Advice for Women Travelers:
Health & Safety
Don't let concerns about safety keep you from traveling. Yes,
you are putting yourself at risk for all sorts of things by
traveling -- but you are putting yourself at risk merely by
walking out the front door of your home, no matter where you
live in the world. Yes, many thieves and otherwise bad people
target travelers specifically. But these same people also target
people who are Christmas shopping in their own
I have a British friend who went to Morocco and she never felt
unsafe or particularly harassed, unlike when she visited St.
Louis, Missouri a year before, when a hotel employee tried to
break into her hotel room in the night; yet I have another
well-traveled friend who went to Morocco and was harassed and
felt in danger the entire time. I have American friends who went
all around the world for a year with their children, and never
had a problem until they were back in the USA and were robbed at
a DC airport. Dangerous and/or opportunistic people, as well as
wonderful people, are everywhere. That hasn't stopped me, or
millions of other people, from traveling - or walking out the
This part of my
travel advice is the hardest to write, because while I
want to be realistic, I also DON'T want to
- scare the bejesus out of women, who then chose not to travel
- sound like I'm blaming theft or assault victims for what
happened to them (women are NOT raped because they trusted
someone or thought they were safe in a particular place - they
are raped because someone targeted them for such, and that is
not always something you can have control over)
- imply that these tips are guaranteed ways of staying safe.
I also cringe at the idea of saying to a woman, "You can't go
out for drinks, you can't ever be alone with a stranger, you
can't ever dress such that you feel beautiful, and you can't
stay out late, because you're a woman, and you might get raped!"
Travel safety shouldn't mean feeling ever-restricted or
continually afraid or never taking risks. But travel safety does
mean thinking about surroundings, learning about a location's
culture and crime rates, and thinking about the chances that
circumstances can change - and then balancing all of those
considerations with what it is you want to do and making what
you think is the best choice.
Travel safety advice for women is about staying aware of
your surroundings and assessing the risks of various situations
you will encounter while traveling - often more so than if you
were a man, I'm sorry to say, because women are often targeted
specifically because of their gender. It's about realizing
things like how you actually might be MORE safe with local men
than someone from your own country you met on the road, or that
all those people who blogged and said, I traveled to
such-and-such place, and did such-and-such thing, I was fine,
therefore, all safety warnings are alarmist and untrue were
just lucky, and you might not be. Remember: women who are harmed
while traveling tend not to blog about it.
Here's the good news: learning to be more aware of your
surroundings and avoiding certain risks while traveling will
help you be safer in your every day at-home life.
GENERAL SAFETY FOR WOMEN TRAVELERS
- I have advice on preventing motion sickness in the section of this
web site regarding transportation and
- Call your health insurance provider and see how your insurance works
if you are away from your primary care provider and doctors in your
network. You should also ask if they will cover you for travel abroad,
if you are leaving your country. You can get temporary travel health
insurance (check the Lonely
Planet and Rough Guide
web sites for more information and special deals, as well as AAA if you
are a member).
- If you are traveling outside the USA, you may need to buy
supplemental health insurance. The US Department of State has an
excellent web site on Medical
Information for Americans Abroad. In addition, consider buying Medical
Evacuation Insurance if you are traveling abroad. The US
Travel Insurance Association (UStiA) is a national association of
insurance carriers, third-party administrators, insurance agencies and
related businesses involved in the development, administration and
marketing of travel insurance and travel assistance products.
- Take all the medications you think you might need but might not be
able to buy whenever needed, and if you have prescription medication,
make sure the bottle descriptions are such that the medication could not
possibly be confused for illegal narcotics. If you are going to a
country where English is not the primary language, consider carrying a
list of your medications and what each is for.
- If you are going to a country where English is not the primary
language, have written down what the phrases are for conditions such as
"I have a yeast infection" or "I have a urinary tract infection," or any
medical conditions you get somewhat regularly.
WOMEN'S SAFETY WHILE TENT CAMPING
- Take a self-defense class before you travel. Take more than one.
