A Travel Safety Guide for Women

Living abroad or traveling solo can be a great adventure. It’s a wonderful way to learn about new cultures, see beautiful places, and meet new people. But as a woman, there are safety risks to living abroad that you should consider.

In most cases, violent crimes are rare. However, it pays to be prepared and to have a plan for avoiding bad situations, such as being pickpocketed. While some of these risks will depend on your location, the tips below can be applied to most countries around the world. Your safety plan will go a long way in helping you feel safer and more secure in your new life abroad.

Networking

One of the first things you should do when moving abroad or planning to live in another country for an extended amount of time is connect with local women’s groups and associations. You can find these online with a simple search, and most will have social media pages that you can join without commitment. These groups will often organize meetups where you can socialize with others and learn about the local culture from people who are familiar with processes such as immigrating, purchasing property, or using the health care system. In Bogota, for example, the American Women’s Association meets regularly and organizes local activities and events for its members. They are often free activities, and the membership fee is nominal and worth the benefits of meeting other local expats. Networking is an important way to make sure you have a group of supportive women to reach out to during challenging times. The people you meet will have knowledge about key resources and contacts, such as English-speaking doctors or lawyers, the best places to find your favorite items, and key organizations to connect with. There are also paid expat networks like InterNations.

Make sure to stay connected with your family back home through email, phone, or social networking. Locally, get yourself a SIM card and connect with local residents as well. They will have helpful insider tips and will be a rich source of information that will help you settle in to your new home. Learning the local language will also go a long way towards helping you adapt and develop new friendships.

Solo Travel for Women

When traveling alone, book your accommodation in advance, and plan to check in before dark to avoid having to search for your hotel or Airbnb in dangerous or unknown areas. Check the online reviews about safety, such as access to a 24-hour doorman or concierge, proper locks and lighting, and an in-room safe.

Take precautions when you go out at night. If you can, let someone know where you’re going and who you’ll be with. Always make sure that you have a fully charged cellphone with data in case you need to call someone, search for something, or use an application. Consider downloading a transportation app such as Uber or Cabify and keep Google Maps handy in case you get lost. Avoid places or situations where you may be isolated, such as secluded areas, quiet neighborhoods, or empty bus or train stations.

Be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to how locals act. If everyone starts to leave, it’s time to go. If you’re connecting with others on your trip, try to join group activities and events rather than heading out alone to meet a stranger. Keep someone you trust informed about your itinerary and location. Try to plan sightseeing for earlier in the day to avoid walking around alone at night.

Passports and Visas

Keep a photo of your passport in case of loss. If anything happens, such as theft or expiry of your documents, you will need it. You may also want to keep a printed and digital copy of your health insurance; in case you need emergency medical assistance abroad. Keep a printed copy of your visa or the identity card issued by your host country at home. Consider also keeping a digital copy in your phone in case you’re asked to show it.

If you experience an emergency while living abroad or traveling, contact the nearest consulate or embassy from your country of origin. They may be able to provide information or advice about how to seek help, how to find services such as a lawyer or medical doctor, or even assist you in replacing your damaged, stolen, lost, or expired passport. You may also be able to use a registration service for expats living abroad through your federal government. This service will make it easier to seek out help should the need arise.

Concealing Your Valuables

Many expats I’ve spoken with offer the same advice—don’t flaunt your valuables when living abroad. You should keep your expensive watches, bags, and jewelry at home when going out in public, unless you’re planning private transportation. Consider that any cash you have on your person may be taken from you if you are robbed. There are ways to conceal your cash, for example you can roll it up and keep it hidden in a decoy object such as a small flashlight, hair roller, or empty lipstick applicator. Money socks and bras can also be useful to conceal your important documents or cash. Other decoys include stash sandals and fake sunblock bottles. A quick search online will reveal several options. This is when your creativity and resourcefulness come in handy.

You might also consider dressing less flashy to avoid any trouble when out and about. Don’t carry around large amounts of cash when walking around, and if you must, use a money belt or zippered pocket. When spending time at the beach, try to avoid bringing your camera or phone with you, and tie your bag to your beach chair if you decide to take a dip or step away. Otherwise, always keep your things on your person. You should keep your wallet and other valuables in separate pockets or locations to avoid losing everything. For example, put your phone in one pocket, and your cash in another.

Using Street Smarts

In many countries, it isn’t safe to carry your phone in your hand or take selfies on the street. For example, in Bogota, there are stories of expats having their phones grabbed from their hand by thieves driving by on their motorbikes. To avoid these situations, make sure to keep your phone in your pocket unless you absolutely need to use it. When using it, try to find an indoor public space to do so. Steer clear of holding the phone in front of you as you search for an address or follow directions.

