Travelling solo as a man is one of the best things you can ever do for yourself, but there are unique, male specific safety risks that all men should be aware of so that you can take steps to avoid, deescalate or deal with dangerous situations as they happen. Here are my expert safety tips for solo male travellers on a round the world adventure.
I have travelled the world for over 20 years now. I have travelled to well over 100 countries on every continent bar Antarctica, and that includes some of the worlds supposedly most dangerous regions. I have studied martial arts all my life, worked with military and civilian organisations in conflict and disaster relief areas and have had more than my fair share of scrapes and have built up a pretty good array of epic travel stories as a result, so it is safe to say I know a thing or two about staying safe when travelling the world.
Now I know that according to the internet it is only women that travel solo and that women are in far more danger when they travel based on the lone fact that they are women, which by default assumes that travel is far safer for men just because of that magical appendage between our legs. None of this is true. At all.
Travel safety is all about the individual, not whether you are a man or a woman.Tweet
In fact tens of thousands of men travel solo every single year, the gap year industry is fuelled by men setting off on round the world adventures on their own, it is an awesome thing to do and an inherent rite of masculine passage that we set off and test ourselves against the world, but one thing that is always overlooked is the specific dangers and safety challenges faced by solo male travellers. All of the travel safety articles and safety books, all of the ’empowered’ solo travel articles are all aimed at women, with very little written from the male perspective.
It is certainly true that both men and women have different experiences when they travel, they are different genders, that is common sense and I’m not talking about that. But what is not true is that only women face danger when they travel. The common misconception is that it is more dangerous for women to travel just because they are women, and that is not true at all. It is actually men who are at more risk. Despite the endless victim narrative that comes from women and the scaremongering media, according to the Office of National Statistics, the Crime Survey of England and Wales and Foreign Commonwealth Office statistics, not to mention multiple academic studies over the last two decades, it is men who are statistically significantly more likely to become a victim of all types of violent crime with the one exception of sexual assault, and it is men who are far more likely to die as a result.
This doesn’t mean that travel is dangerous of course, far from it, world travel is in fact overwhelmingly safe with the absolute majority of all travellers. But it is very clear that men have a greater risk of becoming victims of most violent crime than women, and like women men face risks that are unique to them, so it just makes sense to talk about those risks.
Now I know that as men you are far less likely than women to be afraid of these risks, you are naturally tough, stoic, brave risk takers, it is who we are, but by knowing about and understanding the risks out there, we can reduce those risks to manageable and reasonable levels, and set off around the world safe in the knowledge that we have prepared as much as we can and can concentrate on just enjoying ourselves! So here are my top, expert tips for reducing risk and travelling safely as a man.
Developing your situational awareness is essential for any traveller heading off on a round the world adventure. If you aren’t paying attention to your surroundings and are walking round with your earphones in and your eyes glued to your smartphone, you will be picked out as an easy target relatively quickly. This doesn’t always mean you will of course, just that it is more likely, and that if you do you are in a far weaker position to act quickly, or even spot the situation and avoid or deescalate it.
Now it is really important not to be paranoid. You really don’t have to walk around hyper alert all the time, terrified of everything and everyone. Just use a little common sense and be sensible. Save checking your phone for when you are back in your hostel or sitting down on your own to have lunch. Take the earphones out and listen to the world around you. Pay attention to the amazing surroundings and people around you. You didn’t travel all this way just to stay in your own little bubble did you?
Act invincible, but don’t be a dick.
Confidence is one of the key weapons you have for deterring any trouble. This is true for both genders, but is one of the best ways to turn one of mans greatest weaknesses, that natural target for aggression on his back, into one of his greatest strengths. Most potential attackers instinctively target a weaker opponent, so if everything about you from your quiet, confident demeanour to your body language screams ‘I am in my element and can look after myself,’ your chances of being targeted will drop dramatically, and that quiet ‘don’t mess with me’ confidence will more than enough to make any would be attacker think twice.
This doesn’t however give you permission to act like a dick. Don’t mistake confidence for arrogance, you don’t need to be brash or loud, you don’t need to puff up your chest or start getting all gobby if something or someone annoys you or touts get a little too pushy. That is far more likely to get you INTO trouble than keep you out of it! Especially since you are a man, as men are statistically much more likely to use violence on another man if you escalate a situation to that point. Wind your neck in and calm down. Practice exuding a quiet self confidence instead, that is what will keep you safe.
I know you think you look awesome in those cargo shorts and Tiger Beer singlet, and to be fair you probably do, but when you are travelling it pays to just be aware of what you are wearing and how well you fit in to your surroundings.
