They may say this is a man’s world, but there’s no reason why us ladies can’t conquer the globe. In fact, thousands of British women pack in the nine-to-five every year and hit the road in search of wild parties, emerald shores, and enchanting cultures. But if all of this seems a bit scary, here are a few tips to get you started on the journey of a lifetime.
The choices you make before you even leave your front door can really determine the success of your trip. One of the most crucial pieces of kit to get right is your bag. Most serious travelers opt for a rucksack over conventional luggage, because dragging a suitcase across anything other than a shiny airport floor really isn’t fun. When it comes to choosing a rucksack, size definitely matters. Almost every traveler you will ever meet wishes they took a smaller bag. For most women, trying to carry anything larger than a 70-liter bag, when it’s full, will not only prove backbreaking but may also impact your trip. Trying to squeeze your life into a 50 or 60-liter bag may seem a bit daunting, but you’ll be glad you did when you’re lugging it across a beach in 40-degree heat. Look for a rucksack that’s specifically designed for women, especially if you’ve got a smaller frame. A lot of rucksacks now come with a handy, removable daypack attached to the front; not only are these useful for day trips, but also as somewhere to store things for easy access. Rucksacks with wheels, however, are not just impractical in most situations but also add to the weight of the bag.
Think carefully about what you take with you; are you really going to need your Ugg boots, your ski jacket and your dressing gown in Thailand? Remember, you can buy most essentials along the way if you’re short of something, but don’t forget the charger and an adapter plug if you’re taking a mobile phone or an mp3 player, and a spare memory card if you’re taking a digital camera just in case you can’t get to a computer. Packing your belongings in small bags can make things a lot easier to find and stop your toothpaste exploding all over your rucksack, but steer clear of noisy polythene if you don’t want to make enemies in hostel dorm rooms.
It can be pretty daunting to hop on a plane to the other side of the world, especially when our newspapers are full of horror stories from abroad. But remember, the vast majority of women come home completely unscathed, with no concerns other than how they’re going to afford their next trip. Some backpackers choose to enrol in a self-defence course to give them some extra confidence, but even if you don’t fancy that, there are some pretty straightforward things that you can do to make sure that your emails home recount tales of all-night parties and finding inner peace, not spending two days in the British Embassy and run-ins with the local police.
Flashing your cash is a sure-fire way to attracting unwanted attention abroad. Don’t be apathetic; muggings do happen, so keep your purse hidden. Money belts are an effortless way to conceal your valuables under your clothes or, if your budget won’t quite stretch to one, you can always hide some notes under tube grip bandages or even in your bra. Wearing loud jewelry won’t do you any favors, but a false wedding ring may prevent unwanted leering.
“If you think you’re at risk, set off a personal alarm, scream loudly or just convince the world that you’re utterly mad,” says Tom Griffiths, founder of Gapyear.com, “If you do find yourself in a mugging situation, having a dummy wallet, with a few old notes in it, will make your attacker think that you’re giving them everything you’ve got, and will save you the hassle of losing the important things like bankcards, photos and ID, let alone any money, that are in your real wallet.”
Mixing with new people, from all over the world, is part of the appeal of traveling but, however, close you think you are to someone, keep it in perspective – you probably know very little about your new best friend, so keep your wits about you, especially if you’re drinking.
And don’t let your guard down in hostels, either, warns Tom. “You may have a key to your dorm, but assume that 50,000 others have had that key before you – there will inevitably be other copies. Tuck your valuables to the bottom of your sleeping bag, or stuff them into a pillowcase and sleep on it.”
But don’t let a few safety checks put you off traveling. “The fact is, backpackers aren’t really at any more of a risk than other holidaymakers, as long as they prepare,” says Steve Jewitt-Fleet, Head of Consular Communications at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “The largest amount of crime and violence abroad is young British people against other Brits in resorts such as Falaraki.”
Top tip from the road – Don’t advertise the fact that you’re a female backpacker; when you check into hostels and hotels, don’t write ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’ on the form, and write your initials rather than your first name.