It wasn’t until I got back from my 18-day cross-country road trip and told my guy friends about it, that I realized I had to take slightly paranoid safety precautions that a man would never have to consider. After hearing that I didn’t just have to get an atlas but also mace, they also realized how privileged they’d been when they traveled solo. I had to read all kinds of articles, ask fellow lady solo travelers for advice and even took some of my worried parents advice to feel prepared. Not only was I going to be a woman traveling solo but I felt like I would be a target seeing as I was going to be shooting photography with my DSLR. So here are some tips on what I did to feel safe on my trip.
Tip #1: Never tell ANYONE you are traveling alone
And, I mean no one. Even if it feels safe to tell a fellow lady and her adorable family of four because you just never know. When I was taking photos of Mount Rushmore, I was in a sea of tourists and was tempted to tell the family from New Mexico to take a photo of me because I was traveling solo. But I didn’t. Instead, I just asked them to take a photo of me. They didn’t need to know why. And, they did so, very happily.
Tip #2: If someone does inquire about why you’re alone, lie.
I’m all for being honest but this is one lie that might just save your life. On a road trip, you will meet cool strangers at a local bar after a day of hiking and your party of one will inevitably be questioned. I would tell people my travel partner was resting in our car or hotel. That’s it. Plain and simple. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.
Tip #3: Adopt a random pack of strangers.
You might be asked if you’re alone by a person or group of people who you know deep down inside isn’t going to harm you. But, revert back to tip #1 and say nothing, or point to a group of people and tell your new stranger friend, “Oh, I’m with them, but I like to take lots of photos so I’m over here getting these shots.” Or I even dipped out of awkward encounters by using my fake friends as an excuse to leave. “Sorry, I gotta head out. Carol is waiting for me at our hotel for dinner.” I cannot keep count of the amount of times I did this on my road trip.
Tip #4: If you’re driving at night, avoid rest stops.
When I drove from Minneapolis to Jackson Hole, I realized that the rest stops weren’t like the ones I had encountered on the east coast filled with fast food joints and people. They were literally just rest stops for truckers to take a nap and a building with restrooms. Stepping into that desolate scene can feel a little nerve wracking at night. So after doing that a few times, I stuck to taking pit stops at gas stations which were almost always filled with people and were very well lit. It made me feel safe and less alone.
Tip #5: Always pack mace and a pocket knife.
I repeat: Pack mace and a pocket knife and take it everywhere with you. You just never know. Pick a purse that is small where you only need to take the most important things (wallet, phone, keys, mace and knife) and, if need be, a camera. Because if you stop alongside the highway to take photos and you all of a sudden feel unsafe, a huge bag full of stuff you don’t really need will hold you back if you need to get to your car quickly.
Tip #6: Do research on your stay’s location.
Always read the hotel or AirBnB’s location and make sure you read the reviews from women on what the neighborhood was like. While my AirBnB in New Orleans ended up being just fine, it didn’t feel safe when I got there at night. I literally sat in the car for about 15 minutes getting myself amped to get out of the car to walk across the street to my AirBnB. The place I picked was a block by block neighborhood because it was either that or somewhere else that was definitely dicey. Now I know better for next time.
Tip #7: Let your friends and family know where you will be.
I made it a point to share my location on my cell with my close friends and family and used social media for daily check-in’s on where I was and where I was headed. My parents definitely appreciated that and it actually worked to my advantage. Because of my social media posts, a friend reached out to me about my meeting for breakfast in Minneapolis and it was amazing to be able to connect like that. You might have a friend in a city you’re stopping at and not even know because you aren’t posting on Facebook.
Tip #8: Share your itinerary with friends.
It doesn’t matter if you compiled the trip on a Word document or a Google calendar, share it with someone. I used Google calendar because if I needed to make an update or change, it was easy to do from my cell phone. But pick a system that you know for sure you will be updating on a regular basis.
Tip #9: Pack light, even if you do have lots of room in your car.
Pack light as best you can. You don’t want it to be blatantly obvious that you are traveling solo and you definitely don’t want all of your business out there like that. I packed a day bag that had my clothes for the next day, camera, and laptop so that when I got to my stay, all I needed to do was take that one bag. With that said, pack all valuables in the trunk. Save the backseat for laundry bags, snacks, etc. Try to go for the college kid look rather than the I’m living out of my car look. It will help.
Tip #10: Don’t keep all your cash in one place.
I always had $20 on the back of my phone, cash in the glove department and in the trunk with the rest of my clothes. If you’re doing a road trip in the U.S. there is really no need to carry that much cash on you in the first place. I put the hefty dollars at the bottom of my toiletries and sanitary stash. I figured a thief wouldn’t want to mess with that.
Tip #11: Trust your intuition.
Last and most importantly, trust your intuition. This trip is about having fun but don’t take crazy risks either. Be smart. And, if you’re worried about being able to tell the difference between paranoia or intuition, remember this: Intuition is not fueled by emotions, it just tells you what is. Paranoia is most definitely linked to your emotions and will feel overwhelming. Take a deep breath and listen to your mind and body.