Essential Travel Tips for Women
Whether you are slinging a backpack or trotting around the globe in designer heels, world travel is the ultimate test of character. At the age of seventeen I jumped on a plane, with a youth stand-by ticket (those were the good old days), and headed to Central African Republic. Back then everyone I knew thought that travelling this way was nuts. I fell in love with life, in love with myself, in love with world and most of all, in love with travel. As women, we are often taught to fear this kind of independence. Nowadays there are many more women travellers than when I started out on my first world trip, but not as many as there ought to be. I currently travel full-time, with my teen daughter, by my side, learning how to travel the world. It doesn’t matter if you are 18 or 68, I encourage you to go travel and see this big beautiful world of ours. I’m here to help you out. This is a list of travel tips I wish I knew as a young woman heading out on my first journey:
1. Pre-Trip Prep
As romantic as it sounds to hit the open road with no plans (and trust me I’ve done this many times) a little planning and organization will get you far.
Saving money: Unless you are already financially blessed or have a way to make money on the road, you will need to save up for your travels. It’s not as hard as you think to manage the cost of travel. Most of us women are bombarded with images of crap we should buy and useless things we need to spend our hard earned money on. Living with less is a great practice in life. Think of it this way: One drink at Starbucks is a night in a hostel in a town so beautiful it blows your mind. One dinner out with your pals is a bus ticket to somewhere amazing. That black T-shirt that looks exactly like the other 3 in your closet will get you two days of meals. If you are already living a minimalist lifestyle, and know how to save your pennies, then get creative. I know someone who buys vintage clothing from second hand shops and resells them in community yard parties. You’re smart. Figure out how to make a few extra bucks each week for your travel jar.
How much money do I need? This really depends on your style of travel. Many people think they can be a super budget traveller but quickly realize they hate sharing filthy rooms with strangers and eating cheap food that gives them the shits. Other people hit the road and realize how little they actually need to be happy. I’m just saying, think clearly about what you are comfortable with and plan accordingly. My advice is to ALWAYS over-budget. Give yourself a little wiggle room. This is what I think is a reasonable monthly estimate for somewhere like SE Asia. You can multiply it by the number of months you plan to travel. (I’m not including the cost of airline tickets because that varies greatly on where you are from and where you are going.)
Roughing it: $600/month - you may need to find some freebies to make ends meet
Budget: $900/month - this is do-it-yourself, no frills travel
Beyond Basic Needs: $1200/month - this will get you more comfort and a few extras
Living Good: $1500/month - private room, 3 meals/day, comfy transport, and regular excursions
Cha-ching: $2000+/month - girl, you’re set
I suggest getting a travel app and tracking all your spending. This helps and you will quickly see your spending patterns. Also see if your bank offers a competitive travel rewards credit card.
Get travel insurance: I spent years wandering the globe with no insurance. At 19 I got appendicitis in a small town in Eastern Europe that didn’t even have a proper hospital. After catching a red-eye train to the nearest city, I barely made it to the operating table and had to sweet-talk my way out of a huge bill. Those days are long gone. Bite the bullet and make sure to include travel insurance in your travel budget.
Don’t Over Pack: Every travel blogger will tell you this, but it is for good reason. Almost everyone has over-packed at least once. Do you know how many women I have met who can’t even walk a block because their giant packs are crushing their spines? I’ve been one of those women. You don’t need all that stuff. I promise. Realistically, don’t get anything larger than a 55 litre bag. If you can travel with only a 7 kg carry-on then you are laughing to the bank. The world of cheap flights is all yours.
What To Pack?
No more than 4 pairs of underwear and 2 bras (hand wash at night)
Microfiber travel towel. Get a big one. It can double as a blanket if you book a cheap-ass hostel that doesn’t give you one or a bedsheet if you are staying somewhere with a nasty bed.
Lightweight clothing. Chose things that can be rolled tight and do not take up much space. Go for materials that dry quickly. Don’t bring much. You can usually pick up cheap and beautiful clothing on the road.
Unless you are going somewhere cold I suggest bringing ONE pair of warmish leggings and ONE sweatshirt or cardigan. You will need it for cool evenings and, most of all, for planes and buses that blast the AC.
Remember that in some countries and in some holy places you will need to cover your knees and shoulders.
Sunscreen is ridiculously overpriced in many countries. Bring it from home if you are from somewhere where it is affordable.
Bring a knife (not in your carry-on), a lock-lid tupperware container, a reusable water container and travel cutlery. This helps when you buy fruit and veggies from local markets. If you have a lock-lid container you can make oatmeal and noodles in your room if you have access to a kettle. Many places also offer free filtered water. All of these will save you money.
A headlamp. I got one from the dollar store and it is still going strong. Often local buses are late and you end up stumbling through the dark trying to find that secluded bungalow you booked. Some places experience constant power outages or you might even choose to stay somewhere with no power at all.
A couple of good combination locks and strong cables, so you can lock up your stuff. Get locks that will fit through your zippers.
Multipurpose footwear. I recommend something similar to Tevas that you can get wet and hike in. Also bring a thin pair of flip flops that you can wear in the shower. You do not want your bare feet in some of the showers you'll encounter.
Reusable shopping bags. Be kind to our planet.
It is an investment but if you get a water purifier, like a Steripen, it will save you tons of money in the long-run and spare the planet a few more plastic bottles in the trash.
I travel with a pumice stone and good cream that has 25% Urea. Travel can be hard on your feet. Trust me, your heels will thank you.
Essential oils have a ton of uses; medicinal, antiseptic and they are good at covering stink.