Women have this trouble too, they wear a bikini top and short shorts in a highly conservative Muslim country and then wonder why they get a lot of negative attention and offended at the suggestion they should cover up. Sharia Law doesn’t care about your feminism. Men are smarter than that, well usually we are anyway. Looking like a typical backpacker with your shorts and Chang beer singlet is great if you are island hopping with a ton of other backpackers, but if you are exploring a new city or going for a night out in a cosmopolitan city they will just make you stand out. It’s all about dressing appropriately for your environment.
One of the best ways to stay safe is to blend in and not make yourself a target in the first place, and the clothes you wear makes a huge impact. If you look like a typical tourist or backpacker and you stand out like a sore thumb, then you are going to have a huge tout target on your back whether you realise it or not. At best this means locals will see you coming and try and rip you off for a taxi ride or that trinket you want, at worst thieves will see you as a potentially valuable target, so at least try to look like less of a target to all the touts, scams artists and criminals out there. If – like me – you are 6”2, broad shouldered and Caucasian, then you are going to stand out in certain parts of the world no matter what you wear, but there are ways to minimize that problem and try to dress comfortably of course, but more conservatively, dress like an ex pat would look rather than a fresh off the boat tourist, look at what the locals wear and take your cues from them. If everyone is wearing long pants, wear long pants. Think about not wearing a T Shirt with an offensive or political slogan on it. If it is against cultural or even religious norms to show off a lot of skin in the place you are in, don’t wear that vest top unless you are by a pool. This is just largely common sense but it can make a real difference.
Back ups, eggs and baskets.
You know that old saying don’t put all your eggs in one basket? Well it is an old saying for a reason. When you are travelling don’t put all your cash, cards and important documents in one place (like those ridiculous travel safety neck pouches or bum bags that every thief knows to look for). Split your cash up, have a dummy wallet with some cards in and some cash and then hide your other wallet in your pack, have a few small ‘daily amount’ bills in your pocket instead of getting a wad of cash out of your wallet every time you want to pay for something. The point being, split it all up so is something is lost, it isn’t as devastating as it could have been!
It’s also a really good idea to keep a copy – digital and physical – of your passport, insurance documents, bank numbers and anything else you may need separate from the originals, that way you can still have access to them if they are lost or stolen and if you need them.
Swallow Your Pride.
Understanding masculinity is a difficult thing in this modern climate. Men are naturally more disagreeable, we are more aggressive, more antagonistic and confrontational. We tend to view acts against us as a challenge to our self esteem or integrity and are more likely to respond in an actively aggressive way and view that as positive. This is known as instrumental aggression, an act that leads to a direct conflict resolution, as opposed to women who tend to respond with indirect aggression like gossiping or reputation destruction. Let me be very clear, none of these natural traits are toxic masculinity, there is no such thing. There is actually nothing wrong with this response, it is natural for men, but it does need to be understood, controlled and unleashed at the right time, especially when you are alone on the road.
There will be times on the road where something gets to you. Something or someone will annoy you, you will get fed up by the incessant touts and the taxi or tuk tuk drivers constantly trying to rip you off. The best thing to do is to deescalate the situation as quickly as possible and get out of there. Just smile, say you are sorry and try to walk away at the earliest opportunity. Do not let the situation escalate to the point where an argument or even violence becomes a possibility. These things are bound to happen, they happen to everyone. Remove yourself from the situation and don’t let them ruin your day. Your big trip is too valuable for something so insignificant.
A much bigger risk for men is being specifically targeted for violence, where people will call you out or try and goad you into violence or an aggressive response. You may have insulted them unintentionally, you may have said something political without realising it, you may have checked out their sister or they may just be bored. This is called baiting and happens to men all the time, usually by other men trying to prove themselves by fighting you or just want an excuse to initiate violence against you, or women who know they will get away with anything if they can initiate an aggressive response from you. And solo female travellers use men hitting on them all the time as evidence that they are in more danger! Give me a break!
Men usually react on instinct in these situations, we act on pure emotional response. Don’t. Take a step back, think. You are far from home, outside of your comfort zone and in their territory. Unless an aggressive response is the only way for you to get out of that situation, then just walk away from it. Your pride is not worth putting yourself in a dangerous situation.
Don’t be a hero.
It is not very likely to happen but if the worst comes to the worst and you find yourself being outnumbered or mugged or robbed, do not fight back, especially if they are armed. I don’t care how many Jackie Chan Films you have seen or how many times you have seen Out For Justice or Kickboxer, you are not Steven Seagal or Jean Claude Van Damme! This is not an action movie!
I understand the instinct to fight back, believe me, I do. It’s a natural masculine instinct and there is nothing wrong with it. The trick is to know when to listen to that instinct and when not to. When testosterone mixes with the traditional fight or flight response it can be a powerful brew regardless of what choice you make. It is only natural you will want to fight back, and if you don’t, it is only natural that you will replay that scene over and over in your head imagining what you could have done differently.
