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10 ways for women to stay safe when traveling alone

Women traveling by themselves need to take some extra precautions. Here are a few practical pointers to help women stay safe on those solo business trips.

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.

8: Belong

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.

Also read

Stay safe when you pull an all-nighter: 10 self-defense tips for techies

Other tips?

What other precautions and best practices should women follow when traveling alone? Share your advice and experiences with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

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.

45 comments
jpierce963
jpierce963

I travel a lot for work and I am usually by myself and these tips are very accurate. Obviously you can't carry pepper spray with you especially on the plan so I like to carry my Kubotan! It definitely helps you feel a little safer when walking through a city you aren't as familiar with. This is where I got mine, I hope this helps some of y'all!! http://www.hughessecuritysolutions.com/keychain-weapons/ 

ralphtwain
ralphtwain

kinda agree that people respond better to FIRE than HELP.. true thing happened once with a friend..

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

Perhaps reason for the myth that men won't ask for directions? Just a thought.

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

Guns kill people too, often by accident, or stolen and used against you etc. Point is, yes, guns save lives, but they take them too, often wrongly. It's a pretty stupid slogan rally, which has been around for quite a while. What if you travel overseas or even just north of the border into Canada? Unless you are in America, nobody cares if you are American and your home state permits you to carry one.

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

In most public places it is against the law to yell fire when there isn't a fire, even if being attacked. But you are 100% accurate in that more people pay attention to FIRE than HELP.

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

Why? Best not to show your cards. It is also threatening to a tech or hotel worker. There's no need to tell anyone you are carrying a gun, pepper spray and knives and are ready to protect yourself, "but you can go ahead and put those towels in the bathroom please."

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

Having worked in security for a long time, I see women constantly making a really dumb move when trying to secure their purses, of course this is for travel and just every day common sense too. A few years ago, a trend started where women hung their purses over their head, not just hung off a shoulder. It was SUPPOSEDLY a safer way to carry a purse so it couldn't just be grabbed by a passerby. IN reality it is EXTREMELY dangerous to do this and you are much better off hanging it on a shoulder. First hand experience, as a security foreman with a large fair and arena, has shown me too many women with broken noses, teeth knocked out and worse directly due to carrying purses over their head (Where the purse is carried on one side and the strap is overhead and on the opposite shoulder). Most women feel it is safer as your purse is harder to snatch while cycling by, running past etc. However it is not safe at all. If someone runs past and grabs your purse, you are pulled to the ground instead of thieves just taking your purse, they take your purse and you are left with some nasty bruises, possible breaks or worse. It is NOT safer to loop it over your head, it just invites injury. If someone wants to snatch your purse, they will, end of. Don't carry lots of cash. only carry one credit card (if you must) and leave other documents out of your purse, passport etc. Your purse should just be for unimportant things that you may need handy while travelling, a bit of makeup, water, snacks, tissues etc. Don't make it your life's collection of everything important.

speightc
speightc

Thank you for all of the suggestions. I am a comfortable traveler and certainly not paranoid but situationally aware. As a professional speaker, not only am I traveling daily but I have in tow 2 or 3 bags, too, so here are a few extra suggestions: 1. No matter how I travel, I carry or wear a passport document pouch. In it I carry my driver's license/passport, boarding passes/tickets, smartphone and a few small bills for incidentals like a meal or a magazine. No digging through my handbag. 2. Not only do I print out my itinerary but I e-mail it to a couple of friends and promise to call at least one person when I arrive and leave. When I come in at night, I always come in through the main doors and say hello to the person at the front desk, even if this is the longer route to my room. If someone is following me, this is a deterrent and now someone in the hotel has seen me. 3. If I am driving, I make every effort to check in during the day light hours and park under a parking lot light. If I use the valet service, I only give the car key, not a whole ring of keys that include my house. Also, my GPS is programmed for a street near my intended location not the actual address because the GPS will have a running tally of where you are traveling. No need to help out a thief. 4. I print my directions in case the GPS doesn't get a signal in more remote/rural/sky scraper heavily congested areas.5. If I call for maintenance in a hotel, when they arrive, I leave the door propped open until they leave. 6. This sounds too simple to list but it's important. When you leave your room, grab the door knob and close it. Do not let it auto-close. There are times that it remains a little ajar. 7. And last but not least, I have my documents like itinerary, copy of my AAA card, passwords and log in ids backed up to a cloud service like Carbonite and an app on my smartphone just in case I lose critical info. And I agree with all the other posters, this info is for all travelers, not just women.

BigIve
BigIve

Good advice for all travellers - not just for women. A little bit of institutionalised sexism there - men are actually more likely to be victims of violence than women. Agree with the posts above that being aware is best advice.

