Early this year, the first South Asian female was added to the growing list of women making history by visiting every country on Earth. She follows in the footsteps of the Ugandan-American travel blogger and former United Nations employee who achieved the same feat late last year. Solo female travel is not a new phenomenon as there are increasingly more women taking such journeys now than a few decades ago. Some countries are known to be less accommodating to solo women travellers than others, and while this doesn’t make them off bounds, it is best to be prepared.
Gugulethu Yalo, Human Resources professional for Africa region at leading visa outsourcing and technology services specialist, VFS Global, outlines some important steps that the travel industry is taking to create a safer environment for all the fearless women wanting to explore all corners of the world. “When it comes to women travelling alone, safety and security element have become an important aspect is being addressed now more than ever.”
Gugulethu highlights the scenario now where many hotels and hostels are now offering female-focused options such as women-only sections or floors. “For added security, these women-only floors would only grant access to the women guests staying on those particular floors via security key cards. Some hotels have taken the trend a step further and have all-women staff on these floors.” Until these female-focused options become more widespread, she shares the following key tips for women who are travelling alone and want to prioritise their safety:
- Make the best use of technology
Thanks to digitisation and internet penetration, your phone can help you stay connected as well as the option to access practical Apps that will be extremely useful during your trip and help you be prepared. From Apps specifically designed to alert the solo women traveller about any incidents and unsafe locations to those with May Day buttons and share your GPS coordinates if you are in trouble or locating a lost phone, use your smart devices to do research and understand more about the exotic destination you plan to visit.
- Share your itinerary and stay in touch
It is essential that you share your itinerary, along with your flight numbers and accommodation, with someone you trust beforehand. Always keep them updated of any changed plans including passing on your travel details if using ride-sharing applications as many of them offer this option now.
- Blend in
Every country has different cultural norms and traditions, and as a visitor, it is usually in your best interest to respect these. Similarly, it can be helpful to learn key phrases of the local language, so that you are able to communicate if necessary with the help your smart device including Translation Apps by speaking to it.
- Plan your excursions in advance and do your research
It is best to pre-plan your days as far as possible, taking into account travel time and the possibility of unforeseen delays. If an area that you’re wanting to explore poses potential risks, it may be worth organising to go with a tour group or at least teaming up with other travellers. Refer to e-books and online travel guides that detail how safe a city is as well as blogs and credible accounts of other travellers who may have already been to these locations and written about their experience.
- Keep your guard up
While travelling is often seen as a time to try new things and be free of your everyday worries, it’s important to remain vigilant and avoid putting yourself into potentially dangerous situations. Meeting new people abroad is great, but be cautious of who you take advice from and be cognizant of the details that you share. Similarly, while enjoying the nightlife is a part of exploring a new place that is highly recommended on your travel app by others, try to avoid taking drinks from strangers and keep an eye on your belongings when you’re out. If there are reviews on your travel or locations apps, always read about how safe it is for women. Seek support from the local women or other solo women travellers whom you meet during your trip.
- Safer business trips
A 2018 survey indicates over eight in ten women have encountered one or more safety concerns or incidents while travelling for business while many had concerns over safety during their personal time after work. Such events leave a lasting impact that affects their productivity and business outcomes or goals while travelling on work
Companies like VFS Global make it a point to share destination guidance information for women travelling on business about the geopolitical situation or whom to reach out in the case of an emergency. Some share critical behavioural tips like specific restrictions at the locations they are visiting or cultural sensitivities. Spend time to understand your travel insurance details in advance, ensure you pack your safety and health essentials and be smart in terms of what you share on social media platforms.
“Making your safety a priority doesn’t negate from being a traveller, be it on work or on an adventure,” says Gugulethu. “No woman should avoid travelling based on concerns for their safety, but at the same time, it is important to stay cautious. At the end of the day, trust your instincts and rather be safe than sorry.”
About VFS Global
VFS Global is the world’s largest outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide. VFS Global has Swiss parentage and is a portfolio company of EQT, a leading global private equity firm headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden. With 3446 Application Centres, operations in 150 countries across five continents and over 221 million applications processed (since inception in 2001) as on 31 January 2020, VFS Global is the trusted partner of 64 client governments.