Travel Safety Expert Shares Her Best Safety Tips for Women Travelers
With viral news stories like that of a woman raped on an American Airlines red-eye flight or TripAdvisor not flagging hotels or tour companies with multiple reports of sexual assault and rape, women are justifiably concerned with their safety when traveling across the world.
Women are traveling more than ever, and while they are not at fault for the sexual assault, harassment or crime done against them because of their gender, unfortunately, “The truth is that women face greater obstacles,” as the U.S. Department of State perfectly puts it.
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Erika Weisbrod, Director of Security Solutions at International SOS and Control Risks, the largest security and medical travel assistance company in the world, knows a lot about what it takes to keep female travelers safe.
According to Weisbrod: “The most frequent security risks that female travelers face are opportunistic crime, especially bag snatching, followed by sexual harassment and assault. Although these crimes can occur when not traveling, they are amplified when travelers are in a new location and are unfamiliar with the environment.”
“Additionally, criminals may look to target travelers who might not be well-oriented, might not know the language, or may stand out more based on their physical appearance or dress.”
Despite the risks associated with traveling, women deserve to be in the travel space and have the best and safest experiences whether they’re on a solo trip, a girls weekend getaway or even traveling for business. Until destinations, hotels, airlines, tour companies and anyone else in the hospitality and travel industry make women’s safety a top priority, we wanted to share some safety tips for female travelers and we’re doing it with the help of a travel security expert, Erika Weisbrod.
What to Do Before Your Trip:
Whether you have a travel agent or you’re booking your own trip, researching the destination beforehand can be extremely helpful in making you more comfortable and safe.
“Women need to make themselves aware of the potential risks of their destination and understand their travel profile at that location,” Weisbrod said. “The more prepared the traveler is, the more opportunity they have mitigate risks they are likely to encounter. This will not only make the traveler a harder target but will also make them a more confident while traveling.”
In terms of what to research, Weisbrod says this will vary by country and culture, but generally, they should be looking into likely security threats and dangerous zones in terms of crime or protests in a destination both of which can be found on the U.S. State Department pages. She also suggests female travelers research the culture and etiquette of a location.
In terms of practical things you’ll want to do before your trip, Weisbrod said:
“Identify suitable means of transportation, especially upon arrival at an airport or rail station,” and “determine what mode of communication you will use while away,” making sure to “pre-program key emergency addresses and phone numbers into your phone.”
“Share a copy of your itinerary with your employer (if traveling for business), friend or family member at home and make sure they know how to reach you while you are away,” Weisbrod added. And while you’re at it, she also advised making copies of your passport and key documents, leaving one at home and bringing another with you.
Risks aren’t just associated with a destination, but in how you get there.
“Although we don’t think of ourselves being vulnerable while in-flight, females need to be aware of their surrounding environment,” Weisbrod said.
This is echoed by David Rodski, an FBI special agent who in 2018 reported that in-flight sexual assaults are increasing at an alarming rate., and noted that red-eye flights or overnight flights can be riskier to women’s safety.
To mitigate this risk, Weisbrod said, “Be cautious of taking sleeping medications, or mixing alcohol with other medications, which can make you vulnerable to sexual assault or theft on flights, and also leave you disoriented upon arrival.”
On the other hand, “If traveling by train, research what class of service is recommended for female travelers, especially females who are traveling solo.”
Weisbrod had three safety tips in terms of accommodations.
Select a room with security in mind
“When selecting accommodation, try to avoid staying on the ground floor where burglary is a greater risk. To help ensure safety, women should try to stay on the 4th-7th floors. If you are uncomfortable with the location of your hotel room, don’t be afraid to request a different one.”
Take note that some hotels have women-only floors or are women-only hotels themselves and may be an option you want to consider.
“Additionally, always ensure your room has a deadbolt lock, peephole and an isolated entry. An additional measure to deter unwanted entry is to bring a door stop on your trip. Placing a doorstop on the inside of the front door will stop criminals from forced entry,” Weisbrod added.
- Verify, before opening your door
Weisbrod said: “Don’t open the door to your hotel room or an apartment rental, such as Airbnb unless you are certain of who is on the other side, even if a person claims to be housekeeping, room service or maintenance. If you’re ever unsure, call the front desk or your host to confirm.”
- Arrive during daylight hours, especially if you’re staying at an apartment rental
“Try your best to always arrive to your accommodation during daylight hours. This is a general rule of thumb but is especially relevant when staying at an apartment rental where front entrances are not always well lit at night.”
While on Your Trip
While on your vacation or business trip, Weisbrod says to “be vigilant and aware of your surroundings.”
“Stay unplugged and avoid distractions. While it is recommended to travel with others, sometimes solo travelers are the most vigilant, as people traveling in groups tend to be more focused on one another or can fall into a herd mentality,” she said.
She added that keeping your phone charged and staying informed on what is happening locally can be very helpful, as can limiting alcohol intake and watching your food and drink more closely for anyone who might spike it.
But most of all, Weisbrod says “If something doesn’t feel right, extract yourself from the situation and seek help,” and never lose “your sense of control [which] lessens your power over the situation.”
While crime is out of anyone’s hands, what women travelers do before and during a trip can keep them feeling empowered and in control of their own safety, and as Weisbrod says, always remember to “trust your instincts.”