Prior preparation and planning
Researching your destination is vital and time spent researching is never wasted. Study the culture and get a general feel for the country. Is it a Muslim country? If so then ensure you have packed the correct clothing, think about how to dress and blend in accordingly. Does the country have strict laws on how a female should ‘behave’? As individual travelers we may not agree with particular country views but it is extremely important to be a respectful traveler in a foreign country to avoid trouble. Does the country have a culture of ‘hassling’ females, is there a history of sexual attacks against females, all these issues need to be identified prior to departure. With prior knowledge you can then plan to adapt to the environment.
Interact with fellow travelers
When one heads out on travel ‘alone’ it is rare that you remain alone once overseas (unless solo travel is actively pursued). There will always be people traveling the same ‘route’ or solo travelers in the same hostel or accommodation. Friendships are made and bonds formed through the mutual interests of travel and adventure. These new connections can provide additional safety, for example through other people watching out for you, other people to travel with, new friends to share taxis and buses with. While it is necessary to be open to new friendships it is essential to your personal safety to keep up situational awareness at all times.
Lose the jewelry
Try and avoid shiny or expensive looking jewelry and accessories. Nice watches, bracelets, necklaces and alike should be avoided. The same goes with top of the range phones, laptops and cameras.
Whether you are coming home from a bar, beach or museum think about what route you will take. Avoid quiet areas, alleyways or other perceived areas of risk. Always think about using a taxi and make sure it is from a reputable company that you have been recommended.
Don’t be misinterpreted
Sometimes it is necessary to think about what signals one may be giving off and ensure they are not interpreted incorrectly. Try avoiding prolonged eye contact with strangers, chatting excessively and being ‘overly’ friendly. For example, sitting in the front seat of a taxi and over sharing with the driver on a way back from a bar may give the wrong signals in some foreign destinations. If you are eating alone, perhaps take a book so as not to invite unwanted conversation.
This is not about one’s actual intentions; it is not about whether a woman should have to curtail her normal daily practice of smiling, talking freely and just being happy. Unfortunately in different cultures certain behaviors we define as ‘normal’ or ‘friendly’ are interpreted differently. Changing particular behavior is about being grey and not drawing too much unwanted attention. It is not for us to discuss the rights and wrongs of culture and practices in certain countries and regions, merely to adapt and decrease risk to ourselves.
Follow your gut
The trick to avoiding danger is to pre-empt situations and allow yourself time to react. This comes down to training and practice, we strongly advocate learning from professionals about how to identify risk and react accordingly, but a good rule of thumb is: Follow your instinct. If something feels wrong, there is a good chance it is wrong. React immediately to ensure your safety and worry about whether you were right or wrong later, when you are a 100% safe.
Pre-empt and visualize
We advise women that to survive situations they must pre-empt dangers, allowing time to react and visualize their next actions to allow for an effective response. What do we mean by this? We will use a nightclub fire as an example. In times of life and death, chivalry has been proven to fly out the window 9 out of 10 times. Panic sets in and a stampede effect can occur. If men and women are panicking, rushing to the one main exit that everyone had come in from, then men will by majority overpower women and the inevitable crushing and trampling will occur. What if as the solo female you had taken two minutes to pre-empt a risk and visualized an effective response. In this case identified secondary fire exits and visualized using them in an emergency. By pre-empting and visualizing a reaction in this case of the nightclub fire, whilst everyone was stampeding for the main doors, one would have been able to utilize a secondary exit and ensure survival through forethought and planning, not strength and speed.
Being aware of one’s surroundings is of vital importance to identify threats early. This is why we teach basic anti-surveillance to all our students. Criminals and predators may stalk their prey for a short time prior to an attack to provide the best opportunity of when to strike. With increased observational skills and awareness, chances of spotting an attack or threat are significantly heightened and allow a person time to react. This is also useful in avoiding pick-pockets, muggers, opportunistic criminals and many other dangers.
Hotel and Accommodation Security
Choose accommodations wisely by researching areas through travel forums, hotel websites, etc. Is the hotel or hostel well managed? Is the surrounding area safe to travel after dark? Does the hotel or hostel have good security? This does not mean stay in a 5 star hotel everywhere; it can mean spending a few dollars more to be in a reputable area but still in a backpacker hostel. We can provide extra layers of safety for ourselves, for example when traveling we advise carrying a secondary door lock ($5 worth and small enough to put in your pocket) providing this secondary layer of security. In addition never open your hotel or hostel door unless 100% certain, even if the claim is housekeeping.
Everything discussed above are merely tips and tricks of the trade. I have traveled extensively throughout my life and am still learning new ways to adapt and handle situations. This is why we have developed our travel safety courses. Professionals from all walks of life train constantly to ensure peak performance and to be prepared. We believe it should be the same for travelers. Take control and be responsible for your own safety through prior preparation. Travel is one of the great adventures life has to offer; it is worth taking the time to prepare accordingly to eliminate potential threats and ensure you have an experience of a lifetime.
The author is the co-founder of Explorer Travel Security. This is a dynamic and elite travel security company dedicated to travel safety and security of individuals, groups and businesses abroad. It is a full service company offering tailored training courses, executive protection, global rescue, elite travel insurance and electronic tracking and security solutions.