Learn how to get out of a choke hold, learn where to hit or poke someone
where it counts, and practice those moves. These classes are very
empowering and will help you in your every-day life, not just while
- Always be aware of the people around you. Know who is behind you and
beside you. And don't ever be so inebriated that you won't know this.
- Never let a budget keep you from staying safe. If you feel that you
need to upgrade to a better hotel, or to first class on a train, in
order to feel safe, do it. If you need to take a taxi to get you out of
a bad area of town, do it.
- Avoid driving or traveling at night. That's not only to keep you from
being victimized; it's also a great way to substantially reduce your
chances of being in a road accident.
- Look at your hotel room when you arrive. Do all the doors and windows
lock? What kind of access is there to your room from outside (windows,
fire escapes, adjoining balconies, etc.)? If there is a fire, how will
you get out? If you aren't satisfied, ask for a different room or leave
altogether. It is perfectly acceptable to ask to view a room before
- Go to Google and type died
of carbon monoxide poisoning in a hostel. Behold all the stories -
from Florida, from Spain, from all over the world. Or go to carbonmonoxidekills.com.
Learn how to stay safe in your accommodations in cold weather!
- Avoid sitting or walking in empty areas (empty train car or an empty
street), no matter what time of day.
- When traveling alone, don't be the only woman in a train car. If you
are on a bus, sit with a woman or a group of women, or near the driver.
- Don't assume men in uniform are automatically safer than men not in
- If you have to wait for a bus or a train alone, either find a group
to stand near, or stand in a well-populated restaurant or business until
it's almost time for the bus or train to arrive, or stand where a train
station worker can see you. NEVER stand there alone listening to your
MP3 player or radio or whatever in both ears, even in day time.
- Lock your car, lock your door, lock your bags, including your purse
(except when you are checking in at the airport -- they will break your
- I keep my wallet in one of two places: when using my cloth briefcase
from REI (which is too thick to be razor bladed open quickly from the
bottom), I put my wallet in a compartment that I can zip, then put a
flap over the compartment that can be fastened twice (so that you can't
unzip it without unfastening and then flipping up the flap), then carry
the bag so that the compartment is facing inward, up against my body.
Or, I put my wallet around my neck and shoulder (the wallet has a strap)
and cover it with a light long sleeve shirt or jacket, then walk in such
a way that I can feel the wallet up against my side. I keep a few bills
or coins in an easy-to-reach pocket, for train fare -- if that were to
get lifted, it wouldn't be a huge loss. That means I have to spend a lot
of time to reach my money -- and that further means I need to be in a
safe place before fumbling for such (never on the street). Also, don't
let your guard down regarding your wallet in restaurants or bars --
those are prime times for pickpockets, as you are much more relaxed than
on the street.
- Favorite places to steal purses from travelers are in restaurants,
bars, trains and buses. Favorite places to razor-blade purses or pick
pockets are trains, buses and museums.
- Do not assume that your fellow travelers are trustworthy merely
because they are also traveling, even if they are on the same tour group
as you, are friends of friends, or they've seemed fine for the 48 hours
you have known them. You are under no obligation to share a room, a car
or a hike with anyone. When turning down an offer, just say, "I'd prefer
not to, if that's okay." or even "No offense, but that would make me
uncomfortable" or even just "No thanks." If someone gets overtly
offended or starts to pressure you, it's all the more reason to NOT do
whatever it was they were wanting you to do.
- By all means, talk to people -- talk to strangers! -- but know your
boundaries, and don't ever be afraid of being impolite if you feel
uncomfortable in any way. Never be afraid of being impolite if you feel
that someone is stepping over your boundaries. Do not let ANYONE guilt
you into doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable, whether it's
coming into a shop or sharing a meal or walking down a side street or
just simply talking to them. If someone calls your behavior insulting
because you cut them off or walked away, too bad.
- Negative experiences with men can happen from any culture or
nationality. Never assume someone is okay, or not okay, simply because
of his ethnicity or religion or origins are the same as yours.
- Just because a person is a Westerner doesn't mean he or she is any
more trustworthy than anyone else.
- Be assertive. Never say "maybe" for buying something, for sharing a
meal, for meeting later, or any other invitation when what you mean is
"no." If you need to cut someone off or walk away to get the point
across, DO IT.
