Travel Tips

The REAL Struggles of Solo (Female) Travelers

I recently came across a HARO inquiry from a dubiously named publication focused on air travel. It was from a blogger writing about “the struggles of air travel for female travelers” and read as follows:

Looking for stories about the struggles of air travel for female travelers (not feeling clean or fresh, not looking your best, limited carry on space for health, beauty, and comfort products, etc). 

As a female traveler, I don’t think my struggles are any different than those of men. There’s the stress of navigating the airport, dealing with long security lines, fitting a heavy carry-on bag into the overhead, cramped seats, having to pay for literally everything that involves a choice (i.e. picking your seat, checking a bag, watching a movie, eating something other than peanuts). I travel light and keep health and beauty products to whatever fits into an amenity-kit sized bag. Unless you’re Elle Woods or Lady Gaga on a world tour, you probably don’t have any special travel needs and can limit the number of items you bring with you.

The one thing I do worry about, vaguely, is safety. Will I be seated next to a pervert? What object can I attack him with that I’m allowed to bring on a plane these days? Is that scene in Redeye (SPOILER ALERT) where Rachel McAdams punctures the guy’s vocal chords with a pen, realistic? And do I have it in me to stab some creep in the throat if thousands of lives are at stake? Really just normal stuff like that.

My real “struggle” involves hotels. When I travel alone, I have a thing against being on the first floor. Even if the window takes up the entire wall and is reinforced with metal bars. It goes back to this one night in college when I was home alone, studying in my room, and heard a knock on the window. It was probably 11 PM and the most terrifying thing to sit in an empty apartment and have someone outside looking in and knocking on my window. Plus, it didn’t help that the campus security guards were incompetent morons who were no doubt finishing a poker game before deigning to show up 30 minutes later.

Then there was an incident at the Ibis Calais Hotel this past summer. The walls were made of paper, but I didn’t know that when I went to shower shortly after arriving. That night I learned a very valuable lesson: Always take your cellphone with you to the bathroom. Not so you can take classy Kim K-style mirror selfies, but in case you happen to be in the shower and think a stranger has walked into the room. This way, you can call for help.

That’s exactly what it sounded like when I very clearly heard my door open and close, followed by footsteps. Now if you think it’s crazy that someone could just walk into your hotel room, it does happen and did I mention this hotel gave out metal keys that didn’t seem to be kept in a secure place? There I was in the bathroom, with a couple of extra towels that were too flimsy to strangle someone with. And no sharp objects in sight. Should I break the mirror, wrap it with a towel and come out ready to attack whoever was so bold as to walk into a room and then not make a sound? It sounds like an overreaction, but I was that sure that someone had really walked into my room. 

I looked around and when it became clear that there was nothing nearby that I could turn into a shank or strangulation device, I took the giant shampoo bottle that was hanging on the wall and decide if I couldn’t beat someone senseless with it, surely the contents would blind them. After giving the presumed intruder a chance to leave the room without consequence (something that would have been fruitless anyway, since no one in this town seemed to speak English), I pushed open the door, walked two steps towards the bed and…no one was there.

What I’d heard was most likely the neighbor, walking into the room next door. With the doors being inches apart and the walls paper thin, it just sounded like they entered my room. I’m not super paranoid when I travel alone, so it wasn’t like I was on high alert. I really heard what sounded like my door opening and began to prepare a plan of attack. Take my word for it, you never want to be in that position. Always take your phone with you everywhere, along with something you can fashion into a weapon. Or better yet, bring an actual weapon that is unassuming but can do some damage.


Anyway, not talking to strangers, staying away from creeps, requesting a room on a higher floor, and bringing my cell phone and pepper spray with me everywhere is how I stay safe as a solo traveler. And in my opinion, these are tips everyone should be following, regardless of gender.

After all, if someone living in a super exclusive building with a security team can get tied up and held at gunpoint, what hope is there for the rest of us? There are terrible people everywhere, scamming and scheming to take advantage of unassuming travelers, male or female. It’s a small part of the population, but it’s always good to be aware of possible dangers while traveling alone. 

