Travelling can be a really enriching experience and is a great investment in yourself. Travelling alone as a woman or with a small group of all women can be daunting. To help you get familiar with some of the extra steps women should take to stay healthy and happy as they travel, we’ve put together some of our top tips.
Research your Destination
Get online in advance of your departure and thoroughly research your destination.Check out the FCO for general health and safety advice for travellers and localised information about the risks and what to do in an emergency. Make note of addresses and contact details of embassies and consulates at your destinations and keep copies both in your pack and on your email or cloud storage. If you have a crisis, you’ll know where to go for help.
Using sites like Trip Advisor will give you real insight from travellers and you’ll be able to find tips and perspectives from women. If you’re a black woman or woman of colour, search for travel bloggers who can give insight into the particular experience you might have at your destination. There are so many bloggers and reviewers out there sharing their particular experiences. If you’re travelling with any medical conditions or a disability, you’ll likely find some helpful resources out there.
Do some research on the areas that you’re going to. Find out where the safe neighbourhoods with tourist accommodation are, you’ll know where best to start your search for a hotel/hostel. You’ll likely find women’s only accommodation in popular backpacking spots or hostels with women’s only rooms. Be aware of local scams, it’s worth asking locals for things to look out for, or find personal accounts online for tips on places & scams to avoid.
Pack Light & Kit up Correctly
Getting your kit right before you go will make ensure you have the most comfortable trip possible. Packing light is always a good idea, but especially so for women travelling alone. You want to be able to move around freely and to have a small enough pack that you can always keep it close to hand. Think about whether you’ll really need all those extra bits of kit and leave behind anything unnecessary.
When buying a travel backpack, remember that women tend to have a different body shape than men and it is important to get one that fits you properly. An ill-fitting backpack will genuinely make your pack feel heavier, so it’s worth getting one that distributes the weight correctly for your shape. You’ll also want to get fitted for boots or walking shoes so your feet are taken care of and you’ve got something sturdy to walk long distances on.
Keep in mind that you may not find the same range of sanitary products as you do at home, especially in rural areas. If you have a preference that makes you feel most comfortable during your period, you might want to pack enough to cover your trip or at least the heaviest days when you’re most uncomfortable. If you prefer non-applicator tampons or menstrual cups, consider whether you could use pads instead for any time you are off the beaten track and might not be clean enough to use the products you usually prefer.
Womens Travel Health Preparation
Book a travel health consultation 6-8 weeks before you go and Nomads expert nurses will give you a thorough run through of all the risks you should be aware of at your destination. Your first line of defence against illness is vaccinations, we’ll make sure you know which vaccine preventable diseases your itinerary will expose you to. Our nurses will advise on whether you should take malaria tablets and will work out which will work best for you. This will give you some extra protection you in malaria zones, but there’s plenty of other diseases spread by mosquitoes that you can’t vaccinate or protect against with medication. Pack plenty of insect repellent to avoid bites, which are uncomfortable and make you susceptible to infection.
It’s really important that you pack a medical kit like the Ultimate Medical Kit so that you can safely treat minor injuries and illness on your travels. The Ultimate covers you if you get a bout of travellers’ diarrhoea, too – which can be awkward to try and get medicine for! Make sure you’ve got condoms, just in case, and you may wish to ask your GP about whether you can get the morning after pill to carry with you.
Cultural Differences & Dressing Correctly
Respect for a culture, especially in rural areas, can sometimes be as simple as wearing something that covers your knees or arms. Following local traditions and expectations for women will reduce unwanted attention and is sign of respect from you as an outsider. Check the FCO for helpful information on local customs. Experiencing different attitudes towards women when travelling can be a form of culture shock, so try to be prepared so you don’t feel isolated. Many travellers pack super light on clothing and just buy things when they arrive; you’ll meet local expectations for women’s dress and, depending on where you’re going, you’ll probably save yourself some cash too!
Protecting yourself from assault and harassment
Just as at home, there’s really no way to predict an assault, don’t let fear consume you and follow your personal rules as you would anywhere but be mindful that you are more isolated so far from home and if anything goes wrong you’ll find it harder to cope so do some research, get prepared and keep your wits about you.
Don’t spend time alone with men you don’t know or know well and don’t let anyone try and get you to leave busy public spaces. Stay where you feel safe, busy cafes, built up areas, get back to where you’re staying before dark – just trust your instincts as you would at home. You’ll likely find your harassers keep to themselves when local non-traveller women are around, so try and stick to busier areas where there’s women. Use women only carriages on public transport or sit close to other women. If you do have men trying to talk to you, telling them you’re married usually gets rid of them. Sometimes, women travellers even wear a ring on their ring finger as a visual prompt for men to leave them alone – success, though, is not guaranteed.