ROBERTHWLIM
ROBERTHWLIM

Susan Harkins,you would make a FIRST CLASS security consultant !!!

Slayer_
Slayer_

Its generally a bad idea to do a business trip alone. Besides that its dangerous to be alone, it is also risky, what if the person sent gets terribly sick and has to miss that important meeting. It happened to me once, I flew all the way to peace river AB, then got horribly sick for 2 days. Thankfully I wasn't alone, the rest of my team had to pick up the slack.

brettwar
brettwar

Many people (men and women both) are usually daydreaming and not being vigilant to their surroundings. Always stay alert and notice things out of the ordinary, if it doesn't look or feel right then go another way.....

alawishis
alawishis

One thing everyone, not just women, should learn is to NOT quiet your intuition. Often people get a bad feeling about a situation but they quiet that voice in their head trying to warn them. They tell tehmselves they don't want to live in fear, or they are just being silly, or there is really no reason to be scared. Listen to that little voice. If you're alone and an elevator stops with a shady character inside, wait for the next elevator. You don't have to impress anyone, and if you're wrong so what. You wait 2 more minutes for another elevator. If you have doubts about walking down a shadowy street, don't do it. Find another route or get someone to walk with you. You be surprised how many people that get in trouble have a sense about it before hand that they deliberately ignore. When you go out make sure someone knows where you are, where you are going and have a time you are expected to check-in. If something happens people can find you and help you faster, the sooner they know you've missed a check-in. Make arrangements to call someone you care at night and just before or after meals. DOn't forget. If you're reliable people will realize your missing sooner.

cdegrasse2
cdegrasse2

Never flag down a random cab - call the dispatch number to make sure your name, time of pickup and taxi number are on record. Dispatched taxi drivers are more likely to be ligitimate.

rdloffredo
rdloffredo

Choose hotels that are enclosed, where walking access is only through the main lobby without a card. Good hotel chains are trained to write the room number down They should never announce your room number. Use a door stop that has an alarm. One incident that happened to me is the hotel accidentally gave our room number to another guest late at night. The alarm worked great.

Gadget-Girl
Gadget-Girl

Always open your hotel room door all the way so no one can be behind it, and waiting for you! Then listen, is there anyone in the bathroom, open that door all the way. Do not travel late at night....after 10PM. Going out drinking with several women and returning to your hotel loud and obnoxious advertises your defenselessness. I am techie who is also a hotel night auditor (11pm to 7am).

Nstig8r
Nstig8r

I agree with most things there. I have traveled alone however I don't ever presume I am safe. If someone wants to hurt/rob me; they're going to give it their best. However I won't go down easily. I do carry: firearm, pepper spray, knives, and a tactical head multi-function flashlight for various situations which may occur. If I'm staying an extended period of time, and the state/city permits it, I utilize a sporting goods store with an FFL license and mail my firearm to an FFL licensed sporting goods store in the destination city. While in a hotel/motel, due to a Refuse To be A Victim class, I have purchase a nifty gadget kit: the GE 45216 SmartHome Portable Security Kit. It includes good precautionary devices to ensure additional peace of mind. For that peace; there is no task too inconvenient nor foolhardy. If I could; I'd carry my Hoyt bow too :) I don't live the life of ignorant bliss. I'm not paranoid nor fearful. Fear is good to the extent of keeping the senses keen to surroundings; however carrying myself with confidence will convince most novice/punk-arse twits to keep on walking. Couple of key tidbits for other lady travelers while in a hotel: since most offenders are male, keep personal items of value, passport, etc (if hotel safe not available) in a tampon box. That is a surefire deterrent in most cases :) Secondly; (and this has happened to me in NYC), if a 'maintenance technician' knocks on the door to service the air exchanger (or whatever excuse he uses), tell him you are going to call the front desk first to verify. DO NOT open the door and trust he is telling the truth. The tech was legitimate however he did leave when I told him I was going to call, he punched my door and said "f*** this sh**". Another tech was sent up to address the concern in my room, which I did allow with me present, however I made him aware of my ability to protect myself. Also, I like the B&B suggestion. I stay at these when I can. Most people I met there are also tired of the potential for harm in hotel/motels. Thanks to everyone here for their contributions. I appreciate your sharing! Take care...

vitec
vitec

The Stand Your Ground Law is a real good giant leap forward for women! this law gives them almost perfect immunity to protect them selves from a would be attacker to protect her self, & use Deadly Force if needed. {But not to hide behind the law as in the case in Sanford FL.} Never, Never pursue an Assailant, If your lost or being followed go to any place there is a crowd, if your driving and being followed, drive to any Police, Fire Station,Military Base, or Hospital They are 99.9% open 24-7-365 and always willing to help! As a Volunteer Firefighter/Paramedic I Guarantee there is nothing more intimidating the men in uniform coming to your aid. Another good way is to travel with a Dog, & stay in a pet friendly hotel. even a small dog is good, just for the Alarm Factor.

borglah
borglah

I learned in one self-defense class that if you yell HELP or just scream, more people run away than come to your aid. If you yell FIRE! or 911!, people will come to see the commotion! Sad but probably true...