- Parking lots are, to me, more dangerous than anywhere, even in broad
day light. Drivers are often more focused on finding a parking place
than looking for pedestrians or other drivers. And people walking to and
from their cars - especially women - are easy pickin's in airport
parking lots, restaurant parking lots, tourist site parking lots, etc.
People getting in or out of a car, or walking to their car, in any of
those places, are favorite targets of robbers. When you park your car,
scan the area. Look around your car. Do the same as you get out and
walk. Do the same as you return to your car, noting if anyone is
standing or walking near the car or near you. Walk in such a way that
other people in the parking lot can see you. If it's night time, park
near the entrance of wherever you are going, where others can see you
getting out of your car. When returning to your car, carry a flashlight
and use it as you are walking - and don't be shy about asking restaurant
staff to watch you walk to your car. Load packages or luggage quickly,
then get in and IMMEDIATELY lock the doors. Remember that your car horn
and hazard lights are there for you to use in case of danger.
- Never invite a male who is not a close, trusted, long-time friend
into your hotel room, including hotel employees and food delivery, no
matter what country you are in (including the USA). If they absolutely
need to come in, put away your valuables, leave the door open, and stand
next to the open door, in control of it, or in the door way, while they
do what they need to do and leave. Most USA hotel employees will
completely understand this behavior. And don't write me and say, "I've
NEVER done this, and I've been FINE!" Good for you. I have talked to two
people who weren't so lucky - and it just takes once with the wrong
- When walking to your room in a hotel, look all around you. If there
is someone close behind you as you approach your door, consider passing
by your door, or turning around suddenly and walking back the way you
came. If you feel threatened, YELL.
- Never walk alone at night unless there will be many other women
walking around as well (and I don't mean hookers).
- Leave the revealing or super-tight outfits at home, unless you are absolutely
certain it's the cultural norm for where you are going and you
will be with very trustworthy people the entire time. What works in
Florida is inappropriate in Egypt. When traveling, think carefully about
exactly what kind of attention you want to attract. That is NOT to say
that women who dress in a way that could be called provocative should in
any way be blamed for something awful that happens to them - what's
provocative to one person may be prudish to someone else, and no woman
who is dressing to feel pretty, or even to feel sexy, should be branded
as someone who is "asking for it." Just know that, if you are going to
go shopping or to a club or walk on the street and you are going to wear
something that shows your nipples or your thong or the tattoo on your
butt crack, you can't act surprised if someone comments on it or be
offended at the attention such attracts in a culture where that isn't
the norm for women.
- On a train or a bus, if you are with a friend or friends, all but one
of you can sleep -- one of you needs to stay awake and keep watch and
NOT listen to his or her MP3 player. I've known two people who woke up
on trains to find their wallets or a bag gone - or in the process of
being taken (surprise!), and have heard of it happening even more to
many people. If you are by yourself -- no sleeping, and no listening to
your MP3 player unless you are absolutely certain you aren't going to
miss something you need to hear (the announcement of the next stop, the
sound of someone opening the door or sliding your bag away, someone
begging for help behind you, etc.).
- And... and... I'm going to say it again... don't listen to your
MP3 player when walking around outside, when you are alone in a
strange building, while on mass transit in a strange country, etc. I use
my iPod only on long rides where I don't need to hear anything (like the
stops) and the passengers around me aren't going to change much during
the ride, or where I know all the passengers around me. I also use it on
planes. But that's it -- listening to what's around me is not only
something that helps keep me safe, it's also one of the most fun parts
- In developing countries in
particular, when you need to ask for directions on the street, ask
women, couples or old people, or go into a well-populated shop or
restaurant and ask an employee. In France, I look for people who are
obviously immigrants, because they seem to always be particularly happy
to help someone who isn't French (not that they are anti-French, but
that they seem to really understand your outsider feeling).
- When going hiking in an area where you feel like you might not be safe
because you are on your own, consider hiking near a group of hikers - or
even asking a group to look out for you. When we were in Jordan, a woman
from Bolivia who was staying at our hotel and was touring the country on
her own approached us and asked if she could hike with us the next day
in Petra, because she was being harassed when she was on her own, and we
were more than happy to have her along (it
actually made the day even more fun).
