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

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

    Lucila Sandoval says:

    This is a very comprehensive list, I think I go through the same thought process, but one thing that I’d add is that I definitely lean on local women to asses a situation, if a man is interacting with me in an odd way and a woman nearby gives us a second look I immediately assume that the creep radar is on, in a way it’s like a collective creep radar.

    Oooh that’s a really fantastic tip! Other women are definitely a fast way to get a read on a man—I’ve also had women shaking their head in warning at me from time to time if a man has bad intentions. Thank you for pointing this out!

    Beth says:

    I always get wary when people are strident about paying for stuff, especially meals and even more if there are drinks involved. Though sometimes there is a cultural component to consider, if me wanting to pay my share is a big deal then I’m wondering what they think they’re getting in return or whether they’re trying to get me drunk. Great post!

    Oh, definitely when drinks are involved. Drinks require extra caution – I’ll only take it if I saw someone pour it, and only accept a few unless I’m with other people who can watch out for me (I learned this lesson the hard way after being drugged in Thailand). Other kinds of payments… yeah, it’s a hard cultural call.

    Dale says:

    This is a great post! And I love your point that one bad experience doesn’t have to be the end of the journey. I’ve been fortunate not to have many bad experiences with creeps while traveling solo, but that’s honestly because I avoid interacting with men 95% of the time… and I don’t feel like I’ve missed out haha!

    Haha, you’re only missing out on men being difficult! But yes, I see often that someone has a bad experience and writes off the entire country/people/travel. Acknowledging the bad is important, but it doesn’t have to mean casting everything as negative.

    Devayani Pathak says:

    I agree with dee. Born and raised in India we do have a high barrier. But we are also taught to respect the elders and men our age can assault us but we are never told that men of the age of are grandparents are also potential threats. Men any age can take advantage of us in vulnerable situation. I was 18, on my first solo trip and on the first day. Like 4 hours into traveling a man in his 60-70s came up to me and talked to me about how he got a huge deal when I crossed paths with him while I entered the train. We chatted for a while, but my compartment got a little crowded so he asked if we could move to his. His was a 2nd class compartment. That should’ve been the first red flag. Actually there we so many red flags that I didn’t even realise because we were told our grandpa’s were the protectors. Soon after going to his compartment he started reading my palm, which meant direct permission of touching without me even realise what fetishes of this creep I was falling for. After a long time of telling me my future and making me sing in return, this f*cker tried to check my “tooth structure to understand my future better” and put hi finger in my mouth. RED FLAG, I FINALLY CAN SEE. So I started resisting and he said I felt uncomfortable because I was stressed and started massaging my leg. I froze, completely paralyzed. I didn’t know what to do. He grabbed my leg harder, put it on his leg, went all the way up. He started to get agressive and telling me how stubborn I was. That’s finally when I could react. I got up, pushed him away. My leg still shivering. I came back to my seat crying. The people in my compartment were already planning to search me because I was gone for almost an hour or two. When I came back crying, they asked me about what happened and if I wanted to file a complaint. I was too naive and scared and I wanted to travel more. I knew I lodged a complaint that meant a full stop to my travels. First day of solo and I was done. I said no. I DIDN’T GO TO THE POLICE. I regret this every single day of my life. I always think to myself what would’ve happened I fought back, slit his troat like in gone girl, kick him in his crotch, he was a rich man so may be stole all hi money and gold that he was ladden with. Done something. But I chose to do nothing. I couldn’t do it. If was the person I’ve become today I would probably done of those things. Probably, because we can never tell how we react until we are in that situation.
    I’ve gone too long with this. The point I was trying to make was, all men are possible harm. And gut feeling might also be based on the conditioning. I was conditioned to think grandpa’s are the protector.
    When in such situations, I think the major takeaway from my situation would be. Punch that mofo once you realise the situation. Lodge a complaint. Do something.
    On a lighter note.
    Great job on this blog Alex. I thought there would be some trust-your-instincts thing but it was well put and well structured.

    I got shivers reading that—I’m sorry that happened to you Devayani. F*ck that guy. It makes me mad that that happened to you on your first solo trip, too.

    You hit the nail on the head, though—it’s so hard to act in the moment and know what to do, experienced or not. Sometimes we just freeze. At least now you’re stronger, more experienced, and more confident, partially because of the creepy old fcker. Also, just… ugh. Men. Old men, too. They might not be as active, but older men are often so much sneakier or cleverer than younger men.

    If it makes you feel better, I think it was probably wise not to lodge a complaint in your case. Your whole trip would’ve been thrown off dealing with (sh*tty) police or bureaucrats who may or may not have believed you, and that’s not a fun first solo adventure. Men do need to be punished for their actions, but taking care of yourself is important, too.

    Chai Charsi (aka Imran) says:

    Such an informative and well written article. There are creeps in every culture and country I am sure and a solo female traveller should be prepared on how to handle them confidently. I am sure solo men travellers would face some challenges as well. I wonder if someone shared those with you

    Solo men have shared some struggles, yes! In my own experience, men often cited fear of being mugged/attacked in some way, as well as issues around people in some places trying to force women on them. I’m sure there are other struggles as well.

    sami says:

    very well written – tnks 4 sch A kool artikl

    Maja - Away With Maja says:

    I loved this post! Having encountered a fair number of creeps on my travels, my motto now is “you don’t owe anyone the benefit of the doubt.” Sure, that guy might *not* be dangerous or actually creepy, but if you feel uncomfortable… you don’t owe some rando anything – you don’t owe them a nice conversation or to stick around. Solo travel definitely helped me hone my gut instinct and I’ve learned to really trust myself and my intuition now!

    Yessss, too true, Maja! We owe nothing to people we don’t know… and even if you do know them, if someone is making you uncomfortable, you definitely don’t owe them anything.

    Devayani Pathak says:

    That too. Plus if I complaint that night I don’t think my mom and dad would ever let me travel alone.
    Yes! I was a little scared the rest of my trip, but i knew that couldn’t be the end of traveling for me. I’ve traveled so many time ever since and managed (successfully) in keeping creep out of the way. It took that incidence to tick off my alarm for creeps😉

    Devayani Pathak says:

    That too. Plus if I complaint that night I don’t think my mom and dad would ever let me travel alone.
    And yes! I was a little scared the rest of my trip, but i knew that couldn’t be the end of traveling for me. I’ve traveled so many time ever since and managed (successfully) in keeping creep out of the way. It took that incidence to tick off my alarm for creeps😉

    Hohju says:

    Backpack with Friends is the greatest and your travel trip must be full of adventure,joy etc.

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