Women in the Backpacker World

Every once in a while, an article or news story pops up in my social media about someone getting brutally attacked while on vacation or traveling abroad. Usually those attacks are against members of vulnerable populations, like women, LGBT+, and POC, and these articles sometimes generate a lot of fear about the place it happened (sometimes the entire country) and about travel in general.

Of course it’s impossible to eliminate ALL risks because, well, life, but making some small, smart choices before and during the trip can significantly minimize any risk. I firmly believe that traveling is one of the most valuable, enriching, educational experiences someone can have, and to keep this post uplifting, I’ve sprinkled in some of my personal favorite fun images I’ve taken of my own travel adventures from the last year

I think there are FOUR main practices that every traveler should follow to minimize risk and vulnerability, no matter where you’re traveling.


This seems obvious, but it’s amazing how easy it is to get lost in your phone, your thoughts, or the experience, especially once you’ve started to feel comfortable in a new place.

Going out at night and the guy leading the way knows where you’re going and how to get there? That’s awesome! Make sure you know where you’re going and how to get there (and home) as well. Traveling on public transit from Point A to Point B? Great! Keep your headphones in your bag and stay alert to who is around you and what’s happening. People who aren’t aware are easier targets, less prepared if something happens, and have fewer resources to get themselves out of a pickle. 

To illustrate this point, I was walking at night in an area of Quito, Ecuador, that was known to be a bit risky, searching for a restaurant. I was walking up this huge staircase that zigged and zagged, with my face buried in my phone trying to figure out which street the restaurant was on relative to where I was, and as I followed the stairs and zigged around a corner to the left, I suddenly heard, “Hola!” I looked up, startled, and there was a group of guys, squatters, completely set up in a small landing on the staircase. If they hadn’t said anything, I would’ve literally walked right into them. Luckily for me, these were good guys who waved me by, but it easily could’ve been a different situation. If it had been someone else, or if these guys intended to rob or hurt me, I would’ve been truly fucked. In my 12 years of travel, I’ve been robbed  twice. The second time I was robbed, I wasn’t paying attention. Someone else was though, and I lost my wallet for it. So, learn from my big mistakes that luckily had minimal consequence, and stay alert.


Again, it’s easy to “loosen up” let your guard down  when you get comfortable with where you are and the people you’re around. I’ve heard many stories of people who left their purse on their bed in the hostel while they went to the bathroom or took a shower or went to smoke a cigarette, and came back to find their cash gone. If your normal practice is to always put your bag in your locker, don’t stop doing that just because you feel like you can trust the people around you. 

The first time I was robbed, it happened because I put too much confidence in my environment and let my guard down. Big time. I was staying in a volunteer house in a very remote place. The doors to the house were always kept open (not unlocked - literally open), but we all had locks and keys for our bedrooms. The house itself had walls all around but nothing designed to keep intruders out. One night I was the only person in my room and didn’t like how pitch black it was, so I left my door cracked when I went to bed to get light from the hallway. At 3am, I woke up to the sounds of people walking through the house (police), and saw flashlights. I reached for my watch that I always put next to my pillow, and it was gone. I knew in that instant what had happened. I lost my watch, my cash, and my camera. I should’ve kept my bedroom door closed and locked, but because I felt like I was in a safe environment, I didn’t maintain my normal safety practices and suffered (thankfully very minimal) consequences.


The goal here is to prevent these people from even starting to get close to you. And don’t worry about being rude. Everywhere in the world, there are people (usually men though not always) who will cross your line of safety and you will feel uncomfortable. And maybe the interaction doesn’t start out that way - maybe it starts out seemingly innocent enough but escalates. No matter where you and, no matter who the other person is, you should feel empowered to maintain and protect your safety and to shut that person down immediately. Don’t say, “no thank you” with a smile when what you really want to say is “No! And leave me alone!” Remember, it doesn’t matter who or where it is - in a club, in a coffee shop, on the street, a stranger, a friend of a friend, that guy you thought was really attractive but is now acting sleezy, someone trying to sell you something, dance with you, ask you a question - it doesn’t matter. Find your firmest “fuck off” voice, practice in front of a mirror if you have to, and be prepared  to use it the moment someone starts to make you feel unsafe. 

I was terrible at this in my younger days but I’m a master at it now. I guarantee there have been times where other people have seen me do this and judged me as being too aggressive/worried/rude/whatever, but at the end of the day, if I’m traveling solo, no one can or will advocate for my safety as well as I can.


And stow it completely separate from your wallet, in a place you can leave it for the entire trip without touching it or worrying about it. Because it’s only for emergencies. Whenever I travel, I stash a significant sum of USD, because you don’t want to get stranded somewhere without money.

The second time I was robbed, the thieves got my wallet which had all of my available cash and cards inside. Thankfully, they didn’t get my emergency cash, which is what saved my butt.

In general, no one wants to carry a significant amount of cash on them because there’s always the risk that it will get lost or stolen. But I’ve always thought it’s better to have it and lose it than to need it and not have it. I’ve been traveling for 13 years, mostly on my own and always with emergency cash. I’ve never lost it, and the one time I needed it I was thankful it was there.

