In an effort to bring you some new voices on Ottsworld, here is a guest post from writer Sherry Spitsnaugle. I asked her to interview JC Lightcap about his expertise in Travel Safety. I met JC at a Travel Massive event and immediately fell in love with his website and bootcamps on travel safety and knew that I wanted to share them! All opinions, experiences, and photos here are hers. –Sherry
The mid-day Thailand sun scorched as a fortune teller studied my palm in a bustling Bangkok market. After a few predictable comments, he said, “I see you are very lonely.” Then, he looked me in the eye, grinned, and said, “And, I see a handsome man in your future.”
I shook my head in disgust, grabbed my stuff, and walked away. Granted, I was in no real danger, but the experience gave me the creeps. I was three weeks into a six-month journey through Southeast Asia. As a single woman traveling alone, I felt vulnerable. But, I listened to my gut.
Women Traveling Alone on the Rise
My solo adventure, two decades ago, was by choice, and while today, I travel with my husband or friends, (that is when we can travel again) I would not hesitate to hit the road solo. Statistics show I’m not alone.
“Forty-seven percent of travelers with Overseas Adventure Travel are registered as solo. An astounding eight-five percent of these solo travelers are women,” according to Industry Global News. Source
Searches for “Solo Women Travel” surged in 2019. “Google searches for ‘solo women travel’ increased by 32% in 2017 and 59% in 2018. The search grew to a jaw-dropping 230% increase in 2019.” Source
“Pinterest has also reported a 350% increase in women pinning articles on ‘solo female travel’.” Source
Learn How to do Safe Solo Travel with TravelSafer.com
Recently, I chatted with an expert on safety in travel, JC Lightcap, owner, author, and lead trainer for Travel-Safer.com
“I didn’t leave the country until I was 21,”JC says, “and my first few attempts were examples of how not to do it. Eventually I became an English instructor in France, joined the U.S. Navy, and ended up traveling extensively for agencies in the Washington, DC area. With that travel came multiple intensive training courses required for anyone traveling on behalf of the government. As of 2021, I’ve visited 48 different countries. Combining real-world experience with training unavailable to most people put me in a unique position to focus on travel safety.”
JC has the credentials and experience to give tips, and Travel Safer gives excellent advice to help us feel safer and more confident as a solo traveler. The site is for all travelers, but much of the content focuses on women traveling alone.
“Travel Safer was born from watching overseas students abroad,” JC says. “After seeing how vulnerable their actions made them, I started an impromptu travel safety and awareness course that was tailored specifically to their routines, habits, and environment. That’s when I realized that I had a broad spectrum of knowledge when it came to overseas awareness and safety.”
Overcoming the Fear of Solo Female Travel
When I told friends about my six-month solo adventure, reactions were mixed. Most were excited for me, but one person said, “Oh, you’ll be lonely. And you don’t even speak the language. Why don’t you do something nice for yourself!”
Yes, there were times I was lonely, but I could have been lonely sitting at home, too. Because I was alone, I made new friends. This rarely happened when I traveled as part of a couple or with friends. One myth is that other people feel sorry for a female traveling alone. On the other hand, there are lots of people who envy a woman traveling solo who gets to call her own shots.
Fear Based Reporting
The media can also create fear about traveling alone and make it sound so scary and dangerous, we are tempted to never board an overseas flight.
“The reporting I see is fear-based when it comes to solo female travel,” JC adds, “and yet, wherever I traveled, I ran into plenty of women on their own. My intent was to pull from their experiences and counter the fear-based messages with a holistic and realistic idea of what to expect, and how to prepare for it when you hit the road.”
The Solo Female Traveler Mindset
JC says that the top three mindsets a solo female traveler should practice are “patience, intuition, and a sense of adventure.”
I agree with that advice and list intuition at the very top of the list. Listening to my gut has been my saving grace. And to think, for the most part, we all have this amazing skill of intuition!
Safety Tips for Solo Travel – Before, When you First Arrive, and During
Before You Go
- Do your research and check local holidays for your destination, possible elections (especially contested ones), weather-related events, and if there are demonstrations scheduled.
- Create a money plan and backup cash plan
- Register your plans with the State Department
- Share your itinerary with contacts at home
- Purchase travel insurance
- Create an encrypted flash drive with backup copies of travel docs (passports, visas, etc), any reservations (trains, flights, buses, etc)
- Create a crib sheet with flight details, hotel info, quick exchange rates, insurance contact info, credit card collect numbers – anything you would want access to but couldn’t get online
Extra Tip! Click here to read a “Ride Along,” a pre-travel article in which JC shows travelers exactly what to do. This one’s about Nicaragua! Get many more safety tips on Travel-Safer.com like, “How to use an ATM” and assault prevention. JC has also written the Travel Safety Handbook, and offers online courses, in-person travel bootcamps, and travel assessment packages.