DLeh
DLeh

"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." Don't eat! Don't make a call! Don't stand in one place! You're a woman, and you must be TERRIFIED to be alone! Really? Sigh...

Justin James
Justin James

#1: You have GOT to know what is going on around you. Don't walk and use your phone, MP3 player, etc. Take the headphones out! More and more people are being victimized because they are walking around completely unaware of their surroundings, thanks to the electronic device in their hand and the headphones in their ears. #2: Get training. That doesn't necessarily mean a martial art or carrying a gun (though both are helpful and I would recommend them if you can). But it means going to a personal protection class and learning the *mindset* necessary for staying safe, as well as how to handle situations that can arise. Training and practicing *in advance* for bad situations is the best way to ensure that you 1) avoid them in the first place and 2) handle them as well as possible if you end up in one anyways. Regarding things like pepper spray, guns, etc. Personally, I am a proponent of self-defense and I feel that it is important for people to know how to protect themselves. As the old saying goes, "when seconds count, the police are minutes away". At the same time, you need to recognize that they are "if all else fails" items. The more heavily armed you are (including martial arts), the more responsibility you have to make sure that you do not use those weapons inappropriately or in violation of the law. Traveling with them is also a hassle (if not illegal), depending on what they are and how you are traveling and where you are traveling to. J.Ja

zefficace
zefficace

For both sexes. One last thing, be aware. Always reserve a bit of your attention on your sourroundings. If you get too distracted by what you are doing, it's easier for someone to sneek up on you. If you listen and look around every few seconds, you won't be an easy target. Being aware, you will be able to take mesures to protect yourself BEFORE anything actually happens. With a sufficient attention level, your would be attacker will simply move on to another, easier target. Most will not take a risk on a target that seems already responding to their presence and intentions.

thandermax
thandermax

Have you been robbed recently ? But I think, staying confident and not showing nervousness should be the moto.

BKJay
BKJay

This is quite useful. But let me add some more. 1) Always carry a mobile phone with you. Logging in using gps applications available in android and iphone can show your location to your friends ( Or keep this only for very few trusted friends in real life - not those 700 "friends" in FB. Dial the police, fire and your hotel acco no: and retain them as top 3 in your dial pad, as far as possible. You can dial police with just one press if you know that it is on top. Or better save those as your short cut 1, 2 and 3 in your phone. An efficient Police system can track your phone and reach you if within city - Just say "help" atleast 2) Always tell 2 trustworthy people your Hotel location. 3) Tell them that u will call them every day and if you dont, they have to call her, if she is not reachable, to assume that she is in danger. It may be a simple case of phone battery dead, but let's err on the side of safety. (The above cannot help you in the face of imminent danger) 4) You little kung fu is not likely to scare a big bad guy. Though it is okay to learn some self defence, it may be more effective to carry a pepper spray or something more hurting , easily reachable (you cant carry it in plane) 5) Dont travel alone out side of any major city. Its risky even for men, but a lot more for women

bhackbarth
bhackbarth

Some excellent tips here, updated for today's world. Thanks for the important reminders. I am sharing this with my female colleagues and my daughters.

JTF243
JTF243

This goes for ALL travellers! In the event of an attack, the best way to win is to keep the attacker "beyond arms length". A baseball bat is nice but they are STILL too close. Pepper spray can blow back at you as you have little control over its direction after you spray it. Electronic stunners do NOT keep the attacker "beyond arms length" and a Taser can be defeated by heavy clothing. Considering all states (with the exception of Illinois - thank you "Shitago"!) have some form of open or concealed carry, get a GUN and keep it under your pillow or nightstand drawer while you sleep. Just be sure to either hide it securely (to keep it safe from housekeeping) or put it in a LOCKABLE nondescript container and lock it in the hotel safe when you can't take it with you. Guns save lives people, namely YOURS!

bp1argosy
bp1argosy

that I think women need to learn to be more aware of their surroundings. I see far more women be caught surprised by what's happening around them than men are. Train yourself to pay more attention to what's going on around you. Don't be distracted; learn to "unobtrusively" observe (Police are VERY good at this; observe how THEY keep track of their immediate surroundings). If you're out walking (or at the mall, or an airport, or wherever), have you seen the same stranger more than once? Is there anything about him (or her) that strikes you as odd and out of place? Listen to your "gut" reactions; sometimes, the subconscious acts as an "early warning" system, and can call your attention to something that may be very helpful.

