GETTING OUT AND COMING BACK
As long as women and men have packed a bag and set out from home over night, travel safety has been a concern. Today, with hijackings and bombings, dangerous new viruses and some anti-American sentiment, there seems to be more danger than ever. Still, travel is a safe, enjoyable, enriching activity, even safer if you take a few precautions and do a little research before you go. We emphasize precautions for women and solo travelers, but this guide is useful to all travelers.
CLICK BEFORE YOU GO
The most important safety precautions are the ones taken before leaving home. Research your destination. Will the airport be deserted if your flight comes in at 3 a.m? Late-night airport safety is a topic in the online Guide to Sleeping in Airports (www.sleepinginairports.net), useful even if you don't plan on catching any winks. Before heading out to explore, find out what areas are safe at night, especially if you're traveling alone. Are taxis a safe bet for a solo traveler at night? Ask a travel agent who knows your destination or post the question on an active traveler's message board, like Frommer's, their "Travel Talk" section includes discussion boards for gay and lesbian travelers and women travelers.
What areas of the city empty out after dark? Check the "Where to Stay" section of a city mini-guidebook or call the nearest tourism board. (For a list of tourism boards visit www.towd.com). Is there a neighborhood known for harassment of gays and lesbians? www.journeywoman.com carries practical (and often most entertaining) advice from other women travelers and articles for women, including solo women, travelers.
EMBRACE YOUR INNER CONSERVATIVE
Technically, there's only one thing separating you from international holiday fun: the border. Always dress conservatively for border crossings. Cover up tattoos, piercings and purple hair. Leave the Doc Martens at home and wear easily removable shoes for going through airport security. If you're backpacking, use a pack that can be converted to a suitcase. Try very, very hard not to carry drugs, inadvertently or otherwise. Avoid using luggage with exterior pockets. Just before going through Customs quickly check all pockets and crevices for those little tell-tale baggies of white powder an unscrupulous fellow traveler may have tucked into your luggage. Never carry anyone else's belongings across a border unless you trust them with your life. Never give a stranger a ride to, or through, a border.
Keep in mind, when packing reading for your trip, that Canada may have just moved towards legalizing marriage for lesbians and gays but Canadian Customs are keen on confiscating lesbian erotica or anything that mentions fisting.
For the best rest, make sure your accommodations are safe. In large hotels, choose a room above the ground floor, with no easy access from outside. You're best off close to the elevator and far from stairwells. Don't accept a room if the hotel desk staff member announces your name or room number. If you're alone, ask a hotel staff member to accompany you to your room the first time, so you can check for intruders. Do the same if you're returning very late at night. Rather than opening the door to anyone who knocks, ask for their name and then call down to the front desk to make sure they are on a bona-fide mission. Hang the "Do Not Disturb" sign to discourage entry to your room while you're away.
TRAVEL GO LIGHTLY
The key is to travel light. Not only will you move with grace, you'll also get out of the airport much faster at your destination -- a real accomplishment in these days of heightened security. Contact your airline for information on new restrictions on hand-luggage contents. To reduce your load, bring items that have a dual purpose. Your beach sarong doubles as a lightweight towel or sheet. Pack breathable garments that can be layered for warmth. Wear comfortable shoes that won't leave you limping at the end of a walking tour. Divide your money and documents between the hotel safe and a money belt worn under your clothing. Don't even dream of wearing an exterior fanny pack. Carry your day's supply of cash in a secure front pocket or a handbag. Wear your bag like a Miss America banner, with the strap over your head.
Make use of those long-ago acting lessons you took. Act confident, even if you're uncertain or terrified. If you're hopelessly lost, smile and enter a store where you can quietly ask the staff for directions. Always choose the person you will ask for assistance; don't wait for someone to approach you. Moving with grace means not being ruffled when things go wrong. Don't get so attached to a plan or destination that you'll do anything to get there. The worst, most dangerous decisions are made in that goal-oriented, frustrated, impatient frame of mind. Think Zen. Consider taking a self-defense course before you leave home.
TRUST YOUR INNER HOMELAND SECURITY CZAR
One of best and most gratifying ways to know a city is through its people. Whether you're there to cruise or make friends, you can do it safely. Find out whether your hotel allows locals to visit your room. Bring safe-sex supplies from home, in case they're not readily available in your destination.
Avoid being in isolated places alone or with someone you don't know well. This includes the doctor's office. As well as medicine, be careful about accepting food and drink from strangers. Of course, many people offer genuine hospitality, and a shared meal can be the highlight of your visit. Try and get a sense of the person's intentions. Intuition is the most powerful safety accessory you can pack. Intuition will speak volumes about the stranger offering you dinner, a visit with his or her family or an afternoon hike in the mountains. Intuition sees beyond the obvious, to the details you notice only on a subconscious level. Never censor your intuition, even if it seems paranoid. Think back to the unpleasant situations you've gotten into in your checkered past. Wasn't there a little voice saying, "I wouldn't do that if I were you"?
The joy of safe, solo and independent travel is that you can make your own decisions and develop your own personal travel style. You can be the traveler/observer, sitting in caf?s with your journal. You can be the gregarious type, meeting new people by day, clubbing by night. Maybe you're the active traveler, swimming, snorkeling, trekking between sites and scene or the do-nothing traveler, content to bask in the sun. You decide when to be "in" and when to be "out." You choose the level of risk you're comfortable with. Trust yourself and enjoy the challenge of relying completely on yourself.
Women's Travel: Introduction
Women's Travel: U.S. South
Women's Travel: U.S. East
Women's Travel: U.S. West
Women's Travel: Canada/Mexico
Women's Travel: Europe
Women's Travel: Tours & Events