Studying abroad and traveling by yourself can have some real benefits. However, being by yourself does require you to be more aware of your surroundings and alert about any safety concerns. ISEP Program Officer Lindsay shares some tips for staying safe while traveling alone.
About 90% of my students studying abroad in Africa are female. It really excites and inspires me to see so many incredible young women choosing to study abroad in non-traditional destinations such as Ghana and Botswana. So many of these young women do incredible things during their time abroad and truly embody strength and independence.
Travel is always a top priority for my students studying abroad. While it’s great to get a group and go exploring, some of the most rewarding and exciting memories can be made while traveling alone. I often have students asking whether it’s safe to travel alone in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially for solo females. While there are always risks and precautions associated, women shouldn’t be afraid to satisfy their wanderlust alone! Keep in mind, some areas of the world might not be safe for solo female travel. It’s always important to check the latest safety and security updates from the U.S. Department of State before you make your travel plans.
Here are my top tips for solo travel:
1. Plan your travel during the day time
Public buses and mini-bus taxis are great and affordable ways to get around. While it’s often cheaper to take the night bus, it may be safer to spend a little extra cash to travel during the day.
2. Stay in busy hostels in female-only dorms
I always recommend staying in hostels when traveling alone. Look for hostels with on-site hangouts or communal areas so you have a chance to socialize with others. Do your research and find hostels with female-only dorm rooms. Make sure the hostels advertise having lockers, and bring your own padlock.
3. Always give a friend or family member your travel itinerary and documentation
Make sure someone knows where you are going to be staying and always have a way to reach a buddy or family member during your travels. Give that person a copy of your passport and medical records.
4. Check-in with a family member or friend daily
Planning your travel on the fly? Check in with a family member or friend daily and give them the name of your location and the hostel you are staying at.
5. Take group public transportation
There’s always safety in numbers. Taking transportation like “tro tros,” “Kombis” or mini-bus taxis is often the most common and affordable mode of public transportation. Stick to taking these during daylight hours and also make sure there are plenty of other people in the mini-bus taxi. It’s a great way to get around and experience the local culture. Caution: While mini-bus taxis are very safe, always make sure you do not take an empty bus. There have been crime incidents when women have gotten into a min-bus taxi with just the driver. While this is not common, it has happened, so women and men should always be aware.
6. Be confident
If you look like you can be taken advantage of, chances are higher that you will be. Always look confident and sure of yourself when walking around cities. Even if you have no idea where you are going, don’t let it show. Need to look at your map or iPhone? Don’t do it in the streets. Pop into a shop or restaurant and do it there. That will prevent people from noticing that you aren’t from the area.
7. Trust your instincts and don’t be too trusting of others
Does that alley seem a bit sketchy? Does that man down the street look a little suspicious? Follow those instincts! No harm can come from avoiding things that make you feel uncomfortable. In many Sub-Saharan African countries, men can be very friendly towards women. It’s better to be a little suspicious of this than overly trusting. Chances are the person is harmless, but you can never be too cautious. Tip: You may immediately encounter people trying to help you carry your bags or help you find your way in the airport when you arrive. Note that while they are offering to help, they may also expect a tip at the end. Be prepared for this.
8. Blend in and don’t flaunt your valuables
Thinking of taking that Louis as your carry-on? Think again! Never flaunt your valuables. Always try to blend in as much as possible. You are never going to be able to fully blend in, but if you look like you are comfortable in your surroundings and fit into the culture, you will stand out less and be less of a target.
9. Always be aware of your surroundings
Be vigilant and alert at all times. Never walk around with your headphones in. Keep your purse in front of you or at your side (cross body bags with thick straps are great!). Know what is going on around you and be prepared to respond or react if anyone approaches you.
10. Smile and be very social
These tips are not meant to make you a hermit! Be very social and confident. A smile can go a long way! Be open to meeting new people. If you meet a lot of people and make a lot of friends, more people will also be looking out for you. Make friends with the workers or owners at the hostels. If people recognize you and know you, they will care more about your well being. Plus, your goal is to make new friends from all over the world! If you find someone or a group of people that you can trust, join that group!
Are you a U.S. student traveling abroad? Register for the Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive safety and security updates in your location(s).
Think you’re ready for your own adventure? Find out more about your options on the ISEP website.
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