According to research from the Global Business Travel Association, more than 80 percent of female travelers said that safety concerns affected how they spent their personal time when traveling for work, underscoring the need for women to be security-savvy when on the road.
Female travelers face unique travel safety risks. Women are often perceived as an easier target by criminals and are more likely than men to be victims of sexual harassment or violent sexual crimes. Women are also targets of harassment, cultural discrimination, local regulations and bias in business settings.
Forward-planning and self-awareness have a big part to play in ensuring women stay safe when traveling. Below are five best practices we at Riskline keep in mind.
1. Keep Those at Home Informed
Always ensure that a trusted person at home has a copy of your full itinerary and important details before your departure. This includes alternate ways to contact you, a photocopy of your passport and any necessary travel or medical insurance information.
2. Know Your Travel Destination
Always familiarize yourself with your destination prior to travel. Research your destination using tools, such as Riskline's Female Traveler Safety Report, so you can be fully informed of various cultural and societal practices. This includes local culture and laws, especially in countries with extensive social and legal restrictions against women.
For example, in some Islamic countries, buses, subways, restaurants and other public establishments are gender-segregated, while some teahouses are off-limits to women altogether. On the other hand, a lack of feminine-hygiene necessities might not be readily available in developing countries. Tampons and contraceptives might only be found at major supermarkets or pharmacies in large cities or in some cases, not available at all.
In Iran, where the legal code is based on Islamic law, physical contact between unrelated men and women is forbidden in public -- even in a private or social setting. Do not shake hands with Iranian men unless they initiate it and extend their hand first. Unmarried men and women are legally forbidden from being alone together in a social setting, sometimes even in public, unless they are related.
3. Remain Aware of Your Surroundings
Exercise common-sense safety precautions, even during the daytime, while traveling in unfamiliar locations. Women are more frequently targeted than men for pickpocketing and bag snatching, especially if traveling alone, as they are often perceived as an easy target. In developing countries, the perception that foreigners are more affluent than locals might also put you at a higher risk.
Be alert and keep your bag close to you at all times, especially on public transport and other crowded areas. If you're out after dark, consider using private and official taxis, especially those operated by women drivers, as a safer mode of travel than public transport and walking alone.
In India, it is recommended that solo female travelers avoid all forms of public transport, as sexual assaults are common onboard buses and trains. Use only official and registered taxis or reputed radio cabs -- but avoid sitting in the front seat of the taxi and always take the seat behind the driver, as there have been some reports of sexual advances by cab drivers. Do not travel alone at night, especially in deserted areas or villages where crime rates are high.
4. Don't Be Afraid to Say No
Depending on your destination, you might attract attention among locals for your foreign appearance or simply for being a woman traveling alone. In countries like Jamaica and Morocco, female travelers might be at a higher risk of being sexually harassed by local men due to misconceptions about foreign women, especially Westerners, and their behavior.
Be confident in your demeanor and learn to say "no" or "stop" in the local language without worrying about causing offense. While smiling and small talk could be considered a friendly gesture at home, in some countries local men can perceive it as a sign of interest.
In the Bahamas, female travelers might receive unwanted attention from men, ranging from open displays of catcalling and staring to groping, during the day or night. It is best to ignore these advances or confrontations and walk away. In the event that harassment escalates, draw attention to what is happening, and locals will likely come to your aid.
5. Give Feedback
Tell your travel manager, HR rep, co-workers and friends about what worked and what didn't during your trip. Employers have a duty-of-care obligation to ensure your safety and well-being during a work trip. Your feedback can make the experience safer and more enjoyable for future female travelers.
"Forewarned is forearmed" as they say, and women need to arm themselves with the right information in order to ensure they can make their travel trouble-free.
Riskline is a leading travel risk intelligence company in operation since 2007 and based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Suzanne Sangiovese is Riskline's operations manager for the Americas and Jayeon Kim is a political & security risk analyst.