Other Helpful Tidbits

While I think the points above are most important to maintaining overall safety and security while traveling, I also want to share some other basic traveling tips to keep you and your belongings safer.

-Before You Go-

Visit a Travel Clinic for Vaccines/Medications

Travel clinics are known for being pricey, but if you can find it in the budget, I think it’s well worth it. The doctor at the clinic will know which vaccines to recommend for the countries you’re visiting, can administer those vaccines, can educate you on what other health concerns you might face, and can prescribe you an emergency antibiotic in case of traveler’s diarrhea. And they can do it quickly, usually on then spot!

Also, always keep your vaccine records on you when you travel. I recently got lucky that I had my yellow fever record on me from a few years ago because I took an impromptu trip to Brazil for Carnaval, and when I checked in for my flight to Ecuador, they required proof of my vaccine, which I didn’t know I was going to need.

Have an Emergency Contact

And not just someone whose number you can put down on a medical form - I mean someone who will bail you out at a moment’s notice if you need it. A parent, sibling, friend, lover, whoever. If something happens and you need to come home, or spend a significant amount of $$ on medical bills, or even just help someone else that you’re traveling with, you want someone who can back you and keep you safe. It’s good to have someone on standby, especially because you probably won’t need them anyway. 

Buy Travel Insurance

You can get travel insurance for pretty cheap on squaremouth.com, or call a travel agent and see what they can offer you. Travel insurance can save you if you have medical bills, if certain things get lost or stolen, if you need to be airlifted to safety, if your luggage is lost or your flight is delayed significantly - it’s a worthwhile investment. But if you need to submit a claim, be prepared for a fight with the insurance company because it just wouldn’t be an insurance company if you weren’t forced to fight for what’s rightfully yours because whatever you’re claiming compensation for is clearly covered in their policy.

-On The Road-

First Aid Kit

Have a first aid kit. Doesn’t have to be extensive - I carry bandaids, neosporin, alcohol swabs, advil, tylenol, whatever other meds I might need, clothes pins…that’s pretty much it. Actually I keep neosporin on me at all times. There’s a lot you can buy “when you get there” or “when you need it” but if you need advil on the plane and you don’t have it, or if it doesn’t exist where you’re going, you’re going to be stuck without options. I recently learned the hard way that Sudafed isn’t available in Mexico and Peru (though antibiotics were freely available over the counter).

Always Carry Tissues or TP

Always. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but you never know when a bathroom will be empty (or, worse, when your body can’t wait for a bathroom), or when something will get spilled on you - I don’t know, there’s a million reasons that I can’t think of right now for why you might need this. Just make sure you have it.

Always Carry ID

Always. I mean, as a backpacker you probably won’t need it right? But that’s the problem - if you do need it, you will REALLY need it. I don’t want to explore all of the dark reasons why, but it’s something to always have on you no matter where you go. It shouldn’t be your passport, but a driver’s license, student ID card, ISIC card, anything with your name, photo, and some indication or clue about where you live. If you have to go to your country’s embassy, for example, you don’t want to show up empty handed.

Locks, locks, LOCKS!

Carry locks with you, and carry a variety of them. I always have at least three - right now I have two of the regular TSA locks and then I have a flexible cable lock that I can lock around something if I need to. Besides locking your main backpack/suitcase, you might want to lock your smaller backpack/purse. I’ve met multiple people who had stuff stolen out of their backpacks after putting them at their feet on a long bus ride in South America. If the bag had been locked, it wouldn’t have happened. I’ve also been able to lock my bag TO something so that people can’t just up and walk off with it. I love locks. You can’t have too many locks.

Does Someone Always Know Where You Are?

This is one that I’ve literally never kept up with (a “do as I say, not as I do” moment), in part because I don’t want to be annoyingly texting my mom every other day with a new update. I did recently come up with the idea of creating a shared google doc that I could update as I went, so that I wasn’t bothering anyone but it could be referenced if needed. Details like location, hostel, name of tour company, are all good things to write down. Also, at the end of the trip, it’ll be a handy sort of reference doc/journal for all of your adventures!

And finally…

CONDOMS! Please, ladies - carry and use condoms.

Why am I targeting the ladies on this one? Because it’s a shitty fact that us women have to police what goes into our bodies. There are too many men out there who are concerned more about having a more pleasurable orgasm than they are about the health of their partner. It shouldn’t be our burden to bear, but at the moment, it is, and please trust me when I tell you that from what I’ve heard on the street, you want to be using condoms. I know many lovely ladies who have shared with me that on the backpacking trail, they’ve had a few one night stands without protection. I’ve also met some lovely men who I’ve had very open and honest conversations with about sex, and the amount of unprotected sex they’ve admitted to is, to be completely honest, terrifying from a health perspective. Buy them, carry them on you, and don’t let the cutie with the sexy accent and radiating tan talk you into putting your health at risk for a one-night stand.


So, that’s most of what I’ve got to recommend! What do you think? Let me know what practices you put in place when you travel!

Using Format