84 Solo Travel Safety Tips for Every Traveler

By
Matt Wilson
on
February 13, 2024

When I first set out to travel abroad as a solo traveler twelve years ago, I was met with tons of questions from my friends and family. Most people asking these questions hadn’t traveled outside the United States much, so I don’t blame them for asking if traveling is safe.

After visiting dozens of countries and starting a travel company that operates in 20+ countries, I’m proud to consider myself an expert on the subject. My main job is to keep our travelers around the world safe, train our managers, guides, and develop emergency response plans. I’ve also lived and traveled extensively with my wife and toddler in Latin America. 

As always, I recommend checking to see if there are any existing travel warnings from the US Department of State for the countries you wish to visit, but this guide to travel safety should be everything you need to know to have a fantastic time traveling abroad and make memories of a lifetime.

Here is what this article will cover:

  • General Solo Travel Safety Tips
  • Hotel and Airbnb Safety Tips
  • Safety Tips While Waiting for Public Transportation
  • Ride-Sharing Safety Tips
  • Taxi Safety Tips
  • Bus Safety Tips
  • Train Safety Tips
  • Financial Safety
  • Credit Card Safety
  • Online and Social Media Safety while Traveling
  • Best Apps for Travel Safety
  • Safety Tips for Outdoor Adventures like Hiking and Watersports
  • What to do in a Natural Disaster 
  • Travel Safety Gadgets 
  • Travel Insurance
  • Group Travel

General Solo Travel Safety Tips

  1. Enroll in the US Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This free program sends US citizens safety updates about the country you are visiting and can contact you in an emergency.

  2. Consider the buddy system. Even if you don’t have a “travel buddy,” consider staying in hostels where you can meet people to go on day trips with.  When I arrived off a bus in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, it had recently been dubbed the murder capital of the world. I approached the only other person getting off the bus, a random traveler from France, and asked him to split a taxi with me to the nearest hostel. Being with someone else is always safer than being alone.
  1. Use situational awareness while traveling. The best way to keep yourself out of trouble is to be aware of your surroundings. Don’t be that person with your nose in Google Maps, clearly looking lost. Keep your head on a swivel at all times. While most people are good, all it takes is one person to be opportunistic and rob you. 
  1. Don’t wear headphones! You can’t hear what's going on around you, whether this is someone sneaking up on you or a car about to hit you. 
  1. Keep your flashy jewels at home. Yes, this includes costume jewelry. Don’t call attention to yourself! 
  1. Dress like the locals. If you are in the Middle East, cover your head where applicable. If you are in Southeast Asia, cover your shoulders, etc. The FBI recommends not to wear American sports logos unless you want to give yourself away as someone from ‘the wealthiest nation in the world."
  2. Keep your camera and phone hidden. Take your camera or phone out to take a quick photo and then put it away. I know everyone’s an Instagram model these days, but elaborate photo shoots call attention to you. It’s too easy for someone to run by and grab your phone.
Solo Travel Tips
Okay, well I guess if you are alone in the middle of the rainforest you can take your camera out.
  1. Avoid carrying lots of luggage or shopping bags. In Barcelona, I left my wife standing on the corner with our luggage while I hailed a taxi. When I came back, she was surrounded by guys looking to rob her. And please leave your designer bags at home. Yes, your fake Louis Vuitton still calls attention.
  1. Cover up that bulge! I’ve only been robbed once and never put anything in my back pocket again. Fat wallets scream, “Take my money!”
  1. If you go out at night, avoid public transportation. Take a taxi or, better yet, a ride-sharing service.
  1. Watch your back! Need to look at your map or send a message? Step into a store, or at the very least, put your back against a wall so nobody can sneak up behind you.
  1. Watch the door. When seated at a restaurant, always select the seat that allows you to monitor the entrance for threats.
  1. Locate the exits. Whenever you arrive at a new place, take a second to understand where the exits are. Where would you go if there was a fire or an active shooter?
  1. Know the local emergency numbers. Always know where the closest hospital is and if 911 works. If not, what is the local emergency number?
  1. Watch your drinks at the bar. It’s best to order bottled beer, watch the bartender open it, and keep your thumb over the top. Drink spiking occurs overseas to both men and women.

  2. Be careful on local dating apps. Dating apps can be a fantastic way to engage with local people, but only meet in public settings and let someone know where you went and when you expect to be back.
  1. Don’t geotag your location! Don’t post photos of yourself at a location until you’ve already left. Make your geotags general instead of precise so as not to reveal your whereabouts. When my wife and I lived in Central America, it was not uncommon for her to receive unwanted advances on social media from guys who saw her posting from our town.

