8 Safety Tips for Female Travelers

By Nomadic Matt | Published April 29th, 2010

female backpackerBeing a solo female traveler (Note: This is a guest post by Brooke Schoenman. I’m still very much a nomadic male!) can bring a level of concern that wouldn’t occur otherwise. Friends may worry, family members may worry, even you may worry about your safety. To help make your journey the best and safest it can be, here are 8 tips every female traveler should remember:

Get Fit. Walking around with a huge backpack on your back takes a lot of energy. Start an exercise regime before heading out on the road; it not only improves the quality of your travels since you’ll be able to do more without getting tired, but it also improves your chances of warding off attackers. Exercise while on the road too. Traveling isn’t the healthiest lifestyle and staying fit on the road can go a long way to feeling better and having more energy.

Fake Ring. I’ve definitely learned my lesson being a single female traveler. Men in some countries are very forward and confronting, especially if you are not officially married. Lie. Do whatever you can to make them think otherwise, even if that involves donning a fake ring and running over to the first man you see in a nearby shop. Pretending to be married will keep some of the weirdos away.

Dress Down. There’s nothing like a scantily clad female to attract a man’s attention. We know it’s fun to look our best and put our best features forward, but you must consider your location and its norms before choosing your wardrobe, even for a night out. There’s nothing worse than standing out in a place still unfamiliar to your tourist feet.

Avert Attention. Just like dressing down, it is best to avoid any actions that will draw more attention to you. This includes being loud in public, wearing expensive jewelry, showing off too much money and flashing around costly electronics. Do any of these scream target to you? As a female traveler, you don’t want to bring too much attention to you lest you attract some unruly characters.

female backpackerStay Alert. I’m not saying you should be on spy mode your entire travels, but it is a good idea to be aware of your belongings and your surroundings. If anyone stops you on the street, check to make sure they aren’t a diversion for sneaky pickpockets. If you have your bags with you at the bus station, then keep them all connected to each other, and preferably to you as well, at all times. People often prey on single women more than they do men.

Don’t Over Drink. Drinking can be one of the best ways to bond with locals and other travelers alike, but overdoing it can leave you a bit on the vulnerable side. A good rule of thumb is to take it in moderation, which is sometimes easier said than done. Know your limits, and try not to get pressured into imbibing more than you ought to. Moreover, remember not to take drinks from strangers- you never know what might be in it!

Group Walk. Do your best to stick with others, especially in the evening. Make it a goal to have at least one other person with you if you must go somewhere. Sure, it might take a bit of coercing to get a fellow hostel-mate along for the journey, but you it does take that “foreign-girl-walking-alone” target off your back.

Stay Confident. You are more likely to get taken advantage of if you look like someone who is unsure of herself. This is another reason why I suggest taking self-defense classes before backpacking since they provide you with the tools and confidence that can ward off attackers. On a less violent scale, having confidence can keep you from getting ripped off in certain situations. Additionally, I have found that a confident vibe can make you appear less like a tourist and less like a target.

I’ve always liked to think that traveling anywhere would and should be no different for males and females, but a world of cultural differences has led me to understanding the truth is far from ideal. It’s different for females. We have to be on our guard more but that doesn’t mean we have to hide away either. Some common sense goes along way. Just remember these 8 tips above and you’ll be a safer and more successful female traveler.

Brooke Schoenman has been traveling around the world for a few years. You can follow her on twitter or read more of her adventures on her website, Brooke vs. the World, where she is currently vs. Australia and residing in Sydney.

comments 51 Comments

EagerExistence

Great article Brooke. Self-defence classes always help with confidence too :-)
I think over-drinking applies for both male and female solo travelers; although, I have met a few backpackers who have taken the risks.

Yep, totally agree that the drinking can be applied for males as well. Had a friend that was a bit too drunk in Barcelona, got surrounded by some feisty females on the street, and he just couldn’t move quick enough to secure his wallet…

Sounds juuuuuuuust a little paranoid :)

How about “Enjoy your trip”? ;) Many cultures even more polite to women, especially foreigners than men…

Haha, well it’s a post on safety! :) I totally agree that some of these points are overkill in many locations, but there are places where I personally had wished I had followed simple practices – places where being a woman, alone and unmarried put me in some not-so-happy situations.

