About half of business travelers are women. Although the travel industry is adapting to accommodate women travelers, they're still more vulnerable than men when traveling by themselves. These tips can help women avoid becoming a victim. Women traveling abroad will also benefit from these tips, but there's much more to consider in those situations, and this article doesn't address the special issues of foreign travel.
1: Stash your valuables
Take only the personal credit and debit cards you must have; leave the rest at home. Keep the cards you take on your person -- in a hip pocket, your shoe, a sock, or even your bra, but not in your purse. Some experts recommend using a money belt, but that's cumbersome and frankly, if robbed, you'll lose everything at once. Instead, stash your money and cards in a couple of hard-to-reach spots in your clothing.
Keep your daily spending cash easily accessible. You don't want to pull a wad of bills out of your sock to buy a hot dog from a kiosk. Avoid carrying a lot of cash.
2: Don't appear to be traveling alone
Never tell anyone that you're traveling alone. Lie if you have to -- society and your mother will forgive you. If someone approaches you and asks, "Is this your first time in Atlanta?" respond with "No, we visit often. We love it here!" The stranger's request is probably genuine, but there's no need to advertise your vulnerability.
3: Know where you're going
Plan your trip before leaving home, and always review your travel route before leaving the hotel. Avoid pulling out a map in public, even in your rental car. Never leave a map that's been marked with your route sitting around in your hotel room or your rental car. Better yet, use a GPS app and use a map as a last resort.
4: Don't loiter
While en route, don't hang around at the airport (other than layovers), rental car facility, or other interim spots. Don't stop for a quick bite, phone call, or to check messages. Move on to the next stop as quickly as possible. The baser elements hang out at these places looking for targets. A moving target is harder to hit, so keep moving.
5: Blend in
You don't want to look like you have money. Nor do you want to look like a tourist or dress provocatively. Pack light so you can move quickly. Avoid expensive luggage and keep your bags locked. Keep the local customs and climate in mind and try to blend in.
6: Choose your accommodations carefully
Choose a national hotel chain with a good safety record. Some hotels now offer women-only floors. Ask for a room above the ground floor, near the elevator, and away from emergency exits and stairwells.
When a larger hotel isn't available, consider a small inn or bed and breakfast rather than a motel. Many delightful B&Bs are run by women. Shop around and make reservations before you travel. Don't wait until you hit town to find a nice place to stay.
7: Protect yourself in the hotel
If you're staying at a reputable hotel, you're probably safe enough. But these next few tips are easy to implement and they certainly won't hurt:
- Use your first initial instead of your first name when signing in. Or sign in as Mr. and Mrs.
- Grab a hotel postcard from the counter with the hotel's name, address, and phone number. Keep it with you.
- If the desk clerk mentions your room number within hearing distance of other guests, ask for another room and ask the clerk not to mention the number aloud.
- Pack a couple of rubber doorstops and slip them underneath the outside door and any adjoining doors after you secure the room. Doing so will prevent anyone from opening these doors from the other side. But this tip comes with a warning of its own: It could hamper a rescue attempt during a fire or natural disaster. In addition, if you panic, you might have trouble opening the door yourself.
- Leave the Do Not Disturb sign on the door when you're gone. Doing so won't stop a determined burglar, but some will move on to the next room rather than take the chance.
- Leave the television or radio on when you're gone to give the illusion that the room is occupied.
- When you arrive in your room, secure the windows and adjoining and balcony doors; check the room thoroughly before locking yourself in.
- Don't hesitate to ask security to accompany to your room at any time.
- Use valet parking.
- Chat with the concierge about areas to avoid. They can also help you choose the safest and quickest routes for your excursions.
You can hide the traveler target on your back by looking confident, even if you don't feel that way. Keep your head up while walking. Look around. Note your surroundings. You can even be friendly. The more you look like you know exactly what you're doing (even if you don't), the less your target will show.
9: Be wary of new friends
After a long day of negotiations or brainstorming, you might want to let your hair down a bit and make merry. Just be wary of the new friends you make, especially anyone not introduced by a business associate. Don't socialize with strangers. Limit your alcohol consumption.
10: Know how to defend yourself
Most police departments offer self-defense classes. Your company might even be willing to foot the bill. Better still, encourage your employer to sponsor a class at the workplace. The YMCA and many religious organizations also sponsor classes.
If you're not into the physical stuff, educate yourself on personal safety devises. Unfortunately, most of these devices will have to stay home when you travel by air. When this is the case, mail order the device and have it delivered to your hotel's concierge. I don't recommend mailing these types of devices personally, as you might inadvertently violate postal regulations. Let a company that knows the rules handle all that.
What other precautions and best practices should women follow when traveling alone? Share your advice and experiences with fellow TechRepublic members.
Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.