Hotel and Airbnb Safety Tips

  1. Always ask for a room on the second floor. It’s high enough that burglars can’t easily break in, but you probably wouldn’t die jumping out the window in a fire.
  1. Put a black piece of tape over the peephole and a towel under the door. These measures prevent someone from looking in or picking your lock and, as a bonus, help me sleep, keeping the room as dark as possible.

  2. Look for hidden cameras. Do a quick scan of your room for hidden cameras. Yes, this sounds creepy, but you don’t want people watching you get undressed, do you? I once found a camera in the kitchen of an Airbnb. Luckily, I don’t often cook naked.
  1. Have your essentials ready to go. Always have your most essential possessions next to your bed, easy to grab in an emergency. If I have to exit the building in a fire or earthquake, I’m taking my wallet, passport, and cell phone.

Safety Tips While Waiting for Public Transportation

  1. Ask the locals if a bus stop or train station is safe. Ask at the front desk or your Airbnb host to minimize your risk. It only takes one opportunistic person to drive by on their motorcycle and rob you.
  1. Avoid waiting for public transport at night. Waiting at a dimly lit bus stop by yourself makes you a perfect target.
  1. Remember basic common sense while waiting for your transportation to arrive. It’s best to sit or stand with your back to a wall, make sure you aren’t too close to the subway track in case you are bumped or pushed, and keep your phone out of sight with your headphones out of your ears and your phone stowed.

  2.  If you see something, say something. Remember the signs that popped up after September 11th in NYC and never disappeared? It’s critical to remain vigilant in big cities and look for terrorism threats. Look for things like a random box or backpack left behind or someone acting erratically. Here’s what the US Department of Homeland Security says on recognizing suspicious activity

Ride-Sharing Safety Tips

Travel Tips when Ride Sharing
  1. Wait indoors until your rideshare arrives. Again, avoid walking or standing on a street corner at night. Use the buddy system whenever possible.
  1. Always confirm your car's license plate number. Ensure it matches the license plate number on your app so you don’t get into the wrong car.

  2. Ask the driver who they are waiting for. Don’t just say, “Are you José?” as it’s too easy for them to say yes and drive away with you.
  1. Sit in the backseat. Sitting in the back allows you to do two things: 1) keep your distance from the driver, and 2) exit out either side of the car so you don’t step out into traffic.
  1. Share your ride via the app. Uber and Lyft both have a feature to share your ride with a friend or loved one so they can track your status. You can also do this “the old-fashioned way” and text them when you arrive, but sharing your location is better.

Bonus Tip: For privacy purposes, start or end your journey at a slightly different location than where you are staying/working/living and walk the rest of the way. For example, instead of getting dropped off at my Airbnb, I might mark a point on the map around the corner at a coffee shop so my driver doesn’t know where I lay my head at night or where my stuff is. 

Taxi Safety Tips

  1. Negotiate the price before you get in. Agree on a flat rate whenever possible, or ask the driver to turn the meter on and make sure they don’t drive around in circles to run up your fare.
  1. Have the front desk person or airport staff hail you a taxi. It’s much better to have someone who speaks the local language explain where you need to go. This technique isn’t foolproof, however. In Greece, I did this, trying to go to the ancient Olympic stadium, and instead, they took me to the stadium for the Olympic games that happened in 2004.
  1. Have someone write down the address of your accommodations in the local language. Many hotels have business cards for you to take with you. Having the address written down is especially important in a language with non-germanic characters like Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, etc.
  1. Always wear your seat belt. I don’t understand why people buckle up in private automobiles, but think it's not cool to buckle up in a cab. YOLO!

Bus Safety Tips

  1. Sit near the driver. If you board a bus and feel uneasy, sit up front to be near the driver, who can help you if you have an issue. Knowing when your stop is approaching in a foreign country can be difficult.
  1. Avoid the inside seat. This is one of my most important female solo travel tips, especially on coach buses or planes. It’s too easy for women to be sexually assaulted sitting in the inside seat. If you sit in the aisle, you can quickly get away from a creep. Never put yourself in a position where you are cornered.

  2. If someone touches you inappropriately, make a scene and publicly shame the person! This isn’t to punish the person per se, but it will get them to stop or have an onlooker intervene.
  1. Hold your bags in front of you. In a crowded bus or metro, move your belongings to your front pocket and hold your bags in front of you so nobody can get into them.

