With all that travelers have to do before a business trip—from preparing and packing their clothes to making arrangements so the spouse and kids will be OK on their own at home—taking the extra step to ensure their personal safety while traveling abroad is probably an afterthought, if it’s even a thought at all. But it’s something all travelers—but especially women—should consider.
According to an article by Security Magazine, the risks are ”magnified” for women traveling solo and, especially in certain regions of the world, they are at a greater risk of becoming a crime or assault victim.
So, to ensure safe travels all the way, here are some precautions women should consider while chartering unfamiliar territory. And because there are just too many safety tips for us to unpack, be on the lookout for a second Atlas post on the same topic later this week.
Do your homework
As soon as you receive the travel assignment, thoroughly research the city and country you’ll be visiting. Begin with the U.S. Passports & International Travel site, which is packed with all kinds of pertinent safety information. There, you can do a search by country and find contact information for U.S. embassies, a list of the main security threats, specific-to-the-destination safety tips as well as steps to take if you run into trouble with the law. It also is important to keep in mind that different destinations will require different levels of precaution.
And with all that is going on in the world, keep an eye out on the U.S. government’s travel alerts and warning page to see if there is any new information about the country you’re visiting. American Express Global Business Travel customers covered under our EXPERT CARE program also will receive updated travel advisories automatically.
Protect your health
Since not all viruses make international headlines like Ebola and Zika, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site for which contagious diseases may be prevalent in the place you’re traveling to and speak to your doctor about preventative tips—including which immunization shots to get.
If you need to take any special medications with you, preserve the original packaging. It will make any potential interactions with customs officials go much more smoothly.
You want to be able to move nimbly on your own, so leave that massive piece of luggage at home and bring a smaller, lightweight bag that glides easily on four wheels. In the cab ride from the airport to the hotel, keep your luggage with you in the back seat instead of having it placed in the trunk so you have full access at all times.
Packing safety up
Lots of women feel safer with a canister of pepper spray stashed in their purse, but it very well may be considered a concealed weapon in the country where you are heading. Plus, TSA prohibits pepper spray to be stowed in a carry-on.
But you know what is perfectly legal, may be in your toiletries bag, and can be used to sting an attacker’s eyes? A can of aerosol hairspray or deodorant.
When walking unfamiliar streets, you also may consider toting around a personal security alarm that produces a loud, high-pitched noise when activated and can scare away an assailant.
It’s in the anti-theft bag
They’re not the most stylish purses or packs, but anti-theft bags—those made with slash-resistant material and featuring special locking compartments—certainly do a better job of keeping your belongings safe.
Get one that can be worn across your body and that also has radio frequency identification-blocking fabric designed to thwart electronic pickpockets from scanning personal information that’s embedded in chips used in some credit cards, passports, and driver’s licenses. As for your gorgeous Louis Vuitton? It draws the wrong kind of attention, so leave it at home. That goes for any kind of designer brand luggage, expensive jewelry, and backpacks, which easily can be accessed from behind when in a crowded area. (It’s a lesson many have learned the hard way!)
What to stow in your wallet
Carry only the essentials: Your ID, cash, one credit card, an active ATM card, and health insurance cards, all stashed somewhere on your body, either in a neck pouch buried under your shirt or a special undergarment that has built-in pockets. Separately, in an outside pocket, keep a small amount of “mugger’s money” that quickly can be handed over in case you are held up.
Speaking of money…
Do not exchange any of your own bills for local currency at the airport—it’s where many thieves prey. When you do hit the ATM, go only during the day and do not take out a lot of cash. You should be relying mainly on your credit cards, anyway.
Trust your gut
A lot of women have a tendency to let their “trouble detector” be overridden by their desire to appear polite. But if you sense that something is askew, do not hesitate to get yourself out of a potentially shady situation. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Also, do not make friends with strangers nor share too much information with anyone you don’t know. If a conversation gets weird, don’t be shy about cutting it off.
While out and about, exude a “don’t mess with me” attitude. Walk with a confident stride and your head held high. Aim to take well-trafficked pedestrian streets and avoid lonely corporate office buildings at night.
Be inconspicuous and stand near a group of people, especially while waiting for a cab or subway.
Be alert to your surroundings
While out on the street or traveling via public transportation, do not tune yourself out to the environment by listening to music through earbuds or intently reading emails on your phone. Always be aware of what is going on around you and have eyes on the back of your head.
Be on high alert should kids, or anyone else, come up to you begging or trying to avert your attention. This is often just a distraction so they, or an accomplice, can try stealing your valuables.
For even more information on how to keep yourself unharmed every step of your travels, be sure to read the second installment in our two-part series.