As female travelers, it is important to look at the complexity of security and what it really means to be "safe". We often talk about safe destinations – where the best places to go (as galas) and which places are ideal for exploring alone.
But, things can get difficult when you really are there.
It is crucial to understand that security is not the same comfort. Just because a place is "safe" does not mean you will not meet different cultural patterns that make you uncomfortable. It also does not mean that crime does not happen.
These ideas are often misinterpreted and, when they get out of your comfort zone can be a very good thing, they can also be unpleasant.
Too often, I hear people talk about letting their guard down because they have heard that a destination is "safe" and then they are frustrated when they realize that things can still go wrong … especially when they come across cultural patterns very different from theirs .
The truth of the matter is that you can be insecure anywhere and anytime.
But that doesn't mean you should stop traveling or avoid soloing as a woman. What this means is that we must come together for an open and frank discussion of travel safety.
Well, let's dive in!
What does security mean to you?
What does it mean to touch safe? Does it mean you are 100% comfortable in your environment? Does it mean you don't get cats or harass? Does that mean you don't feel you have to be alert? Does it mean that the city or country has a low rate of violent crime?
What is "safe" in you;
Security can be defined in many different ways and your own cultural "patterns" will play an important role in that.
When traveling somewhere new, it is important to be ready to get out of your comfort zone, no matter how "safe" you have heard it to be. The farther away you are from home, the more likely you are to experience surprises.
Your prolonged appearance or approach on the road can certainly be worrying while talking in some way can make you feel uncomfortable.
One thing to note is that when you travel abroad, there are often serious differences in cultural customs and these can lead us to feel insecure.
Identify what makes you feel insecure so you can properly assess the threat level. Could it be a culture shock or are you really in a bad situation you want to avoid?
"Security" that gives a false impression of a destination
One of my main goals with The Blonde Abroad is to give everyone a picture and access to my personal journeys – helping you plan your journey ahead of time and giving you the tools you need to help you in your adventure. .
Recently, I noticed some conversations on the internet where people feel they have a false impression that a destination is "safe" (via social media) because they have been subjected to oppression and harassment by locals.
Again, this leads to the discussion of "what's safe" and "what's awkward".
The great way is that you never get the same experience as someone else. What feels "safe" to me, may feel a little dodgy to you. We must take responsibility for our own safety and experience.
Therefore, it is important to seek advice from trusted sources and always be careful, no matter how "safe" you are hearing about a destination.
I have been robbed of the "safest place on earth".
I wanted to share a story about how I gained my own perspective on travel safety.
Iceland is ranked "the safest country in the world" by the World Peace Index. With political stability and a relatively low crime rate, it is an ideal destination for all types of travelers.
Why Iceland feels so safe, my mindset was very relaxed and I got lazy with observing my surroundings.
We were camping and went to use the public showers. Believing and feeling safe, I unfortunately left my valuables (phone and camera) on top of my towel just outside the shower.
Guess what? Easy target.
He could be a cruel criminal who despise tourists. Or, it could be a teenager taking advantage of an easy situation. Although obviously awful, I would still think that Iceland is an amazing and safe travel destination. However, it's the only time I've ever been a victim of a crime in all my travels.
The fact is that crime happens everywhere in the world and you become an easier target … if you do it easily.
To reverse the example, I have lived in South Africa for almost 3 years.
I have never had so many people shake and bother that I was living in such a "unsafe" destination. And I understand. To give a perspective, Iceland ranks 1/163 in the GPI, while South Africa ranks 126/163.
Almost at the bottom.
Almost every one of my friends here has experienced some form of petty crime in their lives. I have learned through my travels that where there is despair, people will do desperate things. And there is great poverty in the country.
Knowing that my body language, my mentality and my overall vigilance is 110% different than when traveling to places like Iceland.
Lock the car doors as you enter. I check the Uber driver's license plate number before I enter. I'm not walking alone at night. I keep my wallet in my lap when I prepare. I read the environment and energy of my people and avoid anything that seems.
For me, these are not measures that change the experience. Just a normal way of working here.
I still think that South Africa is "safe" to explore, you just have to stay vigilant. Refer to this article on security in South Africa from a local perspective!
Based on my own experience, I would argue that we need to have the same heightened awareness, no matter where we travel and no matter how high "security" is – especially when traveling solo.
Dress for the Environment + Culture
Overlapping in a culturally appropriate way is both a respect and a key element in avoiding unwanted attention.
When I traveled to Morocco with a girlfriend last year, I found the shock and unwanted attention quite impressive. But dressing very conservatively and wearing a scarf over my hair helped to deflect some of those long eyes. While changing the way I dressed did not dampen it, and will not completely deny this attention, it will help you combine more.
