“A nomad I will remain for life, in love with distant and uncharted places” Isabelle Eberhardt
Our experience of being women travellers has been overwhelmingly positive. Ironically, our worst experience happened when we were travelling with three male friends. We were car-jacked at some traffic lights in Lima, Peru within half an hour of landing at the airport. Although our friend had his backpack stolen, luckily none of us were hurt.
A Blown Tyre in the Sonoran Desert
Whenever I have felt fear while travelling, it transpired that it was completely unjustified. On a road trip to Mexico with a friend, we became stranded in the desert when a tyre blew on the car. We took a risk when two men offered to take us to the nearest town, where we could buy a new tyre. They promised to return us to the car and change the tyre themselves. As there wasn’t much passing traffic, we took a chance and went with them.
Mariachi played on the radio as they took us to a dusty house in the middle of nowhere. At this point, my hand was on the door handle and I was ready to jump out of the car and run like hell across the Sonoran Desert. It turned out that one of the guys just wanted to pop in and let his wife know that he would be late home. True to their word, these two kind men took us into town to buy a tyre. We were then taken back to the car, where they changed the tyre and bid us adios.
Travelling in India
In India, women travellers from overseas attract much attention. Although it can feel slightly intimidating, it is rarely threatening. Indian men will sometimes surreptitiously take photos of western women on their phones, often request ‘one selfie please’ or simply stare. The stares can be annoying, but it is best to ignore them and carry on walking. Much of the time, the photo requests are simply because white faces are a rarity. It can even be an effective way to break the ice and have a chat with the locals.
Common Sense and Intuition
Common sense, intuition and not putting yourself in a vulnerable situation obviously helps, but the fact is that when you travel you regularly have to put your trust in people you wouldn’t normally. The good news is that in the majority of cases, the people you put your trust in turn out to be genuinely nice folks.
I am not naïve and I know that not all women travellers out there aren’t as lucky as I have been. All I can say is that in over thirty years of travelling, I have not been in any situations that I have found exceedingly threatening on account of being female.
Other women can be allies in certain situations. We once spent the night in a bus station in Jaipur, India, waiting for a connecting bus. A rather strange man sidled up to us, attempting conversation. Whenever we moved, he followed us. A woman who was waiting for her brother to arrive, had been watching. She came over to check that we were ok and even invited us back to her home. It was a very kind gesture and one which we really appreciated.
Top Tips for Women Travellers
Start Somewhere Easy!
If you haven’t travelled much previously and are taking your first solo trip, start off somewhere that is known to be relatively safe and easy to travel in. That way you will build up confidence to visit more adventurous destinations eventually.
Book Central Accomodation
If you are travelling alone, try and book accomodation in a reasonably central location. If you are on the outskirts of a town or city, it may not be safe to walk back to in the evenings. Also, ensure that your hostel, hotel, guest house or Airbnb has excellent reviews and is secure.
Enjoy Going Out for a Drink, but don’t Overdo it!
Going out for a drink or two is fine, but don’t overdo it and keep your wits about you. After a few drinks, you are at your most vulnerable. Additionally, make sure that you never leave your drink unattended.
Consider Wearing a Wedding Ring When Travelling in India
When travelling in India, it is a good idea to wear a wedding ring if you are over thirty. Although against my feminist principles, I became weary of the looks of shock, horror and pity received when I was discovered to be without a husband. I should mention that I would, of course, prefer to educate rather than lie. However, anyone who has travelled independently in India (and no doubt, one or two other countries), will know how challenging it can be.
Take an Official Taxi when Arriving Late at Night
When arriving late at night in a city you aren’t familiar with, take an official taxi. Mexico City, for example, is known for its 20,000 pirate taxis, which operate outside the law and are considered dangerous. Many airports have pre-paid taxi stands in the arrival halls.
Look like you Know Where you are Going
If you find yourself in a dodgy area, don’t make eye contact, walk confidently and give the impression that you know where you are going (even if you don’t!) Don’t check your map in full view and keep valuables such as your phone out of sight. Looking as though you know where you are headed won’t make you stand out as a tourist.
Women travellers should dress appropriately when travelling in certain countries to avoid attracting attention. Again, this is one that can be grating because we are generally used to our freedom. More often or not, cultures where women are expected to dress in a certain way are also repressive to women. However, if you have chosen to travel in such countries, it makes sense that you do some homework and ascertain what is acceptable and what isn’t for your own sake. Also, don’t wear expensive jewellery – you don’t want to be a magnet to thieves and tricksters.
Don’t be Afraid to say NO
If you feel pressurised, either by a tout or a potential lothario, don’t be afraid to say no. It’s just not worth taking risks if you are getting bad vibes.
Keep a Stash of Mugger’s Money
Keep a stash of ‘mugging money’ separate – just in case. This could be around $50.00 or so, hopefully enough to keep a potential mugger at bay.
Make use of Women Only Carriages on Trains
Some cities, such as Kuala Lumpur and Mexico City, have ‘women only’ carriages on trains. Not only are they safer, but often less crowded. Use them if they are available.
Stay connected via social media and email. You don’t need to post or email every single day, but it’s important to stay in touch, especially if you are travelling alone.
We can only speak of our own experiences, but also check out ‘Safety Tips and Stories from 23 Women Travelers’ an article on the website belonging to eco traveller, Rob Greenfield.