Your solo travel safety plan begins before you ever pack your bags. When you include safety into every phase of your trip, you give yourself an automatic advantage. I compare the process to building a house. We started the series in Solo Travel Safety-Part 1: How to begin…that was like the architect’s drawing. Now it’s time to lay the foundation!
Start with your laptop or tablet
- Choose a flight with a daytime arrival. Everything–safe or otherwise–is more apparent during the day, so you’ll want to get to your destination in time to notice the surroundings. Once you’re at the hotel (or wherever you’re staying), you’ll have time to walk around, notice helpful landmarks, find a grocery, locate the Tourist Information office, or decide on a restaurant for dinner.
- Consider jet lag. Depending how many time zones you’re crossing, jet lag should be factored in. As much as you crave sleep on arrival day, you’ll need to stay awake and begin to adapt to local time. The “fog” in your brain will take a day or two to go away, so look for a safe neighborhood. Do a little Googling to learn about the area. Check popular travel sites, such as TripAdvisor; you can even ask questions on their forums.
- Go to the airport’s website. After you’ve reached the Baggage Claim area (whether or not you check a bag, most airports deliver you to this area) what next? For example: Chicago O’Hare Airport tells you everything about how to get around. Off to Paris? Charles De Gaulle Airport provides information in English (international airports have many language options for their visitors). Heading to Machu Picchu? You’ll land first at Jorge Chavez Airport in Lima, Peru…and they want to make it easy for you. Locate the place to get taxis, shuttles, and public transportation.
Gather your resources
- Get a guidebook (or two). Start to get acquainted with your destination. I like to get a couple of guides from different publishers. Frommers and Lonely Planet are my favorites; you may have others. If there’s a Top 10 guide (DK Eyewitness Travel) available, get it. It’s small, easy to carry, and helps narrow down top places and experiences. DK makes beautiful guidebooks, but they’re heavy to pack. If you’re headed to Europe, you best bet is the practical advice from a book by Rick Steves.
- Maps! Maps! You’ll want to look at maps before you go. I know they don’t really make sense until you’re actually there, but a wise solo traveler knows where the hotel is related to a river or a landmark. Most guidebooks come with detachable or fold-out maps, along with smaller maps for neighborhoods and attractions. (I have always bought a Streetwise map whenever possible…but the company’s owners have decided to close, leaving many of us very disappointed.) Once you arrive, of course, ask the hotel or your host to mark the map with your location, etc. We’ll talk more about maps and offline GPS in a future post.
- Check travel websites. No matter where you’re headed, chances are someone was just there and wrote an article or posted a blog about it. If you Google your destination, hundreds of travel websites will pop up. Try “solo travel [destination]” to narrow the search. These websites offer realistic reviews, helpful advice, and personal stories that may not be in a standard guidebook. TripAdvisor is a good place to start, but you may also like BBC Travel, GoNOMAD, Budget Travel, or Wanderlust.
Think about your wardrobe
- Safety is a factor when deciding what you’re going to pack. You’ll want to dress appropriately for your destination. Naturally, you will be wearing practical travel clothes and will not look like a local…but you can appear confident. Search for pictures of the places you’re going. How do people dress? Do your best to match their style and spirit.
- Decide which “security” accessories are best for you. A waist pouch? A bra stash? A vest or jacket with hidden pockets? I talked about this in How to Keep Your Travel Money Safe. I also recommend practice wearing or using whatever you choose. You really don’t want to be groping around for a credit card in front of a sales clerk, when you could have mastered the task at home.
- Get your shoes and make sure they’re comfortable. Nothing slows you down like painful, blistered feet. Besides the fact that terrible footwear can completely wreck your trip, you make yourself vulnerable. When your feet hurt, your attention is on the discomfort. Plus you can’t walk easily and with confidence. Spend money to get the best shoes you can, and start to wear them. If they rub even the tiniest bit, they won’t work. Everyone has a favorite brand and style of travel shoe. Ask around or check travel website forums, but in the end, get what’s best for you.
Okay! Now you’re making serious progress on your trip, as well as weaving in safety without any extra effort. Your solo safety plan is off to a great start. What’s next? Packing and travel to your destination…