Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad  FacebookTwitterGoogle+  
As seen in the Transitions Abroad Webzine July 2008 Issue
Related Topics
Solo Women Travel
More by Beth Whitman
Dangerous Destinations and Women: Myth or Reality?
Solo Woman Travel in Oaxaca, Mexico: A Bit of Paranoia Never Hurt Anyone
For Women Traveling in India: Preparing for Safe and Culturallly Respectful Immersion
Health on the Road for Women
Finding Inner Strength While Traveling as a Solo Woman

Safety Tips for Solo Women Travelers

Perhaps you have always longed to travel down the Yangtze River, visit the museums of Paris or backpack through Australia’s outback, but you haven’t managed to convince your significant other, family members or friends that this is the trip for them.

These same people may have convinced you that traveling on your own is unsafe, therefore you’ve put off your life’s dream waiting for the right travel partner. The truth is that a woman journeying on her own does need to take a few extra precautions, but adhering to the following advice can result in rewarding and trouble-free travel.

Baggage

Before you set out, consider what luggage you will carry, what day bag you will use and how you will keep your important personal belongs (passport, money, camera, etc.) safe.

Pack all of your belongings in a combination roll aboard/backpack. A 22” (or smaller) bag can be used as a carry-on and has plenty of room for even the longest of getaways. This type of bag can be quickly strapped on your back if you are walking up stairs or along a cobble-stone street, or if you need to quickly get out of a sticky situation. It then easily converts into rolling luggage as you make your way through an airport or hotel lobby.

Traveling light is not only easier, but it’s safer, than carrying multiple heavy bags.

For daily use, carry a day bag, such as one from PacSafe, which includes slash proof panels and slash proof strap. This will prevent it from being sliced open and the contents stolen or the strap being cut while it hangs over your head and across your shoulder. Considered your one “personal item” in-flight, these are small enough to fit under the seat in front of you on a plane but large enough to hold a guidebook, journal, water bottle and camera.

Your passport and cash are going to be the most important items you take with you during your travels. Keep these in a neck pouch or money belt, both of which should be worn under your clothes. A thief will have little chance at snatching either one of these from you. Alternately, try wearing a leg pouch (which uses Velcro to attach around your calf), though these can be bulky if you’re carrying a lot of currency.

Sexual Harassment

It may be difficult to completely escape one form or another of sexual harassment but the degree varies depending on the country or city you’re visiting. Italian men are more notorious for it than Japanese men, for example, but even then they may “only” taunt you verbally. You can minimize any type of harassment in several ways.

Don’t make eye contact with men. While those of us in the Western world have been taught that it is polite to look someone in the eye when having a conversation, in many cultures, this may be seen as provocative. Similarly, making small talk with your waiter, hotel manager or taxi driver can be seen as you having a special interest in him. While you don’t want to avoid all conversations with men, understanding the culture you’re visiting and acting appropriately, will serve you well.

Dress conservatively. Western women are often portrayed in movies and on television as loose and reckless. Don’t let yourself be mistaken for an easy gal by dressing provocatively. Follow the lead of the local women and cover up the appropriate amount of skin based on what they are wearing.

Avoid dangerous situations altogether. It’s all too easy to find yourself walking down an empty street at night after taking a wrong turn or accidentally mentioning to someone that you’re traveling on your own within earshot of eavesdroppers. The best way to avoid harassment is to not get yourself into a potentially dangerous situation in the first place. Share taxis when possible, ask a hotel staff person to walk you to your car at night and trust your gut instinct if a situation doesn’t seem right.

Align yourself with other women. If you’re on a bus or train, sit next to women and when you’re walking down a street and sense danger, walk with (or near) another woman or group of women (and men).

While on public transportation, if you’re only option is to stand, stay near the doors and keep your backside to a wall.

Say you’re married, whether you are or not. Most cultures don’t understand how a woman could be traveling alone. If you wear a wedding ring (fake, if need be) and have a photo of your betrothed, you can at least say that he is waiting for you in the next town or is joining you later. While those who are more persistent may not care, this is often enough to put off minor advances from an interested man.

Hotel

While you might consider your hotel room to be your safe haven, you’ll need to be on your guard even there.

When checking in to your hotel, never allow the desk clerk to speak your room number out loud. He or she should always provide it to you written down. Ask for another room if you suspect someone in the lobby has overheard your room number.

Get a room that’s close to the elevator. Though it may be a little noisier, you don’t want to find yourself stuck at the end of a long empty hallway. You’re less likely to be heard if you need to call for help.

Avoid letting anyone into your room. If someone does coming knocking, prior to opening the door, check through the peephole to determine who it is and call the front desk if you aren’t completely confident it is a hotel employee. If a man does need to enter (an air-conditioning repairman, for example), leave the door open while he’s there.

Grab a business card from the hotel on your way out and add the front desk’s phone number to your cell phone so you can call if you’re lost or need help.

Carry a rubber doorstop. Most hotel room doors open inwards. By placing a rubber door stop underneath the door, you ensure that no one can enter (with a key) if you are in the shower or sleeping. Not all hotel room doors have chains to keep out intruders.

Use a padlock. In many countries, a simple latch with a lock (provided by the hotel) on the outside of your door is all that prevents someone from breaking into your room when you’ve stepped out for the day. Locking the door with your own padlock or combination lock will help ensure that no one can get into your room while you’re out.

Use a cable lock and zipper locks on your luggage. If you’re unable to use your own padlock on the door to keep out housekeeping or intruders, use a cable lock to secure your luggage to a piece of furniture in the room and then lock the zippers together using tiny locks. Casual thieves will be thwarted.

Utilize the safe in the room for valuables (mp3 player, travelers checks, etc.) if you’re able to create your own code for it.

When booking, stay at a small hotel rather than a large one. It will be easier for the hotel staff to identify you (or those who don’t belong) as well as befriend you.

Choose a hotel that is on a street in a safe neighborhood. All it should take is a little research online or in a guidebook to give you an idea of how safe the area of town is where the hotel is located. You could also call the hotel and ask a female staff person for her opinion.

Leave the “do no disturb” sign on your door. This will give the impression that you are in the room and discourage someone from breaking in. Call the front desk if/when you need the room cleaned rather than leaving the “please clean” sign out.

Out and About

While you’re out sightseeing, whether on foot or in a car, it’s best to not draw attention to yourself and to take a few extra precautions that you may not incorporate into your daily routine at home.

Leave the bling at home. Even cheap jewelry or a fake Rolex can catch the eye of someone eager to turn your jewelry into cash. It’s best to leave it at home rather than tempting a thief.

Don’t carry around large maps. Instead, figure out your route in advance or carry a small map that you can discreetly peek at while walking down the street or when you duck into a café or shop.

Don’t leave “tourist items” in plain view in your rental car. Slip maps and city guides under the seat and keep the rental agency information in the glove box.

Lock the car doors at all times, even when you’re driving. While some cars do have auto-locking systems when you excel past 10 or so miles per hour, most require that you lock the doors yourself. This tiny gesture could prevent a major occurrence.

All this is not meant to sound scary. Solo travel really IS safe (and fun!) but you have to remember that no one is there to watch your back, so you’ve got to watch your own. With a little practice, the above suggestions will be second nature to you and you’ll fully enjoy that amazing trip down the Yangtze.