Let’s Be Frank: A Guide to Traveling While Female
Before women setting out on an around the world trip, an expert female traveler shares honest, firsthand tips on solo female safety, picking a backpack that fits, periods, and more.
It’s time to be real: It’s 2019, and women can do any. darn. thing. that a man can. This includes traveling solo. Yes, despite the misgivings of your friends and dad, females can and do travel the globe solo every day. But even if you are traveling with a group, there are certain considerations that ladies have to take. These include backpacks meant for a woman’s body, safety on the road, breastfeeding, and/or having your period while traveling.
Straight from the experience of a solo round-the-world female traveler (on the road for 10+ years), here are some tips for girls who globetrot.
Pick the Right Travel Luggage
Thankfully, we live in an age where awesome companies take into consideration the ergonomics of a female body when they design gear. A guy may be just fine with a large, angular pack, but your average femme needs something a bit smaller and curvier to accommodate the different shape of her body.
Bags that feature narrower shoulder straps and curved hip belts will become your best friend on the road. I took a 65L Eagle Creek women’s fit backpack on an 11-month world trip and adored the adjustable padded back, included safety whistle, and sternum strap—not to mention plenty of room for all my stuff.
Tackle Female Issues with Aplomb
Women with periods have to put some forethought into how they are going to handle the very real issue of menstruation on the road.
The first matter with which to contend is birth control. If you take the pill, pack enough to carry you through your travels and a reliable timer (your phone will work) to make sure you take it on time no matter what time zone you’re in. Don’t count on buying it along the way (though you likely could) and be sure you’re traveling with any medication legally in your destination—even though birth control is subsidized in some countries, it’s scarce in others.
You also have to deal with the issue of menstrual products. Tampons, pads, and their packaging are what’s familiar to most females, but a lot of the developing countries lack the bandwidth to deal with this level of waste. For an eco-friendly option, I cannot recommend highly enough using a menstrual cups like the Diva Cup—once you overcome the learning curve (before you hit the road), you’ll never switch back. If you do need to pack a large supply of menstrual products, use small packing cubes to keep it all together.
Understand Female Solo Travel Safety
While it’s true that women are often more attractive targets for trouble on the road, this is not to say that world travel is untravelable for females. Following your instincts and common sense goes a long way towards keeping you out of harm’s way. That said, if we’re being honest, there are safety risks for solo females all over the world, and you can’t mitigate them all on the road—or back at home if we’re being frank. But even more than that, we often have a skewed sense of safety risks—fear and awareness impact our danger map of the world. Understanding the issues around solo safety is the start of planning a safe trip that best fits your travel goals.
Practically, when traveling, if situation feels sketchy, leave, girl. That’s a good start. Don’t give into being polite if your safety is at stake—that’s a top mistake new female travelers make, they stay in iffy situations longer than they should out of an obligation to stay inoffensive in a new culture. Just leave, figure it the right next move from a safe place.
Likewise, if you are surrounded by people who appear friendly and you are comfortable, you can probably trust your gut. You can also consider portable alarms that you can trigger if anyone gives you trouble, door stops for your hotel rooms at night, and safety whistles (like those built into many daypacks). And know where to keep your cash so pickpockets can’t access it—a bra stash is an excellent choice.
When choosing what to wear, it makes sense to clothe yourself like local women. Sunny, beachy locales are probably fine with shorts and a tank top, but it makes sense to cover up in more conservative destinations. You don’t want to stand out in a crowd, as a general safety tip—this means make researching your destination a top priority. Use the U.S. and Canadian government websites for a general safety overview, and this government resource page offers advice specifically for solo women travelers.
In case you face issues on the road, bookmark Pathways to Safety International, which provides care for American victims abroad.
Easily Travel While Nursing
Breastfeeding on the road is not as daunting a prospect as you might think. It is best for you and your baby that you continue as normal a routine as possible, which means that you should become comfortable with the idea of public breastfeeding, if you aren’t there already. Almost everywhere you go allows it and acknowledges its importance to a child’s development. Bring a cover if you prefer, or wear layers that you can discreetly shift around to allow access for baby. But don’t sweat it. If you are traveling overseas, use a women’s fit dayback big enough for all of your supplies, and pack a battery-powered breast pump so that you don’t have to worry about travel converters and areas without electricity.
What are your best tips for living your best life on the road? Let us know on Instagram, then pack your bags and plan your next trip.
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By Shannon O'Donnell on April 22, 2019
Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler inspiring travelers to safely travel solo, make eco-friendly buying choices, and travel responsibly. She is an acclaimed travel speaker and works with universities and businesses all over the world to talk about sustainable tourism in support for her passion project, grassrootsvolunteering.org