Travel safety for women and men on the road isn’t something that only our overprotective parents and cute li’l granny should worry about – it should also be a valid concern of our own.
With that being said, I don’t want to be a scaremonger, so I’ve put a lot of thought into this article. I’ve visited over 100 countries in 8 years and I have had considerably more positive experiences of hospitable and welcoming locals than I have had negative ones.
Although I did survive a mugging in Santa Marta, Colombia, and a local intervened in Papua New Guinea informing my mate and me that we were being followed by the notorious gang the “Raskols” so it worked out ok.
There have been a handful of sketchy moments, but I consider my intuition to danger to be pretty decent, and due to my upbringing I’m pretty street smart.
Again, you could write a “chicken soup for the traveller’s soul” book on the magnitude of beautiful experiences I’ve had of locals helping me out in times of distress, buying my meal (it’s almost impossible to pay for your own in Oman) or just wanting an authentic human connection with me and inviting me into their family home.
I was disappointed recently when I told a female friend that I was going to write this article, and she thought that it was completely asinine to give safety advice to the male of the species.
Contrary to popular belief, men are no strangers to being the victims of violence, and it’s that word “stranger” that is key here as men are more likely to be killed from a violent attack than a woman by someone they don’t know.
Women of course fall prey to a different kind of evil – sexual assault – and they are much more than likely to be a victim of domestic violence and although that is usually from a “loved one” or someone that they know, females are also at risk from violent attacks by strangers.
Some resources use the word “violence” as a blanket term, not stating which type of violence they are referring to, but it’s clear that both women and men need to be aware of potential risks, for different reasons.
Male ego is often used as a reason why men are attacked more. I don’t like this at all, and I find it to be the male victim-blaming equivalent of, “Well, she was wearing a short skirt so she was asking for it!”
That’s not to say us men don’t get ourselves into trouble with our chest-thumping at times, but speaking as a man for whom violence was an unfortunate second nature due to the atmosphere I was exposed to as a child until I was a young man, many of my beatings were a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I certainly wasn’t going out roaming the streets looking for brawls with hostile, local Irish gypsies almost twice my size!
From my life experience back home and on the road I have written 17 tips to hopefully help people stay safe while travelling. My advice is under Travel Safety Tips for Men as I’m a bloke and that’s all I’ve ever known, but some tips will also help women.
As I’ve no experience of what it’s like to travel as a woman, it made sense for me to get a lady who does to write the second half of the article Travel Safety Tips for Women. (Not the aforementioned female friend, she’s on the naughty step until further notice.)
Travel Safety Tips for Men
You’re not THAT good-looking. Sorry, mate. Maybe you actually are gifted with the blue-eyed charm of Bradley Cooper or blessed with the hunky genetics of Chris Hemsworth or Idris Elba.
You absolute bastard you.
But if you’re anything like the rest of us mere mortals, she may be coming on strong because you’re in a honey trap, you foolish little fly.
That’s not to say that an exotic woman won’t genuinely fancy you because you’re different to locals and are fun to be with, that WILL also happen (you can stop crying into your passport now). I’m just saying that if it seems too good to be true, approach with caution.
Tinder trap of honeys. Staying on the topic of those damn hustling honeys, I want to hammer home how serious it can get. I knew a wealthy Mexican guy who was doing the horizontal jogging with a tasty Venezuelan woman. After three weeks of dating, a gang of thugs proceeded to follow him all over town and extort money from him.
He ran away to Vancouver and is still there in hiding. There was no way to know this was going to happen – and I’m not saying avoid Venezuelan women (good luck with that, they’re alien-gorgeous) – again, play it safe and just be aware of what can happen if the immortal voice in your pants becomes louder than your logic upstairs.
Keep Strong, Conflicting Opinions to Yourself. Leave them at home. If you are in a country where the dominant culture is for the thing that you are against, you will do nothing by causing a scene. That’s not to say let the fire within you die – take it back home with you and try it use it for good.
Don’t be afraid to seem like a rude asshole. If your intuition senses danger, you have a right not to feel that way. If you are worried about being too dickish when someone is being pushy, forgive yourself and do all you can do get out of the situation. Maybe you were wrong, and the other person only had good intentions. That sucks, but your safety is your priority.
Don’t chat up women in cultures of enforced modesty. It’s a different set of rules in countries that have deeply conservative or religious values. There is this weird vampire myth I often hear from men that goes something like, “Oooh religious girls are the real goers”.
It’s bollocks. The exception to the rule does not negate the rule. Let her feel comfortable (you chatting to her could get HER into trouble, if not yourself) and leave her be, you randy little scallywag.
(Did I really just say the word “randy” in 2019?)
Even if a woman is with her husband, in some countries it’s seen as weird/disrespectful to talk to her. If she wants to shake your hand or talk to you, she will. It doesn’t have to be awkward, just be aware and allow her to take the lead if she wants to.
