An Expert’s Safety Tips for Female Travellers

Last updated on March 18th, 2021

7 Tips from the Original Female Solo Traveller

by Evelyn Hannon, Founder, JourneyWoman

Evelyn Hannon, editor of Journeywoman.com is one of the world’s pioneers and experts on women and travel. She is the consultant to Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada and the author of ‘Her Own Way, A Woman’s Guide to Safe and Successful Travel,’ a 32-page booklet available at all Canadian Passport offices. Evelyn is an award-winning journalist, guest speaker and consultant to the travel industry. For her creative work on behalf of female travellers, TIME magazine chose this expert, ‘one of this century’s 100 most innovative thinkers.’ Here are Evelyn’s top tips learned from personal travel experiences over the last 25 years.

LET’S START WITH A GAME

The next time you are walking in your city center or taking public transportation, do this short mental exercise. It will serve you well when you’re travelling in a foreign destination. Look around you. Which women stand out? Whose purse has an outside pocket half unzipped? Who keeps checking the posted subway maps? Who looks relaxed? Anybody consulting a guidebook or checking something in their wallet? Who looks timid? This is exactly what an experienced thug does as he chooses his prey. Which person would you choose to pickpocket? Why? Hopefully, the insights you gain will help you to protect yourself from wrongdoers as you travel.

BE CULTURALLY CORRECT IN YOUR DRESS

Pre-trip research is extremely easy with Journeywoman’s What Should I Wear, Where section. The best way for a thief to pick you out of a crowd is not the color of your skin or the shape of your eyes. It is what you are wearing. If you are dressed the way local women are dressed a pickpocket will not necessarily choose you first. He isn’t sure if you are actually someone who lives in the area and up to his tricks or an unsuspecting visitor. More often he’ll target a woman who doesn’t seem to fit in. She’ll more likely stand out in a crowd.

BE COY; CARRY A LOCAL STORE’S SHOPPING BAG

One of the first things Journeywoman does when she arrives in a new city is to find the local grocery store. I make a small purchase just so that I get a shopping bag with the store’s logo on it. To avoid looking like a tourist and to fit in, I leave my backpack at the hotel and carry my camera and maps in this grocery bag. One added benefit — thieves are far less prone to steal my shopping bag than to grab my backpack.

TIGHT CLOTHING ON A FEMALE TRAVELLER IS A NO-NO

Any woman in form-fitting clothes will always attract attention either good or bad. Don’t take a chance. The good that comes may be pleasant but generally, it’s only fleeting. It is bad that you are guarding against. It’s not worth gambling with your safety and wellbeing for an appreciative wolf-whistle or an invitation to drinks.

DRESS IN NEUTRAL MUTED COLORS

When I first started travelling solo I packed my bright red sweater with a big yellow sun on it. I thought it would help me to make friends along the way. It did but it also attracted touts and vagrants. I’ve learned my lesson since; now my travel wardrobe is mostly black with a bit of grey and beige thrown in for good measure. I feel much less visible and that’s a very good thing.

WHY IS SOMEONE CHOOSING YOU?

Thieves and pickpockets come in many shapes and sizes. It might be that cute little kid who sits beside you at the train station, tugs on your sleeve and begins to cry. Perhaps it’s the smartly dressed, middle-aged businessman who asks for the time or directions. Your first instinct should be to become more vigilant. That child is often a decoy for the mom who is going through your backpack as you deal with a crying youngster. And, once you stop to offer the time to the so-called businessman, he ascertains by your speech if you are a native or someone he can dupe. While it seems rude and callous, Journeywoman’s best advice is to think and evaluate before you offer your help to any strangers that single you out.

PICKPOCKETS HAVE MANY CUNNING SCHEMES

To read much more about techniques pickpocketing teams use, see the Journeywoman article, ‘Down With Thieves’ posted at: Down with Pickpockets!

A JourneyWoman bonus tip…

 When other travellers ask you what you do for a living and you’re not sure if they can be trusted, tell them you’re a policewoman on holiday. I do it all the time just to be on the safe side. 

Evelyn started Journeywoman in 1994, and unknowingly became the world's first female travel blogger. She inspired a sisterhood of women, a grassroots movement, to inspire women to travel safely and well, and to connect women travellers around the world. She passed away in 2019, but her legacy lives on.

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1 Comment

  1. Rosemary

    I have certainly bought the local shopping bag and avoided looking obviously lost but I love the policewoman ploy even if at my age I’d have to say I was a retired employee and hope that that would be a sufficient enough deterrent! I was astounded when I was in crowded Venice walking behind many women with back packs on their backs. My first rule around many people is to put everything around to the front of me. My husband and I were almost caught in Istanbul while searching for a hotel. We realized later we were being followed by this innocent looking group of older women who distracted me by looking up in the sky causing me to do the same. My husband was then deliberately blocked in by a car and others in the group swarmed him. Fortunately he felt the hand go for his wallet and started yelling. They looked at him at him as if he was mad but then quickly drifted away. Perhaps in retrospect we should have asked for directions from another hotel or shop rather than people in the street.

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