Train Safety Tips

  1. Change cars if you feel uncomfortable. If you are in a train car and someone makes you uncomfortable, don’t feel guilty or rude about it. Just get up and move to another car. I’ve been on the NYC subway when someone was masturbating, and nobody even moved.
  1. Sit in a middle car. Rail transportation is one of the safest forms of transportation in terms of accidents. If you sit in the middle car, you are protected in case the train derails, if your train hits something, or gets hit from behind.
  1. Sit backward if you can stomach it. Sitting in a seat facing backward on a train is a good idea because there are usually no seatbelts, and if your train strikes something, you won’t go flying.
Travel Tips
Here is my very talented wife in Joshua Tree, clearly not watching for traffic.

Financial Safety

  1. Divide Up Your Cash When it comes to cash, I’m like a squirrel… I have a little bit of money hidden wherever I might need it. I have money in my wallet, in my undergarment bag, and in my backpack. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” as they say.
  1. Keep petty cash in a different pocket. Whenever I’m out and about, I try to keep petty cash of about $40 in small bills in a separate pocket. This allows me to pay for small purchases like water or snacks without taking out my wallet. I do this not only so others don’t see that I’m carrying a lot of cash but also to reduce the risk of losing my wallet.
  1. Lock your items in the hotel safe. If my hotel has a safe, I keep my wallet and other valuables in my hotel room. Even if my hotel doesn’t have a safe, most of the time, your odds of being robbed, pickpocketed, or losing something valuable is higher than your hotel getting broken into.
  1. Carry an ID, credit card, and some cash. Nothing else! If I’m going out and about, I just carry the bare minimum and leave the rest wherever I’m staying. 
  2. Don’t use ATMs on the street. I rarely get money from an ATM that isn’t inside a bank. When I lived in Paris, I heard of people getting robbed at ATMs on the street all the time. If you need to use an outdoor ATM, go with someone who can watch your back as you take money out.

Credit Card Safety

  1. “Be careful where you stick it.” This is the easy-to-remember advice I gave in my book, The Millennial Travel Guidebook. The more places you stick your card, the more chances you have of fraud. Read more tips in The Millennial Travel Guidebook: Travel More, Spend Less, & Make Travel a Priority in Your Life.
  2. Don’t let the server walk away with your credit card. In the United States, this was or maybe still is commonplace. When you finished your meal, you’d give the waitress your credit card, and they’d walk off with it–supposedly to the credit card machine. Overseas, this is much less common and ill-advised. Have them bring you the wireless credit card machine, or get up and pay at the cashier.
  3. When in doubt, pay with cash. Paying cash is much better if you feel sketchy about a credit card machine. When traveling, there is a delicate balance between preserving cash and not getting your credit card stolen. But in my experience, having an ATM eat my debit card in Bali, it’s not fun.
  4. Bring multiple credit and debit cards. I have several credit cards and two or three debit cards. Bonus points if you use a debit card linked to a checking account with a modest balance, so in a worst-case scenario, someone couldn’t clean you out.

Online and social media safety while traveling

  1. Don’t share a photo of your boarding pass! People love to flex their boarding passes on social media, but your ticket number and frequent flier information can be used to change your reservation or steal your points.
  2. Use a VPN. A Virtual Private Network encrypts your data to protect you when using public WiFi like a hotel, cafe, or airport. Don’t be a victim of a “man in the middle attack” where a hacker spoofs a network. I use ProtonVPN.

VPNs are also helpful if you want to watch a streaming service from a foreign country. On my recent trip to South America, I used my VPN to watch UFC Fight Pass to entertain myself while riding the hotel exercise bike.

  1. Use cellular data when you do anything sensitive. To ensure I’m not on a spoofed network, I use my cellular data instead of WiFi to do things like pay my credit card bill abroad. I do it on my phone or connect my computer to my iPhone’s Personal Hotspot. You can still use your VPN to be doubly safe.
  2. Be careful of Juice Jacking! We’ve all plugged our cell phones into a free USB charging station, but unfortunately, those ports can be compromised. Hackers can load malware onto those USB ports, steal all your data, load spyware onto your device, or wipe out your phone. While there aren’t a lot of cases of juice jacking reported, the FBI and FCC have both advised against it.

I know this because I once bought a knock-off USB charger, and when I plugged it into my phone, a skull and crossbones appeared. I was never able to use that phone again. Cool trick, bro.

Best apps for travel safety

  1. Safeguard your intellectual property. It’s no secret that countries out there steal intellectual property. I’ll avoid naming them because I’d like to visit these countries in the future, so I’ll refrain from publicly criticizing these regimes. 

If your work is sensitive, it’s best practice to travel with a clean hard drive and phone. If you have sexy pictures on your phone, keep in mind that any government official could ask you to open your phone and start going through your camera roll. Here is what Harvard advises regarding keeping your data safe when traveling.

