Before you pack your bags, do your research. Many third world countries have certain dress code standards for women, especially when visiting a sacred or religious site. Western fashion styles are offensive and something simple such as shorts are perceived as very sexual as it reveals much skin. For example, in India women must have covered shoulders prior to entering a religious area. Wearing a bathing suit in Goa, India is very acceptable, but not so much on the beaches of Mumbai. Western women are different and beautiful in the eyes of men. Therefore, women who want to avoid uncomfortable staring situations, must button up!
The spa is a great place to relax and rejuvenate, but it also a great place to get robbed or sexually assaulted. First, female travelers should always request a female therapist. Second, never leave your clothes, bags or items in another room or out of near sight of the massage table. It is best to investigate the parlor before-hand, and only bring the appropriate amount of money for the massage and the tip. Typically, at four or five star resorts this may not be such an issue, but definitely use your sixth sense about the massage places on the street. Also, the majority of massages allow women to wear underwear or a type of bottom garment to keep private areas covered. If you insist on working with a male therapist, never let them persuade you that it is a nude-only treatment.
Sleeping on a Train
If taking the cheap, third class train here is what you need to know. Make sure you request or receive the top bunk. Unfortunately, this will not be the time for restful sleep as it will be time for stress and fear of getting robbed or assaulted. Sleep with your belongings in the “spoon” position. If you have an extra strap, tie the strap around your torso and one end of the bag so you will awake if being robbed. Try to get a blank that nestles you and the bag so when hands go-up in the air they are feeling a blanket and not general items or your body parts. If the situation is bad, express yourself with “stop” or “no” to draw attention to someone’s intention.
To avoid attention to your gadgets and gizmos, it is best to leave your most precious equipment at home. DSLR cameras are easy targets and with a simple cut of the cord your camera can be gone in minutes. It is best to wear the camera strap under your shirt or jacket. If fair weather, wear a tank top, then a sleeved button down shirt on top of the camera and tank. This allows you to shoot photos without revealing your stomach. If all eyes are on you placing your “point and shoot” camera in and out of your book bag, it may soon be cut-open pack with no camera. To avoid this, wear a camera hold similar to a necklace and wear the camera under the shirt as storage.
What not to Say
Conversation is part of the experience and memories. Trust your gut on what you say to people. However, it is highly recommended not to let strangers, especially local men, that you are solo. It is better to state that you are waiting for someone or a friend to let that person bugger off. Also, avoid telling people what hotel or hostel you are in, unless you truly trust that individual. Some countries have a history of western women visiting third world countries for prostitution. You want to make sure you are not coming off the wrong way. Also, if friending the hotel staff, definitely do not share what room number you are in, unless you want hands banging on your window during the middle of the night.
Thieves are smart, and have quick hands. From pockets to money belts, thieves know the most recent invention. Therefore, you must trick the trickster. Money in very small amounts are ok in the pocket, but if pick-pocketed you do not want to be out hundreds of dollars from one swipe. Keep on hand small amounts of cash in various areas such as a shoe or sports bra allow you to keep money in case your bag is stolen. Pulling out wads of cash in a market or public place is foolish as you never know who is watching your every move. Cash on the body is a bit harder to steal, and can find a secretive place to unload additional bills in your pocket or wallet. Now if you wear a bohemian sling bag, wear the strap under your shirt, so your goods are accessible next to your hip without the bag getting cut off or stolen. Plus, the more cash seen on hand means the locals will instantly increase your fees and will be more resistant to bargaining.
Never pre-pay for a service day(s) in advance in cash. This is usually a trick to where you will show up with high expectations of a tour or service, but left empty handed and robbed. Always use an organized tour office for booking, and always pre-book with a credit card and request a receipt. Never allow someone to demand money right away by going to the ATM. Many individuals have “fake” government tour ID badges, and unless you are in an office, never let anyone persuade you for the need to reserve a spot now with cash.
If visiting several third world countries in one trip, keep a document that has the contact information and location of your passport’s embassy. This may come in handy if stuck in a dangerous or life-threatening situation. The odds may be rare, but always be one step ahead of the game before you are one step behind and stuck alone.
Elizabeth is a fitness professional, workshop presenter and freelance writer. She is an active traveler who treks the globe looking for interesting stories to write and places to photograph. Her most significant travel achievements include living and volunteering in Australia twice and studied yoga in India.