Franny

Not paranoid at all..these are great tips, especially for a “green” woman traveler going out on her own. Otherwise, you learn these tips the hard way..

Great post, Matt and Brooke! It’s actually good for me too that travel with my husband. I’ll pass this to my female traveler friends!

I agree with the idea of taking self-defense classes. I did Krav Maga (the self-defense system of the Israeli army) for 2 years and learned a lot. Some of the best things I learned were various kicks to the gut (for warding off the men not intimidated by a fake ring) and things like the palm-heel strike and hammerfist. Those terms may sound a bit ridiculous, but they’re ways for women who aren’t comfortable with punching to defend themselves.

One more important note: if you’re going to study self-defense, take more than one class. One class is better than nothing, but practice is important.

Great comments Brooke. When I travel, I do the same things. Also, I suggest getting a bag (if not carrying around your backpack) that slings across the body. It does wonders in protecting your goods.
I unconsciously did the whole looking confident thing. I was lost many a time (directionally challenged here) but I always carried an air of certainty. Wearing sunglasses also can be a benefit. You can look all over the place and people just think you are checking out the scenery.

Great point with the sunglasses, Rhona!

Terri P.

Great tips, though a couple are pretty common sense. As a single female myself, I have yet to take any big trips on my own. I think your “group walk” idea is the best one, and it gives you a chance to maybe make a new friend or two. I’ll make sure to wear my old wedding ring when I travel too :)

Common sense, but still great tips! As a solo female traveler as well, the one that is most important for me- staying confident! I always tell people that as long as you look like you know where you’re going, people most likely won’t bother you. I’ve never had any problems while traveling alone- knock on wood! Thanks for sharing :)

These are great tips! I traveled alone to Spain, New Zealand and Australia and never had any problems. I’d add “listen to your instinct” to this list, too. If a situation feels off, get out.
Traveling alone is a really empowering and fun way to see a new country; it’s something everyone should do – male or female.

Traveling alone is totally empowering, and I love it, too! But, we need to make sure that this empowerment doesn’t make us forget these simple rules. I now feel like I can go anywhere in the world on my own, but I have to stop and check myself so that I remember that it doesn’t necessarily mean there is no risk. I always read on blogs about things happening to travelers because they simply got too comfortable somewhere.

Kate

I travel alone and I am married (husband hates to travel). The wedding ring trick unfortunately does not work (at least in my experience). You will still get men coming up to you and when you say that your husband is just around the corner, or somewhere else, they seem to not buy it. To get rid of unwanted attention you just have to be very firm and direct.
I find acting confidently works wonders. Wear sunglasses as well! And please don’t dress scantily especially in cultures where it isn’t the norm! Don’t make it harder for us women who don’t want to be bothered!

I agree with a lot of this but for me the most important thing is looking confident and like you are totally in control.

The wedding ring idea has actually backfired on me a lot with men either being more attracted because of it or by questioning me more and being more forward. I find that in some cultures I’m more attractive to the locals than others. Its amazing how much easier skinny foreign girls I talked to in Egypt got by than me.

Ay! I remember reading about your Egypt experiences – scary stuff!

Great article Brooke! – You are dead on about everything and you are NOT paranoid. This is the reality for women travelers and Maxim is a man so we cannot expect him to understand.

Guys do not get it. Even Randy will sometimes wonder why i am SO aware of my surroundings in a new area. Pretty much since birth, girls are raised with the notion to watch your back and we can all count too many women friends who have had unfortunate experiences. Men don’t get this because they have never had to really think about it for the most part.

I completely agree with everything you said. Looking confident and dressing down are by far the best techniques to avoid initial confrontations from unwanted guys. It is 100% unnerving to be approached continually by men – it is esp. creepy when you see the same guy over and over.