  1. Use the “Find My” App to recover lost or stolen devices. The “Find My” app is handy if your MacBook, iPhone, Apple Watch, or iPad is lost or stolen. You can locate your devices or even wipe them out remotely.
Travel Safety Tips

57. Apple Air Tags for Travel  Another feature of the “Find My” app for iPhone is that you can track items. For example, you can put these $25 chips into your suitcase to track your luggage. 

As parents, our biggest fear is getting separated in a foreign country, so we have a few ways to Airtag our kid. We have one sewn into her jacket, another in her backpack, and a third in something that looks like a watch. Of course, she’s never wearing all three simultaneously, but if we are going somewhere crowded, we try to have her put on at least one of those items.

  1. Share your location with someone. My wife and I always share our locations with each other using the Find My App on our iPhones. No, not because we have weird trust issues, but because we want to be able to locate each other if anything ever happens.It also helps put my mind at ease. On our recent trip to Colombia, she went shopping alone with our three-year-old. Instead of nervously wondering where they were or saying, “Text me when you get there,” I could periodically look at the app and know their whereabouts.
  2. Share your location with someone. My wife and I always share our locations with each other using the Find My App on our iPhones. No, not because we have weird trust issues, but because we want to be able to locate each other if anything ever happens.It also helps put my mind at ease. On our recent trip to Colombia, she went shopping alone with our three-year-old. Instead of nervously wondering where they were or saying, “Text me when you get there,” I could periodically look at the app and know their whereabouts.
  3. Download these safety apps:
  • Trip Whistle Global SOS. This app contains emergency numbers for 196 countries! 
  • FEMA. This US government-run app can notify you in an emergency, direct you to shelters, and provides other great educational resources. 
  • Emergency: Severe Weather App. The American Red Cross provides alerts for storms, wildfire weather, earthquakes, and floods.
  1. Use SOS mode on iPhone or Apple Watch: SOS mode on iPhone or Apple Watch allows you to make a satellite call in an emergency even if you don’t have service. Satellite calling is a game-changer if you don’t have cell phone reception. You should still be able to make an emergency call.

Safety tips for outdoor adventures like hiking and watersports

  1. Heed the Safety Warnings: While you might not listen to the safety briefing on an airplane, I’m here to tell you that when it comes to safety talks given before adventure sports, you had better pay attention! I’ve seen ignorant tourists do everything from falling off cliffs to taking a selfie to crashing their jetskis on coral reefs, so please listen up!
  2. Keep an eye to the sky!… if you see dark clouds, it’s best to take cover, especially if you are out on the water. If you hear thunder, it’s best to turn back if it's getting louder.
  3. Ask the locals about rip currents. A qualified surf instructor or lifeguard can point out dangerous ocean conditions. I lost a dear friend in Costa Rica this way, and I don’t want to lose any more.
  4. Stay on the trail! On my trip up Monserratte in Bogota, Colombia, several hikers wandered off the trail, probably trying to take a shortcut. They had to send an all-night search crew out for them… don’t let this be you!
  5. Follow the instructions of any posted signs. I spoke at a conference in Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, on millennial travel, and during our Q&A, I was stumped when asked, “How can we get young people to follow the rules?” Signs are there for a reason, not only to protect you but to protect fragile ecosystems. Small towns cannot afford to send out search and rescue teams whenever a tourist does something dumb.
  6. Let people know when you are expected to be back. This is called a "float plan" in the Coast Guard.
  7. Wear your life jacket. Most accidents can be avoided. Forget about looking cool; put on a Personal Flotation Device whenever you are on the water.
  8. Be prepared to spend the night in the wilderness. If you are venturing into the outdoors, wear close-toed shoes, a hat, insect repellent, sunscreen, water, a snack, and your first aid kit. Make sure your phone is charged, and when making decisions, think about what it might be like to spend the night in the wilderness if something goes wrong.

What to do in a natural disaster

I live in Puerto Rico, so I watch Mr. Weatherman on YouTube daily during Hurricane season. When we visit my wife’s family in Chile, we’re always aware of the risk of volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis, as Chile is the most seismically active country in the world. Always do your research before you go, and know what to expect!

70. (Tsunamis) Watch for retreating water at the beach! If you see water retreating at the beach, run like hell–a tsunami may be coming! Go uphill as fast as you can, or as a last resort, climb a tree or go to the top floor of a brick or concrete building.

71. (Earthquakes) Move away from windows, shelves, and outside walls in an earthquake. Keep a safe distance from structures, power lines, sinkholes, gas and fuel lines, trees, and telephone poles if you are outside.