In addition to the above tips from JC, here’s what I never leave home without when I travel abroad:
- Money belt – I get excited when I pull out my tattered money belt, because it signals I’m going somewhere. I prefer the kind that goes around your hips, under your clothes, rather than your neck. The trick is not to jam it so full you are tempted not to wear it. I also carry a “decoy” bag and wallet with enough local currency and U.S. dollars to get me through the day.
- International Cell Plan/connectivity – Having a lifeline when traveling solo internationally is essential. Make sure your international cell coverage is in place before you leave! Or get a local sim right when you arrive.
- Fake wedding ring – Whether single, engaged, or married, I always wear a band on my left ring finger when I travel, especially if I’m traveling solo. I leave the good jewelry at home, but I want to send the signal that there’s someone waiting for me – maybe back at the hotel.
When You First Arrive
Get a Decoy Bag
As a photographer, I have fancy-looking equipment. If I feel like I’m in a dicey location, I head for the local grocery store, stock up on fruit and snacks, then use the plastic bag to carry my camera. The last thing I want to do is parade through the city, or even the hotel, advertising that I have expensive stuff.
Look Like a Local
Nothing says “I’m a local…nothing to see here…” like sports paraphernalia! I also buy a baseball cap with the name of a local sports team – and I wear it.
During Your Trip
Don’t Be Afraid to Reject People
“Conduct yourself as you would in an unfamiliar, big city and don’t be afraid to reject someone if you feel uncomfortable. You can be polite and still decline to get into an elevator with a dodgy character. Close the locking gate behind you if someone is trying to sneak in with you,” JC says.
Avoid Crimes of Opportunity
“Avoiding a bad situation is far easier than getting out of a bad situation,” he adds. “The majority of incidents overseas are crimes of opportunity, so understanding the environment you’re about to enter and using a few simple techniques can send signals to would-be assailants, making you a harder target, and making them more likely to go after someone else.”
Use the Scream Radius
Stephanie, who posts on Travel Safer, is from 47Parks.com and she’s on a mission to see every national park in the U.S. She has excellent insight into travel safety, even more so after months of living on the road in Clarence, the TearDrop Camper. She shares some safety tips and what she’s learned camping and driving across the country.
“I have what I deem the “scream radius” safety feature. If I can scream at an incredibly loud decibel and alert at least four other benevolent people of my peril, I am safe,” she writes. “This means no boon-docking in the middle of nowhere. This also means no late-night walks down a deserted street to 7-11 to get a Slurpee. While I haven’t had to belt out at the top of my lungs and invoke this radius rule yet, it has guided me well in my travels.”
Be Wary Who You Make ‘Friends’ With
One of the great things about solo travel is that it’s really easy to meet people and make friends. You are more approachable when you travel solo. That’s great….buttt…you still need to have your guard up in these situations. JC provided us with some warning signs that your new friend is not your friend.
Forced Teaming – Someone creates a false sense of connection, repeatedly using terms such as “we” or “they” to create us vs. them mentality.
Won’t hear ‘no’ — This is a conscious choice; this person is choosing not to hear ‘no’ because they are trying to control you. Letting them ignore your wishes is the first step in giving up control. If you say no, stick to it.
Efforts to separate you from the group — Depending on how well you know this person, their desire may be an honest effort to build a better connection or take the relationship to the next level. Keep in mind that there is a difference between getting you alone and creating one-on-one opportunities to chat and get to know you. If their reasons seem far-fetched or overly internet, stay with your group.
Attend a Solo Travel Safety Bootcamp
Want more? JC’s Travel Smart Bootcamps are designed to empower travelers to do their own planning, to sort through the massive information available today to find what’s relevant and what’s hyperbole. People leave the bootcamps with the knowledge and resources to plan their own trips.
“I guide attendees through the same process I take when planning a trip,” JC says, “helping them navigate to authoritative information, demystify the process, and give them handouts and tools to make travel planning both now and for any future trips a snap. We breakdown passports, visas, how to plan and carry money in-country, what to do in the event of an emergency and how to get your trip back on track afterward.”
Before the pandemic, bootcamps were held in Denver, Chicago, and Salt Lake City. JC hopes to relaunch them toward the end of 2021 and expand to more cities in 2022.
Final Travel Safety Thoughts
“Safety is a relative term – some people are comfortable traveling around Afghanistan on a bicycle; other people are hesitant to go downtown in their metro area,” JC says. “I’ve had amazing trips made even better because I randomly started a conversation (Nicaragua), joined a stranger for dinner (Alicante, Spain), rescued a cat from the engine compartment of a truck (France), or escorted a rescue dog home from Jordan. However, if something feels wrong, listen to your intuition.”
I echo JC’s advice to follow your instincts and listen to your gut. If a fortune teller–or anyone—turns out to be an unwanted flirt, remember, you’re in charge. If you’re dreaming about traveling solo, I hope you take the leap. Stay safe, have fun, and enjoy the journey.
Meet the Author: Sherry Spitsnaugle, guidebook author, travel writer, wife and dog mom, first expressed her urge to explore at age four when she packed up her little red wagon and took off for an adventure— around the block. Today, she continues to fulfill her travel bug tendencies, exploring and writing about her experiences.