My Safety Precautions for a Woman Traveling Alone Internationally

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 cambodia dress stallto 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 key card energy saversomeone 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 IMG_20171018_120651478.jpgphone. 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 Cambodia tourpossibility 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!

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Places in the World

I’m fortunate and extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to explore a significant amount of the world in my lifetime thus far; having been to all six habitable continents. People will often ask me where my top 10 favorite places are in the world. Anyone who is a traveler would understand it is ultimately an impossible endeavor. In essence, your favorites are a moving target. What you loved backpacking in Thailand 20 years ago might not be what you would put on your top list today. And the more you continue to travel, the more the list will shift. Also, is “favorite” based on nature and natural beauty? Adventure? Art and Architecture? Food? History? The warmth of the locals?

Given that laborious task, I began jotting down places while riding a  4+ hour shuttle in Costa Rica. I had a little time on my hands with no WiFi and painfully slow-moving traffic on the international highway which runs through the country – connecting to Panama in the south and Nicaragua to the north.  The problem was the list kept growing as I thought back fondly of so many incredible memories spanning multiple decades. I managed to cull it down, with a few honorable mentions of which I could not let go.  And may I remind you, this list IS a moving target?

Perth, WA, Australia

 

It has been many years since I have been there, but this city on Australia’s SW coast (and the surrounding region of Freemantle and the Margaret River Valley wine region) has an unmistakable “cool” vibe I have not quite found elsewhere in the country. The year round, near-perfect weather negates the need for heating or air conditioning. Outdoor sports can be found everywhere, from the Australian rules football fields to sailing on the Swan River to snorkeling around the azure waters of Rottnest Island.   Looking for wildlife you just don’t see back home? Black swans roam the parklands by the Swan River and Lake Monger and quokkas fearlessly approach you on Rottnest Island looking for a sip of water from your cup. It is worth the flight to this hip city on Australia’s other coast.

Tamarindo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

 

Up until a few decades ago, Tamarindo was a sleepy village on Costa Rica’s NW Pacific coast where surfers would come for the great breaks.  Since tourism has discovered this gemstone, it has grown up into something international, yet still keeping its exotic roots. Even post-discovery, the population averages only approximately 3,000. The mix of tourists, expats and locals add unique threads of color to the tapestry of this chill beach town. It is the smallest place I know where you can walk down the street (or the broad, beautiful beach) and hear 5 different languages any given day.   And the food? Don’t let the tiny population fool you, there are over 100 area restaurants and bars to satisfy the foodie in you! Plus, you can SUP, surf, golf, fish, horseback ride, ATV, or just photograph wildlife to your heart’s content all within 20 minutes. With the least amount of rain in the country, there is never a bad time to visit.

Goa, India 

 

The small state of Goa on India’s west coast consists of 101 kms of coastline and has a distinctive personality blending east and west, Hindu and Catholic, curry and seafood. It is decidedly India, yet heavily influenced by the Portuguese for almost 450 years.  In my travels to Incredible India, I find myself returning each time to Goa. I cannot put my finger on it. The air is different there.  Perhaps there is just something exotic about swimming in the Arabian Sea and legally being able to wear a bikini in India with no one judging you as you throw back a cold Kingfisher beer! There are dozens of beaches, some boasting crowds of tourists and others are quiet hideaways. Portuguese fortresses dot the shoreline. The food is endless, from beach shacks to upmarket restaurants perched on cliffs watching the sun sink into the sea at the end of the day. And no trip to Goa is complete without a visit to the all-night Saturday hippie market – Arpora.

Austin, Texas, USA

 

The capital of Texas has made a name for itself flaunting its live music-food trailers-high tech-gay pride-hipsters-cowboys-starving artists-tolerant vibe.  A pretty remarkably harmonious blend, given all the ideological differences.  Home to two of the country’s largest music festivals (Austin City Limits, South-by-Southwest) , the only Formula 1 track in the country (Circuit of the Americas),  and a great university (University of Texas) -with a massive amount of football followers, this little powerhouse city had put itself on the international map. But it isn’t all music, cars, and football.  One must visit the prettiest capital building in the country, the only one standing taller than the USA capital. Austin is located where the farmland to the east meets the scenic hill country to the west. There are delightful day trips to central Texas treasures like swimming holes and a massive pink granite dome (called Enchanted Rock) and dozens of wineries.  A weekend is simply not long enough!

