I attended a wonderful event that was eye opening regarding the safety and security of journalists, particularly female journalists, when they are in Syria, Egypt and other hostile areas.
Travelling alone to anywhere, however poses risks that everyone should be aware of especially as a woman traveling alone. Whether it business or pleasure, or business and pleasure, there are some precautions we should always take when traveling alone.
Traveling today in the digital age is scary. Odds are, if we are traveling in congested areas, like airports or malls, it is safe to assume we are on camera most of the time. Similarly, with large companies falling victim to cyber-attacks it’s easy to wonder if someone is tracking our footprint online and how we as individuals can protect ourselves from personal attacks physically and digitally.
Over the years I have completed research, interviewing people, learning about their experiences when traveling internationally.
Here are some practical tips for anyone traveling overseas, or domestically, can adopt to help stay safe when in an unfamiliar area.
1. Prevention basics– This is what I call the basics. These are things we all know we should do, we even tell our friends, daughters and other loved ones to do it, but we don’t always do it ourselves.
- Tell someone if you are going for a night out alone and plan ahead. It could be a simple text or email to a friend telling her where you are going. Doing something is better than nothing.
- Put away the bling – no dangling jewelry especially is areas where people are known to remove it from your body in a robbery especially important for earrings (research “crime” for the area in which you are traveling). Traveling internationally can be a great time to blend in with the locals. Even when purchasing a high end bag, like Chanel, its best to get a bag without logo print vs a plain solid color bag.
- Do your research – have there been recent attacks on women, people of color, or LGBTI individuals where you are traveling. Even places we may generally deem safe could have flare ups of attacks or tensions.
- Pay attention to weather and health alerts for a particular area. Currently the Zika virus is affecting international travelers. Zika, is a mosquito borne virus that causes neurological birth disorder. There is no vaccine for the Zika virus, which is disporptionately affecting the Latin American region. This mainly affects pregnant women, so if you are planning a trip to central or South America, especially Brazil or Columbia, it is recommended that you do not travel if you are pregnant. Male or female if you travel it is recommended you use a form of contraception for 2-4 week upon your return. Check the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control, for the latest updates and most affected areas globally.
- Have a purse with a zipper to prevent pickpockets. Purses with multiple compartments is what I always prefer.
- Don’t tell people you are alone. I travelled to the Virgin Islands for vacation by myself for a week. Everywhere I went people asked me if I was alone. This was, of course, because they kept seeing me alone. To keep the conversation friendly, I would say “no” or say “I just left my friends,” or “I am meeting my friends now.” It’s always great to make friendly conversation with the locals, or others you meet while traveling, but they don’ certainly don’t need to you are traveling alone.
2. Be confident: Though this could easily be part of the prevention basics section, I thought it was worthy of standing alone. Projecting confident while traveling is very important for anyone traveling alone. This includes not spending too much time looking at maps while walking down the street, making the occasional eye contact with people and not being afraid to ask someone to backup if they get to close to you. This includes sitting alone at a hotel bar or eating dinner alone. Final advice here, trust your instinct. Every satiation is different.
3. Travel in groups: Even if this means acting like you are part of a larger group. This doesn’t to pertain to every situation, but can be very helpful, if you are in an area where you feel uncomfortable. Or you decide to go to a park, museum, or shopping alone. The perception you are with others may lower the risk of you being a target by someone who intends harm.
4. Understand being an American can make you a target: This is important if you are traveling to a part of the world with political or social unrest, or with cultural sensitivities to westerners in general. Avoid large gathering of people, and make a to blend in as much as possible with local customs/clothing. I was talking to a woman who visited Abu Dabai and while doing some sightseeing, she was surprised she could not enter a holy place with a skirt on. These are the customs we want to respect. I suggest doing research before the trip.
5. Hotel security:
- When checking into a hotel, take out your ID but don’t say your name out loud. This will reduce the possibly of another guest, in hearing distance, from hearing your name. Someone with malicious intent could try to access your room at a later time.
- I know people that have had IPADs and other things taken from their room. Most hotels insure up to $1,000; confirm with your hotel their dollar amount. I recommend using safes in the room, or, if necessary, the main hotel safe.
6. Cell phones: I recommend satellite phones when traveling to a place you know has challenging communications. Meaning access to the internet is challenging if other communications are challenging as a result of the country infrastructure.
7. Laptops and Wi-Fi: if using personal email – Google is best other than that use VPN for business. If traveling to China don’t taken your regular laptop, but a rented or temporary laptop.
8. Insurance: People don’t always think of cyber liability, but in today’s world it is definitely necessary. It’s possible if you are traveling for business your already have insurance. If that the case, great! Learn what exactly you are covered for health and bodily harm, company property such as laptops. What about your personal loss of luggage?
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