Yes, we loathe the notion that women are less safe while traveling alone…
… But the truth is any solo traveler should roam smart and exercise caution while exploring new places on their own.
Statistically, we – aka women – are more likely to be the victims of sexual assault with 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (RAINN). Though most female victims (of any crime) know the perpetrator. However, men account for the majority of homicide and aggravated assault (non-domestic) victims – violent crimes that are, according to statistics, typically instigated by men as well (TIME).
Though crimes can be provoked by gender-exclusive reasoning, offenses generally don’t discriminate based on sex. Man or woman, we are all susceptible to those bad eggs, so the following safety tips can be used by everyone. However, with experience only as a solo woman on the road, I felt it was important to specify that my advice is most applicable to other women traveling alone.
1. Sleep where there is cell phone coverage.
Whether you’re sleeping at a campsite or in your car, research where you’re gonna catch Z’s beforehand and not at the last minute. If there’s anything you shouldn’t “wing,” it’s where you’re spending the night. You can sometimes gauge whether a place gets those beloved bars by its proximity to major highways, cities, or big towns. However, these are not always reliable indicators of cell service. On Campendium, reviews of campsites (as well as parking lots) will sometimes specify the cell coverage by provider. It’s important to perform tip #2 while you have service, in case your sleep spot is indeed in the middle of nowhere, and if you show up to a site and this dreaded symbol makes you feel uncomfortable, there’s always tip #6.
2. Keep someone in the know.
Always tell someone where you are going, what time you plan to text or call them again, and a panic time – the time they should start freaking out if they have not heard from you. When possible, I try to inform someone who is closest to me (in distance) or most familiar with the area I’m in. Personally, I avoid making a parent this point of contact – my mom tends to jump to (the worst) conclusions in a matter of minutes. Instead, I choose a friend who is responsible, rational, calm, and collected.
3. Arm yourself – and not necessarily with a gun.
I don’t want, nor do I need a gun. I don’t think they are imperative to safety and create more problems than they solve. With that being said, I do keep “weapons” at an arm’s length away while sleeping; these weapons are bear spray and a knife. I have never felt obligated to use them, but it gives me a boost of confidence when I hear a bump in the night.
4. Set up home before the sun sets.
It’s difficult to properly evaluate your surroundings at night and the dark can be very disorienting. Plan to arrive at a campsite within an hour of sunset, so you have ample time to assess the area (i.e. are there any creepers?), set up camp, and make dinner. If you are sleeping in your car in a city, scope out a couple of quiet residential areas to return to later.
5. Trust your gut.
If you feel like something is wrong, there is a good chance there is something wrong. I have left campsites solely based on bad vibes. It’s important to be in tune with your intuition and to trust it completely – in most cases, it’s all you have. I don’t wanna go all Kindergarten teacher on you… But it really is better to be safe than sorry.
6. Always have a plan B.
Before heading to an area, I make a list of campsites or possible sleeping spots, from most to least preferred. If one campsite doesn’t work out, I move to the next one. This is also why it’s important to be at your destination before sunset, so you have time to execute plan B or even plan C. If all else fails, it’s ok to check into a hotel! I keep a credit card handy for these situations. I use the CapitalOne Venture card because I can redeem my points for free hotel stays – this way I don’t feel guilty splurging on lodging when I need it.
*BONUS* additional quick tips:
– In cities, I think the best spots to sleep are quiet areas with nice, bigger houses (an indicator of a family friendly neighborhood) with some lighting – like a couple of street lights or just lights from the houses’ porches, etc. I avoid very populated areas (like downtown), areas near bars, or areas that feel sketchy.
– At campsites, I’ll set up near couples or families and not all alone in the corner.
– I avoid rest areas in general. If you must use a rest area, avoid empty ones. You are least likely to be targeted with other people around. Truck stop or travel areas (like Love’s) are great alternatives to rest areas.
– I try to refrain from advertising that I am alone, and that I am a woman. I opt for gear in gender neutral colors, including my blankets. I put Shade Sox on my car windows so people can’t look inside. I don’t leave any signs to my identity in plain sight, on my front seats or dash.
– If you are sleeping in a city, go to a well-lit parking lot, like of an open grocery store or gas station that you are not sleeping in, to do your nightly routine – washing face, brushing teeth, taking out contacts, other skincare duties, and changing into pajamas. This way you can just go straight to sleep and not spend too much time out of the car when you get to your “home” for the night.
– I always have a story. If someone asks what I am doing, I drop mentions of meeting friends, a significant other, or family the following morning or say that your friend is arriving later.
What are your tips for staying safe while traveling alone?