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As you read the title of this post, I don’t blame you for asking:
Do women traveling alone really need personal safety gear?
In a perfect world, as women traveling alone, we shouldn’t have to think about a personal safety kit to bolster our confidence to travel all by ourselves, whether that is on the well-trodden tourist trail or in intrepid territory. But, we don’t live in a perfect world and given how often petty and serious crimes against women occur everywhere, I don’t blame us women travelers for constantly looking over our shoulders when hurrying down dark, lonely alleys.
But I am an optimist (and I wouldn’t venture into said dark alleys and backstreets if I weren’t one), and so I like to think of it like this: this is actually the best time it probably ever has been for women to travel solo. While we’re nowhere close to gender equality worldwide, the idea, today, that women deserve equality and to be treated with the same respect as men, is accepted and thought of as a worthy pursuit in most parts of the civilized world.
As women, our own collective confidence is probably the highest it has ever been, and is only increasing, what with so many movements at all levels of society and popular culture in recent years proclaiming a common message that we, as women, will not let anything stop us from claiming and owning our place in the world as equals.
And to me, that means, I will travel on overnight trains if it makes more sense and helps me save on a night’s accommodation and on travel time (like I did in Georgia, Thailand, and Vietnam), I will walk down lonely alleys in safe neighborhoods if it saves me a 15-minute detour, and I will go anywhere I damn well please, be it a beautiful, even if remote, island or an intrepid hiking trail. I refuse to take my travel decisions from a place of fear because I am a woman.
And, so when it is such a great time to be a female adventurer or solo female traveler today, I think there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of modern tools and technology to feel safe and fearless while traveling by ourselves. Ever since I first started traveling solo, I did whatever I needed to feel safe, and didn’t really care about what anyone else would think of it or if I’d be judged.
I receive several emails and messages from my female readers with questions about how to feel safe while traveling solo for the first time, especially if it’s not somewhere touristy. I get questions like “How did you think of going to that obscure island in the Stockholm Archipelago that has no hotels, shops and restaurants?” and “Aren’t you afraid of sleeping alone in an old creaking wooden house in the middle of nowhere?” and “What if you got lost on a hike?” and “What if someone enters your room in the middle of the night while you’re asleep?”
And I’ve always answered by first admitting how afraid I am of everything. I wrote an entire post for women traveling solo for the first time. But I have to admit that I’m really probably the least brave of all the most courageous female travelers you know. I am afraid and often paranoid and sometimes, I don’t sleep all night because I’m thinking about that strange creaky noise from the ceiling or outside my window. In my early years of traveling solo, I always carried a night-light because I couldn’t bare the thought of being in complete darkness in a room all by myself.
But, what is important is that I did not let my fears stop me from doing what I loved to do, i.e. travel solo. I faced them long enough for me to get over them and once that happens, you’re only going to get braver, I promise. I carried a few items for personal safety and just having them with me gave me a fair sense of confidence and peace of mind.
Compared to 2011 when I first started traveling solo, today, there are a lot more functional and smart products designed to help women feel safe and defend themselves when they need to. I believe that every woman should learn basic self-defense skills and that is one of my goals for 2018. For everything else, I’ve compiled a list of things (many of which I own and bring on my own solo travels) to carry on your solo female adventure. While, I’ve mentioned some here, you’ll find an even greater variety (with prices and model variations) on my page here.
First Aid Kit
It should be obvious that you should carry at least a basic first-aid kit with things like Band-Aid, cold and flu medicine, painkillers, eye drops, anti-motion sickness medicine, and anything else you might need such as prescription medicine. Always check that the medicines you’re bringing in your kit are allowed in your destination; different countries have different laws and rules when it comes to banned substances that often include medicines.
If like me, you aren’t really sure what goes into a basic first-aid kit, you can get one online and then add anything else you think you might need or might not be available easily abroad. Here is a cheaper alternative.
This is something I began to unfailingly bring with me when I started traveling solo after reading a tip by another blogger. It gives me a sense of security to have this when I (often) travel to remote places, hiking alone or staying in tiny villages or remote islands with as little as ten people for days. Survival whistles are really loud and can be heard in mountains and valleys and over the sounds of rain and wind.
By the way, if you’re out hiking and need to use the whistle to signal distress or an emergency, the internationally understood signal is three short, sharp bursts (or three flashes if using a flashlight) followed by a minute’s silence and repeating the signal. For Europe and the UK, the signal is six sharp bursts followed by a minute’s silence and then repetition.
There are many reasons why you might want to attract attention using your whistle; you might have had a fall while hiking, you might be lost, or worst-case, you might be under attack. A whistle is just as useful in the mountains as it is in your hostel or guesthouse if an intruder suddenly enters your room, or say you find yourself cornered in a lonely alley in a shady neighborhood in a city.
Somewhat similar to a survival whistle, a personal alarm is just as small and can be activated by pulling on a ripcord. You can carry it in your pocket, wear it as a necklace or bracelet, and some even come as a keychain. Newer models pack in additional features as LED night vision so you can light up your vicinity.
The Vigilant Personal Alarm comes with night vision and ripcord activation and at its peak volume is just 5decibels lower than the sound of an airplane taking off! Here is a cheaper and more basic alternative.
