I have done a few stupid things traveling around the world. Not that I am a naïve traveler or that trouble necessarily finds me. Some events are unavoidable. And others? Well, they were simply stupid, or not researched thoroughly. There is that old saying that God takes care of fools, drunks, and children (or something like that). I have been a couple of the aforementioned. I suppose for many travelers, like me, being outside your comfort zone can actually make you less cautious. Maybe because the voyage is a new adventure and you don’t want to miss anything? Or even the fact that you wouldn’t know if a place/situation is actually dangerous? Ladies, here’s my shortlist of suggestions to help add a little caution to your travels and avoid challenging situations.
Take a self-defense class before you go. It is always good to know the best technique to gouge out eyes or properly target the vulnerable groin of your potential attacker. Most every community has classes available – Check with our local community college, gym or YMCA. It is worth the investment to know a few tactics. Even if you never have to use them it will give you more confidence.
Never, ever, ever, ever, hang your purse at a bar/restaurant on the back of your chair or even set it down at your feet. This is the oldest trick and one of the easiest feats for purse thieves: One distracts, one grabs and goes. It happens in milliseconds and you are screwed without your cash, credit card, ID, camera, phone, favorite lipstick….oh, it gives me that sinking sensation in my stomach just thinking of it! Keep every zipper zipped and your hand on your bag when walking, touring, etc. I learned the hard way how easy it is for a seasoned thief to slip a hand into your closed bag in a crowded area and evaporate before you can even turn your head.
Dress appropriately for the culture. Read up before you go. It might be inappropriate to show your shoulders or your legs – or even your hair. And then you could end up in the hands of the authorities while they chase you down and yell at you to put on a pair of long pants. Trust me; it is not a fun way to tour a temple. There are places you might be mistaken for a woman in the sex trade simply for wearing a miniskirt, plunging neckline or high heels. The key is to blend in as best you can. Looking like a tourist always makes you an easier target for assault. I try to carve out a little time early in the trip for buying a couple of native outfits. Typically, local sales ladies love to dress you in their attire, so make it part of the travel adventure.
Do not wear flashy jewelry. I have seen women on trips to poverty-stricken areas dripping in jewels worth more than some people make in a LIFETIME. Not only does it make people in that culture uncomfortable about world financial inequalities, it makes you a prime target for a jewelry heist of epic proportions.
Always lock the doors and windows when you are away or sleeping. I know the waves of the ocean sound amazing, but a hearing pirate whispering “surrender your booty” with a knife at your neck might put a damper on your oceanside adventure.
If you are taking a taxi or tuk-tuk alone (not every place has Uber), take a photo of their vehicle license or certification and then take a photo of the driver’s face. Tell them you are sending it to your tour guide or hotel manager or friend back at your room (even if you are not actually doing so – make it appear as if you are). If they do not allow you to take photos, there might be something amiss. Grab another vehicle.
If you are traveling overnight by rail, book the entire sleeper cabin. This is a fantastic way to avoid old snoring and farting men annoyed at your presence in their domain or any man leering at you waiting for you to slip into some sort of sexy lingerie fantasy. Trust me, you will not get any sleep as you clutch the covers and your belongings.
Leave a light or TV/music on if you leave in the evening. It gives the appearance that someone is “home”. It may not completely avoid a robbery, but it can certainly deter someone. If your hotel/rental has the energy saver key card switch at the door, usually another type of card will fit into it to keep the electricity on.
If you are meeting up with a social media or dating site acquaintance, be sure you have done your research and have a real address/phone number for them. Tell a friend or family member about them prior to the meetup. If possible you should plan the place, not them. And watch your drink. Check in with family or friends frequently also.
Pack as many sanitary supplies as you will need for the trip. Chances are very likely you are not going to find your brand or even possibly your product. And you know how icky or embarrassing that can be. Enough said.
Make paper copies of your passport and visa and take a photo of it to store in your phone. Tuck one copy in your purse, one in your carry-on bag and one in your checked luggage. If your passport and your phone are lost or stolen or destroyed, this makes life SO much easier when you unexpectedly have to visit your country’s embassy or consulate for an emergency passport.
If drugs are illegal where you are going, do NOT buy them and certainly do not carry them through customs. You may find yourself in a foreign jail in deplorable conditions for a very long time awaiting a court date. Even if you get out of jail on bond you will not be able to leave the country. No, this one did not happen to me.
Do not let an attractive man on the street with a sexy accent sweep you off your feet and take you someplace with which you are unfamiliar and then abandon you when you do not accept his proposition. Okay, I was young at the time! But seriously, there are plenty of predators out there who are looking to take advantage (either financially or sexually) of a foreign woman traveling alone. If you just don’t want to miss the possibility of an exciting adventure with locals, sign up for a tour. There are so many unique one-on-one or small group tours all over the world which can be booked last minute. Exotic food tours, off the beaten path tours, walking tours, photo tours, you name it! Search online before you go and know some options. There are definitely ways you can spend some time one on one with a local safely. Being sure they are licensed and with a reputable company is the way to do it.
Go with your gut. Women are intuitive. If the situation does not feel right, find a way to get out of it or ask someone else around you for help. I have found that most foreigners are quite helpful if you are a guest in their country and ask them for assistance, even with a language barrier.
Happy traveling. Enjoy the adventure safely!