Advice for Women Travelers:
Health & Safety
disclaimer

Don't let concerns about safety keep you from traveling. Yes, you are putting yourself at risk for all sorts of things by traveling -- but you are putting yourself at risk merely by walking out the front door of your home, no matter where you live in the world. Yes, many thieves and otherwise bad people target travelers specifically. But these same people also target people who are Christmas shopping in their own communities. 

I have a British friend who went to Morocco and she never felt unsafe or particularly harassed, unlike when she visited St. Louis, Missouri, USA a year before, when a hotel employee tried to break into her hotel room in the night; yet I have another well-traveled friend who went to Morocco and was harassed and felt in danger the entire time. I have American friends who went all around the world for a year with their children, and never had a problem until they were back in the USA and had things taken out of their luggage at a DC airport.

Dangerous and/or opportunistic people, as well as wonderful people, are everywhere. That hasn't stopped me, or millions of other people, from traveling - or walking out the front door.

This part of my travel advice is the hardest to write, because while I want to be realistic, I also DON'T want to

  • scare the bejesus out of women, who then chose not to travel
  • sound like I'm blaming theft or assault victims for what happened to them (women are NOT raped because they trusted someone or thought they were safe in a particular place - they are raped because someone targeted them for such, and that is not always something you can have control over)
  • imply that these tips are guaranteed ways of staying safe.

I also cringe at the idea of saying to a woman, "You can't go out for drinks, you can't ever be alone with a stranger, you can't ever dress such that you feel beautiful, and you can't stay out late, because you're a woman, and you might get raped!" Travel safety shouldn't mean feeling ever-restricted or continually afraid or never taking risks. But travel safety does mean thinking about surroundings, learning about a location's culture and crime rates, and thinking about the chances that circumstances can change - and then balancing all of those considerations with what it is you want to do and making what you think is the best choice.

Travel safety advice for women is about staying aware of your surroundings and assessing the risks of various situations you will encounter while traveling - often more so than if you were a man, I'm sorry to say, because women are often targeted specifically because of their gender and a perception that they are weak - no matter what their age. It's about realizing things like how you actually might be MORE safe with local men than someone from your own country you met on the road, or that all those people who blogged and said, I traveled to such-and-such place, and did such-and-such thing, I was fine, therefore, all safety warnings are alarmist and untrue were just lucky, and you might not be. Remember: women who are harmed while traveling tend not to blog about it.

Here's the good news: learning to be more aware of your surroundings and avoiding certain risks while traveling will help you be safer in your every day at-home life. 

   
 
 

STAYING HEALTHY GENERAL SAFETY FOR WOMEN TRAVELERS WOMEN'S SAFETY WHILE TENT CAMPING

There are plenty of places online that talk about staying safe while camping in regards to bear safety, flood safety, insect bites, first aid, etc. But what about safety specifically with regards to being a woman?

There is a perception that camping in a remote area makes you more vulnerable to crime than staying in a hotel. I disagree - if no one knows you are in a remote area, and it's not likely you are going to be found, you aren't going to be targeted as a crime victim in a remote area.

Are you, as a woman, more or less vulnerable to robbery - or worse - while camping than while staying in a hotel? I don't think so. I cannot find statistics anywhere on the matter. Using Google I can find far more stories of women being assaulted and/or robbed within hotel grounds - even within their own rooms - than camping. In 2012, I went to Google and typed in robbed while camping (no quotes), and the stories that came up were pretty scary - but many months and years apart, and never for the same area (often not in the same country), so relatively speaking, it seems to be rare. A Google search in 2012 of raped while camping and raped camp ground brought up scary stories but, again, all months or years apart and in different countries - again, it seems to be quite a rare occurrence. In 2013, a Swiss woman on a cycling trip with her husband in central India was gang-raped by local men as the couple camped out in a forest in Madhya Pradesh state after bicycling from the temple town of Orchha - I would guess they knew of other bike travelers who camped there previously and had no problems at all, hence why they thought they would be safe; you can easily find information about this online, as well as some horrific comments that blame the couple for what happened (apparently it happened because they were in a remote area, NOT because a group of men decided to assault them).

