There’s nothing more liberating than traveling on your own. Going where you want, when you want, and doing what you want to do, how you want to do it are incredible moments of discovery and self-empowerment. But when you’re a woman traveling alone, precautions need to be taken that groups or solo male travelers usually don’t have to worry about. So, after discussing the issue in depth with friends over the years, and doing a bit of reading online, here are a few things for our female friends to think about when they take the plunge.

First of all, it’s not as bad as you may think. While western media tends to play up the ‘dangers’ of exploring unknown cities and foreign cultures, the truth is that crime and intimidation can (and do) happen in any city, in any country, in any culture. Many of our friends who have commented on this topic in the past have said some of their scariest moments happened in their home city.

While female travelers do need to put up an extra level of caution in certain situations – waiting for trains, riding in taxis, walking home, etc – the basic common-sense tenets hold true most anywhere in the world. Be aware, don’t wander off down dark alleyways, don’t get drunk in strange places, don’t look at maps too often, don’t trust strangers, and do trust your instincts. Or – just do exactly what you would do at home!

Another thing you can do if taking longer trips is to make sure you use the transportation infrastructure to best effect. For instance, inquire about female-only travel options. Many countries offer women-only buses, trains, or boats – and if not, many will at least have special sections close to the conductor/driver/pilot. It also can’t hurt to call your embassy and give them a rough idea of where you’ll be and when, as well as copies of your important ID documents.

Also don’t forget to bring the right equipment. This goes for any traveler, actually – male or female – but it’s especially pertinent to women. Get a doorstop alarm and jam it under the door when you go to bed – if someone tries to push your door open, it’ll start screaming. A personal alarm does much the same, but you carry it with you. Some single travelers have also told us they wear a fake wedding ring when out and about, just to confuse potential troublemakers. You also can’t go wrong with a small, powerful flashlight, or a portable USB drive with all your documents copied on it – preferably password protected.

Another tip that should be followed by everyone regardless of gender is to know the area you’re staying in. Research the common scams, the ‘dangerous’ areas, and the ‘what not to do’ experiences of fellow travelers online. Taking it one step further, make sure you understand the local culture also. In many countries, gender equality is little more than a cute fairy tale, and a seemingly innocuous action, comment, or even fashion statement can be seen as offensive, irritating, or even as an invitation for those nearby.

Most importantly – take baby steps. If you’re a first-time traveler, don’t plan for a solo trip through the most remote parts of 10 remote countries. Most people are not born with travel skills; they’re learned over multiple trips, by listening to others, and through trial and error. It doesn’t matter where you go, but for your first solo adventure, take things slow and easy to learn the ropes. Traveling is a great learning experience, but when you’re a woman traveling alone, there are, unfortunately, a few extra precautions that must be taken.

All this being said, a scan through some of the many blogs and websites about solo female travel turns up very little bad news. These adventurous women are unanimously positive about the experience and actively encourage others to follow in their footsteps. But take it from us – once you get the travel bug, it’s hard to ignore it.