Goshen News, Goshen, IN

February 5, 2013

Traveling alone? Remember these safety tips

By Daryl Nelson
ConsumerAffairs.com

— When vacationing, is it better to travel alone or in a group?

It’s a question that a lot of travelers mentally toss back and forth, because traveling in a group certainly has its benefits whether you do it abroad or domestically, but so does traveling alone.

Although traveling in large numbers seems to be safer and extremely fun to do, it can also be quite exasperating, especially when people in your travel group share different interests and like to do different things. And most know that trying to appease everyone in a group is a task they'll never be able to pull off succesfully.

So to avoid these kinds of travel headaches, a good number of people choose to go on their journey unaccompanied and figure they can either meet people on the road or stay with people they know in the towns they’re visiting.

Dangers lurk

It’s important for lone travelers to be aware of how to stay safe, especially on the heels of a 33-year old mother from Staten Island, NY., who was tragically killed after going to Istanbul, Turkey on a lone photography trip.

The details of how the victim, Sarai Sierra, was killed are still fuzzy, say police, and detectives are still working the case, but the tragic incident will more than likely put the issue of travel safety on a lot of consumers’ minds, especially those who may already be planning a trip by themselves.

According to some safety tips released by the U.S. State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, one of the first things a person should do before traveling is research, learn and remember all of the cultural differences of a foreign country and also be knowledgeable of the political happenings to determine the level of safety.

The department advises travelers to use the website www.travel.state.gov to keep abreast of any news that may be developing in a country that you’re traveling into.

Consular Affairs released these safety instructions mainly for women travelers, but the tips really apply to both genders and should be followed regardless of whether one’s a seasoned traveler or if they’re heading out of the country alone for the first time.

Your itinerary

The government agency also says it’s important to give someone a copy of your travel itinerary and let them know where you will go, what cities you will visit and what hotels and hostels you’ll be staying in. If your plans change, let someone know. There have been many reports of lone travelers going missing without a trace once they deviated from their pre-planned itinerary and never told anyone.

People traveling alone should also schedule days to check-in with a friend or family member, so others know your current location and that you’re doing okay. However, Consular Affairs also says if you take this particular safety measure, its important you don’t miss a check-in appointment, since missing one will most likely spark immediate worry.

It’s also key to remember to be mindful of how you dress when traveling, say experts, and be sure you’re not wearing expensive looking jewelry or clothes that make you stand out. This is especially important for Americans to remember, as in many countries Americans are stereotyped to be well off with loads of credit cards, money and electronic gadgets on them.

Also, women in particular should be hyper aware of dressing in a way that doesn’t  make them stand out, as certain outfits could offend someone of a different culture, who may do more than just roll their eyes.

Experts also say women travelers should be especially aware of local customs when traveling abroad, as there have been reports of lone female travelers getting harassed, groped and even worse for merely speaking to a man directly and looking him in the eye. In some places this can be a sign of being flirtatious or disrespectful, experts say.

Backpacking

And when it comes to backpacking, a lot of people like to do it in a foreign country and by themselves, since much of the fun of backpacking is trekking through a beautiful location that you wouldn’t normally have access to while getting to know the locals.

And a lot of times hiking alone sounds wonderful because of the romanticized images many people have about being adventure-seeking explorers, but experts say it’s always best to backpack with at least one other person, especially in a foreign location since many criminals expect hikers to be traveling alone and decide to target them for wrong doing.

It’s also known that many backpackers have full backpacks that contain a lot of valuable items that they'll use during their travels, so for a criminal, a backpacker can be a one-stop shopping opportunity, so travelers should really be on alert.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs also says you should never announce to others that you’re traveling alone.

Of course this is against the new norm of people letting everyone know what their travel plans are through social media, and whether this practice has to do with excitement or a desire to make folks a little envious, it’s never a good idea to document where you’ll be and how many people you’ll be traveling with.

So keep these safety tips in mind if you’re traveling alone in the future, or you can travel with your friends or family members, which is great too. 

Because you might not be able to move around as fast as you like by traveling in a group, but at least you’ll have others along with you who can hopefully watch your back.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.