The story on safe solo travel (and group travel) was updated on January 22, 2023.
If you live in or travel to a big city like New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Chicago, Sydney or Berlin, you’ll quickly have to gain your street smarts. Unfortunately, I have a feeling one of the last things on your to-do list is reading up on staying safe in a big city after the age of 50.
As you plan your travel adventure, I know you are thinking about how to avoid overpacking. Or if you are planning on going out for the day, you are making a list of things you need. You’re deciding where to make a lunch reservation with a friend or calling your manicurist as you race out for a manicure late. The last thing most people prepare for — and the most important — is their safety in every big city.
And, for those of you who are contemplating or already planning a solo trip, I have some sound advice for you.
Shopping on Fifth Avenue in New York
I decided to muse on the topic because I am off to New York next week with my ultimate concierge. He has a has a meeting at the United Nations discussing the topic of worldwide affordable housing. While there we are going to attend a performance at Carnegie Hall, see the Michael Jackson show, and have dinner with friends.
As a lucky and grateful world traveler, I have had my share of amazing experiences. But also unexpected scares pertaining to safety. While I am not traveling solo, as a woman over 50, I understand the importance of taking precautions.
I recall a shocking experience I had in New York on Fifth Avenue. I was walking down the street with my husband on a beautiful sunny fall day. Fifth Avenue was packed with smiling pedestrians and we looked forward to a day of shopping and an evening at the theatre.
I was wearing a crossbody handbag that fell to my waist. As we walked down the street, I felt a nudge against the right side of my body, the side where my purse hung. Naturally, I glanced down when I felt the nudge and automatically stepped closer to my ultimate concierge.
When I looked down, my eyes immediately came up as I watched a woman little person run away! My purse was at a perfect level for her to open my handbag to rob me. Fortunately, the purse had two flaps with two locks. As soon as she opened the outer lock, I quickly moved towards my husband and honesty won over dishonesty!
I purposely use that handbag when traveling. So, my darlings, when traveling to large cities, I recommend carefully selecting a purse that provides double security.
En Route to Sacre Coeur — Traveling Safely
My husband and I boarded the train from the center of Paris to travel to Sacre Coeur. We were the last to board, my husband behind me. He felt a nudge and swiftly swung around. Three young men jumped off the train just as the doors were about to close. They attempted to steal my husband’s credit card case from his back pocket.
My husband, a street-savvy guy, felt the nudge and instantly knew what was about to happen. I watched the whole ordeal as my ultimate concierge swirled around. Those young guys never suspected who they were dealing with and my husband was more than prepared to handle the situation.
The moral of this story: never be the last one to board a bus, train or any other type of vehicle. You become disadvantaged and a target because your prey can easily jump off and disappear into the crowd.
Unexpected Happening in The City of Light and Barcelona
On another trip, my girlfriend and I were walking down the street in Paris. It had just turned dark on a beautiful winter evening with lights aglow in the City of Light. That did not stop a thief from pickpocketing my girlfriend as we waited at a stoplight. He took all of her identification: her credit cards, driver’s license, and money.
We hurriedly walked toward our destination, a small boutique where we knew the owner. She was a French Countess, at least that is what she told us each year we visited her in her gorgeous boutique shop! She was a great help. Although my girlfriend had to suffer the consequences, thankfully, she left her passport in her hotel room.
My advice is to take a picture of all your identification, including your passport. And only carry the photographs and one hidden credit card in your handbag. And, at a stop light, put your hand on your bag.
Yet another time, I was with my girlfriend from Australia. We were walking down the street in Barcelona. She was wearing a cross-carry bag with the bag in front of her body. That did not stop a thief from coming up behind her and cutting the strap. Her bag fell to the ground and he ran off with her handbag with her passport inside. She spent the next few days at embassies getting a new passport. She was unwise not to take a photo.
11 Safety Tips from an Experienced Traveler – Solo Travel or Otherwise
Here are a few of the travel tips I live by:
- Make certain your cell phone is charged. Carry your charger and a portable battery so you always have a backup.
- Do not carry your passport in your purse, carry a photographed copy.
- Wear your purse in front of your body. I wear a small, belted purse around my waist and carry a lightweight, empty bag for packages. My important items including my identification, my credit cards, and cash are all in my belted, small purse. A few of my friends have Pacsafe bags that hide the zipper and include double hooks for protection.
- Leave ALL of your valuables at home.
- I always have my SafeSound personal alarm in my purse. It’s lightweight, small and the alarm ensures you can quickly notify those around you for help.
- Locate the country’s Embassy in advance. Here is a link with every country’s US Embassy location.
- Use ATMs inside the bank and avoid ones on the street.
- Carry pepper spray. If you are unfamiliar with pepper spray, this one is beginner-friendly!
- Take a self-defense course.
- Always trust your intuition; be alert.
- Dress plainly. You can still feel beautiful! Put on your smile and walk confidently with purpose.
How to Protect Yourself When Traveling Solo Over 50
Traveling solo in an unknown environment in today’s world is always a cause for concern. Getting in your car to go to the market can be dangerous! So, flying off to an unknown country or hiking a trail or taking a solo driving trip takes double preparation and organization.
I know I would never travel solo and if I decided to, I would travel in a solo group that piqued my fancy.
Advice From Friends Who Travel Solo
I do have a few admired friends who travel solo. The women I spoke to travel alone. I asked them to give me their advice. Here are some of their personal opinions.
First they all told me the first step in traveling solo is to believe in yourself. They did not let fear stop them. They acknowledged that it is intimidating when you leave your comfort zone for the first time, but over time they grew and are continuing to grow from their experiences. One said, ” I feel invincible.”
I asked them about loneliness when traveling solo. They all said they learned to feel comfortable in their own company. And they all sparked up conversations in restaurants and on tours, and in their hotels. One made a lasting friendship.
They have their itinerary mapped out to a tee because they all said the more organized they were, the less vulnerable they felt.
Tips on Solo Travel From My Friends
1. When you leave the country, they advise you to share your travel itinerary with your family or friends and …stay connected every day by phone.
2. They take out good travel insurance with Medivac.
3. These women all employ a well-traveled travel agent who has been to the city(s.) They plan their detailed itinerary with their agent from beginning to end.
4. They dress down so as not to stand out in a crowd.
5. These women talk to people using their wizened experience after 50
6. They carry a safety whistle. They have a safety word besides help. Fire!
7. They have one and only one cocktail at dinner!
8. When they get into conversations, they do not give out their hotel or address.
9. One registers with her local embassy.
10. They become friendly with hotel staff.
11. They carry the hotel business card with their address and phone contact. The police and ambulance numbers, too.
These women told me that their solo travel experiences have been stellar. And, on a personal note, they told me they learned to feel comfortable in their own company enjoying the peace and quiet and solitude to simply be.
While your safety is of the utmost importance, please remember to enjoy your travels. Have a wonderful time on your adventure with your companion, family or…yourself. Bon Voyage.
How do you stay proactive when traveling solo or with a group in larger cities? Comment with your tips below.
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