:: Travel Tip
Travel Safe, Travel Smart

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Some of the most memorable travel experiences stem from taking chances, trusting strangers and opening ourselves up to the world around us. However as women travelers, we must take into account the social and religious customs in the countries we're exploring, which may affect our safety and even our freedom as we travel through those regions.

As soon as we step off familiar turf, we may find ourselves guided by new sets of gender rules. For instance, in some countries, it may be uncommon -- if not unheard of -- for a woman to be traveling on her own or without the company of a man. Or it may be socially unacceptable for a woman to be outside alone at night. Many cultures also view Western women as promiscuous, "loose" and as easy sexual prey.

While we are busy exploring other cultures, we may also have to adapt how we dress, where we go, and to whom and how we speak. When you take your adventurous spirit on the road, keep these safety tips in mind.

Pre-Trip Preparation

More than anything else, it's vital for women travelers to be familiar with local customs before arriving in a new place. Read the "Women's Safety" section of your guidebook, pick up a copy of the Culture Smats book for the region you're headed.

Read books about women in your destination and find out what's required of you as a visitor --different clothes, attitude, bedtime? Talk to someone who comes from the country you're planning to visit, e.g. the woman who runs the Tibetan craft shop or the Thai restaurant down the street.

Prepare Your Reactions

Learn what to expect and how to prepare yourself so you aren't caught by surprise. Try visualization. Imagine the possible situations you could encounter and how you'd react. Being prepared mentally means you'll react instinctively if something does happen.

Learn the Language

Learning a few words in a local language can open more doors than a school fire alarm–or close doors before the fire starts. Before you leave home, on the plane to your destination, or in a local café soon after you arrive, make an effort to learn several key words and phrases in the local language. Simple phrases like "Leave me alone," "I am married," "My husband is coming," and "Help!" will help you fend off any unwanted attention. One of our fav is EarWormsLearning.

Dress the Part

Observe local women and make note of how they're dressed -- do they bare their arms and legs? Avoid dressing like a "Baywatch Babe" when you're walking down the street, sunbathing or running rapids in conservative cultures. If you do, you'll invite unwanted attention -- stares, comments, maybe even verbal or physical abuse -- and suggest that you're indifferent or insensitive to the local culture.

It's not necessary to go in full out native costume (except in certain Middle Eastern countries), but don't flaunt loose Western dress codes in places that don't adhere to them. Keep in mind that in countries like Thailand, local women typically swim fully clothed.

Act Confident

When you're in an unfamiliar place, act as if you know exactly where you are and where you're going. Appearing lost or confused can make you an easy target. If you need to look at a map, be discreet. Step into a shop or a hotel lobby, or sit down and have a coffee while you reorient yourself.

Travel Light

Don't carry so much luggage that it could compromise your safety. It's a good idea to keep at least one hand free at all times. If you're feeling weighted down by all your travel gear, mail something home or do some "spring cleaning."


Even inexpensive jewelry can attract attention (cubic zirconia and diamonds look awfully similar from a distance). Consider leaving your jewelry at home. In some countries, however, you may want to wear a cheap "wedding" ring to help deter unwanted male attention.


Be aware of your own non-verbal actions that may invite unwanted attention. A friendly gesture or casual touch that is acceptable in your own culture can be viewed as a come-on by others. In some cultures, even making eye contact with a man is taken as a sign that you want his company. Sunglasses can work wonders for keeping people at a distance.

If someone is harassing you, either get away from or confront the person. If necessary, you can always tell them you're meeting your husband in just a few minutes. Always be firm–not coy. In countries like India, public embarrassment and humiliation will almost always make people stop bothering you.

Take A Self-Defense Course

Many colleges, police stations and adult education centers offer basic self-defense courses that teach you how to handle threatening situations. It's better to rely on self-defense tactics-- audible or physical--than on a weapon, since the latter could be used against you. A high-pitched personal alarm may be helpful in some areas, but keep in mind that no one may take notice of it in the middle of a big, horn-honking city or deep in the rice fields or jungle.

Choose Your Accommodations

Ask to see the room before you take it. Do you see any peep holes? Does the door lock securely? Does it feel safe? Avoid rooms that seem too isolated. In a hotel, stick to floors 2 through 6. The first floor may be too easy to break into and fire hoses may not reach above the 6th floor. If you're alone in your hotel room or guesthouse, put on a TV or radio or talk to yourself to make it sound like there are more people with you.

Guard Your Room Key

Don't let strangers or acquaintances see your room key number, and don't tell everyone where you're staying. If someone is persistent about asking where you're staying, but be vague or say you don't remember the name of the place. If they try to guess, let them, but don't reveal it if they've guessed correctly.

Leave A Trace

Let someone you trust know your itinerary--the person running your guesthouse or hotel, or someone at home (a quick phone call, fax, postcard or e-mail will do). If you're going somewhere particularly offbeat, register with the local U.S. embassy and tell them your travel plans.

Make Alliances

Befriend trustworthy people around you, notably other women. In most cases, you'll find that women are more than willing to help.

Safe Travel

Try to avoid flying into an unfamiliar city at night. Many airports are located outside cities and public transportation to and from them are often quite infrequent at night. If you are coming into a foreign city late at night, make arrangements to stay the first night in the airport hotel to avoid long, disorienting taxi rides. Also, be especially careful riding buses and trains at night, anywhere you go.

Gigolos and Spiked Drinks

Wherever you are in the world, don't turn your back on a drink, especially in heavy tourist areas, whether it's Kuta, Bali or Newport, RI. Drugged drinks are becoming more common. Also, watch out for local gigolos, who prey on Western women for their money and/or sex.

Sex and Birth Control

Sometimes romances develop on the road. Always bring your own birth control, as it may not be available in the place you are traveling. Also, be wary of romances with local men for the reasons above. Some may be wonderful, while others may be taking advantage of your naivete about their culture or vulnerability.

Most importantly, though, trust your instincts and don't become overly paranoid. Traveling as a woman is much safer now than ever before. The world is waiting!

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