I've been way more wary of some of the hotels I've had to stay in than when I've been tent camping. I've been much more scared of critters than people while camping. But I also haven't really camped entirely alone; I've had my dogs or my husband with me. But would my husband or my dogs really make a difference if someone really wanted to target me for a crime? I don't know. What I do know is that, even with the very few, though horrific, stories of people being assaulted or robbed while camping, there are many, many, many more news stories of women being robbed, assaulted and killed in their own homes or in parking lots than while camping.

So, with all that in mind, here's some tent camping safety tips for women:

The quietest camping night I ever had when a camp ground was full was in a very run down camp site in Northern England, near the Scottish border, populated mostly by Travelers in beaten down RVs. My husband and I were on a motorcycle, and we left everything in our tent, in locked metal panniers, and walked across the street to a bar for three hours. And everything was still there when we came back that evening. Why did I feel safe? It was a family campground, and there were plenty of people around who would hear me if I called for help. By contrast, I camped with my dogs at Bottomless Lakes State Park outside of Roswell, New Mexico, which is a very nice campground, but I was terrified the entire night because there were NO other campers there at all that night. 

WOMEN'S SAFETY TRAVELING ABROAD

Regarding traveling abroad, specifically: Women from the USA are capable, independent, and grew up in a country where, for the MOST part, it is our right to do anything that a man can do and go anywhere that a man can go. Unfortunately, this is not how it is in many other countries. Other cultures may see this capable, independent attitude and lifestyle as "loose" sexually. This opinion is created/reinforced by television shows and films from the USA. Hence why extra precautions and a curtailing of your actions are sometimes necessary, however annoying that might (and often does) feel.

But also note that, in some cultures, being a woman may be to your advantage: you might have access to women's society and friendship that is denied to men in certain cultures, for example. You can be super friendly to women and families with children that you encounter in shops or restaurants and not have to worry about your actions being misinterpreted. Or some men may be especially protective of you if you are their customer (and particularly if you are modestly dressed and making an effort to be respectful of their culture), and that may pay off in a situation where other men are being threatening or just creepy.

The most important thing is to read as much as you can about a country or culture before you go to a particular country -- and seek out women authors as much as possible, because men can sometimes gloss over cultural concerns that women need to be very aware of. Become aware of cultural differences, specifically that pertain to attitudes toward women (and American women). Lonely Planet books offers tips specifically for women, tailored for each country, and I have found the books very helpful specifically regarding their advice for women.

One other thing: Know how the phones work in whatever country you are in, and consider buying a phone card so you can make any local or international call you may need to at any time.

SAFETY AT BARS & PUBS

And then there's going to bars or just sitting around drinking with friends. I went to a bar in the middle of the day in Madrid, by myself, for a pint of Guinness and a rest for my feet, and had a wonderful afternoon chatting with the women that worked there. But that's just not possible everywhere. And even if you are with friends, you are incurring risk, per the now rampant use of date-rape drugs. So, especially for bars, here are some tips:

FINAL THOUGHTS

Before your trip, think about what you would do if you were robbed or raped. Imagine the plan: whom you would call (police, credit card companies, family, embassy, etc.), where you would go immediately, how you would ask for help, how you would get to a safe place or home quickly, etc. Imagine the plan in your mind - and may you never have to follow that plan.

Another site's information on safety for women traveling abroad

Lonely Planet's advice for solo women travelers to India

Did I scare you? I really hope not. I've followed my own advice, and it has not kept me from walking on a beautiful boulevard at night, or going out to eat and having a beer by myself, or talking to strangers, or wearing something that makes me feel beautiful, and it shouldn't keep you from doing those things altogether either. The reality is that you could follow all of this advice - and be even more restrictive in your behavior - and you could still end up being the target of a bad person, for robbery or something much worse. And you could follow NONE of this advice, and be quite reckless, and perhaps nothing at all will happen to you and you can mock me for all this advice.

I'm not a blame-the-victim person, and if you are robbed - or worse - call the police (and if you are abroad, your embassy), and do not let a feeling of guilt or a feeling that it is somehow you're fault (because it is NOT your fault) keep you from seeking help, immediately and even long after an incident.

And with all that said: please don't let concerns about safety keep you from traveling, but also don't let people who say, "I never take any of these precautions and I've been FINE" keep you from taking precautions.

 
Disclaimer
Any activity incurs risk. The author assumes no responsibility for the use of information contained within this document.

 

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