Whether you’re exploring a new foreign city, navigating your college campus at night, or camping in the wilderness, you want to do everything in your power to stay safe, especially when you’re alone. Start with these tips.
- Always tell someone where you are going.
Giving your friends an idea of where you plan to be – and when you’ll be checking in – lets them start a search if you’re unable to call for help, says Emily McDonald , Director of Marketing at Explorer Chick, an all-female adventure travel agency. If you know you will 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 case of an emergency.
When venturing off the beaten track, you should always have a way to contact someone if you find yourself in a situation that you can’t get out of on your own. 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 press a button.
- Know how to navigate.
Sure, it’s nice that cell phones put a world 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 directions.” Bringing an extra battery charger is a good idea if you rely on your phone, but consider carrying and learning to use paper maps for emergencies as well.
- Invest in protection.
Carrying at least one safety or self-defense tool can help protect you in dangerous situations. SABER 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 key fob ($14.99, sabrered.com) monitors a 15 foot radius for movement or intrusion and emits audible sound up to 1,240 feet. Self-defense products need to be accessible to be effective, so both of these devices cling to keys, backpacks, phone cases, and more easily accessible places.
- Adopt the #LaterGram.
Broadcasting your location in real time when you are alone can attract unwanted attention. Save geotags to your social media posts when you’re safe at home or on to the next stage of your adventure. The same goes for sharing trail updates on a GPS tracking app like Strava or AllTrails: leave those updates for when you’re done. And if you take certain trips near your home or work, consider not sharing them at all, so a person with bad intentions won’t have a clue about your usual whereabouts.
- Pack strategically.
“I walk with a bag that contains everything I need to keep me 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, lighter or fire starter, rope, satellite phone and even some toiletries,” says jenell riesner, a hiker, a trail runner and a digital nomad. “Knowing that I have what I need to survive in an emergency allows me to enjoy my alone time on the trails.”
- Travel with a first aid kit.
Most minor injuries are to soft tissue (think cuts and blisters), whether it’s hiking or taking more than 10,000 steps while exploring a new city. So packing even a small first aid kit with essentials like bandages and antibiotic cream can go a long way in preventing infections and other complications. Plus, you’ll be more comfortable during the time you’re exploring.
- Add additional layers.
The weather can change in the blink of an eye in the desert. Even if you don’t plan to go out after dark, pack clothes for the coldest temperature of the day in case you get delayed. A packable rain jacket doesn’t take up much room in your backpack, but you’ll be grateful to have it in 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 also want to make sure others know you’re in the know. “Our instinct is often to go to 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 comfortable, get out of there. “Women tend to have an instinct 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 it means being rude to someone you’ve met.” It is always more important to return home safely.