Trust as a female traveler: my creep radar, explained

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.

Silhouettes of Alex with a local traveler friend in Sindh, Pakistan

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

Alex with a family of women in a home in Kolkata, India

In India, figuring out if you can trust someone can be especially complicated. Some people are unbelievably kind and hospitable, others are so conniving they put movies to shame, and Indian men are (deservedly) notorious for online and offline harassment. I’m incredibly careful with men in India, but when Sayani reached out to invite me to her family’s home in Kolkata I didn’t think twice—other women are a safe space for female travelers.

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:

  1. Wtf that’s vague as hell Alex
  2. 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.


Russian man and his son on a boat in Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia

Juri was my host when I rented a room in a cottage on the shores of Lake Baikal, Russia. I was apprehensive about sharing a remote cottage with a man, but I was instantly put at ease when I met him. He was respectful, gentle, and clearly loved his son above all else—all good signs in my book.

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.

Rickshaw driver on a street in Rawalpindi, Pakistan

The first time I visited Rawalpindi, Pakistan with my ex, a seemingly kind taxi driver invited me to sit next to him even though there was space in the back—a very unusual request in Pakistan I later learned. He put a bag of food he was eating into my lap, then proceeded to finger my crotch while pretending to eat. A situation I could’ve avoided if I rejected his offer to sit by him in the first place… or if he learned to behave himself.

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.

Last year I spent a week at a homestay in Shaimak, a remote village in Tajikistan. The hostess? Golden (literally). Her son? A creep… but a necessary one.

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.

Local man at a lake in the Pamir Mountains of Eastern Tajikistan

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.


Imran in Nagar, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan in autumn

I first met Imran through Instagram. He always left particularly poignant or thoughtful comments on my posts, and we messaged from time to time. I ended up meeting him and his wife, Sumbal, to have chai and watch the sunset from the hills over Islamabad, Pakistan in 2018. Since then, I’ve met up with him on each of my visits to Pakistan, and we even traveled together with some friends for a week while enjoying autumn in the mountains last year.

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.

Screenshot of a random man sending multiple hello messages on Instagram

Nothing good ever comes of this.

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.

Male Couchsurfers tasting watermelon in Jazan, Saudi Arabia

I used Couchsurfing to meet up with local men (and one woman!) several times while traveling in Saudi Arabia. I made sure to only send messages to people who had at least 3 meaningful reviews (as in, something more than “He was nice” or “he showed me around”) from other travelers. Bonus points if the reviewers were women!

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?

Homestay family in Misgar, Pakistan

When visiting the remote village of Misgar, Pakistan, this kind local family offered me a place to stay. My original intention was to stay for several days, but that night, one of their sons tried to make moves on me. Rather than try to awkwardly avoid interacting with him for days, I decided to leave after one night. Everyone was disappointed and I felt bad for letting them down, but that’s what I needed to do to feel comfortable.

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!


How can female travelers tell who they can trust and who might be unsafe? How to avoid harassment and meet locals who will keep you safe? Here's a guide from a solo female traveler who's dealt with men—good and bad—all over the world.


Alex Reynolds profile picture

Alex Reynolds

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

More about Alex

43 thoughts on “Trust as a female traveler: my creep radar, explained

    Dee says:

    Thank you for this post, Alex!

    The part about trusting yourself is important. As well as doing what makes you comfortable. I’m a solo female traveler from and living in India (who grew up in the Middle East) and I only go to people’s homes etc with groups of women or families. And always trust my radar. Perhaps my trust barrier is very high because I’ve grown up in a society with a high degree of harassment.

    I get told that I’m missing out on real experiences, and maybe I am. But honestly, the level of stress I get from moving into a “red alert” situation is not worth it. It’s OK to travel the way that feels right to you, we women shouldn’t feel any pressure to “be authentic”.

    No problem, Dee! Only going with families or groups of women is definitely a good idea. A high trust barrier is a good thing—I think a lot of problems arise when women arrive from countries with different kinds of harassment and don’t know where to set their standards for trust in the foreign country. Makes it easier for men to take advantage. (Not blaming women, though—it’s still men’s fault most of the time.) Missing out on experiences doesn’t have to be a bad thing—think about all the harassment you’ve probably “missed out on” because you’re cautious!

    The Wanderlust Rose says:

    Very interesting post! I haven’t encountered too many creeps abroad but the few I have encountered, certainly made my travel experience at the time a lot less fun! Gotta keep trusting my instinct!

    Instinct exists for a reason! I’m glad you haven’t had too many unsavory encounters, I hope it stays that way 🙂

    Ana Faria says:

    I want to show this post to anyone who asks me about traveling solo as a woman. For me, knowing the “normal” level of interaction between men and women in a country is one of the most important things. In certain countries, if a man touches me, even if it’s on my arm, I immediately let him know it’s not ok. Because I know in this country he is not supposed to do it. Sometimes establishing strict (even if friendly) borders straight away saves me a lot of bother in the end. But there’s the ones that come out of nowhere. I met a man in Iran who after introducing me to his whole (lovely) family, who invited me for lunch with them, and everything, and then started asking me if I had sex with my friends (after lunch, when we were alone, outside). I picked up my bicycle and just left without saying a word. He had totally escaped my radar.

