Women have concerns about personal safety. This includes physical attack (and especially rape) and harassment.
However, statistically, most such attacks happen to women near their homes rather than when they are traveling. For example, in 2013/14 there were 106 rapes and 152 reported sexual assaults against British nationals abroad. For the same period, there were 85,000 rapes in England and Wales. These are societal issues rather than travel issues.
The problem with providing special safety tips for women is that we can fall into the trap of giving responsibility to the victim, instead of tackling perpetrators. There are many cases where women victims have been blamed for their own attacks.
For example, Sarai Sierra, an American woman traveling solo, was murdered in Turkey in 2013. The murderer was a beggar, high on paint thinners. Many commentators asked why she was traveling solo/without a male companion/why she didn’t use common sense, etc.
Similarly, a female American journalist, attacked during the recent Egyptian uprising, was accused of being “self-indulgent” for agreeing to this dangerous posting.
So, these tips should be taken as a list for women to take some common-sense steps to protect themselves, without taking away their right to travel freely.
Our Top Safety Tips for Women
- Arrange your travel to arrive in a new city during the day, rather than at night.
- Spend a bit extra on accommodation that is nearer to well-lit centers or more crowded areas and not in remote outskirts. Make sure there is a 24-hour help desk. Have a rubber doorstop to wedge the inside of your door at night. Leave the “Do not disturb” notice on the door when you go out so that people think there is someone in the room.
- If you are booking through sites like Airbnb or Couchsurfing, spend some time reading the reviews on the places you are considering. Make sure that there are lots of positive reviews and that the reviewers seem legitimate. Use the reviews to get an idea of the location as well as the facilities.
- Carry a whistle, and don’t be afraid to use it.
- Take a cab if you feel even slightly unsafe. Take a photograph of the license number before you get in and send it to a friend. Invest in a GPS if you can – that way you’ll know if the cab driver is taking you off course.
Learn Local Customs
Learn the local customs before you arrive. Some cultures are more formal than others and there are different rules of etiquette, dress code, eye contact or smiling openly at men.
- In countries where Sharia Law is practiced, women generally do not walk around on their own, and many places are segregated. You will be safe, provided you are conservative. Cover your hair with a headscarf (especially if you are blonde). Shorts and open blouses are not acceptable attire. In general, long and loose would be appropriate attire.
- In many African countries, there are strong patriarchal customs, and women can be subjected to quite strong harassment. It’s best to try to avoid these situations. Remember that cheaper hostels are often used as brothels and that in some countries only prostitutes drink on their own in bars. (The bigger danger in some countries, including South Africa, is the high crime rate, with muggings and car-jackings being very commonplace.)
- The same can be said for many South and Central American countries, where crime is the biggest danger, rather than anti-female sentiment
- Harassment of women is quite common in European countries. Italy is notorious for the unwelcome attention its men give to women. Some tips are just to keep walking, have your headphones on, duck into a restaurant or shop. You should approach locals nearby, tell them you’re being harassed and ask to stay with them for a while until the harasser moves on.
- Say no. You don’t have to accept offers to carry your bags, accompany you to the hotel, buy you dinner or anything else.
Trust your gut instinct. If it feels wrong it probably is wrong – move away as quickly as you can.