Lie about your sexuality if you’re gay. I’m straight and I’m pro-gay rights, and as much as I love the “I am what I am” philosophy I don’t care if this tip ruffles feathers – I care more about my gay friends and family members coming home safely. So it may be pragmatic to do this in places where due diligence has been done and you’re in a non-gay friendly part of the world (i.e. the dominant culture is violently homophobic or it’s illegal to be gay).
The idealist will say, “But I want to live in a world where this shouldn’t have to happen”, and while I echo this sentiment, safety is key. We are constantly browbeaten to believe we should just respect all ideas different to our own. I disagree, and I’m not a fan of cultural relativism, but the one person you should respect is yourself and your right to be safe. As I said earlier on, easier said than done but take that fire home with you and use it for good.
Drink less. I didn’t say completely abstain as I know I love a bit of local booze on my travels, but you’re considerably more vulnerable when you’re inebriated. A walking, wobbly, target with dumbed-down senses for asshole predators to exploit. Drink and be merry I say, just try and cap it before you lose control of your surroundings.
About drugs… As above, I’ve been no angel with this one over the years (sorry, Mam) but I’ve calmed down now. Even in my wildest days I never took drugs in a country where it was punishable by death. Neither should you.
I am always 100% sure I have no drugs on me when I fly to Malaysia (because I’m not a moron) but the announcement over the tannoy on the plane that “drug smuggling or use will be punishable by death” thankfully terrified me into not trying drugs in countries with this law.
Sometimes I’m a fool, but an educated one.
Also, newsflash… People who sell drugs are usually sketchy characters who are only financially motivated. They are not your friends and don’t have your best interests at heart. Be realistic about this.
Only wear headphones in your room. No brainer, but my mate got a little too comfortable living in Medellin and before he knew it he had a handgun in his face in broad daylight outside a mall when he forgot this unwritten rule.
That super-cool party that the stranger you just met told you about. Forget about it. Not worth the risk, especially if just upon meeting they are inviting you there.
I lived in Mexico for two years and Mexicans are actually this friendly and are legitimately inviting you to a party because they’re awesome. But 9 times out of 10 around the world you should forget about this one until you know the person better.
Study local travel scams. It’s wise to be prudent and study this. My destination guides (currently in the works) try their best to pinpoint the popular scams in every country.
Have good travel insurance. This is more of a reactionary tip than a precautionary one but the time you wish you had it is when you don’t have it – trust me! I switched to SafetyWing and I’m more than happy with them.
Don’t leave valuables hanging out your back pocket. Duh.
Get fit and strong! We should want to feel healthy and strong anyway but being fit on the road means can get you out of scrapes, run faster and generally be more alert. I only recently started getting fit again – I am training for something very specific (mountain climbing) – but I try to make sure I incorporate functional fitness into my regime as opposed to getting mirror muscles. They may look great, but they don’t serve me as well functionally.
Meditate. I know it still gets a rough deal in the western world and it shouldn’t. It’s been good for me, and your senses will become more heightened the more you do it – especially situational awareness which is key to staying safe.
Learn self-defence. Uh oh, I haven’t been practising what I preach with this one but I plan to. In fact, I wish that I learnt a long time ago. I like how Joe Rogan explains why he did exactly that; to paraphrase, he said, “I was being bullied and I wanted to become exactly what I was afraid of”.
I am trying to work this into my mountain climbing training; tough gig but may be worth the effort.
Walk away. This tip is pretty self-explanatory. Yes, learn self-defence but to defend yourself, not to start fights! But let’s be real, you’re not Jason Statham and when it comes to a rabid guy invading your personal space, self-defence should be a last resort. Always choose to run or walk away – even if you think you can “have” him… Your ego is not your amigo in this instance.
Travel Safety Tips for Women
This part of the article is written by Christina Petrides from WorkingOnTheRoad.com
If I had a penny for each time someone asked me if I was afraid to travel alone, I would be a very rich woman. Yes, I do think about my safety – who doesn’t? I think about my safety on a daily basis, even when I’m in my hometown. To me, it’s just common sense. When I’m preparing to go travelling or find myself in a new place, I take that a couple of steps further so that I am confident that I can stay safe and avoid problems.
As a blonde it’s hard to blend into most places. So, I have come up with a few tips and tricks that help me stay safe and give me peace of mind that I’ve prepared as much as I can.
There’s a fine balance between be so over prepared that you forget to have fun and so laid back that you open yourself up to danger or hassle, and part of that is learning through experience – at the end of the day, you need to feel comfortable in a place or situation and you need to set your own limits.
Here’s my take on how to stay safe, enjoy your trip and meet people along the way.
