Sunday, 26 April 2015

Real safety trips for women travellers (or, how to stop worrying and love the world)

I've been travelling solo for almost 20 years now, and one comment I hear time and again is: "You're so brave! I could never do that."


We live in an age of constant media inflation. Everything's dangerous, especially for women:

Getting into a taxi? The driver will rape and murder you as soon as look at you. Better text his registration number to a friend, in case you go missing.

Walking home after a night out? You'll get attacked; better take a taxi.

Except we've already established that the taxi driver is dangerous too.... do you spot the problem yet?

While I'm not denying that terrible things occasionally happen, the constant media coverage around those things, and the constant barrage of "how-to-be-safe" articles, both keep undue emphasis on a bogus message that travel, and life in general, is not safe for women.

Case in point: there was recently a Buzzfeed article on 46 Safety Tips for Women Travellers. It was garbage. most of the "tips" would apply equally well to men as well as women, and the rest were paranoid (again, that old chestnut: always take a photo of a cab's license plate and text it to a friend before you get in, in case you end up missing or dead).

These articles perpetuate the myth that travel is unsafe for women. You don't see articles on 46 Safety Tips for Male Travellers, do you? They're pretending to reassure while, like a 5th column, eroding confidence.

So, here's my own Real Safety Tips for Women Travellers:

1) When a stranger tries to talk to you on a bus, or when you're sitting on a park bench, try talking back. He'll probably recommend cool places to visit, tasty non-touristy restaurants, and show you pictures of his kids until you're blue in the face. There are a few scammers about, but the vast majority of people just want to make a connection and are curious about how you live on the other side of the world. They want to say hi, not hurt you. So there's no need to treat every stranger with utmost suspicion. Don't be an idiot, but don't be paranoid, either.

2) When a group of middle aged women invite you to sit with them for dinner in a restaurant, say yes. You'll enjoy pleasant company, another chance to chat with locals, and you'll probably get your dinner paid for too, as you're their guest.

3) When you get lost, ask for directions. Everyone you meet, pretty much, will try and help you. Ditto when you get scared by an aggressive soi dog. People will shoo it away from you and ensure you're okay.

4) When a teenager biker offers to walk you down a monkey-infested hill, because he can see that the crafty little critters frighten you, say yes. He's being a gentleman.

I've spent more than 4 months travelling around SE Asia, and in that time I've met one person who deliberately gave me bad directions for fun, two people who potentially tried to scam me (neither succeeded, and one might have genuinely been a mistake anyway), and about 57 people who went out of their way to show me kindness and hospitality.

The world is a big, beautiful place, and it's all waiting for you.

Get out there.

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