- I hate to say this, but I really do think, based on observation and
conversations with others, that women who are blond and red-headed,
regardless of their race, have more trouble in developing
countries, or where the hair color of locals is mostly brown or
black. So think about ways to be inconspicuous despite your hair color
(hats and bandanas are good). Yes, I know there are some of you out
there who have had no problem - good for you - please respect that
others have. In addition, women of African descent can be subjected to
especially intense or increased harassment from men in countries where
there are few people of African descent, such as countries in Asia and
the Middle East - a friend from Kenya told me some of the things men had
said to her out of the blue while traveling - shop keepers, travel
agents, drivers - and I was stunned and saddened for her, as she has to
always deal with this, sometimes every day - but, still, she travels.
- As a person from the USA, people in developing
countries will assume that you are rich (and you are in
comparison!). Don't wear anything that affirms your economic level if at
- It's up to you on how you deal with "cat-calling." I ignore it on the
rare occasion it happens. You would think it's something a woman pushing
50 would have to worry about. You would be wrong. If I felt threatened
by it, I wouldn't hesitate to talk to a police officer about it (I'm
scary when I'm demanding).
- Read through the
crime section of the US Department of State's Travel.State.Gov page
for Italy and the
crime section for India. Together, these pages provide a good
summation of the worst crimes that a US traveler needs to work to
prevent in MANY different countries. They can also scare you so much
that you decide not to go - and I hope they don't do that.
There are plenty of places online that talk about staying safe while
camping in regards to bear safety, flood safety, insect bites, first aid,
etc. But what about safety specifically with regards to being a woman?
There is a perception that camping in a remote area makes you more
vulnerable to crime than staying in a hotel. I disagree - if
no one knows you are in a remote area, and it's not likely you are
going to be found, you aren't going to be targeted as a crime victim in a
Are you, as a woman, more or less
vulnerable to robbery - or worse - while camping than while staying in a
hotel? I don't think so. I cannot find statistics anywhere on the
matter. Using Google I can find far more stories of women being assaulted
and/or robbed within hotel grounds - even within their own rooms - than
camping. In 2012, I went to Google and typed in robbed while camping
(no quotes), and the stories that came up were pretty scary - but many
months and years apart, and never for the same area (often not in the same
country), so relatively speaking, it seems to be rare. A Google search in
2012 of raped while camping and raped camp ground brought
up scary stories but, again, all months or years apart and in different
countries - again, it seems to be quite a rare occurrence. In 2013, a
Swiss woman on a cycling trip with her husband in central India was
gang-raped by local men as the couple camped out in a forest in Madhya
Pradesh state after bicycling from the temple town of Orchha - I would
guess they knew of other bike travelers who camped there previously and
had no problems at all, hence why they thought they would be safe; you can
easily find information about this online, as well as some horrific
comments that blame the couple for what happened (apparently it happened
because they were in a remote area, NOT because a group of men decided to
I've been way more wary of some of the hotels I've had to stay in than
when I've been tent camping. I've been much more scared of critters than
people while camping. But I also haven't really camped entirely
alone; I've had my
dogs or my husband with me. But would my husband or my dogs really
make a difference if someone really
wanted to target me for a crime? I don't know. What I do know is that,
even with the very few, though horrific, stories of people being assaulted
or robbed while camping, there are many, many, many more news stories of
women being robbed, assaulted and killed in their own homes or in
parking lots than while camping.
So, with all that in mind, here's some tent camping safety tips for
The quietest camping night I ever had when a camp ground was full was in a
very run down camp site in Northern England, near the Scottish border,
populated mostly by Travelers in beaten down RVs. My husband and I were on a
motorcycle, and we left everything in our tent, in locked metal panniers,
and walked across the street to a bar for three hours. And everything was
still there when we came back that evening. Why did I feel safe? It was a
family campground, and there were plenty of people around who would hear me
if I called for help. By contrast, I camped with my dogs at Bottomless Lakes
State Park outside of Roswell, New Mexico, which is a very
nice campground, but I was terrified the entire night because there were NO
other campers there at all that night.