Fira, Santorini, Greece 

 

The moment you step onto your whitewashed terrace overlooking the caldera, the “wow factor” will engulf you. This crescent shaped island of Santorini (or Thera) is actually a volcano which erupted thousands of year ago.  The city of Fira is built on the side of the volcano overlooking the sunken rim into the sea. You can take a gondola ride to the bottom, or if you are adventurous take a donkey. From there you can catch a boat to the center where you can swim the ancient volcanic waters. For history buffs, you will not want to miss the Akrotiri Ruins.  And if you like wine there are multiple wineries to tour. There’s nothing like a good Greek wine to accompany that fresh feta cheese and kalamata olive plate. Santorini is beyond charming and a truly iconic Greek island. Foodies will also celebrate the family owned Greek restaurants at every turn.

Cape Town, South Africa

 

This international city sits near the bottom of the African continent on the Western Cape where the frigid, turbulent waters of the Atlantic meet the warm, caressing waters of the Indian ocean. You can occasionally see a line at Cape Point where they meet. The Cape Town area boasts everything from international dining and shopping, to gorgeous beaches, to nearby world renowned wine regions, to beautiful museums, to a fascinating and yet difficult history of apartheid.  Must do’s include going to the top of one of the cities natural symbols, Table Mountain where the views are spectacular. As well as hanging out at Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. You can ride a double-decker city sightseeing bus which is a fantastic way to hop on and hop off seeing all the major sites. The locals are friendly and the natural beauty is unparalleled.

Rome, Italy

 

For anyone interested in the incredible history and architecture of the  Roman Empire, Rome is certainly a fantastic place to commence.  It is an easy city to navigate on foot, just make sure you have good walking shoes! It was my first European city to visit and I can attest to the fact that throwing a coin in Trevi Fountain does actually work, as I returned multiple times. My top historic places to see are The Vatican City,  The Coliseum, The Pantheon, the carnivalesque Piazza Navona, and The Roman Forum. However, there is a multitude of hidden treasures beyond the touristy historic sites. Don’t be afraid to roam the narrow streets of Rome to find little pizzerias and antique shops and neighborhoods still preserved as they were in the Middle Ages. Surprises abound. I once had a waiter kiss me (briefly but passionately) in Piazza Navona whilst leaving his restaurant after dinner. A thrill for a teenage girl! Shhhhh, don’t tell my mother.

Rio de  Janeiro, Brazil 

 

If you like Samba and an easy sexual culture and caipirinhas and beaches and Brazilian steak houses and unique art and a vibrant all-night-party city, this place it for you!  I visited Rio on my honeymoon with my “starter husband” and have found myself returning again each decade.  Since the recent Olympics there, they have cleaned up the beaches and the city to help visitors feel safe (I have never had any safety issues). A day at famous Ipanema Beach is a bucket list item.  And the sights are endless. One must go to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain via cable car to take in the sweeping views of the city. And seeing Christ the Redeemer statue will give you goose bumps, even if you are not Christian. You can hire a driver/tour guide or take the subway with new stops being added. It is a massive city and challenging to navigate, otherwise.  Carnival is not for the faint of heart, but certainly a fantastic once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.

Bora Bora, French Polynesia

 

Bora Bora earns my title as the most romantic place in the universe. I recommend you take a lover when you travel there.  From the moment you fly into the tiny WWII airstrip to taking a water taxi to your over-the-water bungalow, everything is absolute magic. The landscape is so spectacular it almost looks fake. The azure water is incredibly clear and the sand is soft and blindingly white and the green mountains are a shade of green not found on the color wheel. It is the kind of place that makes you want to swim naked! Be sure to book a room with a see-through floor so you can watch the sea life swim by. And if you can carve out time to leave your love nest, rent bikes to take in the astonishing beauty of this tiny tropical island or book a traditional Tahitian dance show. Join the throngs of rich and famous who have dined at Bloody Mary’s Or simply lose yourself on a hammock.

Honorable Mentions:

Halong Bay, Vietnam

 

A UNESCO national world heritage site in the Gulf of Tonkin, includes some 1,600 islands and islets, forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. Godsmack beauty at every vista.  Take the 2-day cruise on a traditional junk boat.

London, England

 

I have always had an affinity for this lovely, historic and vibrant city. After attending school nearby, I desperately wanted to live there. But oh, the weather.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA 

 

The largest national park in the USA  at 5586 square kilometers (3471 square miles) is a stunner with dramatic canyons, bubbling mud pots, shooting geysers and roaming buffalo. Natural and unusual beauty in the wild west.

Luxor, Egypt 

 

History, history, history. No, not American history. No, not European history. ANCIENT history which truly defines “wonders of the world.”

Masai Mara, Kenya 

 

The best place on earth for a safari and glamping.  There is nothing as thrilling as seeing these magnificent animals the way nature intended them to be seen.

And the adventure continues. Stay tuned!