No More Anxiety: 10 Safety Tips for Women Traveling Solo in Madrid, Spain
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
I enjoy doing many things alone, but traveling is not one of them. Give me a sketchbook, a Teflon pan, or my favorite pair of running shoes and I'm all but ecstatic to draw, cook, or go for a jog all on my own. (Yep, strong & independent woman here.)
Now, tell me I have to survive a chaotic airport, navigate public transportation in a language I don't speak, and stay safe from the *creeps*.... and that's just about enough to make me cry.
As luck would have it, I ended up alone in Madrid for a day. Actually, it wasn't all that bad.
In fact, it was exceptionally enjoyable.
If you're thinking of visiting Spain as a solo-traveler, here's some things that helped me.
I hope these tips will help you, too.
1. Educate (but don't over-educate) yourself
To say I felt anxious about being in Madrid alone would be a gross understatement.
I was terrified. I'm small (barely over 5 feet tall), female, American, scare easily, and don't speak Spanish. I thought that if anyone could be a target for criminal acts... it would be me. To try and ease my anxiety, I read. I thought information would help me feel prepared, but the more I read, the more nervous I felt.
If you'll be traveling solo in Spain, my first piece of advice is to learn enough info to qualm your fears, but not so much that you feed your little fear gremlins.
They'll only wreak havoc (as we all know thanks to '80s movies)
Think of a high school diploma—not a PhD.
Then, here's a few tips (not too many) that helped me. I hope they will help you, too.
2. Treat every city like a big, unfamiliar city
Don't walk alone at night
Avoid isolated areas
Be aware of your surroundings
Keep your belongings in sight
Don't flash your valuables or carry large sums of cash
Be conservative with sharing personal information with strangers
Don't be polite—it's more important to be safe.
Create boundaries to protect yourself. It is important. Using a firm voice doesn't make you rude; it keeps you safe. Use your body language, tone, and facial expressions to fend off any unwanted attention.
Remember, Taken is primarily a Hollywood nightmare and Amanda Knox's case was a rare occurrence. Women *rarely* get kidnapped or have horrible things happen to them while traveling. Many women travel safe and solo every year without incidents.
3. Protect stuff
Madrid is generally a very safe city for women travelers.
Pickpockets are probably the most common incident you could encounter. The metro line to and from the airport is a particularly targeted area. Make sure you lock your luggage and bags and have them in sight at all times. Keep nothing in your back pockets (easy grabs for pickpockets!)
If you have a backpack, hold it in front of you to prevent sneaky hands from digging into your bag behind your back. Cross-body bags will be more difficult to snatch than backpacks.
4. Sign up for STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program)
If you haven't heard of it already, then you need to enroll in STEP (it's free).
It is run by the U.S. Department of State. You'll get safety updates to your email if there is anything concerning in your travel area.
You can also follow the U.S. Department of State on Facebook.
I recommend exploring their website. You can learn about:
What to do in case of an emergency while oversees.
Before traveling, be aware of the U.S. Department of State's travel advisory levels.
Every country is ranked on a scale of 1 to 4. (Spain was a level 2 when I went.)
Exercise normal precautions
Exercise increased caution ( Spain is a Level 2 travel advisory due to increased terrorism in Europe over the past couple years and pickpocketing. See specific travel advisory information for Spain here and in the Spain Fact Sheet for information on U.S. relations with Spain.)
Do not travel
5. Your Embassy is your lighthouse
Hopefully, you'll never have to deal with an emergency while traveling, but if you do it's a good idea to be prepared. Know the location of your nearest embassy. If something happens, it will be a beacon of light to you. At the Embassy, you can seek out help to chart your course safely back to home. Keep this information on your person, not in your hotel room. (It won't be of much use to you there if you end up needing it).
U.S. Embassy Madrid Calle Serrano, 75 28006 Madrid, Spain Telephone:(34) 91 587 2200 Emergency after-hours telephone:(34) 91 587 2200
Ask to speak to the duty officer if you need emergency assistance outside business hours. Fax:(34) 91 587 2303 E-mail:email@example.com
6. What if my passport gets stolen?
A few more emergency-prep tips:
Keep important documents in a secured, password-protected electronic format that you could access from any computer. If your bag gets stolen (and even worse if your phone was in your bag...) then you'll want to access important documents.
(Pro Tip: Europe is full of cheap internet cafés. Easily access your info in a cinch).
I always make sure I have electronic copies of:
Credit cards & debit cards that I'll have with me while traveling
Copy of my passport & driver's license
Social Security card copy (if your passport gets stolen, you may want this)
Hotel confirmations & reservation numbers
Tickets to any events/ tours/ museums that I've pre-purchased
Phone numbers and email contacts for family and friends (because no one memorizes these any more. It's info likely saved in your phone... which might have been stolen or maybe you forgot it somewhere... cause that happens, too.)
Don't carry all this documentation on your person or in your bag. Make sure you can access it if needed, but don't make it easy for a pickpocket or hotel staff to get your sensitive information.
Have a back-up communication plan. If your phone gets stolen or lost, you'll need alternative communication. This can be through facebook (again, those internet cafés might come in handy).
7. Stay connected
Don't pay the ridiculous USA rates for international data. You can easily get a pre-paid SIM in Spain. I knew upon arriving in Spain that I didn't want to get lost, but I especially didn't want to get lost without cell-service. I also didn't want to pay $15 a day (boo, Verizon) for a week of service. Why would I spend over $100 on data plans when I could be spending that money on adventures?!?
In the airport you can purchase a SIM card with enough data for the entire week that will cost you €15. Just make sure your phone is unlocked or it won't work.
*BONUS* if you do this then you'll have just over $80 to spend on *funner* things than data.