- When you walk into the bathroom or shower, make sure no one is
following you, and check to see if anyone is in or around the facility.
Could people hear you if you yelled for help in the shower or bathroom?
This is not just a nighttime precaution.
- Sorry to be stereotypical, but I avoid drunk men, young or old, while
camping. I don't talk to them and I camp near other people if such are
- I'm not sure if this is a good strategy, but when I'm alone, I like
to camp (and befriend) couples - gay or straight, men or female, doesn't
matter. I have no idea if that makes me safer, but it makes me feel
- If camping in a camp ground, choose a camp site that is away from
roads; people who rob or victimize campers want a quick hit and getaway.
- You are probably safer at a camp site with other campers than if you
are the only person camping at a site - don't camp so far away from
other campers that they couldn't hear you yell for help. If you come to
a remote camp site and the only other campers are one group of men, move
on - they may be the nicest folks ever, but there's just no way for you
to know for sure. If you will be the only person in a camp site - one
without even a camp host - you might want to reconsider camping there at
all; camping rough, completely
hidden from all road and foot traffic, might be a better option.
- Inside the tent, don't put clothes or items up against the side of
your tent, where it would be easy for someone to slash the sides of your
tent and make a quick grab; by the time you wake up, the perp has jumped
in a car and is driving away. It rarely happens - it's never happened to
me, and I've never known anyone it's happened to - but it does happen,
as a search of Google will tell you.
- Keep valuables on your person, even when you go to the bathroom.
Other campers aren't automatically trust worthy just because they are
WOMEN'S SAFETY TRAVELING ABROAD
Regarding traveling abroad, specifically: Women from the USA are
capable, independent, and grew up in a country where, for the MOST part,
it is our right to do anything that a man can do and go anywhere that a
man can go. Unfortunately, this is not how it is in many other countries.
Other cultures may see this capable, independent attitude and lifestyle as
"loose" sexually. This opinion is created/reinforced by television shows
and films from the USA. Hence why extra precautions and a curtailing of
your actions are sometimes necessary, however annoying that might (and
often does) feel.
But also note that, in some cultures, being a woman may be to your
advantage: you might have access to women's society and friendship that is
denied to men in certain cultures, for example. You can be super friendly
to women you encounter in shops or restaurants and not have to worry about
your actions being misinterpreted. Or some men may be especially
protective of you if you are their customer (and particularly if you are
modestly dressed and making an effort to be respectful of their culture),
and that may pay off in a situation where other men are being threatening
or just creepy.
The most important thing is to read as much as you can about a
country or culture before you go to a particular country -- and seek out
women authors as much as possible, because men can sometimes gloss over
cultural concerns that women need to be very aware of. Become aware of
cultural differences, specifically that pertain to attitudes toward women
(and American women). Lonely
Planet books offers tips specifically for women, tailored for
each country, and I have found the books very helpful specifically
regarding their advice for women.
One other thing: Know how the phones work in whatever country you are
in, and consider buying a phone card so you can make any local or
international call you may need to at any time.
SAFETY AT BARS & PUBS
And then there's going to bars. I went to a bar in the middle of the day
in Madrid, by myself, for a pint of Guinness and had a wonderful afternoon
chatting with the women that worked there. But that's just not possible
everywhere. And even if you are with friends, you are incurring risk, per
the now rampant use of date-rape drugs. So, especially for bars, here are
- When in doubt about your safety at a bar, DON'T GO, or LEAVE if you
are already there.
- Lonely Planet guides usually say point blank if it's appropriate for
women to go to bars in a particular country. Follow its advice!
- When you first walk into the bar, don't look for a place to sit --
look to see if there are women there, either as customers or serving. If
there aren't, consider whether or not this is a good place to hang out.
- Get your drinks directly from the waiter or bartender -- preferably,
a waitress or barmaid.
