As a lady who is always on the go, skipping around Latin America, the question I’m confronted with the most is, “But, is it safe?” It can be easy to think, especially if you peruse the travel warnings online, that traveling in general is scary and that traveling alone, especially as a woman, is practically impossible.
But traveling solo is one of those things that seems scarier to think about than to actually do. I still get nervous every time I embark on a new adventure even though, every time, a few days in, I always marvel at how I could have possibly been scared about the lovely place I’ve landed.
But back to the question: The short answer is yes! I’ve never felt any more threatened in Mexico or Nicaragua or Costa Rica than I have in New York or Baltimore or Las Vegas. The long answer is (especially for the ladies) that it takes a blend of common sense and awareness, with concern for your safety front and center, to keep it that way.
For now, the world isn’t a fair place. There are plenty of amazing people working to make it better, but until some serious cultural changes happen both at home and abroad, we have to put extra thought and effort into our safety. That doesn’t change while traveling. So, here are a few of the basics that I adhere to when I travel, which—knock on wood—have served me well so far.
It doesn’t matter if there’s a something you can put your finger on or you just have a feeling. If something about the situation you’re in—whatever it is—seems “off,” trust your gut and get out. Don’t worry about offending people. Just leave if you have to. Don’t worry about convenience. Just catch the next bus or buy a new ticket if necessary. If the hotel you reserved feels sketchy or you’re getting a weird vibe from someone there, take your stuff and find another place. Your gut is there to guide you, so listen to it. Traveling is a situation in which you would much rather be safe than sorry.
Oh the elusive dirt cheap ticket. Whether it’s a bus, train, or plane, it’s always tempting to go with the cheapest option available, especially if you’re traveling on a budget. But the thing with those tickets is that they often come with late night or very early morning arrival or departure times. Unless you know the place you’re going like the back of your hand or you’ve got someone you trust to pick you up when you arrive, I recommend spending a little more money to get to where you’re going at a reasonable hour. Not only will it make the process so much more smooth, you’ll avoid walking through an abandoned airport or train station in the middle of the night unsure of how to get to your destination with limited taxi options.
Just as if you were heading out on a solo hike, make sure someone knows where you’re going and how to reach you. Check in with them every so often so that, god forbid anything should happen, someone with your best interests in mind will be tipped off early.
You don’t want to end up in a situation where you’re having to make less than ideal choices because you’re strapped for cash. Have a backup credit card or stash of money for emergency situations only. It’s tempting to spend it on cute clothes or awesome experiences, but if your rental car pops a tire in the middle of nowhere, you’ll be through the roof that you have backup money to pay for a tow truck and repairs.
While becoming at least conversationally fluent is ideal, just learning the basics will help. Don’t just learn words like “bathroom” and “thank you,” but try to familiarize yourself with phrases that refer to you—”gringa” in Spanish, for example. That way, if you’re among foreigners, you’ll at least know if you’re the subject of conversation, whether you understand the rest or not. Not only will this help to alert you to what’s going on, it can keep you from being the butt of foreigner jokes as well (wink).
It seems like a bunch of work, but it’s totally do-able. I’ve traveled with my dog plenty. My golden mix is as floppy, friendly, and un-scary as dogs come, but across much of Latin America, dogs are either strays or guard dogs. Because of the pervasive fear of dogs in most of the countries I’ve been to, I’ve felt a trillion times safer walking down the street with Gus prancing alongside me than if I was alone. If anyone would have tried to, say, come into my apartment in Nicaragua, one bark from Gus would have sent them running. Plus, traveling with dogs is simply the best.