“Isn’t that dangerous?” This is the reaction from most people when they learn I’m traveling somewhere solo. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Bangkok or Boston, the thought that a woman could travel—especially on her own—and have a journey without incident is unfathomable to many.
The truth is that most women travel around the globe without incident. All it takes is a bit of situational awareness and a few precautions, and we can travel pretty much anywhere.
How could that be? Well, thieves and other criminals want to make a quick getaway. Therefore, they look for easy targets—opportunities where they can snatch a bag, reach into a purse, pick a pocket, and then dash away with little obstruction. The best possible tip for female travelers and anyone traveling abroad is don’t be an easy target.
This is a breeze if you follow some simple steps to prepare yourself. Because with that preparation comes confidence, and with confidence comes a relaxing, enjoyable trip.
Do your homework
There’s something to be said for spontaneity, for landing at a destination and not knowing a lot about the place, where you’re going to go, and what you’ll do. There’s definitely a thrill to that. But doing so means there’s less certainty for a safe trip.
Is it OK to go out at night? Can you trust the local taxi drivers? Is it common for the locals to see foreign women traveling? What’s the crime rate like in the country, city, or region you’re visiting? Knowing the answers to questions such as these can help you understand the culture in which you’re immersing yourself. The answers can easily be found on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum, where people living in (or just returning from) a destination regularly share information. You can also check out the Expedia Viewfinder blog’s compilation of common travel scams, and pick up some guidebooks on your desired destination at your local bookstore.
In addition to reading guidebooks, I start many of my trips by reading details about a country on the CIA’s World Factbook site. That might sound weird if you haven’t visited the site before, but it’s a treasure trove of information on other countries.
Guidebooks for research
Imagine walking through a bus or train station weighed down by multiple pieces of luggage, a purse, and a laptop bag. Now imagine doing so in a foreign country where you might be struggling to understand signs and directions.
With so much to keep track of, it would be easy enough for someone to grab one of your bags (or snap something out of a pocket) and make off with it pretty quickly.
Now imagine that same scenario where all you have is a carry-on roller bag and a backpack secured around your shoulders. You might be just as confused by the signs, but you’re not so much a target anymore, are you?
The right stuff
Consider carrying a purse, camera bag, and luggage with safety features. Pacsafe® has an entire line of products with slash-proof handles and zippers that lock into place.
Remember, thieves are looking for an easy target. Taking a few extra precautions will help divert them from seeing you as one.
Before booking your hotel, research the neighborhood in which you plan to stay. You’ll want to be in an area where you can walk around safely, perhaps where valet parking is available or a secure parking lot is nearby. There are plenty of online resources, including TripAdvisor, to find out how appropriate the area might be for female tourists.
You might feel safest in your hotel room, but even here you should take some simple precautions. Always keep your door locked (including a chain or deadbolt) when you’re in your room. Don’t open the door without confirming who’s knocking. If it’s room service that you didn’t order, call down to the front desk to confirm they’ve sent someone to the room.
Make good use of the room safe, and leave your valuables locked up. If the room doesn’t have a safe, you can usually leave valuables at the front desk.
Viewfinder Tip: Be sure to have both hard and electronic copies of your passport, driver’s license, insurance, and reservations in case of theft.
Change rooms if you’re not comfortable with the location (at the end of a long hallway, for example). It’s a common belief that the safest rooms are near the elevator, as someone is less likely to try any funny business if they think the elevator may open at any moment.
When checking in, make sure your room number isn’t read out loud by the front desk attendant. Anyone within earshot would then know which room you’re staying in. Hotel employees in North America are well trained in the practice of not saying your room number out loud, but that might not be the case abroad.
Have an attitude
Perhaps even more important than all the above is having the right attitude. What does that mean? It means bringing a level of confidence to your demeanor that you may not feel. You may be jet-lagged after a long flight or unsure of how to navigate a city’s public transportation system, but do your best not to convey your lack of confidence at a destination. Stand up straight. Look people in the eye and don’t bury your attention in your phone or in a large, unwieldy map without first being in a secure area. And finally, consider taking a course in self-defense if it will help boost your confidence and situational awareness.
What are your best tips for traveling safely?