Even if you are from the toughest town around, it’s important to know that as a tourist and as a woman you can be a target. Don’t make the mistake of heading out without being prepared and being safe!
1) Before You Leave
It’s a very good idea to secure your dorm, apartment or house before you leave. As excited as you may be for a trip, avoid telling people that you will be leaving town. Unless this info is absolutely necessary, try and keep it to yourself. Here is a simple checklist of things you should take care of before jet setting, since they make it look like someone is home:
- Buy timers for your interior lights and TV.
- Have a friend or neighbor collect mail and newspapers.
- See if a neighbor could park a car in your driveway.
Leave behind any valuables or anything you’d miss if it were stolen. Also keep in mind that you don’t necessarily want to look like a tourist in your destination. Always leave a copy of your travel itinerary and contact information with a family member before you go. Also be sure to make copies of important documents (driver’s license, passport, credit cards) and keep a copy in a hidden part of your luggage separate from originals.
Find out if there are any security warnings or general advice that might be good to know about your destination. Keep in mind that while you are in a foreign country, you must abide by their laws. Trust me, you do not want to get arrested on foreign soil. It’s a messy and potentially dangerous situation and you may find yourself with few, if any, legal rights. Know the laws before you go.
2) Do Your Research and Choose Reputable Vendors
Before you book your travel, first do some research on quality places to go. People who forget to do this sometimes are disappointed if their beach destination has been hit by a hurricane or there is bad weather during their trip. With the Internet at your fingertips, this is information you can find in less than two minutes, so it’s worth Google-ing any potential destinations you are seriously considering.
Once it’s time to book, however, it’s recommended you use a travel agent who is referred to you by someone you trust. The difference between a travel agent and booking trips online is that an agent can help you if things go wrong on your trip. When it comes to a vacation, you don’t want to waste time in long lines or mass confusion, so it’s worth the extra few bucks to use an agent.
3) Trust Your Intuition
You’ll meet some fantastic new friends, but count on meeting some sleazy people as well. If you get a bad feeling about someone the instant you meet them, honor it. You don’t need to make a scene, but simply file away the fact that your intuition warned you about them. Make a mental note to not be alone with or trust them for anything (including buying you a drink). This is another time when staying with your group of friends is important. If someone is giving you the creeps, surround yourself with good friends and stick with the group religiously.
4) Go Out With Your Friends, Go Home With Your Friends
One of the most unsafe thing girls do on vacation is get separated from one another while out. Whether it’s just too crowded in the place or if you intentionally leave your friends, it’s still the same situation: You are surrounded by new people, you’re not yet certain whom you can trust, your friends are gone and you’re exploring like Amelia Earhart. It can quickly turn into a dangerous situation with no one to have your back if you get into trouble. Explore, party, have a blast! Just be sure to do it with your girlfriends and look out for each other. Whether you’re at a club or museum, set a meeting place and try to check in with each other every half hour or so. Assess each other and if someone is sick, tired or too intoxicated to be there, get her home safely.
5) If You Doubt It, Ditch It
There are a rising number of cases in which people are using predatory drugs to commit crimes against women. If you think someone might have tampered with your drink, throw it away immediately. It might pain you to toss a $5 fruity drink, but avoiding the potential outcome and side effects of these dangerous drugs is completely worth it. If you find yourself feeling very intoxicated and you’ve only had a few cocktails, it could be the onset of a drug. In this case, find your friends immediately and tell them you think you might have been slipped something. If this is indeed the case, they will need to get you home and possibly to the hospital if the effects are severe.
6) Lodging Safety
Try to find a chain you have heard of instead of an obscure property that’s not familiar to you. In general, if it’s a national chain it should be as consistent in quality as their other locations. Once you have selected where you will stay, try to get a room that is close to the elevator or stairs and is between the second and sixth floors. Avoiding the ground floor makes it harder for intruders to break in and staying below the seventh floor makes fire truck ladders able to reach you in case a blaze breaks out. Here are other things to keep in mind:
- Choose locations with a good rating and reputation. Research them on a website like www.tripadvisor.com.
- Make sure your room has working peepholes, locks and chain locks. If the room lacks these features, go back to the front desk and ask for a new room.
- Keep doors locked and use additional security devices like a doorstop alarm while sleeping. Also lock sliding glass doors if you have them.
- Don’t open the door for anyone you don’t know. Verify the identity of the person if they claim to work for the hotel by calling the front desk.
- Keep any valuables locked in the safe.
- Find the location of the stairwell on your floor in case of fire.
7) If You Are Pulled Over By The Police…
Most women have heard the horror stories about bad guys dressing up like cops and pulling over women only to attack or rape them. It’s a horrendous crime to impersonate someone the general public trusts and it’s against the law. While there are many rumors about this happening, there are also credible stories of crimes that have been committed using this kind of manipulation. For this reason, most police officers have become more understanding about women’s concerns with being pulled over. If you are pulled over when you don’t think you were doing anything wrong and it’s dark, late, deserted and the police car is unmarked except for a light on the dashboard, it’s worth taking some steps to get to safety before pulling over. Call the local police department (if it’s an English speaking country or you know the language) or your embassy. Inform the operator that you are aware a police officer wants to pull you over, however, you are concerned and want to make sure the officer is legitimate. They should be able to help you confirm the validity of the officer.
Never hitchhike. It’s a really unsafe concept. Simply don’t do it.
9) When Taking a Taxi
Use reputable and marked taxis anytime you need to get a ride. Sometimes random guys in unmarked cars may approach you asking if you need taxi service. This is especially common at major airports and these services are usually illegal. They are not regulated and therefore are not accountable for safety or the improper rates they may be charging. It might save you from waiting in a long taxi line, but in the end you may find yourself ripped off or worse.
If taking a taxi from your hotel for a night out, always take a business card with the hotel name and address. Especially if you are in large cities or mega tourist meccas, “I’m staying at the Hampton Inn” could apply to several hotels within the city limits. At least know the street name to help your driver find it. When leaving your room, take a moment to memorize your room number as well.
Before even getting inside a cab, look at a map to understand the general vicinity where you will be traveling. This way, you will know if the cabbie is going off course. Knowing your way around will also make you seem more confident and in control and cab drivers will be less likely to take advantage of you. When getting inside the cab, be direct and clear with the address and name of your destination. Refrain from adding that you’re a tourist and it’s your first time visiting. That’s a pretty blatant tip-off that you’re clueless, which is not the way to be a savvy traveler! When traveling, even if you don’t know where you are or where you’re going, FAKE IT.
10) Tips for Traveling Via Airplane
Flying can be a fun and exciting experience as long as you are prepared. First things first: Don’t forget your I.D. or passport! You won’t go anywhere without proper identification. If traveling out of the country, be sure to get your passport several months in advance. On the day of departure, arrive at the airport about two hours before flight time. During certain times, lines can be crazy long and checking luggage and passing through the security lines can take forever. Speaking of security, know what items should be left behind. Anything sharp or that could potentially be used as a weapon will not be allowed to pass through the security checkpoint. In most cases, they will confiscate the item and you’ll never see it again. Be sure not to carry on lighters, matches, Swiss army knives or pepper spray.