10 Tips Female Travelers Need to Know About Safety

10 Tips Female Travelers Need to Know About Safety

Maaaaaaaaan, do we have some sketchy stories to tell about being females traveling abroad! Like most female travelers, we have found ourselves in some very uncomfortable situations. After all, in a country where not only is the language completely different but so are the culture and customs, we are bound to accidentally find ourselves in some questionable scenarios.

But hey, isn’t the strangeness and unfamiliarity all part of the attraction to travel? So we’re not going to stop traveling because of fear, are we? NO. Although some situations can somewhat be avoided, how can you be safe while traveling?

You can’t entirely guarantee that you will be safe and this applies whether you’re in your own backyard or someone else’s on the other side of the world – and I don’t mean that literally.

We’re trying to avoid actually being IN someone’s backyard, as in 6 feet under…

Pompei, Italy - Girls Gone Abroad
Pompei, Italy – Girls Gone Abroad

See how my my mind automatically goes straight to the morbid ending? I blame my mother for this. She refuses to keep a shovel in her trunk for fear it might be used to knock her out AND to dig the hole (true story).

However, the fact that my mind does acknowledge the possibility that something bad could happen is probably what has potentially saved me from some bad situations.

Here is me sharing some of my wisdom. Some of which I stole from Oprah.

1. Never let your guard down.

Just because you are blissfully frolicking through the fields of “somewhere city, somewhere country” doesn’t mean you won’t be a target for a sniper. Maybe this is drastic, but there is no such thing as a “I’m a tourist and therefore untouchable” cloak of safety that magically shrouds you when traveling. You don’t have to walk around with your face smeared with Vaseline and earrings taken out ready for a fight just don’t let your guard down.

You are a tourist and will be a target for something. This is the mindset you need to have.

2. Pretend to be married and that your husband is right around the corner.

*YES – HUSBAND even if you are a lesbian.

This means either wear a fake wedding ring or be ready to slip one onto the appropriate finger if you run into an awkward situation.

One of my many married stories. While walking on a very busy Istanbul street, I was followed by a man who suddenly appeared by my side and a little too close. Michelle was with me so I wasn’t even alone. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter if someone is with you.

As he asked me a series of questions, I could feel his hand slide up to the back of my arm. Quickly, I jerked my arm away from him and put my hands behind my back and moved a finger from my right hand over to my left ring finger. He was too busy talking and looking at my (covered) breasts to notice…

I quickly flashed my (newly) married hand in his face and I told him we were meeting my husband who is Turkish (I was making pointing gestures) who was waiting at the corner and to please go away before he got me into trouble. Worked instantly and he actually panicked a bit.

Wedding Ring - Girls Gone Abroad
Wedding Ring – Girls Gone Abroad

Side note: He actually did walk up to a man on the corner and started talking and pointing in our direction, but Michelle and I picked up our pace and got lost in the crowd. Also know as going into “stealth mode”.

3. Don’t be afraid to be rude.  

I learned this from Oprah.

Back in my teen days, my mom would always be watching Oprah around the time I got home from school. I would watch the show with her as this was our way of “bonding” and her way of “parenting”. See…back in those days, Oprah covered some informative and controversial topics and many times, those topics would trigger the start of many conversations.

On one particular show, Oprah was interviewing a woman who had been brutally beaten and raped. The victim talked about how something felt “off” about this person who showed up at her door asking to use her phone, but she didn’t want to be rude so he let him in against her “gut” feeling. Does this surprise you?

Think about how many times you just smiled and were polite as possible in an uncomfortable situation because you didn’t want to be viewed as rude or bitchy.

Side note: Back in my younger years, before cell phones, it was common for someone to knock at your door asking to use the phone.

Oprah talked about how women are conditioned to be nice and how we need to learn that being rude is okay.

Do NOT be afraid of being rude of even appearing to be rude- it could save your life.

4. Trust your intuition. 

Women have it. It’s a gift. If you feel like something is off, then it is. Don’t try to find an explanation for how you feel, just trust it. And see # 3 – don’t worry about being rude or feeling like you are crazy – just go with your intuition.

Check out this YouTube video by Gavin de Becker – The Gift of Fear.

5. Walk and stand like you have confidence. 

Walking straight, head up and with shoulders slightly back which not only helps to make your boobs look bigger, but also makes you appear like you have confidence.