What are some of your struggles as a solo traveler (male or female)? Have you ever experienced a scary moment while traveling alone? What are some of the precautions you take to make sure you’re always safe?

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  1. great tip about not staying on the ground floor — i never thought of that. one lesson i learned when solo in a prague hotel (doesn’t just apply to females) was to keep my room key carefully instead of forever forgetting it in the room and getting a new key at the front desk. at 4am somebody tried to get into my room, but the door didn’t open because it was the wrong key. when i called security they said they’d check to see whose key had been put into the slot. it was a revelation to me that they could do that — i keep leaving my room key lying around and getting more — so a housekeeper could pick up one of my keys, enter my room later and steal something, and a check would reveal that nobody had broken in because it was my own key that had been used.

  2. Always deadbolt and chain lock your door. Maybe also invest in two rubber doorstops to prevent the doors from opening further.

  3. I saw that post on HARO too and kind of chuckled at how I would even go about answering it before clicking ‘Delete’

  4. Thanks Ariana. I was intrigued by the pepper spray suggestion, as I thought one couldn’t put it in checked baggage. Turns out I was wrong:
    “One 118 ml or 4 Fl. oz. container of mace or pepper spray is permitted in checked baggage provided it is equipped with a safety mechanism to prevent accidental discharge.” Good to know!!

    I too always ask for a room on an upper floor. Was in a ground floor room at a Minneapolis hotel and was awoken in the middle of the night when someone was trying to enter from the balcony. ;-(

    I’ve also invested in the eBags Connected Luggage tags ( Your personal information is held electronically and is only made viewable when you permit it. Moreover, you can receive messages about a bag or luggage while remaining completely anonymous. It’s not a luggage tracker, but rather a safe way to put your name on your luggage without it being seen by someone who you would rather not have your name.

  5. Though I am a dude I learned almost the hard way. I was traveling and happened to wake up at 2:00 AM for a drink of water and while I was sitting waiting to fall back asleep, some dude used the key that the mouth breathers at the hotel front desk gave him and walked into my room.

    Needless to say there was a verbal confrontation.

    I lock and bar every door now.

  6. One advice I would give to solo female travelers is to always let someone(friends/family) know where you’ll be if you have a busy itinerary. Another general rule, don’t get overconfident because you have pepper spray, a weapon, or have taken self defense classes. If a man wants to overpower you and have no quarrels about doing so, they most likely can very easily. It’s best to stay away from potential risky situations to begin with.

  7. I’ve had several strange scary encounters in over 20 years of solo travel. I’ve been drugged, briefly kidnapped, jail in Mexico (kidnapped by police), etc…
    My primary tips:
    1. Don’t stand out. If you’re going somewhere that you want to stand out, always have a conservative jacket or someway to disappear in a crowd.
    2. 3rd floor of a hotel is good. You can still get out if you need to and it’s too hard for someone to get in. You don’t have to be impossible to reach, just not worth the effort.
    3. Always drink beer from a bottle or take drinks directly from a bartender. Like luggage, drinks should always be under your control. I was a young, very fit guy and I’ve been drugged. It can happen to anyone.
    4. When you get in a cab or Uber, especially in Latin America, always check the interior door handles. If it looks like they’re damaged or broken, don’t get in. They’re only like that so that people can’t get out.
    5. Even in a taxi, always Maps your ride. Overpaying for a fair is one thing, but if you’re going off track seriously, get out. Say you have to use the bathroom or you want to stop for cash on the way. Never ever end up on the location they want to take you. That end badly every time.
    6. Its Never a bad idea to change hotel rooms every 3 nights or so if it’s possible. Especially if you pack lightly. The front desk will think you’re a bit off, but they’ll usually oblige you.

    Things I always take with me in my carryon:
    -100’ of 550lb paracord. Is very compact and light + can get you out of a window
    -3 foil blankets. 3 are the same size as a deck of cards and 1/2 the weight.
    -sawyer mini water filtration or life straw.
    -1 DoorJammer portable door blocker

    Checked luggage, I always carry a leatherman skeletool cx, but I rarely check luggage.

    I know the above sounds extreme, but it all takes very little effort and can be the difference between safety and an incident.

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