“Was it safe?”
I get that question almost every time someone asks about my latest travels to Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Israel and Mexico. And hey, I get it. These countries are known for their instability, conflicts and/or oppressive treatment of women. But. Buttttt. They are so much more than any of those things. So let me dive into this question for a minute:
“Was it safe?”
First, there’s this: When asking someone “Was it safe?” what you’re ACTUALLY asking is “Did you feel safe?” And, well, the feeling of safety is subjective, guys. Two people can be in the same country at the same time, and one feels in danger, while the other is having a great time. Lots of factors determine a person’s feeling of safety – gender, physical shape, personal experience, etc. So just know:
- When you ask one person, “Was it safe?” you’re going to get an answer that is personal to the experience they had. Just because a traveler had a poor experience in a country, it doesn’t mean everyone who goes there will face the same situation. (And vice-versa.) I encourage you to seek out different perspectives. Read thoughtful blogs and news that doesn’t just focus on the negatives. (Seriously. I just stumbled across a Forbes article that lists the 10 most dangerous countries in the world for women to travel to. I’ve been to 7 of those countries and loved all of them.)
- Keep in mind that although there are areas of countries that are definitely not OK for foreigners to be in, daily life and culture continues in the rest of the country. Take Israel, for example. Yes, you should steer clear of the Gaza Strip and West Bank due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Tel-Aviv, among other places, are truly fascinating (and realllly fun) places to visit.
So did I feel safe in these countries?
For the most part, yes. There are so many reasons I felt safe, and a big one was that for the majority of my trip I was with a group of people and a local tour guide. In Egypt, we even had a local armed guard with us at times for our safety. On the days when I was traveling solo, I had a plan of what I was doing, where I was staying and I made sure to tell several people (back home and at my hostel) so that my whereabouts were known. When wandering alone, I did experience some moments in which I was uncomfortable, but not necessarily unsafe. For example, I became a bit lost in a busy area of Amman, Jordan and it seemed like I was the only tourist for miles. I was getting a lot of stares and a few cat cals from men, but I was walking with
confidence as though I knew where I was going and as though that didn’t phase me one bit. I knew to expect it. Finally, I bumped into some French travelers and they were able to orient me in the right direction, plus they let me join them for a bit as I found my way back. These moments outside of my comfort zone make my travels so much richer, and I wouldn’t take them back for anything. I learn through them. Also, although I don’t want to get into specifics, I want to mention that I did have a pretty negative experience in Jordan with a man who got handsy with me. I was shaken, but all was fine, I was able to elbow my way of the situation and return to my tour group, thankfully. I didn’t let that one experience ruin my trip or set my views of Jordan as a whole.
Ways to make your experience safer
- As I mentioned, what made me feel the safest during my travels in these countries was having a trusted local tour guide. If safety is your biggest concern, I highly suggest traveling in a tour group or hiring a private guide so you can focus more on the experience rather than the worry.
- Two words: street smarts. Walk with a purpose, remain aware of your surroundings, wear a cross-body bag, don’t flash valuables, keep an eye (or a lock) on your belongings, don’t walk in dark areas alone at night, etc. Most importantly: Trust your gut! When in Tel Aviv, I was at the beach with a few new friends when we decided to take a dip. I felt uneasy about leaving our belongings behind on the sand, so as soon as I got in the water I went back to guard my stuff. A few seconds later, a thief was taking off with the belongings of the person next to us, who also was in the water.
- Travel with a friend. Just by having someone to troubleshoot situations with, you’ll instantly feel more comfortable and safe. If you don’t have someone to travel with, like me, staying in hostels and meeting people is awesome. When traveling alone in Jordan, I made friends with two Australian girls at my hostel, and we spent a day exploring together. The next day, I made friends with a German couple and we spent the afternoon together as well. This is one of my favorite parts of traveling – meeting likeminded people to share experiences with.
- Do your research! Read about ways travelers have been scammed/mugged/etc. so you know what to do differently. (When visiting the pyramids in Egypt, we were told that scammers pretend they are staff and ask to see your tickets, then guide you in the wrong direction, asking for money. When I was approached, I knew to keep walking.) Also, find out the safest areas to be in, as well as areas to stay away from, then make sure you have those on a map. Maps.Me is my go-to app because it works even if you don’t have service. I mark all the places I’m staying in, as well as places I want to visit and places I shouldn’t go to.
- Let people you trust know of your whereabouts. I always give my
“emergency contacts” back home a list of the hotels/hostels I will be staying at, and the dates I’ll be there. I also always keep in touch with them so they know I’m ok and to expect regular calls/messages.
- Learn the cultural norms. In some places, you are advised to cover your knees and dress more conservatively so to avoid unwanted attention that could lead to confrontations. Learning a few key phrases in the local language is smart, too.
- Carry a keychain alarm. While you can’t travel with pepper spray/weapons in a lot of countries, you can carry a keychain alarm on your purse or belt loop. The alarm has a string that if pulled, make a piercing sound louder than a car alarm. Attracting attention is the most critical tool in self-defense. You can find these alarms here.
- Learn self-defense. This is such an important life skill in general, especially for females who want to travel solo. I signed up for Krav Maga self defense classes the week I got back from my trip, and I’ve learned so much in just a few classes. The confidence and empowerment this gives you is priceless.
Here’s the thing: The world is a beautiful place. There are too many people to meet, sights to explore, foods to eat and new cultures to experience to let fear keep you from traveling. Do your research, leave fear at the door and…
Book. That. Trip.