This SABRE Personal Alarm can be strapped onto your arm like a bracelet and is perfect if you like to go running while in new cities and can be useful even in your own city. I’d feel much safer running around at night if I had this strapped onto my wrist.
Your fear of sleeping alone in your private room at a hostel, Airbnb, guesthouse or even a hotel is not completely unfounded. You could have an intruder come in through the window or door while you’re asleep and that fear might keep you awake all night. It’s smart to invest in a portable door and/or window alarm that is loud enough to wake the entire building up should you have an intruder. This is seriously one of the best safety tools available to guarantee a good night’s sleep.
For alarms like the SABRE Door Handle Alarm, just set the alarm and hang it on the doorknob or window handle inside your room. If anyone touches the doorknob or tries to open it, the alarm will go off and scare your intruder away.
Also designed to ensure that you can sleep soundly, a doorstopper prevents an intruder from actually opening your door and entering your room by acting as a wedge between the floor and the door. Combine this with a door alarm and you won’t have to ever lie awake in fear of your safety.
When I was living alone and working in Mumbai, I always carried a can of pepper spray in my bag. My job required working a night shift- I’d get home at 4am, and being out at that unearthly hour, I needed something to make me feel secure.
That said, to travel with pepper spray requires you to check the laws and regulations in your destination and to find out whether its use in even legal there. You are certainly not allowed to carry it in your carry-on onto flights and do not even try to cross airport security with pepper spray in your belongings. Some airlines allow for pepper spray to be checked-in in your bag but that also depends on the size of the container.
If the use of pepper spray is legal in your destination and you’re allowed to carry it in your luggage, it can be handy to ward off bears while hiking or an attacker if you’re all by yourself. Even if you never use it, just having it with you can give you extra confidence.
The SABRE Pepper Spray comes with an adjustable hand strap that you can wear as soon as you find yourself in a dark alley or are running at night. The Frontiersman Bear Spray comes with a chest or belt holster and is a useful thing to have when you’re hiking alone in bear territory.
Swiss Army Knife Set
I’ve used mine more times than I can count, of which perhaps the most useful time was when I rescued Ankit from the bathroom of our B&B in New Zealand at 2.00am with the door being jammed and it being too late to wake our hosts up. So, this knife set is a useful tool to have whether or not you’re traveling solo.
Pickpocket Proof Lingerie
I’ve never used one of these but the Travel Bra does seem to be a pretty smart solution to carry your most important items on your person such as your passport, ID, and credit cards. They don’t look too bad either so I wouldn’t be averse to trying one of these out.
Anti-theft Packs, Wallets and Cross-body Bags
Whatever your style, it’s wise to get an Anti-theft bag to carry around while you’re sightseeing in a new city, taking day trips or hiking solo. Anti-theft bags come with slash-proof bodies, so that sly thief in Paris or Barcelona will not be able to get into your belongings, try as they may.
Personally, I love the look of a cross-body bag and I also think that’s the kind that is more difficult to slash or snatch, especially if you have the flap towards you and close to your body. Below are some styles that I particularly liked but there are tons of other options here.
This Travelon Front-Flap Cross-body bag has a beautiful design, is spacious and comes in lovely colors such as the navy blue. This is a slimmer and more classic alternative by Travelon and comes in great colors such as gray.
If daypacks are more your style, then consider this slim and elegant pack by Travelon, perfect for city breaks.
Pacsafe is a reputed industry leader when it comes to anti-theft bags and the pine green color of this functional and smart bag that can be carried on one shoulder or cross-body is just great, and other colors are also available.
I never travel without a flashlight and I’ve used mine when I had to change guesthouses at 11.30pm in a tiny village in Nepal, while walking to the toilet in the dark on a Swedish island, and during power cuts in Vietnam and Bangladesh. A flashlight does not weigh a lot and is a handy tool to have. This one is perfect for all kinds of outdoor activity too.
Just like a flashlight, a headlamp is useful while hiking or camping outdoors, and is great to illuminate your surroundings if your hands are full or if you’re scrambling down caves or around rocks and boulders.
You’ll need travel locks for your suitcase or backpack, as well as to lock the safety deposit box or locker if you’re staying at a hostel. While you can sometimes rent these from your hostel, the quality and rental prices vary, so it’s best to carry your own TSA-approved sturdy locks. I usually bring a few small ones, a large and medium-sized one so I have enough for my bag and locker and for my daypack if I need it (which always has my Macbook Air and expensive cameras, lenses, and photography gear).
Pacsafe Bag Protector
Depending on where you’re going, you might want to bring this Pacsafe Bag Protector suitable for both backpacks or duffels and suitcases that makes it impossible for someone to steal your pack or bag. You can lock your pack and secure it to your bed in a hostel, guesthouse or hotel or to the leg of a table, chair, or seat while you nap at an airport or on an overnight train.
If you prefer, you can also just bring a cable lock to secure your bag or other important items.
So, there you have it, my list of recommended safety gear for women traveling alone. What would you add to this list? Do you use any of these items and do you think any of these are particularly useful? If you’re traveling alone for the first-time, you might find these tips useful.
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