Sofia - As We Travel

Love the ring tip! Will definitely try this next time, saves you the awkwardness of turning somebody down when they come up to you.

Great article!

I want to echo the suggestion about dressing down. I’m a man, but I have to reinforce this one. It’s not about freedom, ladies: it’s about fitting in. The beauty of travel is how you come to adjust to a new culture’s standards, and in the process find a new insight on a world away from your own.

Every time I see a woman wearing tight shorts and a spaghetti strap top in India or the Middle East, I just want to shake my head. Where you come from, that’s acceptable and empowering, but in many places around the world, it weakens you. How about dressing appropriately, and thus showing everyone that women from the West have both freedom and a healthy notion of respect for other cultures?

I’m not a purist by any means, but when I see women who dress pretty provocatively by local standards, and who subsequently get in trouble for it (India is pretty notorious for that), I just feel a dose of cultural relativism would do them a lot of good. My own partner bought a dupata (Indian shawl) the second we arrived in Kolkata, and it improved her situation right away. Plus, she got to purchase cool-looking clothes and experiment with a new style of dress. As with everything else, go local!

And here’s to a world where we can all go naked in public! Now wouldn’t that be nice. :)

I totally agree about this one. I have two wardrobes, one “standard” wardrobe, and one specifically for travelling to countries with strict dress codes, and when I travel I pack accordingly. Whilst I definitely prefer my ‘standard’ clothes, I won’t expose myself to the risk, or become a cause of offence with what I wear.

Alisha

Great tips Brooke! I even use the ring trick in the states!! Women also want to be careful of flagging taxis on the street and going in alone. Men and Women alike should always ensure that they are using an official taxi as in many foreign countries especially in South America there are many “Independent” taxis.

Alisha – good call on the taxis! Many horror stories have been talked about on that subject in guide books. It can be quite enticing especially when you see all the locals waving down normal cars in the streets (in Central Asia), but the safest bet is to go official.

Couldn’t agree more on appearing confident! Really useful tips. Self defense is necessary, even for males. I haven’t needed to don a ring yet. This sounds bizarre, but foreign males don’t know how to react to me sometimes. My ethnic background is varied, thus I could blend into several cultures, which removes the label of “easy Western woman” off me and plunges them into utter confusion. Case in point, in Turkey I was at a bar when several Turkish men turned to look, but never approached me. The minute two European women grabbed a table, the come-ons assaulted them at all angles. Yup, you would have to hang with me to see what I mean! Super informative article, Brooke. As always. :)

I like the get a ring part. I always had to ferry off unwanted advances as I noticed that most men think that Filipinas like me who travel abroad alone must be a prostitute (even if i dress down and just wear plain tshirt, jeans and sneakers). If i don;t have a ring, I always say that I’m married, have two kids and my husband is waiting for me at the hotel.

Love these tips Brooke! The list is really spot on – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve linked bags and then sat on them when I was guarding a big group of bags so that someone else could go get tickets or do something like that. Sometimes people think you are paranoid, but really, it’s just good to have a healthy amount of prevention in my book! :-)

I don’t have a ring….yet. I’m going to see how it goes. In Mexico it’s not an issue at all but I was hounded in Belize. I’m hoping the rest of Central and South America will be like Mexico.

jennifer

I think that although it’s great to be cautious, the pointers aren’t necessarily going to keep someone “safe” per se. I think yes, it’ll divert the attention a bit, but as a foreigner (especially in more remote areas) you just draw attention with your big backpack, etc. I think just general common sense that you would practice in a big city in your own country is in general the greatest guideline. For me, the one guideline I practice is to never go out late at night unless I’ve met another group of travelers that I can go out with from my hostel. On that same note, I think if a foreign woman is in a state of fear of the locals, you miss out on a big part of traveling, which is to just meet amazing people who can be extremely generous and have such interesting stories or even pointers for your travels. The things I remember most of all my traveling are the locals I’ve met and how they changed my life.

That’s wonderful that you offer such excellent tips for females traveling. It can be a frightening thing to travel as a female in an unknown city and not be able to speak the language. Staying alert, traveling in groups, and being prepared are all excellent tips for female travelers.

