All too often there are news headlines that remind us about the dangers that can face female travellers. Whilst of course women should not have to change their behaviour because of the actions of a criminal minority, if you wish to take extra precautions whilst travelling, we would like to share some tips.
Statistically, the three main incidents that are more likely to occur with women than men are: sexual harassment, sexual assault, and handbag theft. While there are plenty of safety rules that all travellers should follow, female travellers may face unique security situations while abroad. Security and health risks are highly variable and depend on the traveler, the destination and the activities. The following guidance is designed particularly to help prevent exposure to, or limit the impact of, the security and health risks that female travellers may encounter, though much of this information is useful regardless of gender.
Most tips for women travellers, and indeed all travellers, come down to one thing: common sense. For example don’t walk in strange areas after dark, lock your doors, don’t leave your valuables lying around, and be alert.
Do your research
Part of the travelling experience is paying attention and adapting to the local culture and the environment you are in. This means an awareness of local expectations and cultural values. Take time to learn about the values and customs of the country you’re visiting – it can be helpful to be aware of social norms, and how to fit into the culture.
Assumptions can be quite dangerous, and knowing some information about the destination can be very important. For example: An understanding of the basic geography of the city and potential trouble spots may be invaluable. Have any of your colleagues been there before, and can offer advice? Do you know where the office is located and what local contacts will be available to support you if needed? Will you have the chance to review the streets surrounding the hotel and the route to the office in daylight?
If practical, allow some time after you arrive in a new destination so you can get the lay of the land before your meeting or assignment begins.
Don’t be a target
Be aware of local attitudes toward women in the country in which you are travelling. Ask yourself whether women tend to wear concealing clothes? If so, it may help to minimise unwanted attention if you avoid wearing short shorts, low necklines or tight clothing. Travel experts generally recommend wearing long, loose-fitting clothes when travelling internationally.
In some cultures, a woman travelling alone is considered to be available. If you want to ward off unwanted advances, try wearing a fake wedding ring. It may be helpful to avoid eye contact with unknown men, as they may construe this as an invitation to approach you.
Know what to do in an emergency
Find out the local emergency services number and make sure you have a functioning mobile phone with you at all times. Leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or family member back home and be sure to check in regularly by phone or e-mail.
It’s also a good idea to register your presence with your home country’s embassy when you’re travelling internationally. Finally, when you leave your hotel, let the front desk know when you should be expected back.
If you are attacked, use caution when reporting the crime. In certain countries, police may not be sympathetic to female victims. Contact the Global Safety Operations Centre immediately, let your hotel or embassy advise you of the best course of action.
Experience can be a mitigating factor – it will affect confidence, and many experienced travelers may have found themselves in a variety of challenging situations, especially those who are on the road regularly.
A strong prior knowledge of the destination helps with selection of hotel, restaurants, etc. However be wary of overconfidence – seasoned travellers sometimes may pay less attention to advice and alerts since they can feel that they have “been there and done that.” Confidence and assertiveness are important characteristics. It’s about walking with purpose and avoiding overt expressions of confusion.
If you have a particular destination in mind, it can be a good idea to know the route you intend to take before you leave your hotel or office, so you don’t have to check a map while out on the street.
Try to stay calm if you find yourself in a situation where you are being harassed. Losing control lessens your power over the situation. The worst thing to do in a crisis is panic.
It’s not all bad
And finally – going abroad is usually a great experience – it’s not all doom and gloom. These precautions are not intended to scaremonger, or intimidate women who are travelling abroad. They’re just meant to provide some ideas, so you can enjoy your destination safely.