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By Ruth Anderson, Travel Nurse.

I’ve always had itchy feet.
After training as a registered nurse, I left our shores to work as a nanny in London and Rome, then as a nurse at holiday resorts in such far flung places as New Caledonia, Egypt and Mexico.
Later, I took to the skies as a flight attendant, mainly to see the rest of the world. That’s me pictured, taking in the sights of Quito.
So, I’ve used up a few passports clocking up many, many thousands of travel kilometres.
Finding yourself alone in a foreign country for the first time can be exciting but daunting for anyone, especially a woman.
And, being a victim of crime is no fun anywhere, let alone during an overseas holiday. It can be costly – physically, emotionally, and financially.
I’ve had a couple of almost-close calls and quickly learned the importance of taking some basic health, safety, security precautions before and after my arrival and they’ve become second nature when travelling overseas – alone or not.

Pre-flight preparations

Do your research: Step one is to thoroughly research the destination online and by quizzing female colleagues or friends who have been there. Women view destinations differently to men and it’s amazing the practical insights you can glean on everything from places to stay, places to visit and eat, and which ones to avoid.
Check immunisations: After a quick check of my yellow vaccination record book to see if the relevant travel shots all up to date, it only remains to see if malaria is a risk at my destination. I recommend travellers check with Travelvax Australia’s free traveller health advisory service (1300 360 164) to see if there are any disease outbreaks of concern at the destination and do it well ahead of the departure date,.
Travel light: Try to limit yourself to 2 bags. Lugging around lots of luggage slows you up and can leave you vulnerable on the streets, as well as making getting around problematic.
Pack right: Leave your bling at home and remember, the clothes you pack need to be both versatile and appropriate. One of the important questions to ask female friends who know the destination is the country’s dress code for women. Once you arrive, see what the local women are wearing and observe their behaviour, too. (It doesn’t take much to blend in – even if it means buying a scarf and one or two items of clothing at a shop or the markets. Locals - women and men - appreciate that you’ve made the effort to respect their culture and you are less likely to be harassed.)
Be ‘wordly’ wise: Learning even a few words and phrases in the local language is also appreciated, such as ‘thank you very much’ and ‘please go away!’ – just don’t mix them up! (A taxi driver in Sarajevo stopped trying to rip me off when he figured out I knew what numbers he had said first time around.)
Travel ‘smart’: Register your travel with the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade’s smartraveller.gov.au website. There’s useful information on the site including the addresses and phone numbers of Australian consulates, plus more handy travel tips. And, as Smartraveller says, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel.

Choosing accommodation

Location, location: I always choose areas frequented by tourists, ideally with restaurants and late-night stores. Accommodation websites like Agoda and TripAdvisor can help you find well-positioned lodgings. Look for a hotel run by English-speaking people that has reviews from past visitors who found the management and staff helpful and friendly.
Don’t skimp: I’ve found it’s worth paying for the best quality accommodation that I could afford. You are generally rewarded with better facilities, more helpful staff, and a good location.
On arrival: When checking in, avoid nominating ‘Ms’ or ‘Mrs’ – give your initials and surname only. (When you leave the hotel each day, let staff know your plans: It’s good to have someone know where you’ll be. Take their business card with you so you have their written address.)
Simple security: I pack a door chock to jam under my door when I’m in my room. They’re a lightweight, but very effective deterrent.
Night safe: It goes without saying that women on their own should avoid recognised no-go areas of the city or town, especially at night. Ask the management to mark them on your map when you check in. If necessary, arrange to have one of the night staff escort you to your room.

Don’t be a target

Single women travelling alone are often perceived as soft targets. You need to change that perception.
Ring of confidence: Give the appearance that you aren’t on your own – even to the point of telling nosy strangers that you are expecting to meet up with friends or your partner ‘soon’. Putting your coat over the seat opposite in a restaurant gives the appearance that you’re not alone, while wearing a wedding ring will aid the deception!
Be aware, stay safe: If you sense someone is following you on foot or in a car, do a quick about face and walk briskly to a safe place, such as a crowded shop, and remain there until you once again feel safe. Never allow yourself to be lured into a house or building. That deserted alley that seems like a convenient shortcut on your map is best avoided, too.
Follow your instincts: I found my sixth sense rarely let me down. Overly friendly people (men or women) often are working a scam – step back to protect your bags and personal space, and say a polite, but firm ‘no’ (a word that’s universally understood).

Avoiding unwanted attention

Unwanted attention from men can make you feel uncomfortable and even fearful for your personal safety. And, dressing appropriately may not always prevent a lone female traveller from being subjected to verbal harassment.
So, if you sense you are about to become the focus of unwanted male attention, I suggest:
No heroics: This is not the time to stand your ground. Instead, err on the side of caution and avoid a confrontation, particularly as you won’t understand the culture’s gender dynamics.
Act confidently: You may not feel confident, but you should at least give the appearance that you are.
Don’t make eye contact: Wearing sunglasses helps with this and will also help to hide any apprehension you may be feeling.
Stay in control: It’s important to remain calm, but quickly remove yourself from the situation. Don’t run: Simply walk away briskly and with purpose.
Don’t respond: But, if you feel it can’t be avoided, pretend you simply don’t understand what’s being said.
Seek safety: Look for a policeman or security guard, or even duck into a busy shop. Putting distance between you and the person or group will usually mean they lose interest in you.

It’s unfortunate that women sometimes have to resort to subterfuges.
But, if taking a few simple precautions help to avoid, or get out of, a tight spot, then they’re worth remembering and practising every time we travel alone.

 

 

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