A cheap rubber doorstop should be in the suitcase of every woman traveling alone.
That doorstop, says Beth Whitman, can be placed on the inside of your hotel room door for added security. Whitman, who has trekked the Himalayas in Nepal and ridden a motorcycle from Seattle to Panama, visited the Austin Backwoods outdoor store to share her experiences as a woman traveling alone for more than 20 years and author of Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo.
Written in short chunks with lots of headlines, the book is easy to flip through and includes tips on everything from deciding where to go to how to meet locals.
Being prepared is key, Whitman told the Backwoods audience, which included as many men as women. Do pre-trip research about your destination, browsing sites such as Fodor’s Travel Talk forums, where people who answer questions about a country typically work or live there.
Pack light — only two pairs of shoes! Whiteman takes a carry-on and a day bag or pack. She also packs a cable lock so she can lock her bag to a seat on a bus, for example, or to the bed in her hotel. A variety of travel safety products are available, including a mesh made by Pacsafe that covers your pack and locks it to something stationary, which she recommends.
Scan important documents and print and email copies to yourself. Carry a copy of the main page of your passport and any visas. This makes it easier to replace lost or stolen documents.
Alert your credit card company before traveling abroad, so you won’t trip their fraud system and perhaps get left high and dry.
“I’m still looking for the perfect way to carry cash,” Whitman says. Right now, she uses a document bag with a strap that can’t be cut. Pacsafe makes these, as well as bags that prevent thieves from scanning your credit cards or smart phone. Check in with your cell phone provider as well to avoid any nasty surprises on your bill.
Whitman stresses that your demeanor and awareness when traveling are important. Be aware of surroundings and belongings; for example, on a train, loop your bag strap around your arm so if you fall asleep someone can’t just whisk it away or unzip it and pull something out. She also recommends that women who plan to travel alone take a self-defense course.
Most travelers need health, travel and evacuation insurance. Check with your regular health insurance provider to see whether your plan covers you while traveling, especially when abroad. Travel insurance is only a good idea if you think there’s a chance you may have to cancel the trip, for example if you have small children (who get sick without warning!) or a family member who is ill.
Read the fine print to see what it actually covers. Insuremytrip. com offers a variety of options for travel insurance. Evacuation insurance can be a literal lifesaver if something happens when you’re in a remote area. Companies that provide this type of insurance include Medex, Medjet Assist, medjetassist.com or Diver’s Alert Network (you don’t have to be a scuba diver to purchase this organization’s many products).
Check the CDC web site for any alerts about outbreaks of diseases at your destination and for recommendations on immunizations and other precautions. It's a good idea to visit a travel clinic as well. The International Society of Travel Medicine maintains a searchable list on its website.
“If you get sick in a foreign country, go to the nearest U.S. embassy for a list of Western-trained physicians who speak English,” Whitman advises.
At hotels, the desk clerk should never say your room number out loud. If one does, she says, ask to change to a different room. Rooms closer to the elevators are safer than those way at the end of a hallway. Don’t hesitate to ask to change rooms if you’re in the latter.
Once at your room, check to see where emergency exits are and always carry a small flashlight in case power goes out. If someone knocks at your door, use the peephole or chain to see who it is before you open the door; if there isn’t one, call the front desk to ask whether they sent someone to your room.
Another essential piece of equipment for someone traveling alone is the Xshot, a telescoping pole that holds your camera and makes it possible to include yourself in photos of your destination without having an arm in the foreground of every shot.
Inspiring people, especially women, to travel is what brought Whitman to Austin, and she struck a chord with at least a few in her audience.
“I love traveling, and as much as I’ve done, it never feels like enough,” said Austin software development manager and frequent traveler Teresa Valls after the talk. “I think traveling is the greatest adventure, and I needed a little bit of a push, so came to hear what she had to say.”
An entire chapter of Whitman’s book is devoted to overcoming the excuses people have for not traveling solo, or for not traveling at all. “I think people are good all around the world,” she says. “Remember that, when things go wrong.”
Those who travel frequently know that things going wrong makes for the best stories. But no point in taking foolish chances, so pack that doorstop.