Research shows that 83% of women say they have experienced one or more safety-related concerns or incidents whilst traveling for business. Anna-Liisa Tampuu ASyl from SheTravel, says that in some environments, women need to put safety first.
SheTravel, the women only network for modern business travel, was created for professional women by professional women, to create a forum where experiences and ideas can be shared to enhance trips and prevent exposure to unnecessary risks.
These are their top 10 tips for women who are travelling to remote or dangerous places.
1. Always research how women are perceived in your destination
Always research your destination and find out how women are perceived there. Are there any gender specific cultural or legal restrictions? For any high risk travel, you should insist on professional country and area risk assessments – specifically from a female perspective – before you book flights.
2. Dress in sympathy with the local culture
Understanding why cultural differences matter is key to safe travel. Defying dress codes or customs may put you at risk and or invite unwanted attention. Understanding the cultural rules that exist in your country of travel is key to being properly prepared.
3. Arrive at your destination before it gets dark
When you are travelling to a new country or unfamiliar place, try to arrive at your destination during daylight, even if that requires a more expensive flight or an earlier start in your own country. Safety first!
4. Choose your hotel/accommodation wisely
Make sure you know where your hotel/accommodation is located in relation to central train and bus stations, airports, and embassies. Make sure it is in an area that is considered safe and know where the neighbourhoods that are not deemed safe actually are. If you are travelling to a high-risk destination, ensure that your chosen lodging is in a recognised green zone/ compound, or has professional security. Know where the nearest medical centres are and make sure you have your medical insurance details accessible at all times.
5. Travel safely once you are there
Consider everything you do from a point of safety. If possible, ensure you are picked up from the airport by a trusted driver. Always use reputable taxis or licensed minicabs and never hail a taxi on the street. Make sure a trusted contact knows your itinerary and expected arrival/departure times at meetings or social appointments, be that your employer, local contact, friend, family or emergency assistance company.
6. Avoid making yourself a target
Muggings, attacks and incidents of sexual assault are often acts of opportunism. Be mindful not to flash expensive jewellery, laptops or phones in inappropriate places. Try not to drink heavily in unfamiliar places, particularly if you are on your own, or colleagues or friends are likely to leave before you do. Try to avoid walking by yourself at night, especially in areas that you are unfamiliar with. Steer clear of isolated situations that could put you at risk. Consider carrying a small torch or a flashlight with you. Keep your phone charged and easily accessible at all times.
7. Know your limits and trust your instinct
If you are feeling uncomfortable or threatened, try to remove yourself from the situation and don’t be afraid to say no. Always trust your instincts. If somebody steps over your boundaries or makes you feel uncomfortable, it is your right to ask them to stop. If you are not able to defuse the situation calmly or to remove yourself – escalate. It is acceptable to make a loud noise to alert others to your situation and to ask for help. Remember that harassment is never your fault.
8. In challenging environments – bring your own sanitary products
Many female travellers are not aware that many African and Middle Eastern countries don’t have tampons available, only pads. If you are using tampons, bring your own. Additionally, thrush cream and thrush pessaries or medications for cystitis should be brought with you because it can be impossible to get such pharmaceuticals specifically for women. In remote locations, consider bringing a SheWee so you can go to the toilet in difficult places without removing your trousers.
9. Always buy your own food & beverages
It is important to be aware that drink spiking does not only occur in night clubs and bars. Coffee, tea and other beverages could also be spiked and there have been instances when drink spiking has occurred during business meetings. Don’t leave drinks unattended and avoid drinking anything that you have not opened yourself. Be wary of accepting snacks, gum, or cigarettes from people you don’t know. In some countries, spiking may take the form of strangers offering fruit or snacks laced with drugs.
10. Be mindful of unsafe risk taking
In many countries, it is still not considered as “the norm” for women to travel on their own. Don’t take risks that may put you or others in a dangerous situation, just because you are coming from a country where your freedoms are different to those of where you are travelling.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU HAVE BEEN ‘SPIKED’
Drugs generally take effect within 15-30 minutes and symptoms usually last for several hours. Most drugs leave the body within 72 hours of being taken; the ‘date rape drug’ GHB leaves the body within 12 hours. These date-rape drugs – usually prescription-strength sleeping aids – are tasteless and colourless and can leave you unconscious and defenceless. If you suspect that you have been drugged and feel unwell, try to get help quickly before the full effect takes hold.
Anna-Liisa Tampuu ASyl is Head of Risk Analysis at NGS and runs SheTravel.