I've previously shared what to pack for a trip to a conservative country, but it's always a good reminder to take a look!
Dressing for the mix goes a long way. Like it or not, many conservative countries do not have such great stereotypes about Western women and skin appearance, even when they are scorching hot – it won't do you any favors.
What to Pack for a Trip to a Conservative Country
Use my packing ideas below, but revise them according to the weather and season when planning your own trip to a conservative country like Morocco, Jordan, Turkey, UAE, Indonesia and more!
Differences in cultural standards
When someone makes you uncomfortable, it's important to keep in mind that it doesn't always come from a bad situation.
During my first trip to China, I traveled to a more remote area of the country and was amazed at how many people wanted to take my picture. It may make you anxious to keep track of it, but some people there have never seen a person who is not of Chinese descent, so it may have seemed "Unusual and different."
Similarly, as a solo woman in Morocco, I felt like I was constantly confused … but at the same time, I never felt physically insecure.
Regardless, I always prepare myself before traveling to the Middle East / Islamic countries. I had such great experiences with the locals. However, there are significant cultural differences and I know that as a woman in these countries, I could not handle the same respect that I expected at home.
Women are still second-class citizens in many countries, so it helps to understand that you may face unpleasant or frustrating situations based solely on cultural differences.
If you know what to expect before you go, it's not that scary, and you can better measure what's worrying about normal behavior. You can also get destination advice on how to manage and mitigate these situations.
When traveling alone against a partner
I am a firm believer that solo travel is one of the best experiences one can ever have. It comes, however, with extra responsibility.
When traveling with a male partner, girlfriend, or group, you have a buffer around you from the outside world. When you are alone, people are more likely to approach you and, if you are not used to it, I can certainly understand how the attention would feel overwhelming.
Before embarking on your first solo journey, make sure you read the ten most common mistakes made by solo female travelers.
Preventive measures you can take
Wherever you are, it is important to get pregnant. That doesn't mean being scared all the time. It means being smart. Whether you're inside In England or Bali, there are some precautions you should always take.
First of all, you need to let someone know that you are at all times – this can include hotel / hostel staff! When I am solo, I often visit with them to share my plans.
It is also useful to talk to locals about different neighborhoods. Familiarize yourself with the places to avoid and know your route. Avoid the dark alleys and elsewhere, which makes you uncomfortable.
Before you go, think about what you carry – avoid fancy jewelry and other expensive items. Keep valuables hidden away (as in a camera) in your bag as much as possible.
Before leaving the door, Always charge your phone and bring a battery bank.
If possible, I'd also advise you to get a local SIM card wherever you are so you don't always have to find places with WiFi to check in or get directions. I travel with a mobile WiFi hotspot for both business and security purposes.
Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan
Nervous about visiting a destination?
If you are nervous about visiting a destination, the first thing I would recommend is research, research, research!
Egypt has been at the top of my list for centuries. However, I was reluctant to travel there because of the stories I had heard about women who had negative experiences there.
While I wholeheartedly believe that other people's travel experiences do not predict yours, it gave me a picture of what I can experience.
I ended up having a wonderful time exploring Egypt and meeting so many friendly locals – a total stranger literally delivered my baby! But I know it may be inappropriate when you are thinking of traveling to a place that does not always get the best reputation for solo travel (such as Jordan or Egypt).
While traveling to Egypt solo, I decided to hire a guide for this trip so that I could have a local with me during the day and prevent any unwanted attention. And guess what ?! I loved it!
I always had to do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. But, I did what I felt would enhance my experience and make me feel comfortable.
So if you want to travel somewhere but do solo is not the route you want to take – don't worry! There are tons of options, such as taking a group tour, renting a private tour or staying in a high quality hostel that offers excursions and group activities!
First time traveling alone
If this is your first time traveling solo – this post is not meant to scare you – but just to make you feel and be a smart traveler! I think I'm ready, doing your research and having realistic expectations are the best things you can do for yourself when embarking on any excursion, whether it's solo or not.
I would recommend checking out these places to prepare!
While harassment can happen anywhere, no matter what country or culture – and we shouldn't face it – the truth of the matter is whether we stay calm or paint a picture – perfect images of places or situations, nothing will ever change.
This does not mean stopping the trip and it does not mean you have to live in fear. You will meet good people along the way, you will meet different things and you will have experiences that will shape you. It's better to be prepared and not shed light on the "not so nice" things that are happening.
So ladies, let's share tips and stories! I am willing to open the discussion below and hope that we can all gain some understanding.