Hey, I know you have confidence, but make sure it shows in your body language. Walk and stand like you own that place and that you will f&%# someone up if you need to.

Walk like a boss - Girls Gone Abroad
Walk like a boss – Girls Gone Abroad

*This also means you don’t walk while fidgeting with your smart phone. Especially because your eyes diverted down makes you a target and someone will stab you for that phone (not kidding).

Side note: If you are lost, find a safe location to check your phone or ask for directions preferably from a store owner or other employee. Not the dude on the street who could be a Ted Bundy copy cat killer. He’s either going to want money for helping you or he’s throwing you in his nearby vehicle.

And this should probably be a 5.5 or a new #6, but don’t ever allow yourself to be distracted by simple questions like someone asking for directions or asking for the time. Or any type of question that needs you to look down at your watch, phone, shoe? etc.

Something learned in Krav Maga – hold your phone up, look them in the eyes – take a pic of the person and happily give them the time from your phone and/or directions.

Here’s some cool stuff about Victim Selection posted on Protective Strategies, but before you click on that, read on.

6. Do not accept drinks from anyone, including women

One night, while at a popular club in London, I was approached by a few women who were super friendly. They poured on the compliments and asked where I was from and all those other standard questions. One girl tried to tell me she was from Kansas – yet she had a British accent. Go figure. They proceeded to escort me to the bar to “buy me a shot”.

Something definitely didn’t feel right and before I could even say “no,” my friend came up and very bluntly told them to “fuck off.” Suddenly, these women changed their demeanor and scurried off.

Bizarre. But my friend, a London local, explained that these “friendly” women are part of a sex trafficking ring who are paid to deliver drunk, preferably lesbian women to men. I’ll cover more of this in a future blog.

So please, do not accept drinks from anyone and be mindful of the quantity of booze you are drinking.

Drinking - London - Girls Gone Abroad
Mind the Drink – London – Girls Gone Abroad

7. Learn Krav Maga

My girlfriend introduced me to Krav Maga and out of all the self defense techniques I have studied, this is the best – by far. Krav Maga is the official hand to hand combat system of the Israeli Defense Forces. You are not taught just a series of moves that will help you win a tournament, you are taught usable moves and techniques for real life situations. It seriously is life (and body) changing.

Warning – this class is not for the dainty types. Only those serious about protecting themselves should join.

8. Know the culture and customs of the country you are visiting.

Come on ladies…do I even need to elaborate on this one? No brainer. Don’t get me wrong however. Not following a custom or culture is not an open invite for assault. Ever.

Blue Mosque - Istanbul - Girls Gone Abroad
Know the Culture – Istanbul – Girls Gone Abroad

9. Act.

One time, in Morocco, Michelle and I found ourselves in the back of a van. A tour van. See where your mind went?? Good, you’re learning.

So while in this van things got awkward. Intuition vibes were going and being rude was not going to work so plan C went into action. Which was me “answering” a phone call from a friend who was waiting for us. A future blog will go more into this – but the gist is, if you need to: act. Act like you have people waiting for you, like you’re a nut, act confident, act like you will slice a throat, if necessary. Throws them off, every time.

10. Share your plans and check in often. 

Just because you have wanderlust doesn’t mean you just up, leave and fully disconnect. Even if you are going on a solo – “find your mind” trip, share your plans and check in every so often even if it’s just on social media. Your family and friends should know where you are at all times.

Side note: Since the original writing of this post, I found a great app for planning your trip. It’s easy to share your itinerary and it’s free! Planapple.

Last but not least, don’t let your loved one read this because then they freak out and worry about you when you are traveling. Then you will be lectured about how you should not go to <insert country>.

But hey, you can’t blame them. They watched a LOT of Oprah.

Meanwhile, God forbid something happens to you, but if it does – it is NOT your fault. Nothing you did, wore or said gives consent or is an open invite for assault on any level. Report it and get help immediately.

Be safe and enjoy the world.

Confessions of a Female Solo Traveler

Confessions of a Female Solo Traveler

I’m in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by myself and I was just attacked. I followed all the “do’s” that I was supposed to…walked in a well lit area with plenty of pedestrians and cars and kept my eye out for anything strange. I saw him walking towards me and could tell he was inebriated beyond sense…but instead of choosing to cross the street (which I couldn’t have done given the traffic), I chose to walk cautiously pass him.

