I read this article the other night and couldn't believe the references to the "special challenges" female business travelers face. Parts of that article made me feel like, as a woman, I should be looking over my shoulder every five minutes when I travel. In reality, the more I travel, the more I realize the world is not such a scary place.
When I visited the beaches of Mombasa, Kenya, I received a lot of unwanted attention from locals. These guys are known as "beach boys" and they're looking to sell their, ahem, services. Unfortunately, there is a prevalence of sex tourism in this area and if you arrive to the coast without knowing this fact beforehand, it can come as quite a shock.
So, how did I deal with their harassment? I kept my shades on, kept walking and told them the truth: "I'm not interested" and "Please leave me alone". Eventually, they realized I really was taking a long walk (further than they wanted to go, anyway) and they left me alone.
A common travel tip for solo females is to wear a fake wedding ring and to talk about your husband. Would wearing a wedding ring have deterred those Kenyan beach boys? Definitely not. But, if wearing a wedding ring is something that might help you find the confidence to say "no" to a stranger who is bothering you, then, I'm all for it.
If traveling on your own as a woman is generally safe, jetsetting as an educated female traveler makes it even safer. Here are a few tips I've gathered from my own experiences over the years:
- Always be aware of your surroundings and trust your gut. If your gut is telling you to get out of a situation, there are loads of creative ways to do so. I've switched train cars, acted like I couldn't hear anything, lied about my phone number, and pretended I was in a hurry to meet a friend/boyfriend.
- If you feel like someone is watching you or following you, or if you feel lost, keep walking and go into the nearest shop (or hotel). Sometimes I stick with asking directions of families because I find they're more likely to help.
- When you go out, carry only the essentials and leave important documents (like your passport) in a hotel or travel safe. I once had money stolen from an unreliable hotel safe, so these methods aren't foolproof. Luckily, I hid some extra cash elsewhere in the room.
- A handbag can easily be snatched from the back of a chair, out of your shopping cart and even off of the seat next to you, without anyone noticing. Cross-body bags are one way to ensure you always keep your bag close. Even then, sometimes it's not enough. I once had a phone lifted from the main compartment my closed purse. If you do have to carry something important, like your passport as an ID, try to keep it in an inner zippered compartment of your purse.
- I once heard that yelling "fire" rather than "help" will get people's attention quicker if you're being physically harassed. However, if the aggressor is threatening you with a weapon, always handover whatever they want. It's not worth the risk of getting hurt.
- Understand the culture you're traveling in and dress conservatively. For example, in Mombasa and all the way down the south coast of Kenya, I covered my shoulders and knees. I typically keep my camera in my purse and wear basic jewelry (like stud earrings) that won't attract attention.
- I don't recommend going out on your own at night in an unfamiliar city. If you're craving social interaction, stay at an Airbnb, backpackers or hostel where you'll have the opportunity to meet people to go out with.
- If you've got your own room, it's common sense to lock your door at night. If you feel uneasy about where you're staying, carry a door stop in case your door's lock is crappy. Wedge it under the door so that an intruder would have a more difficult time opening it.
- Bring all the prescriptions you will need for the duration of your trip (like birth control). Basic painkillers like ibuprofen might have different names in other countries. Having some spare capsules from home can be a huge relief. If you're really roughing it, things like tampons or pads can be hard to find outside of major cities (and might be expensive). If you know you'll have your period during your trip, it helps to bring some supplies from home.
- Leave copies of your itinerary, docs and your credit card details with someone you trust; if you need them to help in a pinch, they'll have all the details they need to jump online and help you out.
Traveling solo can be an incredibly empowering experience. By keeping a few of these tips in mind, you can be open and ready for new experiences without being overly cautious and sensitive. What are some of your favorite travel tips? I'd love to hear them!