Do some basic planning and preparation for arrival and getting about. Before you get to a new country or place do a little research on the local scams or your transport options. For example, what are the best ways to get around? If you need a bus ticket do you buy that in advance or on the bus? If you want to take a taxi from the airport is there an organised system in place or is there a rank with a first come, first served system? Looking completely lost and not being able to speak the language opens you up to unscrupulous locals taking advantage of you and ripping you off. Not a good start to your trip!
Have your first night’s accommodation booked. I know a lot of travellers who prefer to rock up and find a room or bed for the night by shopping around on the ground. I prefer to have my first night’s accommodation booked, especially if I’m arriving late at night. Tiredness, delays, and not knowing your way around will all work against you and lugging your bags around isn’t fun either. One night is all you need and if you like the place, you can probably extend your stay. If you don’t, you have had some rest and daylight to look for a new place.
Arrange a pick-up on arrival if necessary. When arriving late at night at an airport, bus or train station, it’s a good idea to have your hostel/hotel arrange a pick-up for you. You don’t have to mess around with finding transport, negotiating a price, or figuring out where you’re going.
Download an offline map app. I have Maps.me and use it to follow the route a driver takes in a new town, especially at night or when I’m new to a place. That way I can track that we’re going in the right direction and they are not taking the long way round to rip me off.
Let people know your travel plans. When I’m travelling my friends and family would love to know where I am at all times. I compromise by letting them know when I’m on a travel day. If I’m going from A to B on a bus or train, I will let them know departure time and estimated journey time and confirm I’ve arrived. If I’m travelling by plane, I will send them flight details, and again confirm I’ve arrived. I also give them a rough itinerary so that they don’t worry unnecessarily. But it’s also good for me, because I know that if something were to go wrong, they could mobilise a search party or know that I’m safe and not caught up in a problem or situation somewhere.
Get tipsy, but don’t get legless. Sound obvious? You’d be surprised. I’m all for having fun when travelling, but you don’t want to find yourself in a situation that could have been avoided if you had had your wits about you. Drink responsibly. And when you are drinking, keep an eye on your glass. It’s easy for someone to slip something into it even while you are talking to them, so be vigilant.
Avoid drugs. Again, sounds obvious, but ignored by many. Not only do you not know who you are buying from (they could and often are undercover cops or working with the police for a kickback), you have no idea of the quality of what you are getting or how you will react to it. And in many countries the crime is punishable by death. Not. Worth. It.
Dress appropriately. In my ideal world it would make no difference whatsoever what people wear. But, in reality it does matter, especially in places where modesty is part of the culture. Be aware of what local customs and norms are, and if you’re unsure ask. If you need to keep your shoulders and knees covered, then pack the hot pants and spaghetti straps away. If you may need to cover your hair, carry a light scarf with you (also good for covering your shoulders if you’re going into any churches or temples). Consideration will go a long way with locals.
Don’t tell people where you’re staying. Most of the time people will ask out of simple curiosity, but they don’t really need to know, do they? If you’re arranging to meet someone, pick a neutral, preferably busy, spot instead.
Listen to the locals. They know their town and what is safe for foreigners to do or where they can go. If they say you shouldn’t be out after dark, either stay in your room or hostel at night or find a group to go out with so that you are not alone.
Join a tour group. If you are uncomfortable being alone or are not yet used to it, joining a group is a great way of getting around, seeing the sights and maybe even making new friends. This could be a day trip or a longer one, depending on what you want to see, where you are and your level of comfort in being alone.
Carry a travel cash card. Before you leave your home country it’s worth setting up a travel cash card account. It works by letting you transfer money into it that you can then withdraw from an ATM anywhere. The benefits are that you don’t carry around your debit or credit card that could be lost, stolen, or cloned. It also means that if anyone ever forces you to withdraw money and hand it over, there is a limited amount that you can take out, leaving the bulk of your money safe.
Spread your money around. By that I mean keep bills in different pockets, bags, your shoes or your bra. Often, thieves know to look for money belts so having your money somewhere else – and ideally in a number of places – means you can hand over a purse, belt or pouch without compromising all your funds.
Carry a doorstop and whistle. Small and easy to carry, they can be a great way to help you feel and stay safe. A doorstop will secure a flimsy hotel door and a whistle can attract attention or frighten someone off if you are feeling threatened, either in your room or when you are out and about.
Learn to trust your gut. Listen to your instincts. If your gut tells you that something doesn’t feel right, do something about it. Get yourself out of a situation before it turns into a situation. You may get it wrong but isn’t it better to err on the side of caution? Never worry about appearing rude if you need to make your excuses and leave. Your safety is your first concern. The more you travel, the more you will fine-tune it and soon reading a new place will be second nature.
Take out insurance cover. Many feel they’d rather spend the money on something else, but I wouldn’t dream of travelling without it. From a safety perspective, it can help you replace things that are lost or stolen and if you’re in an accident it can cover your medical expenses.
So, there you have it. A few simple things to help you stay safe and keep travelling. After all, that’s what we all want to do, isn’t it?