Try these expert tips for a safer solo trip

Chat up the bartender, spring for a VPN, and more strategies for minimizing risk while maximizing fun.

Illustrations by Olivia Waller

Traveling alone may seem like an overwhelming, even scary, undertaking — but it doesn’t have to be, especially if you’re armed with the right tools to stay safe. Read on for tips about navigating a city, how to protect your digital privacy, and the best ways to stay connected with friends and family back home.

Before you go

1. Research travel warnings or advisories from the US, UK, and Australian governments. Adam Groffman of the blog Travels of Adam also visits Equaldex, which tracks LGBT-related laws and rights globally, and then checks Nomadic Matt’s destination-specific forums for travelers’ advice.

2. Dig deeper if there is a warning or advisory. “Some countries like Mexico get a bad rap, but not all parts are dangerous, and the threat may not be relevant to where you want to go,” says Janice Waugh, founder of the website Solo Traveler.

3. Plan arrivals for daytime, and skip the red-eye. “You don’t want to land in a new city groggy,” Groffman says.

4. Arrange your first two days’ accommodations, transportation, and tours. “This alleviates stress as you get acquainted with a new place,” says Oneika Raymond, Travel Channel host and founder of Oneika the Traveller, who’s a fan of taking walking tours early on: “They’re a great way to connect with others safely.”

Street smarts

For starters, only wear one earbud in order to stay aware of your surroundings — and never sacrifice safety to save a buck.

Walk: Ask for route advice. “Your host or a local shop owner will know if there’s a neighborhood to avoid,” Waugh says. “The difference between a good and a bad area can be one street.”

Take a bus or train: Stick to daytime hours, and sit near the driver.

Cab it: Don’t hail a taxi on the street; it may be a pirate cab, says Marinel M. de Jesus of the blog Brown Gal Trekker. Call a company directly. Note the driver’s info, and keep bags close in case you need to exit quickly.

Rideshare: Before getting in, confirm the license plate and ask the driver to state your name.

At the bar

Chat up the bartender — it helps to let him or her know you’re alone if you need help — and obviously, refrain from drinking too much. “You want to be aware, especially at night. If your faculties are down, that’s not possible,” Raymond says. Party rules also apply: Never leave your drinks unattended or accept them from strangers. If you connect with someone, make plans for the next day in public rather than leaving with them. And always have a game plan for getting home.

Guard your …

…phone. Invest in a smartphone case with a wrist strap. Also, take note of your phone’s IMEI number (type *#06#) — this helps police trace the phone if stolen.

…cash. Don’t carry much, and stick to small bills divided among your wallet, backpack, and pocket.

…passport. Don’t tote it around daily. Instead, carry a copy (on paper or as a photo on your phone).

…cards. Bring one credit and one debit card. Snap a photo of each and store them in your email, the cloud, or a password-protected folder on your phone.

…digital privacy. Spring for a VPN (virtual private network, like StrongVPN or ExpressVPN) for protecting sensitive info while online banking or making credit card transactions.

Staying connected

For safe travels, keeping in touch is priority number one.

By cell phone: When going abroad, Raymond brings a phone not tied to a service and buys a local SIM card. Or you can add an international plan in advance; Verizon, for example, offers a TravelPass starting at $5 per day.

By app: Groffman uses Swarm to check in to museums and other sites so his family can keep tabs on him. Also download the Trip­Whistle Global SOS app (iOS), which calls the equivalent of 911 wherever you are in an emergency.

By Google Doc: Raymond creates a shareable document with her itinerary and gives loved ones access so they can keep abreast of last-minute changes she makes mid-trip.

By social media: Instagram and Facebook are great to show you’re well — just avoid posting in real time to reveal your whereabouts to God knows who. “I wait until I’m in for the night,” Waugh says. “It helps me really experience things, rather than spending time on my phone.”

The Savviest Way to Airbnb

1. Filter by Superhosts.

They receive the highest ratings and have earned this title by being responsive and helpful.

2. Scan reviews.

Enter keywords like “neighborhood” or “safe” into the reviews search field of a listing to read guests’ comments about the area and property.

3. Complete your Airbnb profile.

And include emergency contact info.

4. Check with your Host often.

Ask plenty of questions prior to booking, and stay in touch within the app so there’s a trail.

5. Act fast.

If issues arise, alert Airbnb in the app ASAP.

Travelers’ best advice

“If you think someone may be following you, let the person pass, or try to lose him by walking faster and switching your route unexpectedly.”
— de Jesus

“Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville are great for first-time solo travelers because the people there are outgoing, and they’re well-traveled places.”
— Groffman

“If lost, don’t show ignorance, fear, or vulnerability. Instead, approach someone right away who looks knowledgeable and confidently ask where you need to go.”
— Raymond

“If you need to enlist the aid of strangers, your first choice should be a family, followed by a couple, a woman, and last, a man.”
— Waugh