On Tuesday, Google unveiled a Doodle in honor of Chen Mao Ping, the renowned Chinese-born author known as Sanmao, on what would have been her 76th birthday. She traveled the globe and wrote of her adventures, inspiring generations of women to see the world beyond their own homes.
Sanmao died in 1991, but it’s not hard to imagine that while traveling she encountered some risk, as many women do who travel today.
After the publication of a New York Times article about the unique dangers women face while traveling alone — a thread in a broader fabric of harassment and violence against women in general — readers had lots of suggestions about how to keep women safe.
Paramount among them were calls for men to be allies.
Many readers pointed out that men can do much to help women — and others — who travel alone by simply not ignoring the bad behavior of others. If something seems amiss, check on another traveler, and if need be, intercede safely or alert the authorities.
Below are other suggestions, which will be updated as more come in.
Lean on experienced travelers
The women interviewed in the recent New York Times article had tried-and-true methods for maximizing safety.
Jessica Nabongo says she stays in hotels with 24-hour security or in Airbnbs that have achieved Superhost status. She tries to always take an Uber so that her location is tracked, especially at night.
Vasilisa Komarova says she tries to connect with other women while traveling. When she camps, she listens to advice from other women, especially those with children. After having been viciously attacked once, she always keeps her guard high.
Cassie DePecol practices Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defense technique; carries a GPS tracker; and makes sure someone knows where she is at all times.
Dianelle Rivers-Mitchell, the founder of Black Girls Travel Too, said it’s important to utilize social media communities where other women share their experiences, and to heed their warnings.
Learn to defend yourself
Many women said they practiced self-defense tactics like martial arts. But they also said that above all: Heed your gut; trust your instincts.
Carry pepper spray, a pocketknife, laptop or anything that can be used as a weapon or to summon help.
Take group tours
Even while traveling alone in a foreign country, there’s nothing to lose by going on group tours or guided excursions. Others stressed the same tactics they used at home: not walking alone in the dark, never taking a drink you haven’t seen poured and being aware of the “friendly” stranger.
Split up your cash
Some women suggested carrying two phones in case one is stolen. Others suggested dividing up your belongings and your cash in case you’re robbed, so that you do not lose everything.
Many readers stressed that dressing according to the local customs, including sometimes wearing modest clothing, simply made sense and was not a way to blame women for the acts of others. The United States State Department notes: “When it comes to health and security, women travelers are more likely to be affected by religious and cultural beliefs of the foreign countries they visit. The truth is that women face greater obstacles, especially when traveling alone.”
Check the apps
Free applications like Chirpey, RedZone, MayDay, Tripwhistle and Noonlight let women flag incidents and areas of danger, and show how to contact local law enforcement.
Know your destination
Many governments issue travel advisories for other countries for their citizens. The U.S. State Department, for example, publishes a list of safety levels by country. Its website, Travel.State.Gov, has information on every country and contact information for the closest American Embassy or consulate.
The State Department also has advice specifically for female travelers and other groups.
Consider enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, a.k.a. STEP, or its equivalent in your country.
Unicef has data on violence indicators that may be telling for travelers, including domestic violence, female genital mutilation and female homicide. The World Bank has a gender data portal that provides statistics that can signal to women whether it’s a safe location overall.
As the writer, filmmaker and activist Susan Sontag is quoted as saying, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”
Tariro Mzezewa is a travel reporter at The New York Times. @tariro
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