Can I say, Helloooo Tapas.
Alternatively, I've heard of pocket WiFi devices like TEPPY, but i've never actually tried one. If you don't want to try and find a phone store, or if you want to have WiFi upon arrival, this option might be suitable for you. I went with the SIM option, though, because there are almost always phone stores at or close to the airport. Plus, it was cheaper.
Use your newfound phone service to stay connected with friends and family back home.
Make sure a friend or family member knows your itinerary and is checking in with you. Update your social media status often. Let family and friends know how you're doing and where you're at.
8. Be a Frazzled Packer
Okay, so I know we all love everything to have its place and have a *gorgeous* packing cubes for all our bits and bobs... but don't have 1 bag for all your precious documents!
This is one area where it pays to be a little scatter-brained.
If your bag gets lost, purse gets stolen, or you leave something behind on accident, you don't want to lose everything. I always like to divvy up my cash throughout my bags (a little here, a little there.) The great thing is... I often forget about all the places I've stashed the cash. Then, when I go on my next adventure, I randomly find money springing out of the most unexpected, random places. (Travel saving tip? Okay ... maybe not.)
I keep my passport separate from my other IDs. I also don't store these together with my cash or credit cards. It's bad enough to lose one of these things, but at least if you divvy them up you may not lose all of them.
9. Avoid looking too lost
This sounds dumb, because everyone is going to get lost. The key here is not to be the tourist holding open a map in the middle of a crowded plaza. This is like painting a bullseye on yourself for pickpockets. Instead, step into a shop to check your map or into a bathroom stall. Try to check your maps at your hotel or when you stop for a meal.
I always like to stand with my back against a wall, nestled in a corner if I can, while I look at something quickly on my phone.
10. Areas to avoid in Madrid
Use Safe Around to find out what areas to avoid and what to watch out for in the city. In Madrid avoid:
Plaza Mayor Area. You might not totally avoid this area, because ti's the oldest part of the town and near the Palacio Real and the Nuestra Señora de Almudena Cathedral, which are major tourist attractions. The key thing here is that this is a crowded area with lots of tourists, so there are pickpockets and bag-snatchers. Keep an eye on your belongings at all times if you choose to go here.
Puerta Del Sol & Santa Ana. This is the official center of Madrid. Pickpockets tend to work in groups here, especially during the day. Street performers may get angry and chase you if you try to take their pictures without paying them.
La Latina. Another area that you may not totally avoid because it has some of the best tapas bars in Madrid (and some fun flea markets). On Sunday the Rastro is a place where you can buy old clothes, antiques, and try street food. Just like Plaza Mayor, unfortunately, this is another heavily pickpocketed area. Be careful with your belongings if you chose to travel here.
Retiro Park. This Park is very safe during the day, but it is dangerous at night. There are also many pickpockets around this area as it is close to the Prado Museum--a popular tourist destination.
Lavapiès. This areas is a "no-go zone" as it is known for drug-dealers and prostitution. This area is not safe for tourists, especially at night.
To make your trip a little easier when traveling solo, book a hotel that offers a shuttle service to and from the airport. This will be pricier than an Airbnb or Hostel, but you'll know you're not taking any chances on safe locations or quality service. I've had my fair share of creepy ubers and taxi drivers...
You'll also avoid the metro line to and from the airport, which is laden with pickpockets.
I stayed at the Hotel Clement Barajas and it was absolutely lovely. It was 80 euro for my one night stay, which included transport to and from the Airport. Breakfast was also included. The staff were helpful, spoke English, provided me with maps, let me check-in early to my room, and helped me to book a seat on the shuttle. They made sure I had enough time to get to the airport and catch my flight. It can be super helpful to ask concierges about how early you should arrive at the airport prior to your flight. Don't assume it will take you 1 hour to get through security if it actually takes 3 hours. Every airport is different.
I found this place on my own. I selected it because of the shuttle service, breakfast, price, and there was also a metro stop just around the corner. I knew this would make it easy for me to get around the city with my multi-pass. When I got off the plane I simply used WhatsApp to phone the hotel and let them know I was ready for pick up. It was super easy and made traveling to Madrid a breeze.
It was awesome after a full day of walking and being out in the heat to come back to a clean, gorgeous room with a bath to soak my achy feet, put on a bathrobe and watch a chick flick. I think this was one of the best things I did before taking the LONG flight back home.
Hotel Clement Barajas
Avenida General 43, Madrid 28042
Tel: 00 (34) 917460330
Hotel is a 10 minute drive from the airport.
Pro Tip: Sometimes travelers just look for the cheapest deals. Sure, your Airbnb might be $50 a night, but what if it costs you $25 to get there and then buying breakfast will cost you another $10? Plus, it's outside the city center. You'll spend half of your time on public transport not actually seeing the city. Might as well go with the hotel. It's a better deal.
Don't get me wrong, I love Airbnb and its definitely the way to go sometimes. My point is that getting good deals isn't always about finding the cheapest price. Sometimes its about finding the best bundle of your wants and needs for a reasonable price and deciding what is most valuable to you—time, money, food, experiences, or comfort?
Traveling solo is doable (especially in Madrid).
All it requires is some safe planning and a little bit of guts.
I definitely don't think that solo-traveling is for everyone. I, myself, rarely travel alone. I like the comfort of having a companion and feeling secure.
That said, Madrid was a city that felt fairly safe with just enough risk to be an exciting adventure. I would definitely do this solo trip again. I feel more confident in traveling solo, and look forward to future adventures on my own.
I hope the above tips have inspired you to brave solo travel (even if it's not your thing).
Stay safe, and go see Spain! You'll absolutely love it.