Tips To Travel Safely As A Female

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How to be safe travelling as a female on your own

I love this pic below. I’m on a local bus in Nicaragua and I’m clearly loving it, however everyone else behind me is having their worst day eva!

One of the most frequent things I get asked is “aren’t you scared?” Mostly no, however I have had my moments. What I have learned however is that mostly if you follow a few simple practices, you can stay safe on the road.

Getting myself around Nicaragua on a bus
Getting myself around Nicaragua on a bus

Safety Tip No 1: Dress Appropriately

I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen women (and mostly younger women actually) be appalled at the level of treatment they have received and NOT take into account what they are wearing. I doubt any of you will do this as if you are following me you know its about the journey not the fashion, however there is no excuse anymore for not dressing appropriately for where you are in the world. NONE!

If you are visiting Morocco or UAE or even a site like Angkor Wat, take the time and learn what is and what is not appropriate attire. The last thing you want to do anywhere is stand out and draw the wrong kind of attention to yourself. You don’t have the right to wear bum freezer shorts into a Cambodian temple. You are in their country be respectful of their customs and dress.

Not only will being respectful help to enhance your experience, it will also keep you safer. As a woman travelling alone, the last thing you need is to draw attention to that fact and/or yourself. You want people smiling not scowling.

Brad at Angkor Wat dressed appropriately
Brad at Angkor Wat dressed appropriately

Safety Tip No 2: Find out the local emergency numbers

One of the first things I do when I get to a new country (or before if possible) is find out what their equivalent of 000 is. (Or 911 if you are from the US). I will say that sometimes if you are in a lesser developed country it may not be all that clear, however at least try to find out what it is and make sure you put it in your phone.

You probably won’t remember it in an emergency, but if you update your phone with the number you have a chance of dialing it. The other thing I do is make sure I have the Australian Embassy number OR if there isn’t one in that country, at least the UK or US where they will likely help me if need be.

Let’s hope you never need it, but having it is a great way to be prepared. There are apps that can also help you with this.

Me at Crystal Beach Taganga Colombia
Me at Crystal Beach Taganga Colombia where the emergency number is 123!

Safety Tip No 2a: Always have a sim card

Obviously you can’t call emergency if you don’t have a sim card so this one goes hand in hand with Tip no 2.

Personally, I keep my sim from home on the lowest plan I can if I’m travelling for an extended period of time so its always active. I won’t care if a call costs me $12 if its gotten me out of a sticky situation.

I used to carry a spare phone with a local sim card, however these days I use a phone that has a physical sim and an eSim. I get my eSim from Airalo and its so easy to use. You just purchase it a month or less before you go, install it and then when you get where you’re going, simply turn it on!

I still actually carry a second phone. This serves a double purpose. I have a cheap phone that if necessary I will hand over knowing that my good phone is buried deep in my pack which gives me an extra level of security, and it enables me to access affordable data on the road if I’m somewhere that eSim’s aren’t possible.

As Westerners, most of our phones now are at least worth $700-$800 which makes them a pretty decent target, in turn meaning you can’t really use them anywhere that people struggle financially. That phone can and will be sold for what might be a few months income, where as a really basic phone that has no prestige at all is mostly ignored.

On one of our walking safaris in the Okavango Delta
Okavango Delta Botswana, where a women I knew dropped her phone and lost everything. She literally didn’t even know her email password.

Safety Tip No 3: Keep Your Whits About You

Some of the stories I’ve heard over the years have been easily avoided by doing what you want to do and not being conned (or allowing yourself to be conned) into something you really don’t want to do.

If you don’t want to go to that dive bar, say no.
If you don’t want to get into a taxi that seems strange, say no.
If you don’t want to walk through a sketchy part of town, say no.

In particular say no to that 7th beer!

Being intoxicated makes you an instant target. Not only could you put yourself in a situation to be robbed or mugged, your own impulse control is seriously lessened when you’ve had too many drinks. Instead of handing over your money or phone, those beers might tell you that “You’ve got this!” and there is a chance you will try to either talk or fight your way out of a situation you shouldn’t.

Say no to yourself and to who ever you are with if it doesn’t feel right and stay safe.

Myself and the other overlanders on a Nile River cruise in Bamako in Mali
Myself and the other overlanders on a Nile River cruise in Bamako in Mali

Safety Tip No 4: Know Your Surroundings

People often tell me to not walk alone at night and that is great advice. However, it’s not always advice I can adhere to.

I always consider myself to be more obvious standing waiting for something than moving so while I always do try to think about where I am (particularly at night) I’m not going to wait out the front of a bar for half an hour trying to get a cab if its a main road, it’s well lit and I’m not going far.

If I’m walking with purpose in my comfortable shoes, I have the choice to run, move into traffic or flag someone down. If I’m standing on a corner in the dark alone with drunks accosting me – that seems way less safe to me than actually walking home. MAKE YOUR OWN DECISION THOUGH!

