How can you tell who to trust when traveling? Here’s what I’ve learned about trust and solo female travel, with tips to help you stay safe and make better judgement calls when meeting people on the road. Both online and in-person.
“How do you know if you can trust someone?” is one of the most common questions I get from female travelers. And paranoid parents. And pretty much everyone else who wants to know how the heck I’m not dead after years of traveling like I do.
It’s a difficult question to answer.
For years, people have watched me stay with locals I barely know, go on adventures with people I just met, share meals with complete strangers. My escapades may look effortless and spontaneous—sometimes they are—but behind the scenes there is serious scrutiny going on when I meet someone new.
I wasn’t always aware of it. It took me time and a lot of questions from followers to understand what really goes on in my subconscious when meeting people while traveling. But after years of trial, error, and bemusement as people continually seek out my advice about this very subject… here’s how I decide if I can trust people as a solo female traveler.
Index: The art of trust and solo female travel
- Trust your instincts: best defense or totally useless?
- At first glance: trust when meeting in-person for the first time
- Sliding into DMs: can you trust people online?
- Trusting yourself
- A final word on dealing with creeps while traveling
Trusting your instincts: the best defense or totally useless?
Before, when people asked me how I know who to trust when traveling, the answer was a shrug and “I trust my instincts.”
Two problems with that:
- Wtf that’s vague as hell Alex
- Not everyone has honed their traveler instincts yet
I do trust my instincts, but it’s important to clarify that I’ve had the privilege to practice them through years of travel in all kinds of situations… and even then, things still go wrong.
Before I traveled on my own, I got to travel the world with my family. I watched my (large, white, and stereotypically clueless Western) father be targeted by pickpockets from the Philippines to the United States, and my parents be scammed by salespeople everywhere in between.
Before I even knew what blogging was, I’d floundered through drunken encounters with men in Guatemalan bars, had to literally run away from freakishly persistent boys in Rome, and been molested by a man on a flight from Amsterdam.
Before I began traveling solo, I traveled with a boyfriend who could act as a safety net if men were being difficult. Men I’d thought trustworthy still ended up groping me, assaulting me, asking for sex, etc. Sometimes in front of said ex.
By all means trust your instincts—they exist for a reason—but don’t feel discouraged if your instincts sometimes fail you.
We can’t be vigilant all the time. If something bad happens to you it’s not your fault; guilt lies only with anyone who tries to harm you.
At first glance: how to tell if you can trust a man when meeting in-person for the first time (while traveling)
It takes less than a minute for me to judge a person I’ve just met.
Luckily for travelers, spoken language isn’t the key. Body language and actions are what matter most, in my experience.
Warning signs to look for when meeting men as a female traveler
Checking out my body. If he’s looking me up and down like a toy rather than a person, time to get the F out of there. Unless you’re purposefully dressing to impress, roaming eyes are, in my experience, the best and fastest indicator that a man’s intentions are not entirely innocent.
Quickly violating local cultural norms between men and women. This could be anything from standing too close while talking, to asking me to sit next to him in a country where men and women sit separately, to gently touching me in countries where men do not touch women. A friendly hand on the back can go south very, very quickly.
Asking if I’m married and looking excited when I say no. Casually asking about marriage is common in some countries. Though it’s off-putting to me, I accept not everyone perceives it that way. However, if a man learns I’m unmarried/single and looks excited about it? Nope, I’m not going to hang out and nurture his fantasies, marital or otherwise.
Asking for my phone number or other personal details too soon. Men sometimes come to me offering help… then say they can help further if they have my phone number/Facebook/whatever. Sometimes I give it to make them go away—like I said, I’m not perfect—and 9 times out of 10 it ends in the man perpetually calling, texting, and being increasingly creepy until I block him.
Note: This is specifically about men who ask for your number too soon. Some men genuinely want to help, but usually they won’t demand your details early on.
Young and cocky men. Not to say old men can’t be creeps—they definitely absolutely can, ugh—but young men are hornier. It’s fact. I’d trust an old man over a young man any day. At least I know I can outrun him if things get weird.
Not referring to me as “sister” when speaking. In some countries, it’s common to refer to men and women around your age as “brothers” and “sisters” in the local language—a subtle way to establish social boundaries. If a man my age isn’t calling me sister, I’m suspicious.
Uncomfortable decisions in the middle of nowhere
If warning sirens are blaring, I make an effort to distance myself and shut down conversations before they go further… if possible. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible.
Though he gave me all the bad vibes—staring at my body, standing too close, asking about my dating life—he had knowledge of the area, a motorbike I could use, and he handled some homestay logistics. I needed to interact with him.
