A Special Note for Female Travellers...

Female travellers relaxing in Thailand

A Special Note for Female Travellers...

Few female travellers experience problems during their gap year travels. Many women travel to countries alone and the majority of the time do not experience any difficulties. However, there are always times where even the most seasoned traveller can find herself in a tricky situation. Keeping safe on your gap year is a priority and the advice is not intended to scare you but simply to make you aware of some potential issues and how they can be best avoided or managed in an appropriate and, most importantly, a safe manner.

Should I travel alone or go with friends?

The risk to female travellers will really depend on where you go. However, all these tips can help you regardless of where you are in the world. You may find yourself wondering whether travelling alone or with friends is the safest option? Of course, having people you know with you can make you feel more secure, as the old saying goes, there is safety in numbers. However, don't let concerns about your safety put you off travelling on your own. Around 60% of gap travellers head off on their own and as long as you take sensible precautions there's no reason you shouldn't stay safe on your gap year.

How to deal with unwanted attention

Travelling alone is fun but you may occasionally find yourself the subject of some unwanted attention. It could be from men that make flirtatious comments, maybe whistling at you, or making some other kind of unwanted sexual advance. If a guy starts talking to you and it makes you feel a little uncomfortable or if you are simply not interested then you can try the following:

  • If he is being polite it is best to just smile, say hello and then immediately walk away from him. This way you do not appear too rude, but at the same time you have made it clear you have no interest in stopping to talk to him.
  • If he persists or comes on too strong then clearly and confidently tell him you are not interested, ask him to leave you alone and then simply ignore him. Men usually get the picture and in some cultures you actually gain more respect from them if you deny their advances. Often they will get bored and move on but in the unlikely event that this doesn't work, or you still feel uncomfortable, then involve people around you or go to the nearest group of travellers and ask them if you can sit with them until the person goes away. If you join an organised tour or book a trip with a gap travel company then you will already have the advantage of being in a group of people that you will have got to know and can rally round to help you out if an uncomfortable situation arises.
  • Travellers are invariably only too happy to help fellow travellers. If there were no tourists around, then go to the nearest restaurant, hotel, cafe or shop until you feel safe again. Simply ignoring people who give you unwanted attention normally works as it gives them nothing to work with or react to. Ignore them, stare ahead and keep walking.

It's important to remember that most locals are extremely friendly and welcoming. Many will be keen to chat with you as they are genuinely interested in learning more about your plans and where you're from and enjoy practicing their English with you. These experiences only add to your enjoyment so please don't think that every time a local attempts to talk to you that they have ulterior motives, because most of the time they don't. Try to keep an open mind, but trust your instincts.

Tips to avoid drawing attention to yourself

  • Avoid making yourself an easy target by not flashing too much flesh. If you wear a tight-fitting top and a mini skirt, in some places you could get hassled. Think about the local culture. Look at how local women dress and then follow their example. Keep your beachwear for the beach and it's probably not a good idea to sunbathe topless. In culturally sensitive areas, cover your shoulders and your legs. Look at our advice on what clothes to take with you on your gap year so you can pack the appropriate clothing.
  • In some places it's rare for a lone woman to walk into a bar for a beer, and the women who do tend to be prostitutes. If you fancy a beer or a cocktail, it may be best to drink in the hostel bars until you meet up with other travellers. Hostel bars are a great place to meet people and make friends and you don't have far to walk to get to your room so it's a safer option. If you do drink alone, be careful not to drink too much so you remain aware and in control of what is happening to you.
  • In many destinations around the world, it's normal to see single female travellers; however there are areas where local men don't understand why an unaccompanied woman would travel alone. It can make them suspicious or interested in you (or both). A good tip is to pretend you have a boyfriend or a husband. Some female travellers wear a simple fake wedding ring, as this can sometimes be enough to prevent unwanted attention. If you are asked if you have a partner, it is probably the best tactic to say yes and that you are meeting up with him later.

Get help from a hero!

If you are being hassled and can't extract yourself from the situation, then you could do try explaining your situation to a nearby male traveller and sit with them for a few minutes, giving the signal to your unwanted admirer that not only are you not interested, but already with someone. Men will most likely be quite happy to pretend to be your mate; in general, guys are happy to help out, plus it makes them feel like a bit of a hero.

Common sense precautions

Finally, it may sound obvious, but avoid walking alone in unfamiliar areas, especially after dark. Never hitchhike and only use licensed taxis. Don't leave your drinks or valuables unattended and don't drink so much that you feel you have lost control of your own safety. Always practice safe sex on your gap year and remember no means no! Look after yourself in the same way you do at home, keep vigilant and don't take unnecessary risks and you can relax and enjoy the rest of your gap year in style!