It’s not always easy being a woman. As much as we’d like to think that women travelers have the same freedoms as their male counterparts, this is not always the case. And as far as the feminist movement has come over the past decade, it remains true that women travelers need to take certain precautions while traveling abroad.
I traveled through Africa solo in my early twenties – much to my parents’ horror! – so I know firsthand that traveling can be an enormously fun and life-changing experience. I soon caught the travel bug and have rarely stayed home for longer than six months before jetting off again. It’s not difficult for women travelers to stay safe while traveling abroad, and many of these tips will be equally useful for male travelers. A little prior planning and foresight allow women travelers to experience more freedom and a level of spontaneity while abroad than ever before.
1. Keep Your Valuables On-Hand
Whether you’re a flashpacker who can travel for weeks with a single day pack’s worth of luggage, or whether you can’t leave home without your five-piece Samsonite luggage set, never let your valuables out of your sight. Your passport, cell phone, money, and travel documents need to stay as close to your body as possible, never in an overhead compartment of a plane or bus, and certainly never in checked baggage. A good way to make this process simple is to practice packing light – practicing piles vs. stuffing, and opting to go digital (music, books, etc.) to keep things light.
2. Blend In
Even if you plan on hitting every tourist hotspot imaginable, try not to look too much like a tourist. Do your best to blend in with the locals, especially in terms of fashion and cultural gestures. Do your research in advance to find out whether tank tops or sundresses will be appropriate at your destination: you may find that it’s customary to cover your shoulders and wear long slacks. If you look too much like a tourist, you’ll be easy prey for pickpockets.
3. Know Where You’re Going (Or Do a Good Job of Pretending To)
Confidence is vital for women travelers. When you walk with purpose and maintain good posture, you’ll give off an air that you know exactly where you’re going. This has nothing to do with being ladylike and everything to do with not becoming a victim, especially to pickpockets and scammers who target women travelers who look lost or alone. Even if you’re traveling solo, pretend you’re meeting a group of friends on the next corner.
4. Stay Accountable
Leave your travel itinerary with a trusted person back home, and promise to check in regularly. A quick email or Skype session from a public internet booth or Wi-Fi hotspot every second day will suffice to make sure that someone knows where you are and that you’re safe.
5. Dump Your Drink
This tip is no different for women travelers as it is for women in their hometown: if you need to leave your drink, even for a moment, dump it to escape drink spiking, and buy a fresh one instead. Anyone interested in spiking your drink will be able to do it in a fraction of the time you may think it would take, so don’t leave anything to chance. Keep your drink in your hand or within sight, or start fresh with a new one.
6. Prepare for Your Cell Phone to Die
When packing, assume that your cell phone will break or run out of charge at least once during your trip. With that in mind, pack a small notepad and pen to write directions, phone numbers, and addresses, and consider bringing a small travel alarm clock so you don’t miss a flight or transfer.
7. Write The Address of Your Accommodation on Small Cards
Print out a few small business card-sized copies of the address of your accommodation, and keep them in your purse. If you’re traveling to a non-English speaking country, write out the address in English as well as in the local language. It was much easier for me to hand over a card with the hotel’s address in Chinese characters to the Cantonese-speaking taxi driver in Hong Kong, rather than trying to communicate the address using pidgin English and arm gestures.
8. Keep Up Your Fitness
Vacation is usually the time to allow yourself the luxuries that you might otherwise be denied, but as a woman traveler, it’s important to stay fit and healthy while abroad. Get enough sleep, keep taking your vitamins, and don’t completely forego exercise while abroad. Your health and energy will be one of your greatest assets while traveling.
9. Remember Your Medications
Even if you’ve regularly taken medication for years, it’s very common for even long-held habits to disappear in a new environment. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to take any regular medications, or link your medications to another daily activity. I like to tie my contraceptive pill packet to my toothbrush handle so that I’m reminded twice a day.
10. Trust Your Instincts
As Anna Faris’s character said in Scary Movie 3, “Call it women’s intuition, or ESPN, or both, I can tell when danger’s near.” If something doesn’t feel quite right, it probably isn’t. If you’re getting negative vibes from someone, don’t pursue it. There are so many amazing things to experience and millions of people to meet in this world, it makes no sense to go against your gut instinct.