Almost a year ago to this weekend, I was jumped by two girls in my own city of Toronto. It was early in the evening, in a very safe and busy area, and the thing that you say will never happen to me, happened to me.
I’ve traveled all around the world, to many places with travel advisories and warnings, I try to be extra safe and aware when in an unfamiliar place, but it’s ironic that of all the places this could’ve happened to me, it was in the comfort of my own city. The place that I feel the safest.
To mark one year since that happened, I thought it be helpful to write a post for safety tips for women. Unfortunately as women, we have to worry more than men. It sucks, but it’s the reality. And we all know that traveling in unfamiliar cities and places can be intimidating, especially when you’re alone. So I’ve compiled some of my biggest tips to keep yourself safe and secure.
Buy a SIM card
Once upon a time you didn’t have a smartphone and everyone was fine, or at least we didn’t hear about it when they weren’t. However, one of the best parts about smartphones is being able to keep us safe on-the-go. Most countries have reasonable rates for buying a SIM card and phone card while you’re abroad. Alternatively, you can contact your phone carrier back home and find out their rates for keeping your phone on abroad.
Having your phone helps you feel more secure because you can easily access maps, translation apps, and call for help if you need to. BUT I strongly suggest that you use some phone common sense.
A) Don’t be on it non-stop with your head down and not paying attention, this makes you a target.
B) If you’re not traveling in a first world country especially, remember that an expensive shiny iPhone makes you a target. Use it when you need to and then put it away!
Share your location
If you have your data on while abroad, there is also an option (at least on iPhone’s) where you can share your location with your family or friends so they can see where you on by GPS at any time they need to. This is a great way to give yourself some security, but also your loved ones.
Share your itinerary
Always make sure someone back home has a detailed itinerary of where you’ll be staying, when, how you’ll be getting places, confirmation numbers, and everything in between. We are often in a bad habit of just heading on a vacation and not letting people know much other than the country you’re going to. Even if you’re traveling with a travel buddy or partner, this is a good practice to make sure your family and friends back home know your whereabouts if they need to find or get in touch with you.
Shockingly, 911 isn’t 911 in every country. Every country has their own variation. I have a friend who had someone try to break into her Airbnb while abroad, and one of the biggest issues when it was happening is they didn’t know who they were supposed to call for help. This information is usually online or in those travel guides you buy, but reading it and making sure it’s top of mind or easily accessible is important.
Walk with confidence
Even though you likely don’t know where you’re going, you have to fake it until you make it. Being confident and not showing locals that you look lost, confused, and vulnerable is important, especially when you’re traveling alone. If I’m lost, I’ll often pull off into a cafe or store and check my GPS/map to get an idea of where I’m supposed to be going then head back out on the street, phone away, with confidence.
Have a copy of your passport
This one is simple. If you lose or get your passport stolen, it’s a pain in the ass to get a new one. Having a copy with you can make it easier.
Educate yourself on the area
Knowing the lay of the land will help with making you feel confident and safe while traveling. Knowing the touristy neighbourhoods, busy streets, and also the areas that you should avoid is important. Every city or town, no matter how beautiful it is, has those areas that are less tourist-friendly. Be aware of them! Also don’t take short cuts to get places if you know your GPS or map is taking you down less busy streets. It’s worth going the long way, or even getting an Uber!
Don’t walk with headphones
Take your headphones out! Gahhhh this one drives me crazy. Yes, I walk with my headphones in a lot but only in daylight, on busy streets, and in areas or places I feel safe (like Canada or the United States that I’m familiar and used to). I always take them out at night time because how easy would it be for someone to sneak up on you when you can’t hear anything around you?
Wear your hair down
I learned this after being jumped. Wearing your hair in a ponytail as a female actually makes you incredibly vulnerable. Ugh, why does it suck so much to be a girl? Obviously it sounds insane to not ever wear your hair up, but when I was jumped the girls who jumped me were trying to pull me into an alleyway by my ponytail. Think about it, you can’t just drop your ponytail and run. I was later told all the crazy stories that happen where people get pulled into cars, etc. this way. If it’s night, and you’re feeling uneasy, it’s just better to be safe than sorry.
I don’t want this article to scare you from traveling alone. I’ve basically hardly ever had any issues, other than the odd cat call. However, I also am very aware of my surroundings and places I’m traveling. For example, when I went to India, Jordan, and Morocco, knowing these places weren’t as women-friendly, I made sure I a) did a tour with other people, but b) didn’t go out after dark unless I was with a group of people.
Remember: a little common sense goes a long way!