Women’s Travel Tips to Take to Heart
It’s a fact that women need to travel with a little special care; horror stories do exist and women, taught to have a care in life in general, can toss cares to the wind on vacation (like all travelers can) and lose that finely tuned caution edge that they keep honed on their own city streets.
Don’t let concerns stop you, though – just remember to follow the same basic street rules you would at home (or learn them)… and, in the words of veteran female traveler Zahara Heckscher, “Stay safe but don’t stay home!”.
Avoiding Travel Theft
Thieves often perceive females as easier targets for theft than men. After all, aren’t they the weaker sex? (Not!) The most obvious solution is sticking to the safer parts of town, but you’ll certainly miss adventure if you do.
- Carry a light
Consider avoiding deserted streets after dark; if you can’t, then carry a small, heavy flashlight in your hand. Be careful on dark streets even if you have a companion.
- Watch the crowd
Some thieves prefer crowded areas – stay alert in places like bus stations and during street celebrations, where you’re likely to be jostled — thieves use these circumstances to grab your stuff.
- Consider your undies
Muggers aren’t interested in your bra. Sew pockets into it where you can keep some folded cash; if you do get mugged, you’re not left helpless. A money belt works, too, but thieves know all about money belts (and would you really use one at home, or on the streets of New York or Chicago?). I also sometimes stash a couple of bigger bills in a sock after dark or anytime in some places, since I can be the world’s most careless person about cash in pockets.
- Don’t bring the bling
Avoid ostentatious jewelry; you could be injured if a thief yanks a bracelet from your wrist or a necklace from your throat.
- Let the bag go
Most experts say not to resist — let your bag go and then shout for help rather than risk assault. Opening your wallet and handing over your money may be enough for the thief and you can keep your bag — it also may make a thief think you’re reaching for a weapon. Better to hand over the bag.
Consider Your Attire
Dressing well can make a thief think you have mounds of moolah in your bag. And women’s dress can be a major issue in some developing countries. Remember that, until recently, Afghanistan women had to cover themselves from head to toe or risk legal repercussions. It’s already pretty clear that you’re a Westerner — avoid looking like a rich Westerner to avoid creepy kinds of attention.
- Dress like a local
Learn the local dress code as soon as you arrive; buy appropriate clothing locally if neccesary. In some countries, typical American young women’s attire like a shirt that shows your belly may be an offensive slap in the face to local women and an invitation for a come-on from the men. In Islamic countries, lay aside your own opinions and wear a head scarf – read more about clothing in Muslim countries.
Avoid Unwanted Guy Attention
You’re young, you’re on an adventure, and you may want some attention from that guy you’ve just met. Just don’t invite him back to your hotel room until you know he’s a safe guy — and remember that what you think is not okay may not be clear if you don’t speak the language.
Follow these tips to avoid unwanted attention.
- The oldest trick
Consider buying a cheap wedding ring, even if you’re a teenager. Especially in developing countries, a married woman is viewed as the property of another man and therefore off limits. Sounds silly, but it works.
- The eyes have it
You already know that in any country, prolonged eye contact with a man is an invitation to flirt. In some developing countries or some societies, any eye contact at all may be considered carte blanche to approach you. Eye contact also may be considered disrespectful in some countries and may invite aggressive behavior from strangers. Almost as annoying is that eye contact ensures street buskers will pester you. Talk with local women to learn the rules.
What to Do If Touched or Groped
- Say no
If you’re being groped or touched inappropriately in a crowd, know how to say, “Leave me alone!” loudly in the local language. In Spanish, for instance, learn these useful phrases:
- De’jeme sola! ( Leave me alone! )
- Vayase! (Go away!)
- Socorro! ( Help! )
- Llama a la policia! [ Call the police! )
- Blast ’em if you must
Carry pepper spray in case of assault. Consider reporting this — after all, you’ve just assaulted someone in the literal sense. Check in with the local embassy as soon as possible and let someone know what happened — it’s not always in your best interests to go to the police in some countries.
- Remember to run
Always be ready to run like the wind (no high heels on deserted streets at night!).
What to Do If You’re Being Assaulted
If you think you’re going to be raped, a surprisingly effective tip from women travelers is to pretend you’re going to vomit in the man’s face – although a knee to the family jewels is sure to work, it may be grounds for arresting YOU for assault in some developing countries.
- If you’ve been raped
It’s not your fault. It’s a crime, but it can be treated weirdly by some.
If you are raped, head for your hotel or a hospital to ask for help — the police station may not be the best place to go, depending on your location. If you’re raped by a member of your traveling group, grab a cab and head straight to the hospital.
Don’t shower or douche before you get to the hospital. You may destroy evidence.
Women Traveler’s Safety: Bottom Line
Look and act confident. Be alert. Use common sense. Always stride along like you know where you’re going. Don’t slink, glancing furtively around you.
Don’t let all this scare you away from international travel – you’ll doubtless be perfectly safe. Being young and female is great – enjoy it!