Every year, thousands of women around the world pack their bags and decide to travel to far-flung lands… alone. While traveling can be a daunting experience, it can seem even more intimidating for the solo female traveler. There are concerns about theft and assault, as well as concerns from family and friends back home about her physical safety.
The one basic rule to remember (even when not traveling) is to always keep your wits and common sense about you – and be confident in your ability to travel independently. Here are some tips on to help make your travels safe and enjoyable as a solo female traveler.
1. Feminine Hygiene & What to Pack
Feminine hygiene is never something to overlook whether at home or abroad. We all know that time of the month can be tricky, especially if you’re traveling around all day, so it’s best to prepare in advance. You may also not have easy access to feminine products or birth control while abroad so bring as much as possible.
In addition to the essential things everyone brings on a trip, here is a supplemental list of lady-specific things to pack:
- Feminine products – tampons, pads, panty liners, etc.
- Medication such as Aleve, Ibuprofen, or Pamprin – to help with intense menstrual cramps or other aches
- Cosmetics, razor, tweezers
- Small first aid kit
- Birth control pills or other contraceptive method
- Condoms – while birth control will help prevent unwanted pregnancy abroad, you still need to protect yourself from STDs. Be prepared and be safe!
2. Use Common Sense & Intuition
While this tip sounds obvious, the thrill and adventure associated with travel sometimes means that common sense seems to go out the window. Avoid walking down dark alleys, and certainly double think the idea of going home with a person you’ve just met, especially after you’ve had a few drinks (you may have your beer goggles on anyway when staring at that stranger). When something feels off or wrong, that’s your intuition telling you it probably is.
3. Preventative Measures
Prevention is the number one way to avoid undesirable or dangerous happenings. Some of these probably don’t need to be said as they would be ill-advised no matter where you are, but to those who may forget every once in a while.
- Don’t roam around alone at night or in a sketchy neighborhood
- Tuck your cash away in a safe place and don’t flash it around
- Leave expensive jewelry or accessories at home
- Don’t get sloppy drunk when out partying with new friends
- Don’t put yourself in a bad situation. If it feels wrong or makes you uncomfortable, trust your instincts and get out
- Avoid looking like a tourist
- Respect and abide by the local dress, behaviors and customs
- Don’t purposefully draw unwanted attention to yourself – this can also be a sign of disrespect
- No fanny packs, please
- Have copies of your important documents on hand in case of emergency – passport, credit/debit cards, driver’s license
- Keep these secret and in a secure place
- Use locks to prevent unwanted access to your belongings
- Don’t get into unlicensed taxis and getting into cars with strangers – take public transportation like a local
4. Practical Advice
If you’re still wary, there are plenty of additional things you can do to ease your mind.
- Wear a wedding ring – this will help divert unwanted male attention (though it definitely doesn’t always work)
- Meet up with a traveling buddy or two – you can travel together for a while or break off and do your own thing when you feel more comfortable
- Bring along a fake wallet in the unfortunate case that you are mugged
- Take a self-defense class – it doesn’t hurt to prepare for the worst, and it’ll probably be fun
- Research which parts of the city are potentially dangerous and should be avoided
- Write down the country’s emergency response phone numbers
5. Tips for Avoiding or Getting out of a Bad Situation
Even with all the preventative measures, there is still a slight chance that something will go awry. In the off chance that you find yourself near or within hazardous circumstances, regardless of where you are, there are things you can do to help yourself out of them.
- Anticipate problems and walk away if possible
- Quickly relocate to and stay in well-lit places with many people around
- Be aware of your surroundings and any suspicious or out-of-the-ordinary behavior
- If you’re being harassed, seek out help from local women
- Yell for help if necessary
6. Research Social Protocols
Every place you go will have its own social protocols. There will be different styles of dress, mannerisms, gestures and behaviors. Something that may seem completely fine at home is bound to be disrespectful or inappropriate in other parts of the world so it’s best to have a good idea of the local ways.
- Dress – you don’t necessarily have to dress ultraconservative, but know the general appropriate dress of the place (follow the locals!)
- Behavior and gestures – know that eye contact, a wave, and a friendly smile in some places can all be seen as disrespectful or an invitation
- Show respect and be polite, but maybe avoid being extra friendly as this may also appear as an invitation
7. Learn What to Expect from Men
Men can be very forward in different parts of the world so don’t expect to just walk by unnoticed whole time, and try not to take offense with every foreign compliment. That being said, be confident and don’t feel bad about turning them away. Below are a few generalizations to give you an idea of what you may encounter.
A smile or eye contact as an invitation to come over, chat you up, and be very persistent. Such persistence will take a few tries to dissuade but it can be done with confidence.
Italian men can be very forward in their attempts to impress especially American women, but this usually will only lead to annoyance.
Men in France can be surprisingly forward, giving you a little too much conversation, touching, and propositions. However, these again generally only lead to annoyance that will eventually subside.
German men are generally more standoffish when it comes to chatting up the next non-local women.
One of the safest and least threatening for women. You are more likely to be looked at out of curiosity rather than desire.
Women are seen as lesser citizens which may lead to harassment or disrespect from men.
Men and women in the Middle East tend to frequent different places so, when at a bar or café, check out the women-only venues to avoid unwelcome stares and offers from men.
8. Learn a Bit of the Language
Both men and women should certainly try to get on by learning some of the local language before arriving at a new place. It will be extremely helpful and aid in asking for directions, striking up a conversation and getting to know the locals. It is also a sign of respect when you don’t just point and loudly talk in your native language. And, in the case of safety (so you’re not sticking out like a tourist), this can be invariably helpful.
When traveling to a foreign place, simply put, it’s all about being respectful of the people and the culture, and to use your common sense – whether you’re male or female. Have fun and don’t let being female hold you back from exploring the world – it’s an extremely fun, awesome and enlightening experience.