The traveler is by nature a target. But you don’t have to be a sitting duck. Take a proactive role for your own personal safety by being smart, shrewd and self-reliant. Here are some dos and don’ts that were written for women traveling alone but are relevant for all travelers.
Use reputable, recommended local agents and guides. Study up on cultures, customs and language, ask veteran travelers for advice. Line up contacts. Know the laws about carrying weapons including protective devices like Mace or a taser. Choose a hotel with security in mind and one with readily available transportation. A deal of a price could prove too dear a price pay if it’s located somewhere risky.
Pack light. Less baggage means less to monitor, go missing or be a magnet for thieves. The less attention you pay to your stuff, the more you can pay to your surroundings. The freer your hands are the easier you’ll be able to handle the unexpected. Carry ordinary looking unisex bags with tags that cover your name; use initials and last name only.
Dressing to impress may impress the wrong people and set you up as a potential target. Dressing appropriately for the culture is smart, especially in conservative religious regions.
Anticipating potential problems helps to avoid or overcome them. Emergency personnel train on the unforeseen and unexpected, practicing how to react unconsciously. Visualize situations and mentally practice your reactions. Practice helps eliminate panic.
Plan extra time into your schedule. It’s easier to keep your wits about you and avoid trouble if you’re unhurried and un-harried.
Discourage hotel desk clerks from announcing your room number aloud. Check out your accommodations before you accept them. Keep your room key out of sight of prying eyes but in hand to and from your room or car. Carry a door wedge and jam it under your door at night. Get acquainted with staff at the hotel, and nearby shops and restaurants. They’re good for advice and help. Know where you’re staying. Pocket a hotel business card. If you think someone is trying to get in your room, call the front desk and shout you’re calling the police. If you suspect you’re being followed ask for escort or bang on a door and call out a male name.
Study maps before you leave your room to know where and how to go. Ask staff for directions and about the safety conditions around the hotel and destination.
Don’t flash your cash, wear your wealth or advertise your nationality. Lock all doors; keep valuables on or close to your person. Wear scarves instead of gems. Try not to look American; that sneakers and shorts look heralds your nationality before you open your mouth. And your fanny pack is a tempting target. One slash and it’s gone. Alway keep some money in another pocket and if you’re carrying your passport, keep it in a money belt that’s hidden from view.
Don’t allow yourself to be distracted sightseeing. Be cautious in elevators and using public telephones and ATMs (during daylight when people are around). Watch out for people watching you when exchanging monies. Avoid telephone booths and isolated stairwells. Keep just enough cash in your wallet, purse and pockets for the day or excursion.
There is safety in numbers and in well lit places. Public transportation is safer than renting a car. Trekking off the beaten track solo is risky, even for the experienced. Traveling alone in peopled places is fairly safe. Slip into a group, if you feel uncomfortable. If you think you’re being followed, duck into a shop or other safe place and ask for help. Don’t stay out after dark or swim alone late at night.
Avoid confrontations with the law. Don’t necessarily trust all policemen. Since many foreign authorities still pander to women, stand firm but don’t make threats, stay confident and professional. The American system of innocent until proven guilty is not widely shared abroad. Bribes are acceptable many places (learn where), and can be managed by offering to pay “the fine” right then and there.
Playing the part
Be confident. Body language is critical. Know where you are going. Walk with purpose. Looking vulnerable or being oblivious to what’s happening around you is courting trouble.
Heed your instincts and intuition. Don’t put yourself in a dangerous position. Say no, even if means being rude. Be polite but not too friendly too soon. Don’t tell the people you don’t know what they don’t need to know. How you carry yourself and eye another person says a lot. Suggestive and scanty clothes are a come-on most anywhere. There are still cultures where women shouldn’t look a man in the eye, and places a lone woman should not go.
Hanging out in groups or finding another singleton and going Dutch treat, is smart. If you date, know who he is and where he works, then plan to meet in a public place. If you don’t want to attract attention, wear a “wedding” ring and carry photos of a spouse and kids; they don’t have to be yours. Be ready for action. The minute you feel uncomfortable, split. If some guy comes on to you, look him in the eye and tell him to get lost. Be aggressive. If you must, be rude and be loud. Screaming or shouting will attract other people’s attention and detract your aggressor, at least for a moment to get away.
Be wary and watchful in bars. Sexual predators or kidnappers can easily slip a drug in your drink. If you don’t know the bar or the people buy your own drink, watch it poured and keep your eye on it. Better still, get a beer, watch the top come off and keep it with you, even in the toilet. If you must leave it unattended – ditch it.
As you decrease your vulnerability, you’ll increase your peace of mind.