Everyone will tell you to travel safely, but what does that mean and how do you do it?
Solo travel is a personal and sacred experience. It allows you solitude, the freedom to create your own adventure, and enables you to discover your true self.
How do you spend your days when you are free from outside influences? Free from schedules and itineraries? What things interest you and call you to participate? For me, it’s dive bars and nature hikes–especially mountain climbing. What a surprise! I would not have discovered that, if not for the freedom of traveling by myself.
I live as a single female, on a 19-foot Skoolie named Bubba; and have been living this way for over a year. I am often asked how I stay safe on the open road. In a perfect world, this would not be a necessary consideration; but our world is not that world, and safety precautions are essential.
Everyone will tell you to travel safely, but what does that mean and how do you do it? Here are a few of my safety suggestions for any woman who enjoys traveling more deeply on a solo journey.
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Being a Gen-Xer, I am still figuring out technology, but there are two apps that I use.
bSafe is a free app, in which you list all your emergency contacts. If you get into trouble, tap the app, and the contacts are alerted with your GPS coordinates. It can also alert the police. Additionally, there is a “Follow Me” feature, which not everyone loves, but, I do, because I hike and climb, by myself–and I don’t know if DoorDash would deliver a pizza to me at the bottom of a ravine.
The second app I use is called ICE (In Case of Emergency). What I like about this app is that, besides including emergency contacts, medical information is also here: Do you have any allergies? Do you take any medications? Have any pre-existing conditions? Who are your doctors? What is your insurance? It can all be found here with the tap of a finger, along with specific instructions.
An obvious choice is a dog. Not only are they great companions, but they will alert you to dangers, intruders, or potential threats–be it a bear or a human. Having a dog is a serious consideration. Will he be walked regularly? Will he be left alone in the vehicle? How big will he be? What if he needs a vet? What if he isn’t (house), or, in my case, bus, trained? Will his poop be picked up? What about grooming, food, exercise…and the list grows; hence, I do not have a dog.
What I do have is a dog barking alarm which is effective, because real dogs are effective. It is a wireless alarm, mounted at the door of my home on wheels. If there is motion outside, my fake dog is set off. So far, my fake dog, whom I have named Thor, has scared off a possum, raccoons, an oversized cat in Wyoming, and an unsuspecting gas station attendant in Oregon (a state where they pump your gas for you) and where “Thor” put a few more gray hairs on his head.
Pepper Spray/Mace/Bear Spray
I went to REI to buy bear spray and learned something important when I approached the associate, Ryan. He explained that bear spray has a much lower concentration of oleoresin capsicum, and should only be used as a bear deterrent. “It isn’t meant for humans,” he explained.
The reason people carry bear spray is that it’s legal in places where pepper spray isn’t. “I bought this one for my grandma,” he said, “and she loves it.” How old does he think I am? How old is his grandma? I consider asking these questions, but his manicured mustache and relentlessly ridiculous hat suggested against it. Now, a pink canister of pepper spray dangles from my keychain, as part of my–and grandma’s–safety arsenal.
One of my favorite things–which I purchased at Walmart, but can be bought at any sporting goods store–is an air horn. It’s cheap, compact, easy to use, and I expect would be a great deterrent, because it is loud. I know this because I tried it out at a park in Eugene, Oregon, where I enjoyed explaining to the police why I set off an air horn in the first place.
As an avid hiker, I carry it with me always to warn animals that I am in their vicinity or as a potential first aid alert.
Self Defense Class
Taking a self-defense class is one of the best things a solo female traveler can do, and its benefits run much deeper than just tips and tricks to be safe. A self-defense class increases self-esteem, empowers you, boosts confidence, teaches self-discipline, and has ample physical benefits.
If you can take a self-defense class before your road trip, it will be one of the best investments you make. Currently, there are classes offered online; or if you find a town you will be staying in for a moment, Google it, which is what I did in Roanoke, Virginia. Hello YMCA!
Tell a Friend Where You Are
This seems both obvious and counter-intuitive to solo travel, but no matter how old or young you are, letting someone–or multiple someones—know your plans and itinerary is essential. It doesn’t make you any less cool or independent, it just makes you safer. I live on the road full-time and check in daily with a Memphis friend. Usually, I have him figure out my gas-mileage, which is always a sad state of affairs, but he knows where I am and where I am headed. Conversely, if there is a family emergency or situation you need to be made aware of, your network can contact you.
While traveling solo, a woman’s best friend is that sixth sense: intuition a.k.a. trusting your gut. If a person, place, or situation feels wonky or off, it probably is. Trusting your intuition allows for better decision making. If it is not a definite yes it is a definite no, and it’s OK to say NO.
No to certain accommodations, hotels, or parking spaces; no to drinking too much; no to peer pressure (which we are all subjected to); no to letting someone borrow your phone; and a definite NO to picking up strangers on the road. It’s not the ‘70s anymore!
Make Sure Your Vehicle Is Ready for the Road
As obvious as this sounds, the importance of such a simple act is not to be underestimated. Take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic and get a clean bill of health before you go: from nose to tail, including tires. The last thing you want is to be stranded on a deserted road in an unfamiliar place. How many Stephen King books have we read like this?
I would even go so far as to say take a class on basic automotive repair. Things like changing a tire, replacing a fan belt, tapping on a carburetor. After living on the road for over a year, I have learned a lot about myself and a big surprise has been how mechanically inclined I am. I have changed my starter, radiator, brake pads, and many other minor repairs while on the road. The sense of empowerment is unequaled.
Be Honest With Yourself
Scanning through Instagram feeds and Pinterest boards can make you long for and dream of traveling alone. But, let’s face it: Pinterest is not perfect and Instagram is not real life. They depict moments of heavily orchestrated real life, rarely showing the underbelly of solo travel, and there is one.
Beyond safety, there is no one to share expenses with, you’ll eat and drink alone, you won’t date, it’s hard to get pictures of you doing anything (the struggle is real), you have to constantly reassure Mom and Dad that you are fine, and you get lonely (sometimes very lonely). I have struggled with all of these. Solo travel is not for everyone and that’s OK. Be honest with yourself and meet yourself on your own terms. It’s the best way to enjoy your life, and remember that is your life.
For me, the last resort is weaponry of any sort, but it is a suggestion I hear often. Do you have a gun? Do you have a knife? One man, in Eugene, Oregon, felt so strongly about this that he “gifted” me a machete, which will come in handy the next time I am hiking in the Amazon Rainforest or need to open a coconut.
I have a healthy fear that a gun or knife could be turned on me; hence why remain a fan of deterrence when possible and escape when necessary. However, I do have some “weapons” and here is what they are: An app that sounds like a shotgun being racked, a bean bag gun (which is non-lethal and legal in all 50 states), and a taser gifted to me by an ex-Marine, which, yes, is legal for civilian use.