Solo travellers regularly espouse the benefits of making their way around the world alone. It's cheaper, pushes you way beyond your comfort zone and you don't have to adhere to someone else's schedule. But there are downsides – the responsibility, the loneliness and of course, safety concerns.
Someone who knows a thing or two about staying safe as a solo traveller is Ciara Johnson. The US travel blogger quit her job to see the world and has been to more than 2o countries, racking up more than 45k Instagram followers in the process. Last year, in a viral Twitter thread, she recently revealed how travelling alone has changed her life.
"The thought of traveling to foreign countries alone, especially as a woman, sounds crazy. I love it though and it’s made me a stronger, more confident person. It’s changed my life, to say the least," she wrote, before listing precautions she takes on every trip to ensure she stays safe.
Was the 14hr journey to the blue city worth it? HECK YES, IT WAS! i took a 12 hour sleeper train from Marrakech to Tangier. I opted for the WOMEN ONLY train & my bunk mates were 3 older Moroccan women. The beds were actually comfy, so I slept like a baby till morning. 1 particular woman was helpful when I asked her which stop Tangier was. After this, she motioned for me to take some photos of her sitting in her sleeper bed before we got off. I happily obliged as she posed next to the bunk bed. Y’all know I’m all about photo shoots...even if it’s in a sleeper train haha. Once we arrived, she told me how I needed to get from Tangier to Chefchaouen. When we stepped off the train, she held my shoulders & walked me past all the men shouting “taxi” as if I was her daughter. She didn’t speak English, nor did I speak french or Arabic. I still needed to figure out how to get to the blue city. I stepped in the Tangier train station to charge my phone. A girl around my age sat next to me. I thought, “great, I can ask her! She’s young so she MIGHT speak English.” She didn’t, but she was still very nice. So I pull out my phone and we start communicating via google translate - passing my phone back & forth between each-other, giggling in between. She asked if I could add her on FB and she even welcomed me to visit her in Casablanca. We both had to leave though, so I asked her if she could help me negotiate a taxi price. Oh, and did she.Y’all, she argued with this man so passionately for at least 10 minutes like I was her sister. He was charging me the foreigner price & this really upset her. They’re yelling back & forth in Arabic, hands flailing & all and I’m just looking so lost lol. People are staring. I want to tell her to calm down...but then again, I liked her passion lol. Thankfully, she was able to talk the price down, so I hopped in the taxi. I thanked her, she gave me the biggest hug & kiss on the cheek. I never saw her again. So I got into this broke down Mercedes taxi & the driver spoke in Spanish the full 2hrs. I sat there thinking of these 2 stranger women. I don’t think they’re random in anyway. When I’m alone, they’re Godsent.
1. Be alert to your surroundings at all times
When I’m walking, I’m fully aware of what’s happening around me. I keep an eye on cars driving past me or anyone that slows/quicken their speed near me. I listen to footsteps & watch shadows. Mind you, this all applies to a woman who lives on her own too.— Ciara Johnson (@hey_ciara) March 1, 2018
She continued: "If I’m walking in a quiet street and I see that a man is about to walk closely past me I’ll even cross to the other side of the street if no one else is around. It’s better to look a little paranoid than be harassed, robbed, or worse."
2. Do as much research as possible
I do lots of research before I go - cultural norms, customs, how to dress, scams, natural disasters, political climate, etc. Instead of listening to people who’ve never visited these places before, I look for first hand knowledge from other solo female travelers.— Ciara Johnson (@hey_ciara) March 1, 2018
3. Update family and friends on your whereabouts
Thanks to Tmobile, I have free texting & data around the world. Family & friends are literally a text or phone call away. Make sure someone, anyone...knows where you are & where you're staying.— Ciara Johnson (@hey_ciara) March 1, 2018
4. Don't update social media in real time
When it comes to posting on social media, I never post in real time. I never tag locations while I'm actually there. I usually only post photos or share where I was, once I've left. You really never know who's lurking.— Ciara Johnson (@hey_ciara) March 1, 2018
5. Ask other women for help and/or advice
Read reviews for hotels, airbnb, hostels, etc. Once again, all reviews aren't real but it's better to have some frame of reference. I specifically look for reviews written by women and I'd never book a place that has no reviews.— Ciara Johnson (@hey_ciara) March 1, 2018
6. Don't venture too far outside your comfort zone
I know my limits. Like, I can swim, but I'm not above using a life vest if I'll be in the sea for extended periods of time. I'm not too embarrassed to be the last one on a hike if I feel like I'm getting altitude sickness. I'll take an emergen-C if I feel myself getting sick.— Ciara Johnson (@hey_ciara) March 1, 2018
7. Don't take a chance on random taxi services
I Uber. No, Uber is not perfect, but I think it's a bit safer than hopping into a random taxi abroad. At least my location & the driver's info is stored in the app. In foreign countries, it can be hard to know if a taxi is even official.— Ciara Johnson (@hey_ciara) March 1, 2018
8. Only carry the bare minimum
I only carry the cash & valuables that I need. I leave all valuables behind at nighttime. I split up cash & cards throughout different bags in case one is stolen. I hold my bags directly in front of me with my hand over the opening if I am in a crowded area to avoid pickpockets.— Ciara Johnson (@hey_ciara) March 1, 2018
9. Trust your intuition
Trust your gut. Traveling alone actually causes you to depend on strangers for so many things, and majority of the time things work out great. I listen to any odd feelings I get and I've learned to discern people & situations.— Ciara Johnson (@hey_ciara) March 1, 2018
10. Confidence (even if it's not always genuine)
Fake it till you make it. I swear I walk around like I know exactly what I'm doing, where I'm going...even when I don't. Head held high like I was born & raised in whatever country I'm visiting. Predators look for those who appear lost, scared, confused, insecure, etc.— Ciara Johnson (@hey_ciara) March 1, 2018
While solo travel can be amazing and as romantic as it's often presented in the media, Johnson continued, "it's not a walk in the park. It's not 'easy'. It's nothing like a vacation with family and friends. But it's so empowering and there's a lot to be gained from the experience.
"I'm fully aware that the world can be a very dangerous place. Instead of living in fear, I do my best to play it safe – both at home and abroad."
And as for her flawless Instagram photos that most definitely aren't selfies? "For those asking, yes strangers take my photos," she clarified. "No, nobody has ever run off with my camera or phone. I'm pretty strategic about who I ask...I'll share a thread on that soon."