Well said! I have one I think is important: Do your homework! If you’re going to be alone, learn as much as you can about the culture and taboos and people’s past experiences before you go. Some solutions work better depending on the context. For me, one such lesson is eye contact. In a some countries, making eye contact reinforces the sense of confidence I portray. In some other societies, it is seen as being forward or acknowledging someone or something, albeit unintentional encouragement.

While I don’t group walk per se, I find people surprisingly willing to come with me when I ask them- whether it is a ski patrol accompanying me so I can enjoy skiing the powder bowls that require a buddy system or a Caucasian friend to escort me while we wade through the Thai political protests to minimize locals assuming I’m an enemy in their ranks.

I’m glad to see a growing rank of lone travellers- male or female. But you are absolutely right in saying that we have to go about it smartly.

Hi Brooke. As others have said, many of these tips are rooted in common sense, but I’ve seen a disturbing amount of solo female travelers ignore them, to their detriment. As you’ve said, how cautious you choose to be is necessarily contingent on where you are, but these are all helpful things to remember when you do start to feel your Spidey Senses go on high alert.

I would add one more thing: I travel with a small, plastic doorstop. I don’t use it all the time, but when you do want some extra piece of mind and you’re staying in a single room, it is a great thing to have. Takes up no room in my bag and paid itself off a thousand fold when the staff from my hotel in Iloilo City was trying to get in my room at 4am and their rattling woke me up.

Jodi

Guy McLaren

That ring thing won’t fly in Springs or Brakpan in South Africa, because of the ringed doves also fly mentality. But anything that can divert their unwanted attentions is worth a try.

Good stuff. As for drinking too much, I will order drinks that look like they have alcohol in them, but don’t. Like tonic water with lime. Switch back and forth to stay in control of yourself throughout the night. If people are buying you drinks, go to the bathroom and dump half of it out…

NomadicMatt

Since I’m not a woman, I haven’t commented but it’s been interesting reading all the tips, advice and discussion you have all been posting.

This is a really great post! I am going to share it with all of my female traveler friends. Come to think of it, this is actually a great blog post for ALL females, especially if they are going somewhere by themselves. My town has had a sudden increase in gang activity, so tips like these really remind of me of the precautions I need to take every time I leave the house alone. Thanks so much for this post!

It’s interesting how much discussion the ‘ring’ tip provoked – I wonder why?
I would add that usually when I travel solo I either visit a friend who lives wherever I’m going, or make a new connection by asking for an introduction from a friend of a friend (…of a friend- if necessary). It’s so much more interesting to arrive at a new place knowing you have a contact to show you around a bit or chat with over a beer. Also, it ends up being a great safety tactic! Couchsurfing can be good for this – I’ve booked hostels or hotels in advance but made sure to meet with local people who can show me around; in Thessaloniki I met history students who told me more about the place than I could have imagined!

Great Tips Brooke! It’s like a self defence class. I always wondered on people who travel alone. Especially females. It encourages your self confidence and boldness. It is true that God has not given us the spirit of fear but the spirit of power and sound mind.

Helpful tips Brooke, thanks!

Christine, I agree with you (and Brooke) on confidence being one of the most important things to carry around. I’ve been approached by other tourists (who then look startled when I speak fluent English, if I’m in a non-English-speaking country) for directions fairly often – several times when I was actually lost! It’s a good indicator that I at least look like I know what I’m doing.

One thing I do to help myself look more confident and less like a tourist is to write down instructions on a small slip of paper for how to get places I’m going – at the very least, from the train station/airport/bus station to wherever I’m staying, when I first arrive. Pulling that out of my pocket instead of a map puts much less of a “tourist – just arrived!” sign on my forehead and, I feel, helps me draw less attention to myself overall.

this is great advice, especially about the bit about drinking too much. most female travelers should know their limits

I always travel with my Dad…he’s six foot three, bald, and majorly fierce-looking, so as long as I’m with him I’m safe ;) haha…plus he looks a lot younger than he actually is and lots of people have thought he’s my brother because he looks too much like me to be mu husband :P
Really, he’s quite handy to have around :D

Excellent article Brooke

If I may chime in here. If you work for a larger company that has brand recognition internationally, don’t carry any items identifying you work for them such a business card or logo tee shirt etc.