It’s important to remember that you are not at any higher risk of assault from local men, western travellers are just as likely to commit assaults against women travelling. You should pack spare padlocks that you can secure your door with when you’re inside, just as you do the outside when you leave.
If you are raped or sexually assaulted, you must keep the clothes you were wearing when it happened and go to the police without washing your body. If you can, place your clothing in a ziplock bag to stop them from being contaminated before testing can be done. Make notes of the incident as soon as you are somewhere safe. You’ll need to give details to police and shock can affect your memory. Unfortunately, police in some countries are not very proactive about dealing with sexual assaults. Know where your nearest consulate is as they will be able to help you when the police may not be willing or able to.
Protecting Your Belongings
For women traveller, the usually rules on protecting your belongings apply, but you should be a bit more vigilant as women travelling alone can be more of a target for thieves. Take multiple copies of important documents and store them in different places including on your email or cloud storage. If anything gets lost or stolen, you’ll find it easier to get replacement documents if you’ve got copies of your tickets and passport.
You’ll already have been selective with what you packed and left unnecessary expensive jewellery at home, but you might still have an expensive camera or other valuables with you. Keep any valuables out of sight as much as possible so you don’t make yourself a target. Keep cash in a money belt with your passport so it’s always safe, just put what you’ll need for the day into a wallet you can access and forget about the rest until you’re back to your accommodation. Some travellers take a second wallet that you keep some dummy cards and a tiny amount of cash in as a diversion in case you are mugged. Handing over the dummy wallet to a thief might make them think they’ve gotten away with everything you’ve got and get them to move on. Take a couple of good quality padlocks. A cable lock is really helpful, too, you can secure your bag to something so it can’t easily be taken.
Stay Safe Around Drink & Drugs
It’s best to avoid alcohol when travelling as your wits could be impaired even after just one drink. For women, it’s really important that you don’t get drunk alone or leave people when you are drunk. If you are not with women you trust to get you home safely, just don’t drink. It doesn’t take much for us to let our guard down and become a target.
As with alcohol, takings drugs will impact your ability to be fully aware of what’s going on and your decision making skills and you should avoid taking any drugs when you’re travelling. You also really can’t trust anyone trying to give/sell you drugs that it’s what they say it is and that it’s safe. On top of these obvious risks, you should also be aware that many countries have very harsh laws around drug use and drug trafficking. Some places give life imprisonment or death sentences for using or carrying drugs – it’s not worth it!
Keep in Contact
Pick up a cheap phone and SIM plan when you arrive, there’s cheap phones on sale in most places. Get a SIM you can text and call home on and regularly let friends or family know what your plans are. Let them know when you move to a new accommodation or change town/city. It will give your loved ones back home peace of mind, and if they stop hearing from you they will know where to start trying to reach you. Try to be mindful that a daughter travelling alone or with other women will be especially worrying for parents, just quick check ins so they know you’re ok will really put minds at ease. If you’re taking a trip or will be busy for a few days, just send a quick message home that they won’t hear from you so they don’t worry.
It’s usually very easy to spot western travellers! Don’t be afraid to befriend some women you meet and swap details. Keep in contact so you’ve got a local buddy to call on and make sure they know you’ll take their call if they get into a situation. Even if you part ways or just meet briefly, it’s comforting to have someone to contact that’s not 1000’s of miles away.
Be your number one priority
If you don’t feel like a situation is safe then don’t be scared to leave or to say no. Don’t hold back for fear of upsetting someone – the only person on your priority list is you and you need to trust your instincts. No-one worth knowing will begrudge you for leaving a situation that made you uncomfortable. If you’re travelling with someone else or spending time with people you’ve met, don’t feel like you have to stay at that bar or head to someone you’re not familiar with.
Defend Yourself if Necessary
We know from our experiences at home that saying ‘no’ may not be enough to deter some people and that attempts to escape a situation may not always be possible. In fact, saying ‘no’ can encourage or enrage an attacker and escalate a situation. It’s very unlikely that you’ll end up in a situation where you need to defend yourself, but there’s a few simple self defence techniques you can learn to help you feel ready to defend yourself. Search YouTube for women’s self defence techniques or take a lesson before you travel, it will give you some peace of mind.
You might find the very act of being willing to defend yourself is enough to deter your attacker. Scream, shout, don’t be afraid to cause a scene if you feel threatened and you’ll likely scare them off.
Now you know how to get prepared, it’s time to relax safe in the knowledge that you’re ready for anything travel throws at you! Don’t let anxiety take over and talk you out of enjoying yourself, you’ve prepared so you that you don’t need to worry. You’ve got this and you’re going to have an amazing time. Whether you’re heading off alone or with a group of women, follow our top tips and you’ll have a safe, healthy adventure.