When I started my round-the-world trip 6 months ago, I was paranoid about everything from being robbed of my passport and money, having my MacBook stolen, to getting sick from local food.
After 6 months of travel through India, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore plus three weeks in Turkey, I’m happy to report that travelling alone hasn’t nearly been as scary, unsafe or uncomfortable as I originally imagined it to be.
My biggest fears before I started my trip:
- Personal safety – getting mugged/robbed, having my passport and money, not being able to find a consulate or call my travel insurance.
- Health and well-being – getting sick from contaminated food, or bad weather with no one to take care of me.
- Belongings – having luggage, my precious 15″ MacBook pro stolen or broken on night buses/trains or at hostels.
Fortunately, none of these fears have come true. In fact, travelling alone hasn’t nearly been as dangerous or scary as I expected.
Worst things that have happened so far
Personal safety incidents
- A scary night cab ride in India – My hotel forgot to pick me up from the airport after my 3am flight to Delhi, India so I grabbed a cab from the airport. A ride that was supposed to be 45 minutes turned into 1.5 hours as we drove through pitch-black alleys and people sleeping on street vendor carts. I was seriously scared the driver was only pretending to be lost. I held my iPhone (which had a photo of the cab’s license plate before I got in) and prayed I wouldn’t have to make an emergency call on the very first day of my trip. Turned out the cab was genuinely lost and eventually I made it to my hotel.
- Being grabbed by giggling teenage boys in Jaipur, India – While walking with travellers during the daytime some teenagers stuck out their arms out as they walked by and grabbed our chests. We were shocked but got over it in a day, maybe because they were kids it didn’t seem as traumatizing as if it were grown men.
- Almost losing my passport. On the second last day in India before my flight to Bangkok, I (almost) freaked out because I couldn’t find my passport. Found it after 30 minutes of searching at the bottom of my day bag.
- Number of times actually sick – None (yay!)
- Instances I thought I’d get sick – at least once from “Delhi belly” in India (i.e. diarrhea). As my trip progressed, I thought I’d get sick from using tap water to brush my teeth in every country, eating street food daily, especially in Thailand where I ate sushi and even shellfish (clams, mussels) from street vendors; and eating a half-cooked hamburger in Goreme, Turkey (it was a dark restaurant).
- Times I actually felt sick or got nauseous – 3 times, but all from emotional trauma. Specifically 1.) looking at photos of bloddy civilians with missing limbs, birth defects and more, at the Vietnam War Remnants museum in Saigon, 2.) looking at photos of tortured prisoners and torture devices from the recently Khmer Rouge regime at the S21 genocide museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and 3.) Being told about a complex ordeal about someone I knew who was keeping another wife from the “newer” wife who just had a baby (this was probably the most emotionally traumatizing experience I’ve had the whole trip).
- Closest thing to getting sick – having a sore throat and a slight cough the last two weeks in Turkey, ironically because Turkey has probably been the cleanest place I’ve been the past 6 months.
- Other events that could have turned out badly, but didn’t – Having to cross (what seems like) 20-lane streets in India and Vietnam (siliently praying that my feet won’t get ran over); learning to scuba dive in Koh Tao, Thailand which included dives down to 18 metres (that’s 6 storeys!); and riding on the back of a motorbike in the rain in Hue, Vietnam with no helmet because the bus company was rushing to get us to catch the bus after they forgot to pick me up from the hostel.
- Major items lost – None (yay!) My MacBooks, passports and other valuables are all in tact :)
- Items lost – 2 pairs of flip flops in India and at the beach in Koh Tao, Thailand (cost to replace: <$5). My favourite towel and bikini top in the laundry in Malaysia (hostel gave me a new towel and a receipt that I can hopefully claim on my insurance)
- Items stolen/attempted thefts – None. Almost surprisingly considering I only have one small lock on my laptop bag and no laptop lock or baggage lock, stay at hostel/guesthouses all the time, and have taken over 20 night trains, buses and boats (which I’m told are prime places for things to be stolen.)
Considering I’ve been away for 6 months, I feel grateful and lucky to have had such an “uneventful” trip so far.
If you’re entertaining the idea of travelling alone, here are some things I’ve done to stay safe and health.
Practical tips to stay safe for solo travellers
Personal safety tips
- Online updates of your location – I regularly update Facebook and Twitter with my location (virtually every hostel/guesthouse I’ve stayed at has WiFi); my tweets are also geo-tagged which generally seems accurate to 10 metres. (This is more for the peace of mind of family and friends back home, in case I actually go missing!)
- Take the business card of guesthouse – Before leaving the hostel/guesthouse to go out, take a business card, just in case you get lost or get into any trouble you have local number to call.
- Leave valuables in a safe or with the front desk when going out – especially when staying in dorms, ensure there is safe, locker to lock your things in when you go out, or leave valuables with the front desk. I book the majority of my hostels/guesthouses on hostelworld, which tells if the accommodations has security/lockers.
- Multiple copies of documents – I have copies of my passport, ID, travel insurance and bank cards in both my bags (luggage and laptop bag), plus photos of them on my iPhone (taken with the iPhone camera) and on email which I’ve sent to myself, family and trusted friends
- Rest and sleep well – If you have any doubts about not feeling well (whether that’s physically or emotionally), stay in and rest. If you feel tired or just plain cranky, there’s nothing wrong with taking an “un-travel” day and doing whatever you feel like, including drinking Starbucks, eating McDonald’s or whatever makes you feel at home.
- Eating street food – If in doubt, just eat the cooked food, don’t eat food that’s been out a long time, doesn’t look fresh. Eat at places where you see lots of other people eating.
After over 6 months of travel in India, Southeast Asia and Turkey, I look back and feel relieved that I took the leap to travel alone. It’s been an empowering experience, I’ve met more travellers than I can count, and far less uncomfortable than I originally anticipated.
>> What scares you the most about travelling alone? If you’ve travelled before, what’s your #1 tip on staying safe?
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