- Do NOT accept a drink handed to you from someone else, even a friend
of a friend, or someone buying you a drink - get your drink directly
from bar staff only. If your refusal of such a drink is taken as an
insult, too bad -- that person should know better. Don't write me and
tell me about the hundreds of times you have accepted a drink from a
stranger and been just fine - again, I know two people who were bought
and brought drinks by very nice guys - and the drinks were
spiked (thankfully, their girlfriends got them out of the situation).
- If you go to a bar with others, agree on an easy-to-remember,
no-questions-asked safety word, to be used if you believe you need to
make a quick exit out of fear of your safety, and you think being blunt
about leaving could make you more vulnerable. It could be anything:
"Doesn't this place remind you of Springfield?" or "This reminds me of
the scene in that George Clooney movie." Say the phrase a lot together
back in your hotel room. Laugh about it. Joke about. But know it when
you hear it from a fellow traveler.
- If you feel that you are in a country where you can safely go to a
bar alone, then go only early in the evening, and leave before it gets
the least-bit late. Take a book to read, even if there's a game on the
TV you want to watch (in which case, read it during commercials). Having
a book is a statement that you aren't interested in being picked up, and
a good buffer against creeps. FORGET THE MP3 PLAYER. It cuts off your
awareness of your surroundings in such a situation, and you just cannot
afford that. Your purse should be on your body at all times, never
hanging on a chair or placed on the floor between your feet.
- Remember the line you've read so many times: "He seemed like such a
nice normal guy, he was a friend of my friend there, he'd been so nice
for the days he hung out with us, I can't believe he did this," etc. How
nice a guy looks or acts is absolutely no indication of how things will
Before your trip, think about what you would do if you were robbed - or
worse. Imagine the plan: whom you would call (police, credit card
companies, family, embassy, etc.), where you would go immediately, how you
would get home quickly, etc. Imagine the plan in your mind - and may you
never have to follow that plan.
Another site's information
on safety for women traveling abroad
Did I scare you? I really hope not. I've followed my own advice, and it
has not kept me from walking on a beautiful boulevard at night, or
going out to eat and having a beer by myself, or talking to strangers, or
wearing something that makes me feel beautiful, and it shouldn't keep you
from doing those things altogether either. The reality is that you could
follow all of this advice - and be even more restrictive in your behavior
- and you could still end up being the target of a bad person, for robbery
or something much worse. I'm not a blame-the-victim person, and if you are
robbed - or worse - call the police (and if you are abroad, your embassy),
and do not let a feeling of guilt or a feeling that it is somehow you're
fault (because it is NOT your fault) keep you from seeking help.
And with all that said: please don't let concerns about safety keep you
Any activity incurs risk. The author assumes no responsibility for the use
of information contained within this document.
If you have read this blawg, PLEASE let
Comments are welcomed, and motivate me to keep writing -- without
comments, I start to think I'm talking to cyberair.
to or from my web site
traveling is not only wonderful, but important to your
life, and why women's excuses to avoid traveling are
really just words
travelers: general information and advice (especially
for women novice travelers)
travelers: health & safety considerations
travelers: packing suggestions
travelers: other resources to help women travelers
options, and advice on preventing motion sickness
the importance of complaining
travelers: advice for traveling in developing countries
my page of helpful hints for camping
with your dogs in the USA
Money with Park Passes in the USA
Started as a Motorcycle Rider: My Journey (Tips for
Women Who Want To Ride)
for Women Motorcycle Travelers: packing
Saving Money for Travel (or to
pay off your debt)
benefaciendo: "to travel along while doing good."
advice for those wanting to make their travel more than
sight-seeing and shopping.
the Internet to Share Your Adventure During Your Adventure,
advice on blogging, photo-sharing, tweeting, etc.
essential information while traveling
Advice on things you should do before you leave on a trip,
to ensure you can access information via any computer or
your feature phone or smart phone that you might need while
for Women Aid Workers in Afghanistan; many of these
tips are valid for travel anywhere in the world where the
culture is more conservative/restrictive regarding women
adventures in Germany
adventures in Europe, Africa, as well as road trips in
for Hotels, Hostels & Campgrounds in Transitional
& Developing Countries: the Qualities of Great, Cheap
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