It is unfortunate to have to begin a travel article with security advice, but just as security comes before getting on a plane, it needs to be considered before traveling. Much of the advice we give here we have obtained from the Women’s Travel Club (www.womenstravelclub.com). Some of the advice may seem overcautious but as the saying goes, “Better be safe than sorry.”
When choosing where to stay, a smaller hotel is often a good choice. The hotel staff is more apt to know you and strangers loitering are more noticeable. A well trafficked street is ideal because of the proximity of restaurants and stores and better public transportation. If you’re anxious, ask a female employee if she feels safe walking in the area. If driving your own car, look for well-lit parking or valet service and park facing out for a quick exit. Also, consider hotels/motels with inside corridors rather than outside corridors.
Ask for a room close to the elevators and reasonably far away from construction, fire ladders and terraces, and have your key out when leaving the elevator. Ride with your back to the wall in the elevator and, if threatened, push all the buttons at once. Consider bringing along your own rubber doorstop to place under the inside of your hotel door. Put any expensive clothes on hangers under your everyday clothes and lock valuables in the safe.
When going out, check your map before you leave, not in public. Dress simply and avoid jewelry. Popular situations for pickpockets are when you get in or out of vehicles and when exiting escalators. Try to carry only one credit card and photocopies rather than important documents. Become familiar with foreign currency before you need to use it. If you need to ask for directions, ask families or women with children.
Use covered luggage tags with your business address on them and lock your suitcase. When you go to a public lavatory take your purse with you. Stay close to your belongings when going through security and if your bag is at your feet in a restaurant, pass your foot through the strap. Pay for a taxi while you are still in it and check your change before you exit.
If planning evening activities, arrange for a taxi both to and from the venue or the restaurant or eat in a restaurant close to your lodging. If going sightseeing in the evening, consider going with a group. Understand that, in some parts of the world, “respectable” women don’t go out alone in the evening. In these places, a flagrant rejection of this custom could very well put you in jeopardy.
Finally, if you are the victim of a crime, contact the police and keep a copy of the report for your insurance company.
Give some thought to how you dress. In the Western world, you’ll encounter few, if any, clothing restrictions, but it still makes sense to dress conservatively. Leave your valuables at home. Instead, consider costume jewelry that might serve as a conversation piece with those you meet along the way.
If you travel into developing countries and male-dominated societies, make every effort to dress modestly. In some places, customs based on religious and moral beliefs strongly influence the way the women dress. For you to blatantly break these rules would be considered irreverent and might put you in jeopardy. Why not adapt your clothing to fit the customs of the host country? It becomes an interesting and educational challenge.
Unfortunately, the potential for sexual harassment and intimidation is a reality around the world, just as it is at home. Be prepared. Do your networking and research before you leave. Find out as much as you can about the roles of both women and men in the places you plan to visit.
In some cultures, a woman alone may be considered fair game. Understand this and prepare yourself mentally for any propositions, suggestive comments or catcalls. Then simply ignore them. You might want to team up with a companion. Two women traveling together might have an easier time.
Sometimes even making eye contact with a man is a sign that you want his company. Some women solve this problem by wearing dark glasses. Be aware that you will probably be openly stared at. In countries where you look very different from everybody else, both men and women will make no attempt to hide their curiosity.
Behave confidently. When you’re out, try to look as if you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing. Take your cue from the local women. As a general rule, if they don’t sit in cafés alone, you shouldn’t do so either. If they aren’t wearing sleeveless dresses, neither should you.
Crowded trains and buses can be perfect breeding grounds for antisocial behavior. Some men will use this opportunity to touch or pinch the female passengers standing close to them. If this happens to you, make a fuss. Point at the offender and chastise him in a loud voice. He’ll probably slink away. However, to avoid these types of advances, consider choosing reserved seating if you can afford it. It will be money well spent. In countries like Egypt and India, take advantage of the female-only sections in buses, trains and subways. Use this excellent opportunity to communicate with local women and their children.
Coping With Foreign Toilets
Modern bathrooms as we know them in North America do exist around the world, but not everywhere. As a traveler, you will come across everything from outhouses to simple holes in the ground where squatting is a necessity. Some toilets will flush, but many won’t. In developing countries, some cubicles are enclosed. However, as you venture further into the countryside, you might have to make do with little or no privacy.
To cope with the vagaries of foreign bathrooms, consider wearing a long, full skirt. This will allow for some modesty in situations where you have to “go” outdoors.
Always carry a supply of toilet paper with you. In some parts of the world, it’s either very scarce or too coarse to be usable. In parts of Asia and Africa, expect a jug of water, left beside the toilet, in lieu of paper.
The smell in toilets is sometimes overpowering. Try dabbing some mentholatum under your nose to help mask the odors while you use the facilities. And carry your own antiseptic wipes or a small bar of soap. These are generally not easily available.
“Oh no! It’s my period!”
There are several reasons why having your period can interfere with your travel plans.
Perhaps it is the timing. You’ve finally scheduled a romantic vacation, or you’re on a very intense business trip with lots of planned activities and having your period is going to be very inconvenient.
Or it may be your itinerary that’s the problem. You may be expecting to spend several months in a country where bathroom facilities are scarce and feminine hygiene products are unavailable. Or you may be backpacking or traveling light so that carrying tampons or napkins and an extra change of clothing in case of “accidents” just won’t work.
Whatever the reason, you may be looking for a way to delay or prevent your menstrual period or at least make it less intrusive.
We should say from the outset that nothing is foolproof, but there are some options to available to make your period less of a problem.
One way is to delay your periods with some schedule of oral contraceptives. Remember that taking your pills in these unusual ways does not reduce their ability to prevent pregnancy. Don’t forget, though, that hormonal contraceptives do not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases. For that, you still need a condom or to practice abstinence.
If it is not the timing that’s the problem—i.e. if it is more a matter of being in remote areas or spending several months in places where tampons, napkins and bathrooms are in short supply—then perhaps you need to consider not preventing your menstrual flow but rather finding a different way of handling it, such as a cervical cap or menstrual cup.
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