Around the World: Safety Tips For Women Traveling Solo
The U.S. State Department reports that more and more Americans travel abroad every year, and that the fastest growing group within that ever-increasing population of touring Americans is women traveling alone.
Whether traveling on vacation or for business, women are venturing solo into the great wide world. And, unfortunately, they often come home with reports of unpleasant and sometimes threatening experiences.
Women who go solo encounter travel hassles more frequently than solo men do, especially in Middle Eastern countries and other parts of the world where prevailing cultures still have double standards for women and men.
Despite current #MeToo and Times Up movements that advocate for equal rights and opportunities for women, every country and culture has its deeply established notions about how women should behave. Whether you agree with prevailing attitudes and customs or not, you should follow the local social rules at your destination, Your journey will be more pleasant, you will feel more secure and actually be safer during your stay.
You might decide to avoid places that restrict you in ways you find objectionable. Unless, that is, there’s a site of particular interest at the destination, or you want to attend a special event, or explore what a culture that’s vastly different from your own is like.
Or your work might require you to go to a destination where you have to deal with double standards.
Be prepared to show respect for local culture by following standards it sets. If you violate local custom, consequences can be extreme. For example, women can actually be arrested and detained for improper dress in Saudi Arabia, and in Laos, you’re vulnerable to criminal charges if you invite a Lao citizen of the opposite sex to come to your hotel
Room, even if it’s a business acquaintance and you have no illicit intentions whatsoever.
To get an accurate idea of what’s seen as acceptable behavior for a woman traveling alone in a specific country, check U.S. State Department Bulletins, or call the Foreign Desk that handles the area for a rundown of what you should avoid.
The Department of State also issues travel advisories about unrest and unusual criminal activities in any given country and these, too, must be given serious consideration before you, the single women, sets off for an adventure.
Additionally, there are several simple common sense tips to follow to make your solo travels safer and hassle-free, especially for women.
Make sure your passport and visas are all in order, and are valid for the entire duration of your stay. If you need a new passport or visas, apply for them several months in advance of your trip.
If you need proof of immunization, make sure you’ve had your shots and received documentation from your physician well in advance of your trip.
If you’re planning to drive while you’re abroad, make sure you’ve got a current driver’s license that is valid in all of the countries you’re visiting.
Leave pertinent information about your trip with a friend or relative at home. This should include your detailed itinerary, with the names, addresses, telephone numbers and internet addresses for every hotel or inn where you will be staying during your trip, along with the dates of your stay and confirmation or reservation locators.
You should also make photocopies of your passport identification page, your flight itinerary and ticket. Keep one copy with you, and give one copy to a friend or relative at home.
Do not carry valuables with you. Leave your jewelry and extra credit cards, checkbook, credit coupons, bank statements and other valuable items at home. Even costume jewelry can attract the attention of thieves who assume it’s real, and may be willing to hurt you while attempting to steal it. Or they might hurt you when they find out it’s not real. Either way, it’s safer to dress down.
Dress conservatively and inconspicuously, emulating local women, so you don’t stand out. Before packing, check what local women are wearing by browsing the internet. You don’t need to go to extremes. For example, it isn’t necessary for you to wear a burka or niqab in predominantly Muslim countries, but your attire should be conservative and modest. To avoid harassment, be particularly careful to avoid wearing what might be construed as provocative attire -- low necklines, short skirts or shorts, spike heels, for example. And don’t wear a lot of make up or an excessive amount of perfume that might attract unwanted attention.
Choose a hotel with good security. Request a room near the elevator, so you can avoid walking down deserted corridors. When you get to your room, check that the locks on the door and windows work well. Use your peephole before opening the door, and use the safely latch while you’re in the room. Also, during evening hours, leave a light and the television on even when you’re not in your room, and hang the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door.
Before touring the sights, ask for directions by public transportation or cab. If you don’t speak the local lingo, ask the concierge to write down your destination’s address and that of the hotel. Use this when giving instructions to a cabbie. This is particularly important in countries where other alphabets are used.
If you’re in a high crime area -- one where kidnappings occur, for example -- arrange for a cab recommended by the hotel, and ask the driver to wait for you or pick you up at a specific time.
If you’ve lost your way, ask a women with children for directions. Or enter a shop or restaurant and discreetly ask the proprietor for directions.
Look confident, stay alert and use common sense. If you think you’re being followed, step into a store or restaurant to see whether the person passes by or lingers outside waiting for you. Don’t be shy about asking someone to make sure everything is safe for you and if you’re not quite convinced it is, call your hotel for assistance.
Never drink with strangers, even if they seem perfectly nice and respectable.
Regarding medications you must bring with you, keep them in their labeled containers, safely locked up in your hotel, along with copies of your prescriptions for them. Carry enough to last longer than your trip, just in case you’re detained. And, know their generic names in case you need an additional supply from a local doctor.
Make sure your medical insurance covers your while you’re abroad. And that you’re covered for possible medical evacuation. If not, you should purchase supplemental traveler’s insurance for the duration of your trip.
Most of these tips are just common sense, but you’d be surprised how many women traveling alone don’t think of taking security measures. There’s no need to be paranoid, just be prepared.