My career has provided me the opportunity to travel more than I could have eved dreamed, hitting 27 states before I turned 26 and even visiting several countries on my bucket list! Being a young woman and merely 5-ft tall, I’m always careful when I travel, and in some cases I’ve had to learn things the hard way.
It’s become a tradition that any time I am leaving the state, my dad tells me, “Be smart,” and I’m supposed to respond with, “Be safe”. This is his reminder that no matter where I am going or what I am doing, I need to be smart and stay safe. This means being aware of my surroundings and who is around me. It means planning ahead and making the best decisions. I need to make smart choices and be prepared, so now I hope some of the things I’ve learned along the way might help you.
Ubers and Taxis and Lyfts, Oh My!
Did we or did we not grow up on, Don’t get in cars with strangers? It’s definitely different today with so many ride service apps available now, but we still need to take precaution getting in any vehicle.
Before you get in any car when you’re traveling, whether you’re on your own or with friends, ask the driver, “Who are you picking up?” If they don’t say your name, don’t get in, although I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that. When they do know your name, you can take it a step further and confirm your end destination if you’d like, or just make things official and ask their name.
And FYI, never give them your name first! How would that prove anything?
There have been too many horror stories of fake Uber drivers picking people up. Make them confirm with details only your driver should know. Before I even walk up to their window to ask; however, I walk behind the car and check the license plate first, too (Jersey friends, not all states have a front license plate!). I do not care how silly I look walking around a car all the way to the back to stare at the license plate and confirm before even addressing the driver. If they are doing their jobs, they will understand the need to confirm the plate. It’s better to be safe than be sorry.
When I’m traveling alone, or even with my girlfriends, I also do not share personal information out loud, and that includes talking about where you’re from, your hotel, reason for travel, all of it. If the driver asks and you are uncomfortable with not answering at all, you can always bullshit a few answers to appease them. Be mindful of what you say on phone calls in the car, too!
Explore by Foot with Confidence
This brings me right back to studying abroad in Paris and getting up at 4am to get on the train to head to Disney for open, and I can’t forget when I had the pleasure of visiting Barcelona on business and explored a new area every evening for dinner. I’ve learned it’s best to blend in with a crowd when visiting new places on your own, so I map out my route in advance, and I’ll even study Google maps before I head out to make sure that once I start walking down the city streets, I don’t have to constantly stare at my phone for directions like a lost tourist. Of course, that doesn’t mean the GPS isn’t on in my pocket as a back up that I can whip out to look at with a brief glance (maybe 1 headphone in the ear to listen), and my dad already received texts of where I was going.
Always keep an eye around you. Be smart and pay attention to people around you, be aware of your belongings on your person. I’ve invested in a simple anti-theft crossbody that I strictly use when I travel. If you aren’t going that all-out on your trip, stick with bags that zipper all the way shut, perhaps invest in a lock, keep them on the front of your person. Wallets, cash, and your IDs and all should be in a secure pocket, with anti-theft capabilities if possible.
Open bags are easy to be grabbed into, bags out of sight to the owner are a target to pickpockets, and putting your purse on the floor isn’t just unlucky; you’re asking for trouble. Money belts are also another great tool, and always be sure to separate some items, especially credit cards. I lock cash and some IDs in the safe and carry the rest securely in my bag. Of course my travel bag has several safe spots for this stuff, which I’ll get to in a second!
Take Precautions Before You Go
Invest in a birdie! For a fair price, you can get this small device that looks and hangs like a key chain, but when you yank out the bottom piece, a loud and alarming sound will go off. When in need, which hopefully never happens, this thing will draw immediate attention to you and whoever you are trying to ward off. (TIP: the loud noise will also keep away animals if you are in that unlucky of a situation!)
Another alternative I travel with is a small “purse-friendly” pepper spray. The only downside to this is that it is a hassle to fly with. You can take flight only with it stored in your checked baggage, and when you go international, the laws regarding pepper spray can get very strict. I was shocked when I landed in London for my first solo trip and learned that it’s almost completely banned in the United Kingdom.
For my first solo trip, my mom gifted me this PacSafe crossbody. It is an anti-theft bag that I bring for every trip, made from tough durable material so no one can cut the strap on it and steal it. The zippers all come down where they can lock onto another little lock, which then also tucks the zippers in to hide them. Of course it even has separate secure compartments for storing IDs and money. It has so many great features, and after 5 years it still looks brand new after all the trips I’ve taken it on. For the peace of mind all these years it has been worth it, and of course it really doesn’t look bad either! There are a number of different bags out there like this, backpacks and totes too!
My favorite feature on this bag is it can lock onto the chair you’re sitting on in a restaurant so you don’t have to worry while you eat!
Traveling Under the Influence
Traveling alone can be some of the greatest adventures, but that’s the most important time to keep your head on straight and mindful of your surroundings. Although I’m not much of a drinker today, I limited myself when I did indulge (because how can you not, when in Rome!). One night I overindulged a little with some friends in LA, and I had the worst panic attack when I got back to my room at the end of the night. I was safe, but feeling tipsy alone wasn’t fun, certainly nothing I would risk either in public when traveling on my own.
Let Someone Know Your Plans
I send my mom my full itinerary every time I travel, and during the trip, I am texting my dad when I leave the hotel, try a new restaurant, or go explore the city. I always make sure someone knows where I am, even if I’m on a different continent at times.
You should always have an accessible phone line, too! When I went to Italy for 3 days with the bestie, I didn’t think I really needed to spend the extra money on an international plan for just 72 hours when I’d be busy exploring all day anyway, but I was grateful I did when I needed to call another friend back home to translate something to the police for me while also trying to calm me down about the man who chased us through the train station; he claimed he was a taxi driver and was very mad when we turned him down as he tried walking us to his car in the visitors lot rather than the taxi line – another great lesson learned!
It all comes down to making smart decisions and choosing safe options, even if sometimes they’re a bummer or awkward when you have to tell the Uber driver you can’t talk. Regardless, be mindful of what you’re traveling with, and who is around you.
Be Smart, Be Safe!