Safety Tips for Women Travelers – How to Stay Safe on the Road

Health & Safety — By on March 10, 2011 at 6:00 am

By Michele Herrmann
LG Section Editor

Many articles and resources on personal safety tout different measures one should take when traveling. Here are some additional tidbits–perhaps new advice or friendly reminders–to consider when preparing for your next destination.

Before You Go

1) Brush up on culture and body language. Educate yourself before leaving so that you understand what local stereotypes, as well as perceptions of women, may exist in your destination and how you can avoid possible mishaps. A friendly hand gesture in one country (like the OK sign in the United States) can be interpreted as an insult in another (it has negative connotations in parts of southern Europe and South America). Common forms of body language such as eye contact, shaking hands, smiling, and small talk could also be misread as come-ons. Spend some time observing those around you, and then follow suit. If you like to people watch, donning a dark pair of sunglasses might avoid any confusion about eye contact.

Travel Documents2) Get your documents ready. Make copies of your passport and keep them in a secured place. Leave these copies and your itinerary with your parents or a trusted person who can act as an emergency contact. Scan and save these copies as a PFD and then send the file as an attachment to your e-mail account. I suggest calling your bank/credit card provider right before you leave to notify them of potential charges while on your journey. During one overseas trip, my VISA card was not recognized anywhere (and was almost confiscated) even though I notified my provider about two weeks before I departed. When I hurriedly called the company, no record of my previous notification had been found.

3) Consult with the feds. If you’re visiting a destination with a reputation for uncertainty, register with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate and inform them of your travel plans. Robert Siciliano, a security consultant with ADTPulse.com, recommends this so that if your destination becomes unstable, the embassy will make you aware of the current climate. Siciliano also suggests logging on to the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website Travel.State.Gov, a good source for travel security awareness. Along with getting travel insurance, keep medical coverage in mind as well. Call your insurance company and see what your options are.

Upon Arrival

1) Arrive at your hotel in the daytime. Arriving in a new city during the day will help you get your bearings before dark or improve your chances of finding lodging if you still need a place to stay. Areas around bus and train stations can be scary and/or deserted at night. Small towns tend to shut down early.

2) Get a good reservation. While checking in at your hotel, consider asking for a room near the elevator to avoid a walk down a possibly poorly-lit hallway to get to your room. As an additional precaution, the front-desk clerk should write down your room number instead of saying it out loud. If you have to leave your room key at the front desk when you’re heading out, don’t just leave it on the counter. Wait for the clerk to put it in a safe place.

3) Safeguard your room. If you’re unsure about your accommodations, consider bringing along a rubber door stop. The door stop can be wedged under the door as an extra safety measure in case the lock is unreliable. Hotel room safes are great for keeping valuables under lock and key and to avoid lugging them around.

While in Transit

Travel Safety1) Watch your wallet. Please avoid the fanny pack. It is a good idea to wear a money belt while traveling, since it is good for holding cash, credit/debit cards, and your passport. If you choose to wear a money belt, remember use it for storage, not as a purse. Reaching under your shirt for money in a public setting could draw attention to it and you. Another suggestion is wallets2wear, a wrist wallet with a hidden pouch for holding money, a boarding pass, and an personal ID, that is designed to look like a bracelet or a sweatband. I’ve also known people who have placed money in their shoes as an extra precaution (if you don’t mind the resulting scent).

2) And keep an eye on your bag. Be on guard whenever you have luggage with you in public, according to Michael McColl, editor of Travelinsider.com. Here are tips for watching your bag while waiting in line. Stand on a backpack strap, or keep your bags leaning against the front of your legs. If they start to move, you will notice. When sitting down at an airport or train station, lock your bag to something immovable (like a bike chain with a lock to fasten it to a luggage rack). If you are sleeping, sleep on top of your bag.

3) Dress appropriately. With wardrobe, a good rule of thumb is to dress modestly: knee-length or longer skirts. Bare arms, shoulders, and legs can be considered as risque in some countries, so do the research before you go and while you’re there. Pay attention which parts of the body the local women cover and do the same thing. Consider bringing older pieces of clothing with you as they are less showy and comfortable. They can be discarded before you head back home.

Also note:

Exclude confidence. The way you walk can either encourage or deter unwanted attention while appearing lost or confused could make you a potential target. Avoid looking at a map while in the street. Study your route before you go out or obtain a wallet-sized map that you can discreetly refer to. When in public places or using public transportation, try to sit or stand next to other women or family groups. Being in good company will make it unlikely for you to be approached or harassed. Traveling solo? Send regular e-mails or use Skype to keep in contact with your friends and/or loved ones so they know you’re fine.

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