Beaches are in your future. Museums, old churches, ancient streets, and botanical gardens, too.
Maybe you’re dreaming of cruising the emerald waters of Halong Bay or gazing into Venetian canals.
Whatever the case, it’s time to get lost in some far-off destinations. I wish every woman a healthy amount of wanderlust, because travel will change your life.
It changed mine.
But before you jet away, I have some words for you. Traveling isn’t always about innocent hostel-hopping and Instagrammable moments. It can be about vulnerability and risk.
It can be about danger. In particular, it can involve violence.
There is no current statistic about foreign female travelers and sexual assault, but I have a hunch it’s far more urgent than we all realize.
I’ll also let you know that I’m a part of that unknown number. That’s why I’m writing this: to make sure (with all of my power) that you aren’t.
Know your destination as much as you can.
I urge you to travel with wide eyes. Your wandering is likely to be richer if you don’t have too much of a plan beforehand. I want you to let your noble feet guide you.
But please read up on your destination prior to departure.
Practice the local language, if you are able. Research information about customs and culture, including how to dress appropriately. Crop tops and maxi dresses may be fine in Miami, but Africa may have other ideas.
Build an approximate list of places you’ll want to visit. Have a sense of how you’ll access these sites, where you’ll stay, and how you’ll handle money.
I didn’t before my assault, but now I use Lonely Planet ahead of any trip.
The more familiarly you can walk those unknown streets, the more easily you’ll blend in with the crowd and avoid compromising situations. Familiarity also prevents desperation and last resorts.
I don’t want you to be desperate, and I don’t want you to have to make a last resort. I want you to be empowered.
Seek out local contacts and groups.
I place a premium on independence. When I traveled solo, I enjoyed the luxury of my own itinerary. I spent long train rides writing, listening to music, and reading. I wandered without a schedule.
I’m not barring anyone from solo travel. But I was alone when I was assaulted. There was no one there to prevent it.
Seek out groups.
Hostels are perfect for groups. I still have friends from my hostel-hopping days. Group backpacking trips can give you the grit and tumble of hauling your belongings around Europe without the solo safety risks.
Make local contacts beforehand, either by arranging a guide or connecting with friends of friends. Booking lodging through AirBnB can be helpful in this regard, as most hosts can give visitors a taste of where to go (and how to stay safe).
Before arranging any third-party accommodations, however, be sure to read reviews. I can’t emphasize this enough.
If you try out a free lodging platform like Couchsurfing, try to choose female, family, or couple hosts—or avoid this altogether.
Be cautious with after-hour or outskirt wandering.
If you’re visiting a new city, don’t neglect the nightlife. Seek out those quirky rooftop bars and underground cocktail lounges.
Party hard in clubs if that’s your scene. Hit me up, because I have some good recommendations.
Just be careful, ladies. And don’t drink anything anyone except a licensed bartender gives you, even non-alcoholic drinks.
Take it from someone who knows. A tea I was enjoying was spiked with date rape.
If you’re alone, take a taxi back to your hostel or AirBnB after a night out. Make sure it’s an actual taxi, too (and not just a car masquerading as one).
If you find yourself wandering city streets “after hours,” stick to well-lit areas closer to the city center. Keep valuables close to your body, ideally in zippered pockets or elsewhere.
Ask the right people for help.
You’re going to have questions, no matter where you wander. You’ll want to ask for help. Be cautious with who you pick out from the crowd.
I like to chat with other tourists when lost or confused. In many cases, they may have the same questions you have, and then you can resolve the issue together.
In others, seek out train conductors, police officers, or other local officials. Find information desks at transportation hubs or consult the interwebs (if you have a mobile phone).
Don’t always trust the answers you get. Ask twice.
Take your time when packing. Give yourself the tools you need to be safe, and I mean it.
Pack extra passport photos in case your passport or other forms of ID are lost or stolen. I’m not just talking iPhone selfies. Get your hands on official ones.
Invest in an international SIM card, phone plan, or mobile device. When I traveled through Europe, I used my international phone to communicate with AirBnB hosts, new friends, locals, and more. Your phone is your safety belt.
If you are traveling with a smartphone, download maps.me, an app that lets you figure out your location without using data or wi-fi.
If you are backpacking, pack as lightly as possible. You don’t want heavy belongings getting in the way of a quick escape.
Find the nearest embassy.
I wish I had known where the nearest U.S. embassy was after I was assaulted. Embassies are your ultimate resource.
Know where they are before you get on a train, boat, or plane. Put the contact information in your phone and wallet. Reach out to your embassy first in case of an emergency.
Don’t stay at home because of fear.
Finally, after reading this and countless other tales about the dark side of travel, you may already be thinking twice about your upcoming trip to Bali, or New Zealand, or Ecuador.
Fear, however, forces everyone to live a small life. Be wary, but don’t be crippled by what could happen.
Above all, I want you to travel fearlessly and with grace. Travel knowing what is out there but don’t expect the bad things to happen to you.
I didn’t, and I’m ultimately glad for it because I still came away with some amazing stories and journal entries. And I’m living proof that the bad things can happen but still leave you with a voice and a future of wandering.
Trust your intelligence and trust your ability to wander wisely and well. Because you can. And you will.