Reflections and advice based on personal experience.

Safety for the Solo Female

I have to bite my tongue when people say to me with a look of horror on their face, “You’re going where?”  Ignorance keeps too many Americans from traveling anywhere internationally but resorts or Europe.  Actually, the only places I have ever experienced food poisoning have been in resorts and the only place I was ever robbed was in Europe.

First of all, leave the good jewelry and nice clothes at home.  You will never blend with the locals, but there is no need to stand out.  Money, a credit card and passport should be in a money belt underneath your clothes.  However, I do carry a throw down wallet with me.  It has expired credit cards and at least 20 dollars in the local currency.  I can afford to have that taken. 

Don’t look overburdened. I have a palm-sized camera.  Honestly, it takes very good pictures.  Sure I’d like to use a wide angled camera but why call attention to yourself?  Additionally, I carry a small cylinder of pepper spray if I’m out alone at night. It’s in a pink case and it looks like a lipstick.  I have it opened with my finger poised on the trigger.  Although it’s an illegal item (at least in my state), I carry it in my cosmetic bag where it looks just like a lipstick.  I bought it on the internet.  You can also buy them that look like pens.

About nighttime.  I never walk alone late at night but sometimes as twilight comes on, public places close down quickly so that’s when I get out the pepper spray.  If you want to go somewhere at night, you should have your hotel call a trusted cab company.  If you’re going to a restaurant, have them do the same thing going back.  Do not hail a cab on the street.

Trust your instincts.  I was walking taking pictures one afternoon in Granada, Nicaragua, when I noticed a small park, not heavily treed, with some interesting sculptural elements.  I started wandering about looking for good shots when I realized that I didn’t feel right.  Although I saw nothing alarming, I immediately left and crossed the street.  Later I found out from friends that the park was a hang out for glue sniffers and petty criminals. 

On public transportation pay careful attention to your belongings.  Before a trip to Ecuador, I had read that thieves sometimes crawl under seats, slash open back packs placed on the ground between the owner’s feet, and carefully extract valuables.  I was traveling on a two-hour bus ride from Quito to Otavalo with a carry on sized roller bag which I was reluctant to put in the cargo hold or put under my seat.  The solution:  I paid the 2$ fare for the seat next to me, and the suitcase rode next to me. Later in Otavalo I met a couple at dinner who were backpacking and had ridden the bus to where I was staying.  Her backpack had been neatly sliced on the bus and her very expensive camera was stolen.

Be sure to carry your name, where you are staying, and contact information in your money belt.  Also, if you plan on any side trips, tell the place where you're staying where you're going and  when you plan on coming back.  Also be sure to give them the name and phone number of someone you would want contacted in case of an emergency.  Your passport needs to go in a safe.  Sometimes I've been asked for picture ID or a passport to get into sites or to rent headphones.  Since I don't travel with my driver's license, I carry a credit card in my money belt that has my picture on it.  It was easy to upload onto my Capital One card which by the way, does not charge extra for international transactions. 

If this all sounds scary, consider this.  Outside of Europe, I’ve never had anything stolen.  More importantly, no one has tried to hurt me.  In my experience, people in the developing world don’t carry guns.  They might grab your purse as they ride by on a bicycle, but you’re not likely to get shot as you might be in the U. S.  While gun statistics are widely manipulated, the murder rate by guns is higher for the U.S. than any of the 17 countries I’ve traveled in during the 7 years since I retired. 

Be vigilant whenever and wherever you travel but don’t worry.  Considering that I live just 15 miles from Flint, Michigan, I’m always safer when I’m traveling.

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