Typically – I wouldn’t walk any real distance in the dark on my own, however there are times that moving is a better decision than waiting.

What I would do if it was a sketchy area or I don’t feel safe is ask a staff member (someone is always serving) to call me a cab and I would wait at the door. If there are no cabs I would wait until a group is going my way and tag along, or I wouldn’t have gone somewhere alone that I was going to have to get back from in the first place.

I feel the most important thing you can do is be aware of where you are. I’m always one for local experiences, but if I notice that as I’m walking in I’m less and less comfortable I pull the pin straight away. Not offending someone is sometimes hard, but a dodgy stomach always does the trick. Telling them you don’t feel well and want to get back to the hostel before it kicks in should never be received badly. If it is – you are right in your decision. Turn and get out.

Jen Ziplining Monteverde
Jen Ziplining Monteverde Costa Rica – One of the safest places I’ve every travelled.

Safety Tip No 5: Use The Cloud for document copies

Every important document I have is stored in the cloud.

I have an email address that I don’t use for anything else (only travelling info) and as well as making sure I have copies of everything important on my phone and in my usual email, I upload them to this extra email as well and make sure my husband and my sister have access to that account.

If I’m incommunicado somehow, they can login and send a passport copy or travel insurance doc to whatever local entity might need it.

It’s not just important that you have copies, but that your emergency contact also has copies.

Safety Tip No 6: Trust Yourself

I remember being in north west Africa somewhere and having one of those moments that no-one ever wants to have while travelling. I felt the hot sweats come over me, my stomach started turning, my heart rate was escalating at an alarming rate & my skin was prickling like a damn cactus.

I knew I’d done something stupid. Really stupid.

Luckily it turned out OK but I still remember how stunned I was at how stupid I’d just been. It doesn’t sound like much, but I’d gotten into a car to go back to my hostel and about three blocks in realised it wasn’t a taxi. It was just some random guy who kept looking at me in the revision mirror. Like intensely. Actually I do remember where it was now, it was Bamako in Mali.

Luckily, I was in central Bamako and there were maybe three sets of traffic intersections between the hostel and the markets AND the traffic in Bamako is hideous. It was warm but nothing that would usually worry me, however I pretended I was hot and wound the window down for air.

When we stopped in traffic I threw him money, told him I’d seen some friends, opened the door (which I had to do from the outside as the internal latch was disabled) and got out. I’m sure I was just the first white women he’d seen on her own in the Fetish markets, but that was a stupid stupid thing I did and to this day, I have doubts about the outcome if it hadn’t been an older car and my gut instinct hadn’t kicked in so strongly.

Trust your instincts. If it feels wrong – don’t do it.

Me at Kasbah of the Udayas Rabat Morocco
Me at Kasbah of the Udayas Rabat Morocco. Despite multiple warnings I never had any challenges travelling Morocco.

Safety Tip No 7: Never have much money at hand.

This is a hard one to be honest. I’m a bit of a fly by the seat of your pants kind of traveller so I’m always stuck between having enough cash should something cool come up and not having too much cash on me. I still don’t think I’ve got the mix right.

What I have learned though is to have a card that has no real money on it and some cash handy in case I get robbed. With my Qantas Frequent Flyer account I get a free travel cash card which are usually valid for a few years at least. When your status level changes they send you a new card but the existing one is still current and the expiry date is in the future so its a perfect card to use for a fake card.

I don’t have to actually cancel it immediately as its a debit card, it is an extra card I can use if for some reason my main card stops working and I’m not going to have any challenge with handing it over.

Make sure that it looks like a real situation though. Get yourself a little wallet and put your money and card in there and don’t forget some change and the odd receipt. Who never has change?? It has to look real or it won’t work. The trick however is to keep your real cards and/or money somewhere they won’t be found. Robbers are wising up and I’ve heard stories of them making people take their shoes off – mostly as that used to be the main place you stored your real cash, so make sure you think about that.

I’ve seen belts that have a hidden zipper that will hold a couple of decent sized notes. I also have a scrunchie that I made that has a tiny pocket I can stuff up to 3 or 4 notes easily and while I hate wearing that damn thing (I know I’m not a fashionista but I do draw the line somewhere), who is every going to guess that my hair scrunchy has $300 in it? You can buy bra’s that have hidden pockets and easily store a card or cash as well.

You can’t account for every single possibility, but you can increase your chances of keeping some cash on you.

Me up Tunnel Mountain in Banff Canada
Me up Tunnel Mountain in Banff Canada

Jenny Marsden - Charge The Globe
About the author

Meet Jenny, a passionate Australian travel blogger who has explored 103 countries to date. With over 30 years of travel experience, Jenny has a wealth of knowledge to share with her readers about the cultures, landscapes, and people she has encountered on her journeys. She’s always battling unfashionably frizzy hair and you will never catch Jenny in anything but comfortable shoes. Learn more about Jenny and her travels.

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