neil
neil

The world is a MUCH friendlier place than you seem to think. These precauitons are as relvant to real life travel as the guy who tore up his newsaper and threw it out the commuter train window every night. When asked why by Jennifer, he replied "To keep the tigers away" Jennifer "but I have never seen a tiger from this train in 20 years using it" "That proves my technique works" You are much more likely to be assulted/murdered by someone you know than a stranger, except in a few genuinely dangerous and blatantly obvious locales. Waken up and smell the roses. Or at least, stop terrifying neophyte business travellers. You have missed a hell of a lot of interesting and enjoyable experiences (If you really travel, and are not just theorizing) Comment from 40+ years of extensive and frequent travel

dkmcadow
dkmcadow

Great advice in this article. I'll add that I keep a wallet (I'm a guy) in my pocket with expired credit cards, expired driver's license (usually has an old address), about $40 cash, a couple grocery store club cards (that I never signed up for), etc., to use as a decoy if I'm going someplace dodgy. I'm gambling that a mugger or pick-pocket will simply take it and go, and not discover that everything's expired until I'm far away. I've haven't had to use it yet (knock-on-wood). When I carry my 'decoy,' I carry a minimal amount of valid cards/ID/cash, as recommended in #1.

aidemzo_adanac
aidemzo_adanac

To suggest it being a myth, you'd have to know a man who actually does ask for directions. IN which case I'd suggest grabbing him low and checking again, plenty of transgender people out there too. A man that asks for directions? I'd be VERY skeptical. :)

ssharkins
ssharkins

...and that recommendation comes from law enforcement professionals, more than one... you can ignore it -- that's fine. "Don't eat! Don't make a call! Don't stand in one place! You're a woman, and you must be TERRIFIED to be alone!" I said no such thing or even implied it. Being aware and proactive is smart.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I didn't mention handguns, because the responsibility is just too great to tackle in a short tip -- thanks for your thoughtful discussion on the topic.

sissy sue
sissy sue

but you fail to realize that the world is a much more dangerous place for a woman or a girl.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I'm glad you found them useful!

The Joat
The Joat

If you need to travel by plane then forget the PepperSpray and pick up a can of Wasp Spray when you get to your destination. 20-30 foot range and you can get it in almost any super market. Much more stopping power than pepper spray. And when you have to fly home just drop it in a trash can.

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

Your second amendment to keep and bear arms does not extend to other countries you may be traveling to. Also, you can't carry a gun into a plane unless you are a Marshall.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Statistics show that a majority of violent crimes against women are perpetrated by someone the woman knows. That's absolutely true! But that doesn't negate the others. It's just part of the picture. I find that the more women travel, the more attention they pay to their surroundings and their personal safety. I don't think that comes from paranoia, but just experience. In addition, this article was well researched. I've discussed this issue with security and law enforcement professionals. I have no reason to believe that they would make unnecessary suggestions to "terrify" people. I'm wide awake, I smell the roses every single day of my life, and occasionally... I see a tiger.

sissy sue
sissy sue

..that the world is a much more dangerous place for a woman or a girl.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

First off, I'm male and ask for directions sometimes. It's not the first thing I do. First I look at the map. Second, I will study the terrain around me for clues or landmarks on the map. If I still can't figure it out what's the big deal? Second, the Mythbusters did this one recently. I know their technique won't get them published in any scientific journals. However, the numbers between male and female were pretty much the same. BTW: working as a night clerk, I've had male truck drivers come in and ask me for directions as well.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I don't disagree, but why is it more dangerous?

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I mean, northern Europe is pretty safe for all comers, whereas in other places getting a bunch of ex-SpecOps to cover your ass is generally advisable... if you must go at all.

GSG
GSG

These are basic precautions and travelers are easy targets because they aren't part of the community. You don't have to be paranoid, but make them a habit. I would also add that you should never stay in a room that has its entrance on the outside of the hotel. I always stay where the room is entered from an interior hallway. My parents were in a room one time that was entered from the outside, and it was just lucky that my Dad is quite an imposing man becuase it took about 1/2 a second for their door to be broken down and a couple of guys to enter the room. He had them curled in a ball on the floor a few seconds later.

jfrankl1
jfrankl1

I would also avoid all first floor rooms, and those near an exit for the same reasons. Avoid rooms above the sixth floor for fire safety, because in some places the fire trucks cannot reach any higher than that.