cash.
If a mugger demands your wallet, hand over the decoy. Most muggers are in a hurry to get away, so it's unlikely they'll check expiration dates.
They might get some cash, but you'll keep your travel documents and the rest of your money and credit cards.
5. If you're single, consider wearing a fake wedding ring.
I don't advocate lying to people, but a fake wedding ring can help you avoid uncomfortable moments and unwanted attention.
Be prepared in many countries for people to ask about your marital status, especially if you're a woman.
You may love your unattached lifestyle, but what you consider independence may seem lonely to others.
While some people will want to help you find everlasting love, others may see your singleness as an opportunity.
A ring won't deter all the attention, but it might discourage would-be lovers and anyone afraid that your spouse will be along at any moment.
6. Don't gawk.
It's easy to spot the tourists in New York City because they're the ones blocking Midtown traffic to stare up at buildings.
When traveling, your eyes drift to all the things you're seeing for the first time — The Eiffel Tower sparkling to life at night, a Kenyan sunset.
To you, it's new, but to the locals, it's normal.
There's no need to pretend to not be impressed, but don't get distracted and let your guard down.
7. Walk with purpose.
Body language is an important deterrent to crime.
If you're lost or have an uneasy feeling, walk with a posture of authority: shoulders up, chest out, back straight, eyes forward like you know exactly where you're going.
This posture communicates confidence, even if you don't necessarily feel it.
People who are visibly scared make easy targets, so walk with the self-assuredness of a kung fu master who could drop a thief without breaking a sweat.
8. Be careful with the information you share.
When a local asks where you're staying, name the neighborhood rather than the hotel.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, this question is just innocent curiosity that may lead to a restaurant recommendation.
If you feel uncomfortable, lie.
And if you find yourself with a cab driver who gives you the creeps, have him drop you a block or two away from where you're actually staying and wait until he drives away before heading home.