72. (Forest Fires & Volcanoes) Have an N-95 mask in your first aid kit. Breathing unhealthy air from forest fires and soot from volcanoes can compromise your health. Be prepared!

73. (Hurricanes, flooding, snowstorms) Watch the local weather! You might be on vacation, but I still suggest watching the weather. At the very least, check your Weather app to ensure there aren’t any warnings or watches.

74. Stock up upon arrival. Have extra food and water with you at all times. When I arrive in a country, my first stop is a grocery store where I stock up on a couple of days worth of snacks and water. Even if the water where you are going is potable, in a natural disaster, you may not have access to clean drinking water, and without water to drink, you can only live a few days.

75. (Power outages and blackouts) Remember your ABCs–Always Be Charging! If your phone is your lifeline, it does you no good if it’s low on battery in an emergency. Consider this especially in more remote locations where the electric grid may not be as stable.

Travel Safety Items

Here is a list of things that make people’s lives easier and keep them safe. I bought all the items on this list with my own money and only recommend things I’ve tried out personally. If you buy one, I’ll get a small commission at no additional expense to you through Amazon’s affiliate program. It’s one of the best ways you can support content creators like me.

76. Always carry a first aid kit. This Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) is always in my backpack. I’ve jammed in a few more things, including a tourniquet, trauma pads, extra wrap, and a splint.

77. Buy a cheap doorstop. It's super simple to put a doorstop wedge under any door that opens inward to keep it from opening.

78. Sound your personal alarm! If you are attacked or assaulted, you’ll want to attract as much attention as possible, and this alarm is perfect for that. I’ll be honest: I don’t carry an alarm, but I’ve given a number of them to my mom and wife.

79. Protect yourself with an RFID-blocking passport cover and wallet. I keep my passport in an RFID-safe money belt. Using one keeps your passport and wallet safe from people brushing against you and stealing your data.

80. Throw a fake wallet to a robber! The best thing to do in a robbery is to throw your assailant a dummy wallet and run like hell. In an old wallet, put a few small bills and expired credit cards inside to toss to a robber in case you get robbed. They even sell phony wallets on Amazon.

81. Apple AirTag your belongings. AirTags are little devices the size of a large coin you can attach to your valuables and find with your iPhone if you ever lose it. I suggest tagging your checked luggage, children, and anything else you might want to recover in the future. These things are a lifesaver!

82. Use a satellite messenger when you don’t have cell phone service. I always travel and go into the outdoors with my Garmin inReach Mini 2 Satellite Communicator. I have a plan that costs $10/month, and I can send a handful of text messages in an emergency from anywhere in the world, even if I don’t have cell phone service.

Travel Insurance

83. Buy travel insurance! When things go wrong, having someone who will have your back in an emergency is essential. Things like repatriating your dead body to your home country or flying you to the nearest major city for hospitalization aren’t fun things to think about, but you must have a way to pay for things like this.

Travel insurance can also offer 24/7 hotlines to assist you with medical treatment and provide translators. And when your trip is canceled or delayed, or your luggage is lost or stolen, it’s pretty nice to be reimbursed for the unexpected out-of-pocket expenses. The three travel insurance companies I’ve recommended for years are World Nomads, Safety Wing, and Wanderwell. It’s crucial to read your plan carefully if you are doing high-risk activities like scuba diving, rock climbing, high-altitude trekking, etc.

Oh, and a note from the lawyers: We receive a commission when you get a quote from World Nomads using our affiliate links. We do not represent World Nomads or any other company. This is not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.

Group Travel

The safest way to travel? In a group!

84. Travel in a group! The safest way to travel is to go with a group with a local guide. There is strength in numbers, and you should always be able to find a buddy to break off from the group and go on your own adventure. Plus, your guide should know the local language, be trained in first aid and CPR, know which neighborhoods to avoid, and have extensive contingency plans in case something goes wrong. A good guide will always know where the best hospital or clinic is and be able to point you in the direction of the most reputable activities in an area. You can read our guide to solo travel versus group travel.

Please remember that traveling with a group doesn’t mean you can just outsource your personal responsibility to your guide or other group members. It’s still an excellent idea to do your own research and keep your wits about you.


If you want to make friends and see the world, check out our group trips for ages 21-35 with Under30Experiences!

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Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson is Co-founder of Under30Experiences and Author of The Millennial Travel Guidebook: Escape More, Spend Less, & Make Travel a Priority in Your Life. He is host of the Live Different Podcast, Millennial Travel Podcast, and formerly Co-founder of Under30CEO.com. He is committed to helping people live more adventurous lives.

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