Traveling Solo Safely
By Gretchen Kelly
As single women travelers, safety is a paramount concern. But there is a big difference between the reality of safety and the perception of it. How many times have we blithely walked into a situation we had no idea was dangerous? Probably more often than we’d like to admit. Although it’s hard to talk in absolutes about safety, it’s a question I’m often asked so we’ll start our inaugural Q & A with this topic.
Q. What are the safest destinations for a single woman traveler?
A. This is a hard question which might best be answered by saying that the safest places are where the traveler is the most at home, at ease and able to function at the highest level socially, physically, mentally. That said, the safest places to travel are not always the ones we choose to travel to. We travel to stretch our boundaries and ourselves and although we prepare ourselves as fully as possible, it’s not always possible to stay completely “safe.”
That said there are destinations which are more challenging in terms of safety for single travelers and which require special preparations. Countries like Morocco are notoriously difficult for single women in terms of harassment by local males. Smart choices in dress and behavior go a long way to making the single woman safer in these locales. Don’t ever try to impose your own values on a foreign culture by “making them accept you.” Blending in is always safer than standing out.
Q. Should travelers rely on State Department warnings when choosing destinations for travel?
A. State Department Travel Warnings are a good place to start but don’t take everything on them at face value. For quite a long time, there have been broad warnings by the State Department against travel to Indonesia, which include Bali in their general discussion. But Bali is a very separate culture from the rest of Indonesia with a whole different set of behaviors and values, which the warnings don’t take into account. So yes, read the warnings, take them seriously and then do your own research to supplement them.
Q. Should single travelers bring defense items with them like pepper spray?
A. Pepper spray is illegal on most flights as carry on. And because laws about these items vary from country to country a better choice might be a loud whistle and a powerful light on a keychain. If you feel unsafe while traveling through your destination ask about the laws regarding items like pepper spray and purchase locally. Never try to defend yourself with knives or sharp objects as these are easily used against you by potential perpetrators. The best defense when traveling is knowledge about where you are going. Know local customs, laws and ask, ask, ask if you’re unsure about safe areas and NO GO places.
Q. What is the most important thing to bring with you to stay safe?
A. Your common sense, which is actually quite an uncommon thing. Rely on your gut about people and places and get as much information as possible in advance. Stay well rested, well nourished and connected with loved ones at home. Find local allies and use local guides that you trust. Finally, a sense of humor is one of the best things to take along. It will help you stay grounded and aware, which is key in traveling solo, safely.