Women Can and Should Travel the World, and Tips on How to Stay Safe!
By Viv Chapleo – WAVEJourney Editor/Co-Founder
Travel Tips: Female Solo Travel Safety
Life is full of risks, some worth taking, others necessary, and then there are the downright stupid ones that we may or may not live through (got plenty of those tales). Not travelling or trying something due to fear is a completely different story. But female solo travel safety is absolutely possible!
As an avid traveller for over 30 years (wow, where did the time go?) my trips have either been solo or with another female that enjoys the adventure of traipsing around the world just as much as I do. So I think that I’ve learned a bit of information on how to travel safely, be it at home or abroad.
Due to the recent brouhaha in the media regarding solo female travel (following the murder of the American woman in Turkey and the insulting comments from many suggesting that women should not leave home without their man, I thought it was time to make my own comments regarding safe ways to travel.
The problem around the world (including Canada and the USA) is not really about women travelling solo or with their female friends, it is about violence towards women. In my opinion, this is a much bigger issue and one that needs to be addressed and rectified on a global scale.
Understand the Culture and Customs of Different Countries
My Thoughts on the Subject:
Bad things happen to good people, everyday and in every place. You can just as easily be carjacked in your own sleepy small town in remote Oregon as you can be mugged on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain.
Although common sense isn’t so common anymore it is the number one thing that every woman should use in order to stay safe. Think about it – is it really a good idea to meet up with complete strangers on your own in an area or establishment you are not familiar with? No would be the right answer.
Women Can Travel Safely
Dodgy Travel Encounters – Thankfully I haven’t had that many dodgy travel encounters, but here is the short version of a few of my most memorable (feel free to call me stupid):
Solo: Hitchhiking in France and camping with a Portuguese guy that wanted me to sell flowers on the beach so we could save money to travel to China.
Solo: Being hugged and kissed by a creepy and greasy little Spaniard while walking on the Camino de Santiago.
Solo: Bus conductor on a long distance bus in Thailand harassed me endlessly during a trip to Hua Hin. Even the wedding ring I wore and telling him my husband would be meeting me at the bus weren’t much help.
Solo: Pervert on the nude beach of Hawaii’s North Shore (many thanks go to the really cute and naked guy that pretended to be my husband until the perv left).
Solo: Taking a wrong turn while walking in Vancouver, BC (my home city) and ending up on skid row – where a fight had broken out and the druggies were beating the &*%$ out of each other.
With a companion: Hitchhiking in New Zealand and being picked up and taken home by a 70-year-old woman that only wanted to talk about sex – slept with one eye open that night.
With a companion: Having a teenage boy in Naples, Italy get in my face, push me and shout something about Puttanesca (he wasn’t inviting me to dinner).
With a companion: Putting the boot to a Barbary Ape in Gibraltar after it attacked my companion and was dragging her to the ground.
With a companion: White water rafting trip gone wrong – lodged against a rock underwater and then being tossed through a series of Class 2 rapids (shaken, not stirred).
With a companion: Being held hostage in a cabin in the South African bush by rampaging Vervet monkeys in search of our food.
With a companion: Finding ourselves at the Barbes-Rochechouart metro in Paris. Let’s just say that this is one place everyone should definitely avoid; and we will certainly not get off at that stop EVER again!
The good news is that after visiting more than 30 countries, the (count-them-on-two-hands) dodgy moments I noted above are the worst I’ve experienced. And other than coming as close to dying on the rafting trip as I ever want to, the other events were just mildly annoying and have actually made for funny stories (after the fact).
Viv Takes a Hot Air Balloon Ride in South Africa
My Suggestions for Staying Safe as a Female Traveller:
If you want everything to be the same as it is at home, stay there! After all, isn’t part of the lure of travel the mystery of the unknown, a change from the sameness we experience every day and to experience different cultures?
Know what the local customs are for women and adhere to them. You are a visitor in a foreign land and should respect (even if you don’t agree) what are acceptable behavior, customs and dress. Do you know what the custom is regarding smiling or making eye contact with people in the country you are visiting? You should!
Don’t be afraid! The majority of people you meet are good people and happy to help a visitor in their town, city or country (such as the gentleman in Vienna, Austria that went far out of his way to walk us from the metro to the correct tram car).
Be wary! Not everyone has good intentions, and there are plenty of pickpockets, thieves and scammers around the world. Listen to your instincts. Have a plan for where you’re going. Don’t flaunt your valuables. Be very aware of your surroundings, who you are hanging with and watch what you are drinking (don’t get drunk with strangers) if you go to a club or bar.
Take the business card for the hotel or lodging at which you are staying. Sometimes it is worth springing the extra cash for a taxi in order to stay safe (or in the event you get on the wrong bus and have no idea where you ended up).
If your flight arrives at a new airport/city in the middle of the night, either find a hotel at the airport, have a transfer pre-arranged to take you to your accommodation, or stay in the airport until daylight and more people are taking the public transit option. It is probably not a good idea to get on a public bus or metro in the middle of the night when there aren’t many other travellers around.
Stay away from the gypsies! You will not win any of the games that the gypsies try to rope you into playing. The games are rigged and they have at least 5 other gypsies playing the scam with them. You will LOSE so don’t even stop and watch!
Beware of the pickpockets that work the crowd when street artists are performing. Just because 30+ people stopped to watch a performance doesn’t mean you should. That just means that there will be plenty of picking going on by the pickpockets.
If somebody bumps you on the street, they are either picking your pocket, distracting you from somebody else picking your pocket, or marking you for the pickpocket. Watch where you are walking and who is getting close to you. If you are bumped or tapped, you’ve probably been marked and need to be aware of what happens next. Keep in mind that pickpockets are not out to hurt you, they just want your stuff.
Picking your destination – is it known for violence against women or are women well respected? There are simply some countries I would not travel to unless I was in a group. There are also some countries that I just wouldn’t travel to at all because they are not safe for anyone. Do your research and choose wisely. For current information check the US Government Travel Advisory section.
Be prepared to explore a new destination! I totally get a high from wandering around a new city without any specific agenda. Discovering something unique and interesting with every step I take makes me giddy. But, before I step out into that new city I have looked at a map, planned to visit a particular area and know which areas are best to avoid (both in daylight and at night).
If you choose boutique-style hotels, guesthouses, and bed-and-breakfast accommodations you will be able to experience a much more local atmosphere. You will also have the advantage of conversing with locals and obtaining valuable travel safety tips and recommendations for the area. Be sure that when you book lodging that you know if the area is safe or on the dodgy side. Sometimes it is better to spend a little more to stay in a better area.
Viv Finds the Magic in Travel!
Find the Magic in Travel:
Travel is a life-changing, inspiring and magical thing to experience. The joy, compassion, fulfillment, enlightenment, excitement and new friendships that I have been rewarded with over my three decades of travel have shaped me and greatly influenced who I am. Travel is my greatest passion. I know that who I will become in the future will also be impacted by my travel and the adventures that lie ahead.
Women-Only Group Trips and Tours
The Bottom Line:
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to the issue of women travelling safely. Women can and should travel, and doing it in a safe manner is certainly possible. But if you really aren’t secure in your abilities to travel safely or doubt that you’ll enjoy travelling solo or with another female, consider taking a women-only tour. There are thousands of such tours available which allow you the opportunity to let somebody else take all the stress away by doing the planning and logistics, plus you get to meet like-minded women that may very well become lifelong friends.
Happy and Safe Travels!
Note: This is by no means a comprehensive list of travel safety tips, but rather, a few of my top recommendations. You are welcome and encouraged to add your suggestions below in the comments.
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