    Absolutely. I see it so often—men getting away with flirtatious things because female travelers don’t yet know about cultural norms in the destination. Unfortunately it’s hard to know what exactly is and isn’t okay, those lines can be blurry sometimes.

    I’m sorry that happened to you in Iran. Can relate. No matter how honed your instincts are, there’s always men who are so conniving that it’s hard to expect it—I think part of it is us wanting so badly to be able to actually trust people. Sigh.

    Abhilasha Purwar says:

    “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.”

    Not just travel, women have been discouraged to build companies, to play sports, to write books, to become journalists, to study higher for reasons like “but what if you don’t find someone to marry”, “but what if someone rapes you”, “but what if someone makes advances to you”, but what if.

    We as a gender and as person, are the only one standing between taking control of our lives and living it despite any bad experiences that come along the way, or succumbing to “what ifs”

    Sort of? I think it’s unfair to say all the onus is on women to change. Male-dominated society as a whole is an obstacle; it’s just that the individual has the most power to make a change in her own life.

    Jov says:

    I am not a frequent Blog reader. and accidently happened to land in your blog. Great job done!!! Have already listed out my female friends/ sisters with whom i need to share you blog details.
    Best of luck and hoping to read more from you…

    Aw, thank you! That’s what I love to hear 🙂 Yes, more will be a-comin’!

    Aamina says:

    Loved this blog post. You’ve actually articulated an answer for me. I am asked the question “how and when do you trust?” often enough and not only in the context of travel. You explained brilliantly what following one’s gut feeling/instincts means. Im sure this one will help many current and prospective female solo travellers.

    Thanks Aamina! Yes, it’s something many women know, but have trouble explaining (myself included). Funny how we can have such a complex judgement system but not have any idea how it works 😛

    Mahzabin Zannat says:

    Even a moment before I landed on this blog, I was so devastated reading two posts of yesterday where one woman got assaulted in a car of locally famous ride provider and one junior of my college got molested in a park where I go for jogging regularly. I was so shocked that I uninstalled the app from my phone right away never to go to the park ever again.
    And after reading the blog and your experiences gave hope that after giving oneself some days I should not dwell things on to my own mental peace. Maybe I won’t be able to hire car and get in it alone from that ride provider again but I will go to that park because that has been my happy place for so long.
    Thank you Alex
    Love you and your way of expressing yourself.

    Thanks Mahzabin. And bah, that’s both sad and frustrating to hear about the two women. Did the ride provider respond? Harassment is (horribly) common in ride shares, but I find it reassuring if the provider responds quickly and fires the driver. I’ve had issues with drivers in the past, but the really bad ones were reported and dismissed, and I don’t mind using the apps still—they’re so convenient! I hope that you don’t let men stop you from visiting that park, we all need more greenery and fresh air in our lives. Especially now.

    roon says:

    Very well written Alex. A condensed version of all of your experiences. As a man, I can add that creeps can be a problem for men as well. I have thumbed a lift once where the other guy started screaming “and then I killed them all”. I was scared shitless… jumped off the moving bike! In my college days I come across a guy who wanted to drive to the side road and give me “pleasure”. I had to be aggressive to get out of the situation.

    So yeah, deciding who to trust in your travels is a critical skill.

    Uff, I’m sorry that happened to you Haroon! That’s scary as hell (also, killed what?!). Yes, it’s true things happen to men as well. I always think back to two young American men I met in India during Holi – they’d just arrived recently, but were hiding on the guesthouse rooftop in their underwear instead of celebrating. When I asked why, it turned out they’d been dancing with a group of men who suddenly ripped both of their pants off!

    Yannis from Hide In My Suitcase says:

    Trust is such a complex matter in general, when it comes to travel!
    Luckily, the more you travel the less likely it is to get scammed/harassed/you name it. But, as you said, it’s pretty much unavoidable.
    I still regret the amount of people I overtrusted, when (looking back) I had the cues to predict it. And the amount I was distant and mistrusting with, when they had the best intentions.
    You said something 100% true and accurate though, which made me feel a bit better: “We can’t be vigilant all the time”.

    PS I do enjoy your Belgium Instagram stories a lot!

    Too true, on all counts. It’s cliche as hell, but hindsight really is 20/20. And the people you feel bad for being distant with might have been creeps for all you know 😛 I like to think that the decent people understand why we have to be so cautious.

    Thanks about the Belgium stories! I always feel like they’re a bit dull in comparison to other travels… but the country is undeniably beautiful 🙂

    Amanda Dickey says:

    Hey Alex! This is such an important topic and you executed it perfectly (though no surprise there!). I’m wondering about the instance in Misgar, Pakistan when you had to leave early because of a(nother) creepy son… did you tell the others that was why? I honestly don’t know if I would have – just curious if you did.
    Thank you! Xx

    Cheers Amanda! No, I didn’t tell the family that was why I was leaving. I was 1. worried they wouldn’t believe me and 2. felt bad saying so as they’d been so kind and hospitable. They also were hoping to open a guesthouse that I’d gladly patronize (the son wasn’t to be a full time worker… I think) so I didn’t want to burn any bridges.

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