My gut was right. In the blink of an eye, he grabbed me by my shirt and tried to pull my sling bag off…jibberish came rushing out of my lungs and thankfully strangers came to my rescue. I was left with a bruise on my side, his spit on my face and a couple of cops to console me. This is now the second time I’ve been attacked abroad…and I was much luckier this time around.

Now, safely back at my hotel and a fifth of tequila, I’m wondering…what the hell am I doing here? Traveling solo was never something that I aspired to do.

But after years and years of dreaming about traveling, I finally had the resources – specifically money – to do it but couldn’t get calendars to work with my partner or friends that wanted to travel with me. I had to make a decision: continue to wait until someone could travel with me or do it on my own. I chose the latter because life is just too short to wait.

As an acknowledged introvert, I was pretty anxious about this decision and decided to start small. In 2009, I booked a trip to Seattle where I met up with friends then went solo to Vancouver for a few days. I pumped up the bass in my PT Cruiser rent-a-car and drove across the border, checked into my hotel and did exactly what I wanted to do each day. Whether it was sleeping in or walking in circles through Stanley Park in search of a mysterious totem pole…my agenda was 100% me.

I learned that it didn’t kill me to go to a club alone and I was not the wallflower I had feared I would be. I learned that asking strangers for help was okay and not a sign of incompetence. I learned that it wasn’t the end of the world if I was lost because I was capable of figuring things out on my own. And I think the most important realization I had was that it was indeed, okay for me to be selfish and focus strictly on me.

Since then, I’ve traveled solo all over Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia, North America and most recently booked a trip to Antarctica. It is liberating. Self-fulfilling. Intoxicating. Extraordinary. It’s pulled the extrovert out from inside of me. It has made me realize my limits and allowed me to meet amazing people across the globe. I’m still addicted even with this incident. And considering that I’ve traveled to more than 300 cities…twice attacked is actually less than the incidents that have occurred to me in my own home city.

But in moments like this, it does get fucking lonely.  I’m in unfamiliar territory and don’t speak the native language. And I could use a hug. Thank goodness for free apps like Whatsapp (A free messaging app that allows you to stay in touch with friends and family over wifi) and now that it’s been a few conversations with familiar people and a couple of drinks later…I know this will not be my last solo venture. As much as I love traveling with my partner or friends…traveling solo continues to open new facets within myself and I’m in love with the experience. So I’m starting to reminisce about other ways I’ve combated loneliness during previous trips…

  • Pretending I’m straight. Ok, I’m not proud of this but when you’re a solo female in a country that is primarily homophobic (and has laws against it), you’re not going to want to emit any rainbow rays. And if I can score a free drink and an ego boost, what’s the harm? But I only do this when I want to experience some night life and there’s no gay options…and I never get drunk because flirting with a guy or two at the bar is one thing…but you have to make sure you stay safe and guarded.
  • But, if I’m in a country where there are gay options and I’m single, one nighters can certainly keep a gal occupied for a night or two. It’s especially fun when you don’t speak the same language so you immediately don’t have to deal with any conversational miscues or having to pretend to care about what they do for a living etc…it’s just pure adulterated enjoyment.
  • Sitting at the bar at a restaurant is the best way to dine alone and if you’re lucky you can get some custom cocktails from the bartender and chat with your fellow solo diners…maybe even make a new friend.
  • Booking a tour at the beginning of the trip. Since I’m a foodie, I gravitate towards the food tours but general city tours will also work. In almost every tour I’ve booked, there’s always another solo traveler and it’s a great way to meet someone who may want to do other things in the city with you…and at the very least, share some encouraging stories to each other.
  • Always keeping a book handy. I love reading, but especially enjoy it when I travel. I’ll find a coffee shop or a good people watching venue…order a drink and sit back and relax. It’s great to overhear conversations too which sometimes leads to meeting new people.

Ok, enough reminiscing. I’m realizing that I don’t have to do these things that often because frankly, it’s rare that I feel lonely when traveling solo. The destination is my friend and the experiences are my connection…and it’s an endless parade of variety to keep me occupied. Because of this, every trip makes me feel like I’m getting closer to understanding who I really am…who I really want to be…and despite this blunder tonight, I know I’ll be okay. Sounds like a pretty damn good relationship to me. Now, I have the rest of this city to explore tomorrow because it’ll be a new and wonderful day. Good night.