This makes you a more tempting target for kidnap for ransom or even an “express kidnapping”

Larry

nicholas

i think best tip is not to resist thieves and robbers because they will attack you and still get your wallet.

nicholas

fake ring does not actually work in Asian countries.

eyo

Excellent article ^^
However, do I really need a fake ring? It sounds kind of not necessary for me…
Anyway good tips you have there, there are some tips that I’ve never think about. Thank you :)

Niim

It’s really a great article !

I totally agree with most of your advices. Especially the tips Stay Alert.

About the fake rings, maybe you are right, but just in Western countries. It will not work in Asia, otherwise; it may catch more attention actually ^^

Niim

By the way, thank you for this article ^^

Trang

Thanks for your really useful awesome tips!

I mostly agree with them all especially the Fake Ring thing and i’m willing to try it out on my next trip to France. Though, i have one concern about the first one which tells to practice with large backpack. I think that it just makes you advertise yourself as a tourist and it doesnt sounds really good.

Sheena

Its quite a comprehensive article on travel safety tips. Really commendable job. Just want to add one from my side. why not use cell phones?
There are few must do’s with your cell phone to maintain personal safety during such a crisis:
? Keep your SOS numbers on speed dials.
? Be ready with your SOS messages.
? If you have a smart phone Safety app is installed and is properly working.
For those who don’t know what a safety app is since it is a new innovation, it is an app which allows you to send single or multiple signals to your pre saved contacts in case of an emergency. There are few apps available on internet and various mobile platforms for the same purpose. Mostly they are free and quite cool app. One such app is “EYEWATCH” it is pretty comprehensive app. It sends multiple signals in form of text messages, audio/video recording, GPS location to your near and dear ones. You can download it by SMS “EYEWATCH” to 53030. You can also search more apps online.
Be safe! Enjoy the travel!

Excellent post! dressing is very important for females while travelling. You should try to dressed as the local womens do. And try not to get involved in strangers conversation.

good article…would have liked a few tips on choosing rooms/sharing bathrooms etc in hostels and budget hotels.
travelling in the middle east and north africa I always use the fake ring..it usually avoids unwanted attention and higher prices in cafes/restaurants.Sunglasses and sports cap pulled down over the eyes,blonde hair tied up underneath is a good cover as it hides your different ethnicity.Its plain naive not to know that single women going around on their own can be most unusual in a lot of cultures..whatever the pros and cons…the fake ring is a must.Secondly I find a longish cotton skirt mid calf and plain T-shirt is the best way to blend in..see how the local women dress too.
Have a book or newspaper to bury your head in if sitting alone and drawing unwanted glances….learn some common words/phrases in the native languague…like “thank you I can manage”…or “I live/work here”…or in worst case scenario..”Go away”!…when asked what languague you speak….say “Estonian”or “Im from Iceland”..some country they possibly have never heard of..and then pretend not to understand them….no matter how many languagues they try to communicate with you in.
I learnt a good tip in Barcelona from seasoned travellers there, who are male and always do this…instead of a handbag or bum bag or your pockets…carry your passport, purse etc in an ordinary plastic bag…with a local shop logo on it. …That way you look like a local.

When out walking in towns/cities..walk with a purpose or buisnesslike. Ask for a lady masseuse if your go for a massage,hamam or turkish bath.Male masseurs always assume you are looking for “extras.”…. When getting a taxi tell the driver you are meeting up with your husband who is waiting for you at hotel/bar/cafe or whatever your destination is.Melting into the background is the best way to be truly free to take in the sights and sounds…local womens wear is v.useful in achieving this,….just buy these items cheaply from the local markets and discard when leaving the country.

Sasha

I will NEVER wear a fake ring. I refuse to live in fear and paranoia.

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