A solo traveler’s guide to stress-free wanderings
By MIA DEL ROSARIO-VILLARIN
It’s what’s usually said after the initial “Bon voyage.” Let’s face it, how many times have we heard stories of pickpockets, or valuables stolen, or even experienced them ourselves? It definitely ruins a trip that’s supposed to be fun. Personally, I’d rather focus my attention on sightseeing rather than constantly worrying about my wallet getting stolen. Traveling solo has made me hyper aware of safety, although being in a group does not guarantee a problem-free vacation either. Between my solo trips and family vacations, these are the things I do to keep myself and my belongings safe.
Don’t be a tourist—or don’t look like one
It has to be said. Leave your expensive jewelry and designer purses at home. I realize everyone has their own travel style but by doing this, you will greatly decrease the chances of being a victim of theft. I even leave my wedding ring at home and travel with a simple one because I don’t want to risk losing it, plus it helps keep away unwanted attention.
Dress to blend in. Do a quick search for “street style” of whatever place you’re visiting and try to dress in a similar fashion. Yes, a tourist will always look like a tourist but why would you want to stand out even more than you already do?
Act confident, be aware, and listen to your instincts. If something is telling you not to walk down that street or talk to that person, don’t! Listen to your gut. It’s giving you signs and keeping you safe.
Do your research. Look up the areas you’re visiting, check statistics, warnings, and popular scams. Check travel advisories from official tourist and government websites as well as other sites like Tripadvisor, which is a neverfail resource for me.
‘Please mind the gap’
Email yourself copies of your passport, debit/credit cards, and travel insurance. Insurance is an additional expense, but if you can afford to travel, you can afford travel insurance. Print another set of these documents to have on hand. In case you lose any of these documents, you can report them easily. Also, it is always good to know what numbers to call in the country you are going to in case of emergencies.
Before leaving the airport, I go to the bathroom and transfer my passport, ATM, and credit cards to a slim waist pack that I wear under my clothes. I leave just enough cash in the local currency in my purse to pay for transportation to my lodgings. This is also how I keep my belongings while I wander around for the duration of my trip. But at the point of arrival, it’s important to remember you will have a lot to maneuver—your luggage, getting your bearings, and being in an unfamiliar place. Having your documents hidden is one less stress you have to deal with.
Use ATMs installed inside banks or one with a safety door you have to enter. At the very least, if you’re using one out on the street, use ones that are directly attached to a bank versus the free standing ones. Look around your surrounding area before using the machine. Use the mirror attached to the ATM to look back while you are going through the transaction and stash your cash in your secret pack before turning around and walking away. Don’t use the ATM after dark.
Have a plan before heading out. Know what and where you’re going and how to get there, especially when you first arrive and during your first foray out to sightsee. This is when you are still acclimating to your surroundings and when you are most vulnerable. In addition, ask hotel staff, hosts, or locals for advice and guidelines.
‘Do not disturb’
Front desk staff should not mention your room number out loud when you check in. If they do, nicely ask for a different room and say why. This is basic hotel training but I am finding that it has not been the case more often than not.
When traveling solo, I almost always go on elevators alone, especially at hotels when going up to my room. As always, be aware that you’re not being followed.
Keep the “Do Not Disturb” sign outside your door at all times. I personally decline housekeeping services as I don’t feel comfortable knowing someone else has entered my room, especially when I’m by myself. You can even leave your TV on while you’re out to be extra vigilant.
‘May good luck be a friend in whatever you do and may trouble be always a stranger to you.’
Purchase a portable door lock or a door stopper for extra protection. I’ve used mine at every kind of lodging I’ve checked into, from hotels to AirBnBs and dormitories. It’s small and easy to pack, and gives you peace of mind.
Only take the room key card with you and leave the sleeve where it lists your room number behind at the hotel. On the off chance you lose it, you don’t want to give someone easy access to your hotel room.
Keep a couple of hotel business cards with you. It’s handy to have if you find yourself lost and need a local’s help to find your way back. They’re also useful to hand over to taxi drivers in case you find yourself using one.
Throw caution to the wind, but not common sense
Should you keep your passport with you or leave it at your lodgings? This has always been a debate among travelers. Do what’s most comfortable for you. If you feel better having your passport with you at all times, make sure you keep it hidden in a pack under your clothes. If you leave it in your room, use the hotel safe or find a good hiding spot for it and carry a copy with you. Just make sure you don’t forget it when you leave. I used a safe in a hotel once only to find out the previous guest left their wallet and passport behind.
In this day and age, who is not dependent on their phone? Losing your phone on vacation would be a nightmare. All our information, plane and train tickets, museum tickets, lodging details are stored there. What’s a safety backup for this? Remember paper? Yes, write (or type) everything down. I have a little notebook that goes with me everywhere. It also serves as a travel journal I look back on to relive my journeys.
A vacation should be enjoyable and stress-free, but we are easy targets to thieves and pickpockets in our jetlagged, awestruck state in places we are unfamiliar with. By making adjustments, using discretion and our instincts, we can minimize the chances of being victims of theft. Less worry on our stuff and more focus on being present. As that Irish farewell goes, “May good luck be a friend in whatever you do and may trouble be always a stranger to you.”