The truth is it really doesn’t matter, as long as you get out of the situation safe and alive, then that is the main thing. It is the only thing that counts. You have no idea what weapons the guy has, if he has friends around the corner, you don’t have the safety net of your home emergency services, it just isn’t worth the risk. I understand that you will have to run the gauntlet of anger, humiliation and shame, and you will replay the situation in your head a thousand times or more, that is a natural part of the male psyche too, but your pride is not worth getting killed over. It goes without saying that your life is far more important than your wallet or your phone, especially if all you are losing is the back up stuff from the previous tip.
So the first rule of thumb is always, and I mean always take the easy way out if you can. Act calm, do not show your anger, keep your voice calm and low, keep your movements slow and comply. Do whatever you can not to fight unless you really have to. And I say that as a pretty big guy who is both trained and pretty confident in a fight, so you have no excuse!
But know when you have to fight.
The one exception to this rule is when being submissive and giving your mugger or assailant what they want will still result in you being harmed or worse. There is no hard and fast rule to this, but you will know when the point has come when someone is going to hurt you. Maybe they always intended to do so and this was more than a casual robbery, maybe their thought process has been impaired through drink or drugs, it doesn’t matter. In that instance where you feel that your life is in immediate danger, the fight response is the right one, do anything and everything you can to defend yourself. Throw punches, throw a chair, do anything and everything in your power to stay safe and get out of there at the first available opportunity. Hit them hard, hit them fast and run as soon as you can.
Be more thorough with your risk assessments.
We are men, we take risks, we are impulsive, impetuous and spontaneous. It is what we do. If there is an opportunity to throw ourselves down an active volcano on an ATV or jump out of a helicopter with a man made bungee your mate Dave cobbled together then we are very unlikely to hesitate. Now I’m not saying don’t do these things. You are naturally compelled to do risky things, not to mention contractually honour bound to do them if your mate dares you or implies you are less of a man if you back out. In those situations you obviously have no choice. All I’m saying is be a little careful, ask a few safety questions once in a while, ask if your travel insurance really covers you on this. It is good to take risks, but don’t be overly reckless. Reign it in a bit. Man tests are all fun and games until you smash your skull in. Independent travel should be fun, it should have an element of risk, but there is a limit so just try and be a little sensible about it and don’t let your masculine pride put you in avoidable danger!
Don’t get too drunk.
There is nothing wrong with going and having a drink. Go out, have a great time, enjoy yourself. But it really should go without saying that you should also know your limits. There will be times when you may feel pressured by locals, or other travellers, to down that whisky bucket or have just one more round of shots. You are no less of a man if you decline and say enough is enough. Yes your mates will probably take the piss out of you for it but they’ll take the piss out of you if you do drink as well, it’s what guys do! Remember when you are drunk you not only lose your inhibitions and ability to make rational choices, but you leave yourself vulnerable to all sorts of dangers, from the various scams and touts trying to rip you off, to being unable to moderate your own behaviour, which could get you into a certain amount of trouble. Have a drink, enjoy yourself by all means. Just stay in control.
Watch your drink.
There is a lot of information and advice out there for women to watch their drinks when they go on a night out, and very rightly so and for obvious reasons, but there is almost nothing advising men to do the same, but they should. Men can have their drinks spiked just as easily as women, and many do. Sexual assault against men does happen, and in some places men are also specifically targeted by women who will flirt with them, spike their drinks and then rob them blind when they pass out in their hotel room. If you are careful with your drinks and follow the same advice that is out their for women, never accept a drink you haven’t seen poured, drink out of bottles, use your thumb to cover the top and so on, then you’ll generally be fine. There’s no need to be paranoid, just be aware. Men should also be aware that they can be specifically targeted for extortion in certain bars, and it doesn’t even have to be an obvious bar frequented by sex workers, there is an old scam where women flirt with men, get them to buy them drinks until they are presented with an extortionately exaggerated bill and suddenly surrounded by very large bouncers. Pay for your own drinks and pay up front. The bar tab scam, the ‘buy me drink’ overcharge, the date rape drug robber, there are a lot of these scams where men are specifically targeted, so have a great time, be friendly, always be polite, just be on your guard.
Research local scams.
While we are on the subject of scams, it is always a good idea to be aware of the general scams, cons and tricks out there too, and not just the ones where men are specifically targeted. Most of these scams are not major dangers and are simply designed to part you from a little bit of cash, but it is always worth researching as much as you can and being aware of them so that you can recognise them before they happen to you.
So that’s it guys, get out there and enjoy your travels and remember that travel is overwhelmingly safe! But it is always worth remembering that there are some risks out there, and it is worth taking a few steps to reduce that risk as much as possible! Safe travels.