Whether you’re exploring a new foreign city, navigating your college campus at night, or camping out in the wilderness, you want to do everything in your power to stay safe—especially when you’re on your own. Get started with these tips.
- Always tell someone where you’re going.
Giving friends a head-up as to where you plan to be—and when you’re going to check in—allows them to start a search if you’re not able to request help, says Emily McDonald, marketing director at Explorer Chick, an all-women’s adventure travel tour company. If you know you’ll have cell service, share your location with a trusted contact using Google Maps or Find My Friends. Some apps and satellite devices even allow your trusted contacts to track you in real time.
- Make sure you can reach someone in an emergency.
When venturing far off the beaten path, you should always have a way of contacting someone if you find yourself in a situation you can’t get out of alone. If you know cell service will be spotty or unavailable, bring a satellite phone or other means of communication (like a satellite messenger, which is cheaper and lighter than a phone). Most satellite devices include an emergency SOS button, so all you have to do to get help is push one key.
- Know how to navigate.
Sure, it’s nice that cell phones put a global atlas in your pocket, but cell service is never guaranteed (and neither is your phone’s battery life). “I always download offline maps for out-of-service areas,” says Michelle Joy, a travel blogger who often explores national parks solo. “I use the AllTrails app for offline trail maps and download Google maps ahead of time for driving routes.” Bringing an extra battery charger is a good idea if you’re relying on your phone but consider carrying and learning how to use paper maps as well in case of emergency.
- Invest in protection.
Carrying at least one safety or self-defense tool can help protect you in dangerous situations. SABRE’s Pepper Gel keychain ($14.99, sabrered.com) comes with a whistle that can be heard up to 775 feet away, and the company’s motion-sensing personal alarm keychain ($14.99, sabrered.com) monitors a 15-foot radius for motion or intrusions and emits a sound that’s audible up to 1,240 feet away. Self-defense products need to be accessible to be effective, so both these devices hook onto keys, backpacks, phone cases, and more easy-to-reach spots.
- Embrace the #LaterGram.
Broadcasting your location in real time when you’re on your own can invite unwanted attention. Save the geotags on your social media posts for when you’re safe at home or have moved on to the next stage of your adventure. The same goes for sharing any trail updates on a GPS tracking app like Strava or AllTrails: leave those updates for after you’re done. And if you frequent certain routes near your home or work, consider not sharing those at all, so a person with bad intentions won’t have that clue to your customary whereabouts.
- Pack strategically.
“I hike with a pack that has everything I’d need to keep myself alive for 24 hours: snacks, water, a water filter, a rain jacket, toilet paper, a knife, a headlamp, extra batteries for my headlamp, bear spray, a lighter or fire starter, rope, a satellite phone, and even some toiletries,” says Jenell Riesner, a hiker, trail runner, and digital nomad. “Knowing I have what I need to survive in an emergency allows me to enjoy my time alone on the trails.”
- Travel with a first aid kit.
Most minor injuries are to the soft tissues (think: cuts and blisters), whether from hiking or clocking 10,000-plus steps while exploring a new city. So packing even a small first aid kit with essentials like Band-Aids and antibiotic cream can go a long way in preventing infections and other complications. Plus, you’ll be more comfortable for the time you are exploring.
- Throw in extra layers.
Weather can change in the blink of an eye in the wilderness. Even if you’re not planning to be out after dark, pack clothing for the lowest temperature of the day in case you get delayed. A packable rain jacket doesn’t take up much space in your pack but you’ll be grateful you have it in the case of unexpected wind or wet weather.
- Be aware of your surroundings.
Not only do you need to know what’s going on around you, but you want to make sure others know you’re aware, too. “Our instinct is often to go on our phone while walking alone, but you want to avoid that at all costs,” says Kristen Bolig, CEO of SecurityNerd. “Being distracted, or looking distracted, makes you vulnerable.”
- Trust your instincts.
If something (or someone) doesn’t seem right or you don’t feel at ease, get out of there. “Women tend to shove down their gut instinct in an effort to not be rude, but you should never do that when you’re outdoors,” says Kylia Goodner, who runs an outdoor adventure blog, KGAdventures. “Listen to what your gut is telling you and respond accordingly, even if that means being rude to someone you’ve encountered.” It’s always more important to get home safe.