He ended up fondling my legs and bum while we drove around on his motorbike, and I had to reject his advances—in Russian, an interesting challenge—the whole day… but there weren’t many alternatives in the middle of nowhere, and I didn’t want to leave just because of him. And I wanted to drive his motorbike. I made a decision to grin and bear the creep for a few days, and simply avoided him as much as possible.
You’re not wrong if you would do differently. Everyone has different priorities and tolerances. I’m just here to explain my own experiences and thought processes to illustrate the complex nuances of trusting locals on the road.
Sliding into DMs: How can female travelers tell if they can trust someone online?
The digital world is another realm entirely.
It has its perks. Couchsurfing is a fantastic way to meet both locals and other travelers. Personally, I’ve met hundreds of people through Instagram and Facebook groups over the last few years.
But, as I’m sure you already know, you can’t trust everyone online.
If you’re tech-savvy enough to find me and read this blog, I assume you already have a basic understanding of the internet and social media. Imma avoid How To Not Get Catfished 101 for now, and stick to travel specifically.
Warning signs female travelers should look for if someone online wants to meet
Immediately asking me to meet them. No name, no background, just Hi I’m here let’s meet. Nope, nope, nope. At best, they’re an entitled tw*t who presumed I would meet up with them because they told me to. At worst… who knows? Trustworthy people recognize the importance of introductions and interaction before invitations.
Only posting selfies. Happy, organic selfies with (ideally female) friends? Sure. But nothing good ever comes from a man who posts selfies all day, errday.
Weirdly empty social media profiles. People hide behind fake accounts. If someone is savvy enough to message to strangers online, they should have a robust social media presence. Don’t trust people with empty profiles. This especially goes for Couchsurfing as a female traveler—do not stay with men who don’t have any testimonials from surfers. I try to only stay with men who clearly have families or positive feedback from female surfers.
Demanding information without giving their own. Kind of like phone numbers in real life situations. If someone demands information without offering their own, that’s a big red flag.
Not communicating well. I don’t expect everyone to master the English language, but if someone tlks 2 U lyk dis all the tym… be wary. I only meet people with whom I’ve developed a rapport, and I sure as hell can’t discuss anything interesting if we R msging lyk dis.
More like guidelines than actual rules
Of course, there are always exceptions.
I met one of my closest friends in Pakistan through a recommendation from another traveler. I soon learned he’d utterly fail that last texting test… but I would trust him with my life. By now, I’ve spent months at his place, we’ve traveled together, and I recommend him to both male and female travelers.
Conversely, one well-spoken Pakistani man reached out to me with all kinds of fascinating historical information that I’d have trouble finding elsewhere. He only offered assistance after extended discussion. He was pleasant in person… then ended up propositioning me for sex in my DMs soon after. Multiple times.
My warning signs are not an end-all list. Often they’re enough, but sometimes men slip through the cracks. Which brings me to my final point…
Trust yourself to do what’s right for you.
Cliché and self-help-ish as it may sound, trusting yourself to do what is necessary is even more important than learning to trust others while traveling. Having the confidence to say no is by far the most important thing a female traveler can learn.
No matter how prepared you are, travel enough and something will eventually go wrong. There are creeps everywhere in the world; sooner or later, you’re going to encounter one.
You might feel pressured to be nice. I certainly do. Though it’s easier said than done… don’t.
If a man scares you, move away. If a man does something to you, punch him or tell him to f*ck off. If a man is giving off bad vibes, even if you can’t figure out why, leave ASAP.
It doesn’t matter if he let you stay in his home, paid for your tickets or your food, saved you from unsavory situation. If a man is making you uncomfortable or unsafe in any way, you owe him nothing. He is the problem and it is NOT rude to leave.
Don’t worry about judging him wrongly—it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?
A final word on dealing with creeps
When women ask me about how I stay safe while traveling, how I know to trust locals, if anything bad has ever happened to me, I always explain… then follow up with a final comment.
The unfortunate reality of solo female travel—or any travel, really—is that eventually, something bad will happen to you. If it doesn’t, you’re incredibly lucky.
What’s important to remember is that bad experiences don’t have to be the end of your journey. If you want to keep traveling, don’t let men stop you from doing what brings you joy.
It’s easy for me to say; my bad experiences pale in comparison to some other women I’ve met. There are women who have been r*ped, kidnapped, or violently assaulted while traveling… but still, with time and healing, many found the strength and confidence to try again. Because that’s what they want to do.
Not everyone is so strong, and that’s okay. You do you. But the next time a friend tells you solo traveling is too dangerous, or that little negative voice in your head suggests it’s safer not to travel… remember one thing: though others have the power to harm you or scare you, you’re the only one with the power to say f*ck it, I’m going to travel anyway.
What are some things you look for when deciding if you should trust someone while traveling? Tell me in the comments!