Try to avoid living on the ground floor or having direct access to the street, unless there are safety measures in place, such as a locked gate, or deadbolt and window bars. This is particularly important in downtown areas and bigger cities.

Be vigilant when walking on the street. Walk as though you know exactly where you’re going. Better yet, plan your itinerary in advance and research the route you plan to take to avoid looking like a lost tourist. When traveling on public transit, be aware of the potential for harassment or pickpocketing and make a fuss if someone makes unwanted advances or grabs you or your things.

As a precaution, keep important numbers such as local police or emergency services and your embassy or consulate nearby. If you are threatened, mugged, or assaulted on the street, or on the premises of your accommodation or home, contact the local police and file a report right away. Make note of any details you remember about the incident, such as the attacker’s description, any stolen items, or any injuries you sustained. Note the time and location of the event.

Dating and Social Norms

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t trust strangers fully and should always be careful about who you choose to spend your time with. Not everyone has good intentions, and you should be ready to leave any situation at a moment’s notice. Don’t leave your drink unattended and be vigilant of your belongings. Understanding local customs will go a long way. A good rule is to not do anything you wouldn’t do at home and to follow local customs. In some cultures, it is good to avoid eye contact with the opposite sex and you may even take your cues from other local women. Respecting local social norms such as how to dress and act appropriately is important. Consider wearing a fake wedding ring if you don’t want the attention of a potential suitor.

If you’re considering dating, make sure to meet the person in public as many times as you need until you feel comfortable enough not to. Do not feel pressured to invite someone to your home or go to theirs because you want to make friends or are feeling lonely. Take your time and listen to your intuition when making decisions about where to go, what to do, and who to do it with. Inform someone you know and trust about your whereabouts when possible. Make sure to plan your own way home in case the date sours or you’re left stranded somewhere. When interacting in a one-on-one situation, show confidence, smile, and engage in friendly conversations when approached. However, keep in mind that when walking on the street, you should avoid starting conversations with strangers who approach you and may have ulterior motives. Instead, walk like you know where you’re going, and you belong there.

Staying Healthy

The standards for safety, hygiene, and health care may be different in other countries. You should do your research in advance and ensure you have up-to-date health insurance. Having a list of recommended local services and practitioners is good practice and takes a bit of networking with other expats. Be aware of any local regulations about COVID-19 and other vaccination requirements such as diphtheria, yellow fever, or typhoid fever. This may vary from country to country. You should also keep a photo of your immunization records or vaccine certificates on your phone. You may be asked to show these to enter certain establishments or public places. Carry any medications with you and keep spares in your home in case you lose them.

Changes in conditions such as altitude, humidity, heat, diet, and time zones may affect your health. You should be aware of the risks, especially if you have a pre-existing condition which could worsen. Also consider preparing a health kit with first aid supplies in case of an emergency, such as medication for headaches, nausea, allergies, or asthma. Additionally, you may experience anxiety or depression when dealing with culture shock or being away from friends and family for long periods. If you are at risk for mental health issues or experiencing these feelings, try to avoid stressful situations and big changes in your routine. Get regular sleep and maintain a healthy diet, daily social activities, and exercise when possible. Stay connected to your network and reach out to a mental health professional if needed. Your network of locals will help you connect with competent doctors or specialists.

Keep hand sanitizer and a wad of tissue paper on you in case you need to use a public toilet with no seat. Trust me on this. Stay hydrated by drinking bottled water, especially if you’re living in a place with a hot climate. Ask around to ensure the tap water is safe to drink and expect to get the occasional upset stomach or diarrhea bout. Sorry to be so graphic, but it happens. Consider using sunscreen and wearing a hat as well to avoid heat stroke or sunburns. Do your research about the climate and be prepared with a light jacket or umbrella if appropriate.

Solo women expats, retirees, and travelers are becoming more common. Your journey to moving to another country should be fun and adventurous, without you having to live in anxiety or fear. This is absolutely possible if you do your research and prepare. Consider that these tips are meant to help you create a joyful experience and safely adapt to your new environment, not freak you out. Use what you need and leave the rest.

Above all, trust your gut and make your personal safety and wellness a priority. Don’t be afraid to come off as rude when you feel you need to leave a potentially unsafe situation or say no. Plan your trips and movements beforehand and have a plan in case something goes wrong. If you feel something is off, it probably is. Trust yourself. That said, be positive and open to meeting new people and having new experiences. As a long-term traveler, I have rarely been in situations where I felt unsafe. The key is to be smart and aware, and not let others decide for you.

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