There are certain major moments in a person’s life: your first kiss, first love, first time driving, first time moving out of your parents’ house, and—one that gets left out far too often—your first time moving into a place on your own.

Yes, your first time living alone is an exciting time. Finally, you can play whatever music you want, you have free reign of the TV all the time, and every day is naked day. You don’t know what freedom is until you’ve made dinner in your underwear, while drinking a glass of red wine and listening to some really bad band from the 90s that you’d normally deny even knowing exists. It’s as close to perfection as living can be.

But being alone has its weak points, too—and safety is one of the largest. Without roommates, you’re also without an extra pair of ears and eyes (and fists) to beware of intruders and give you good common-sense reminders when you need them. So, before you go solo, take a few extra steps to prepare yourself and keep yourself safe.

Check the Apartment

When you’re looking at your prospective solo apartment, make sure you check it out for safety. Obviously, your first stop is the door locks and handles. They should be strong and in working order—you want them to keep intruders out, but you don’t want them to leave you locked out your second night there because the door handle fell off into your hand (yes, this happened to me). You should also check on the locks to any other entrances. Do the windows have locks or bars if they’re over a fire escape or at ground level? If there’s a balcony, is that door secure?

Next, find out about any additional security features. Is there an alarm that will go off to let you know of an intruder, a fire, or carbon monoxide? If the apartment you’re looking at is in a apartment building, ask about building-wide security. Is the building locked to non-residents? Is there someone who mans the front desk or patrols the building?

Finally, consider where in the building your apartment is located. As a single woman living in NYC, I would opt against first floor apartments no matter how sturdy those window bars may be—I feel much safer having “height” as an additional obstacle to unwanted intruders.

Check the Surroundings

Once the apartment itself has gotten your OK, find out what you can about your future neighbors. If Law & Order taught me anything, it’s that sometimes that neighbor who’s kind of weird also may be kind of prone to breaking into apartments. A quick heart-to-heart with another current tenant—especially if she is a fellow woman living on her own—can be a great way to identify a place that’s safe to live versus one with a lot of red flags (or creepy neighbors).

Next, scope out the neighborhood—during the daytime and at night. If the area gets shady once the sun goes down, that in itself might be a good reason to put a pause on your plans. And don’t just check the block immediately surrounding your new place—make sure to investigate any areas you’ll be frequenting, like the route to the subway or grocery store. You don’t want to move into an apartment where you’re uncomfortable (or downright terrified) every time you step outside.

Check Yourself

Next, you want to make you—your actual self—safe. The number one way to improve your safety is simply to be aware of your surroundings, especially when walking around on your own. If you’re listening to The Cure in one ear and have the phone up to your other ear crying to your best friend about your bad day, you can look a bit like a moving target.

Also consider keeping pepper spray, a flashlight, and a whistle accessible at all times—at home and when you’re out. You may never have to use them, but at least you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you have them at your disposal. And whether or not it’s your idea of fun, taking a self-defense course is another good way to prepare yourself to step up to the plate in a dangerous situation.

Living alone can be exciting and even deliriously fun step in your life, but it isn’t something that should be taken lightly. Don’t skimp on the safety precautions—you want to enjoy that apartment of yours, so do yourself a favor and make sure you feel safe there.

Photo courtesy of Tulane Public Relations