Staying Safe as a Female Traveller

It may not be fair, but women do face more risk than men when travelling in certain areas, particularly if they are alone. That doesn’t mean you should avoid travelling altogether — solo female travel can be amazing and exciting and safe. But it does mean you should take steps to ensure your safety and take care of yourself. I’m reminded of a time when I was backpacking in Thailand, on the island of Ko Phi Phi. I was not all by myself, but instead was travelling with a somewhat naive friend of mine. I’m not much of a party girl, but I welcomed the rowdy experience of the Reggae Bar Phi Phi and the beach parties and everything else that goes along with the party atmosphere of Ko Phi Phi.

My friend was very sweet and innocent and trusting, and always saw the best in people. Generally, this is a lovely trait of hers, but travelling across Southeast Asia as two petite females, the unwavering trust she had in her fellow human beings was not really a helpful quality. This became glaringly clear to me when I came back to our room one day to find her chatting with two strange men I had never met before sitting on my bed.

I was immediately on my guard, especially because one of the guys instantly gave me a very bad feeling. I asked if I could talk to her in the bathroom. She assured me that everything was cool and was completely puzzled as to why I was being so serious. I asked them to leave anyway, and they probably thought I was being uptight but I couldn’t care less. Afterwards, I had to explain to my trusting friend why it is not very safe to invite strange men into our room or even to let them know where two young girls are staying by themselves. She eventually caught on.

Travelling as a female, alone or with a very naive female friend, can be very safe, but you do need to be aware of the risks and exercise a little common sense. There are many women that travel alone and have an amazing time and rarely get into trouble, but they do take precautions to keep themselves safe.

Inform yourself

  • Get some information on the security situation in your destination county. Learn about the culture, local laws and customs, religious norms, and the role of women. Wearing a bikini or p.d.a. or even going out at night may put you at a much greater risk than you are used to in your home country.
  • The Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has a useful website that can give you great cultural information for your destination country.
  • Consult travel books and connect with the female traveller community online. They have had first-hand experience, and so can offer some of the best advice.

Plan ahead

  • Always know where you are going, what you are doing, and how to get back safely. Take a reputable taxi home instead of walking alone at night or accepting a ride from a new acquaintance. Taking a self-defence course before your trip definitely won’t hurt.
  • Keep a low profile and try not to give the impression that you’re lost or vulnerable. Avoid opening your map in public and carry the address of your accommodations with you. Avoid making yourself into more of a target by wearing expensive-looking clothing or carrying an expensive camera.
  • Never tell strangers where you are staying, and especially do not invite them into your room!

Stay aware

  • This is the most important rule — stay alert and aware of your surroundings. Trust your instincts. That gut feeling is there for a reason.
  • Be careful who you trust. Do not assume that these cool guys you just met are super nice and fun and will protect you because they are nice guys. There are criminals, male and female, who target women travellers — sometimes working in teams, or posing as Good Samaritans.
  • Watch your food and drink, and avoid getting intoxicated. Also, be aware of the risks of ending up along with a strange man — carefully consider what you are doing when you think about leaving a club or party with someone you’ve just met.
  • Don’t be too nice! If you feel threatened or you have a bad feeling, don’t worry about being a bitch or making a scene. Always yell “fire” instead of “help”, and don’t be afraid to call the local police or hospital if you start to feel strange or intoxicated for no obvious reason.

There are many other things you can do to stay safe, but most of them come down to staying aware, trusting your instincts, and using common sense. Travelling alone as a female can be very rewarding and very safe as long as you take the necessary precautions. And keep in mind that you can still be attacked in your own hometown — personal awareness and common sense is necessary for your safety wherever you are.