My first piece of advice is to follow your gut. If you don’t feel safe, even if there is no apparent reason, change course.
Try not to arrive in unfamiliar places after dark. This is not always possible but I do my best to arrive during the day.
Try not to look too lost or confused in public.
Leave your bling at home. Too much expensive stuff makes you a target.
Dress modestly. As women the way we dress should not dictate how a man treats us but the reality is that it does, especially in places where women tend to dress more conservatively. Some men see bare legs and cleavage as an invitation. Dressing modestly doesn’t always ward off unwanted attentions but it does reduce the number of incidents. It is also respectful of the culture in which you are visiting.
Get a SIM card and some data in each country you go to. It is relatively cheap in many countries and will give you some protection. You can search for directions if you are lost or call for help if you feel unsafe. Always keep the phone number of your accommodation with you when you are out.
Carry two wallets. Keep one with most of your cash and cards in it. I use a small money clip hidden on my body. Have a second “decoy” wallet, that is easier to access, with just a bit of cash for the day in it.
Don’t put yourself in dangerous situations. This seems like an obvious one, but it is not. I’ve seen so many women, intoxicated on adventure, really wish they could go back and change the hands of time. Don’t get wasted and walk alone down unknown streets at 2 AM. Don’t share a one-way tuk-tuk into the wilderness with an overly-friendly male traveller, in order to save a few dollars. Don’t just head out on solo trips, especially in remote areas, without checking with a few locals to see if it is safe. I could go on and on. Try temper your sense of freedom with a bit of precaution.
3. Girl Talk:
Periods and peeing are issues that many women are concerned about when it comes to travel, especially low budget travel, but I have some helpful tips for you. I mention products that I have used over and over and have made my life easier. The images below are linked to these products on Amazon so you can get the exact items that I have found so helpful. And let's be real, if you purchase through my links you help fund my adventures.
Like many other women who travel I do use a menstrual cup. It definitely makes travel easier and cheaper but it is not suited to every situation. Sometimes you find yourself without access to clean water. Then what? You can try use wet wipes clean to clean your cup, but I’ve found something even better - disposable menstrual cups. They are not as enviro-good but they work really well for those long-ass trips without proper sanitary facilities. I only use these when I'm in a pinch but they are a life saver. They can hold way more than a tampon can. My favourite brand is called Soft-Cup.
If I had a dollar for every time I was on an insanely long bus ride with no bathroom breaks except a 2 minute stop where all the men get off the bus and piss on the side of the highway and all the women sit there with their legs double crossed. I finally got myself a device that lets you stand up and pee like a dude. It’s basically a piss funnel and it’s great. You don’t need to pull down your pants. It is very discrete. There are two kinds that I know about; the soft silicone ones and the hard plastic ones. The soft ones are much more compact but I have heard from some women that they sometimes leak. Yeah, you really don’t want to piss down your leg in the middle of a trip. I have the hard plastic one. The brand I use is called P-Style. It works like a charm and has never leaked. I just bring a small water bottle with me, give it a rinse and keep it in a Ziplock bag, inside a pretty discreet pouch. And no matter what situation you are in, wet wipes are you friend.
4. Health and Beauty:
These are my personal health and beauty travel tips. I know as women we are all so different when it comes to our bodies and our ideas about personal care. This is what works for me, feel free to take it or leave it.
Many of us women experience digestive problems. Much of it is due to stress or when our bodies are out of balance. Travel can be hard on our tummies and I’m not just talking about traveller’s diarrhea. Change of diet plays a big role in this. We are warned not to eat raw fruits and veg while travelling. This can be hard on your body if you are used to eating your greens daily. We end up carbing-out, eating too much rice and noodles or overcooked and fried foods to try stay safe. As a long term traveller, this totally does not work for me. I eat tons of raw foods and am feeling great. I’m still careful in restaurants. I skip the wet limp garnish on the side of my plate. Instead, I head over to the outdoor markets and stock up on fresh local fruits and veggies. Use your common sense. Don’t buy fruit sitting next to the raw meat baking in the sun all day. Don’t buy veggies in the alleyway with raw sewage flowing down the street. I wash everything a few times with bottled water. I chop everything up and then give it one more wash before eating it. If I have a kettle I will pour boiling water over things that will not wilt, like carrots or a whole melon.
Keep yourself hydrated. A friend, who is a doctor from India, told me that in hot climates I should be drinking a minimum of 5 litres of water/day. So many health problems are linked to dehydration- headaches, joint and muscle pain, sinus problems, skin issues….you get the point. We sometimes forget to drink when we are wrapped up in our adventures or purposely avoid it if we are on transport without toilets. Drink, drink, drink.
Pure coconut oil is your best friend. It is so nourishing for sun-damaged skin and hair. It is a natural anti-fungal so it is also great for rashes and skin issues.
Travel is hard on the feet. Use a pumice stone to exfoliate and before leaving get yourself a good foot cream with at least 25% Urea. Trust me, your heels will thank you!
Allow yourself a spa day once every few weeks. This depends on your budget, but I have managed to do this quite cheap. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I usually go to a very modest roadside shop for a shampoo, head and face massage and a hair dry. Nothing fancy, it costs just a few bucks. I find it a great way to make friends in the community I’m visiting, it supports women running their own business, and I leave feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
My hope in sharing this is that more women will feel confident and prepared to embark on their own beautiful adventures. Please feel free to share your thoughts, questions and travel experiences with me. I love hearing from you. firstname.lastname@example.org
As promised here are the links to products mentioned above that I have tried and can vouch for. For me these were definately worth the investment: