TRAVEL SAFETY: TIPS FOR WOMEN, LGBTQ+, AND PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
I once had a creepy guy approach me in a Uniqlo store overseas. He grabbed my hands, called me beautiful, and begged me to let him take a photo of me. Mind you, this was in the middle of the afternoon in a bustling shopping mall, not in some secluded, dark alleyway or sketchy corner of the city at night. It was a yucky experience, but I’ve heard worse. Take this Redditor for example: [caption id="attachment_88421" align="aligncenter" width="1252"] Source: Reddit[/caption] Travelling always comes with risks, but travelling solo is even riskier. And when you also happen to belong to more vulnerable groups, such as women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, or Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), some trips can come with very real threats to your safety. Here are some of our best travel tips for these vulnerable groups.
Travel Safety: Tips for Women, LGBTQ+, and Persons with Disabilities
- Choose your destination wisely.
- Use daylight to your advantage.
- Connect with local support networks.
- Pack the right clothing, supplies and documents.
- When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
- Secure your valuables.
- Don’t put yourself in dangerous situations.
- Protect yourself with travel insurance.
1. Choose your destination wisely. And by wisely, we mean informed. Do your homework. Knowledge is power—and sometimes, safety too. Before venturing into the great unknown, spend time researching the destinations you could travel to. Yes, you should travel where you want to, but that doesn’t mean you should book a flight out to the first travel inspo post that catches your eye on Instagram or TikTok. Not without ascertaining the safety of the area and feasibility of the trip. For our LGBTQ+ and female friends, pay special attention to learning about local laws and cultural customs. It's important to know where locals stand when it comes to LGBTQ+ and women's rights in your desired destination—and if they’re in line with your own stand and needs.
Resources for female travellers
If you’re a female traveller, educate yourself on how women are viewed and treated in different countries. These in turn will inform their safety risk profiles, as far as solo or group female travelling goes. How do you do your research? Asking your family and friends may come to mind. This could be a heavily useful resource, or could backfire—the ones who care about us the most also tend to be sometimes overly cautious. They might just make sweeping statements like “X is dangerous, women get robbed in broad daylight!” to dissuade you from travelling solo. And girl, no relationship—romantic, familial, or platonic—should ever stand in your way of an adventure you want to and can have. One type of resource you could turn to is travel platforms like Couchsurfing, Yelp, or TripAdvisor. For example, Couchsurfing isn’t just a platform for you to find a local to stay with; it’s also got an active forum and local calendar of events for reference. Most major cities or countries have their own community on the platform, and you can join any and ask the locals there for advice for free. Join female-centric travel communities through platforms like Girls Who Travel, Girls LOVE Travel, and Women Who Travel. JourneyWoman is also a female travel community, but one that is specifically for women over 50. The International Women in Travel & Tourism Forum (IWTTF) is an initiative aimed at supporting and promoting gender diversity and inclusion within the travel and tourism industry. It aims to empower all women, and sees travel as a “force for good”. They hold their annual IWTTF Awards and IWTTF Conference around June each year, but also have female travel podcast resources you can check out year round. Sign up for their newsletter for their latest programmes and events. I hate to sound pessimistic, but when researching travel destinations, I personally take a glass-half-empty approach. I would rather look for the bad than the good, to play it safe. According to the World Population Review, the most dangerous country for women is South Africa, where only a quarter of local women reported feeling safe walking home at night. The next most dangerous countries were Brazil, Russia, Mexico, Iran, the Dominican Republic, and Egypt.
[caption id="attachment_88423" align="aligncenter" width="1368"] Source: World Population Review[/caption] Back to top
Resources for LGBTQ+ travellers
If you're part of the beautiful rainbow community, consider destinations that are known for their LGBTQ+ acceptance. Check for LGBTQ+ friendly hotels and activities to ensure you have an extra layer of comfort and acceptance during your travels. Don’t just check official hotel or tourism websites—a better bet might be LGBTQ+ travel communities. In fact, the best resource to start with is The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA), which comprises a large network of LGBTQ+-friendly tourism businesses. These include accommodations, transport, destinations, service providers, Travel Advisors, tour operators, and more in over 80 countries. If you see a travel business displaying the IGLTA logo with pride, you can be assured it’s LGBTQ+-friendly. After browsing the IGLTA website, I would recommend starting with their IGLTA Travel Guides featuring over 25 countries. Don’t forget to also go through their LGBTQ+ Safety Guide for general safety tips and precautions. Here are some other resources I would recommend to LGBTQ+ travellers planning their trips:
From vibrant cities like Amsterdam and Berlin to stunning beach paradises like Mykonos and Puerto Vallarta, the world is your fabulous oyster. And did you know San Francisco's iconic Castro District has the highest concentration of LGBTQ+ bars in the world? From the hip vibes of Amsterdam to the sassy streets of Barcelona, there are tons of places where you can be your glorious self. ALSO READ
- Equaldex: Search for a country or region, and view a slew of metrics that reflect the progress of LGBQT+ rights there. Each search will include an overall Equality Index, as well as information on individuals components such as censorship, discrimination, adoption, conversion therapy, and even public opinion aggregated from recent survey data.
- The LGBTQ+ Travel Safety Index lets you know of the least and more safe places to travel to for LGBTQ+ community members.
- When booking your accommodation, the Preferred Pride programme by Preferred Hotels & Resorts is an excellent way to browse inclusive hotels and resorts worldwide.
- Afar’s LGBTQ Travel page, with tips and stories from LGBTQ+ travellers from all over the world.
- Check out these 8 queer travel group companies for cultural tours, gay cruises, adventure travel, and more.
- Intrepid Travel is not specifically a travel resource for queer folk, but I noticed while browsing their guides that many destinations include guides on local queer culture. Navigate to their “FAQs” tab on each destination website, and look for the “Is X a safe destination for LGBTQIA+ travellers?” question.
: An LGBTQ+ Real Estate Expert’s Top 10 Home Ownership Tips For Queer Couples
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Resources for travellers with disabilities
For our intrepid adventurers with disabilities, researching accessibility options at your destination is the key to a smooth and enjoyable journey. Look for wheelchair-friendly accommodations, accessible transportation options, and attractions that cater to your specific needs. The more you know, the better prepared you'll be to conquer the world with confidence. Some resources you can tap on include:
If you’re looking for not just information, but also encouragement, the Disabled Travelers Guide to The World is an inspiring resource for those with mobility issues. After suffering a series of strokes, Nancy Berger was left wheelchair-bound. She went on to travel to all 7 continents, and even went to far-flung destinations you wouldn’t think for a second are accessible—Antarctica, Botswana, and Ecuador, to name a few. Their website is littered with photos of her fishing on the The Amazon River in Brazil, on safari in South Africa, and face to face with a wild gorilla in the forests of Bwindi, Uganda. Nancy and her husband Nate wrote a book of their adventures, and you can read it for free online. You might not know this, but according to the global business collective Valuable 500, Singapore is ranked the most accessible city in the world. Behind it are Las Vegas, Amsterdam, and New York. So if Singapore is the standard you’re hoping for, you might want to at least stick to the cities on the list to ensure you aren’t disappointed. However, the list looked at various forms of disabilities, including mobility, visual, and hearing impairments. There could be a city or country out there that doesn’t rank highly on this list overall, but caters to your specific needs adequately. That’s why we have to stress again that doing your own research is key!
- accessibleGO, which is “the first travel site for people with accessibility needs”.They have a Travel Ideas page for travel inspo, a blog, USA city guides, and a community forum for like-minded travellers to connect.
- Planet Abled: A travel resource that caters to a range of accessibility needs, complete with guides, a blog, and more. They even have resources specifically for senior travellers or couples.
- TabiFolk: An online community for travellers with disabilities or special travel needs.
- Blind Travels: A travel resource for the visually impaired, written by like-minded travel enthusiasts who also have visual impairments.
- Traveleyes: These guys pair up a blind traveller with a sighted one, with the latter describing what they see to the former. Really cool stuff, and a great initiative that benefits both parties!
- Deaf travel providers, such as Hands On Travel, Deaf Globetrotters Travel, Deaf Vacations, and more.
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2. Use daylight to your advantage.
Unsafe situations usually happen in the dark. There are fewer people about and visibility isn’t as good—the perfect setting for theft, robbery, or even rape. Crime and malicious acts aside, the low visibility makes walking along roads unsafe because vehicles may not be able to see you, not to mention the fact that drunk driving incidence is higher at night. So as far as possible, avoid being out when darkness falls—that’s when you want to be inside safely in your hotel room. But what about nightlife? What about all the exciting events and activities that only happen at night? We get it. Some of these happen at night, and the cover of darkness is unavoidable. I once went on a special tour of a cathedral in Salamanca, Spain that was only conducted at night. It ended at 11 pm or so, which is way past the time I wanted to be out (even though Salamanca felt relatively safe). In these cases, it would do you well to travel with friends and follow other safety tips we talk about below. I had a friend go on the tour with me and we walked back together, which was reassuring for both of us. Here’s a pro tip from a good friend of mine: Travel to European countries in the summer. Their daylight hours stretch from, seemingly, morning till pretty late into the night. So even if it’s past dinner time, you’ll still be walking back home in daylight. I’ve personally experienced this when I was in Spain—it was 9 pm or 10 pm, but it felt like 5 pm!
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3. Connect with local support networks. A great way to do research on a country you want to visit is to tap on support networks. Make use of online resources, travel forums, and local support networks for women, LGBTQ+ members, and PwDs. Examples of some international communities I would recommend include:
Use these international communities to reach out to locals and connect with local support groups. We can’t emphasise enough the importance of finding your tribe—nothing beats hearing information from the horse’s mouth, so use their wisdom, knowledge and experience to make informed decisions and stay one step ahead of any potential risks. Whether you're an LGBTQ+ traveller, fierce female explorer or intrepid adventurer with disabilities, connecting with local support networks like LGBTQ+ organisations or women's groups can be a game-changer. These are folks who not only have firsthand knowledge of the situation on the ground, but also know firsthand your needs and the struggles you face every day. These incredible communities are the best people to offer valuable advice, local insights and helpful recommendations. Heck, you might even forge a powerful connection and make new friends who share your beliefs and interests! Keep in mind that laws and perceptions can vary wildly from country to country. To give you an idea of how varied it can be, here’s a map showing homosexuality activity laws by country as of 2022:
- Women: Girls Who Travel, Girls LOVE Travel, Women Who Travel
- LGBTQ+ members: LGBT Travel Group on Facebook
- Persons with disabilities: TabiFolk
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4. Pack the right clothing, supplies and documents.
Packing is important for every traveller, but travellers belonging to more vulnerable groups have extra things to look out for in their packing list. For one thing, travelling with a disability requires quite a bit of extra planning. Preparation is vital to ensuring you’ll be able to access what you need in a foreign country, so make a checklist of all your essential supplies and documents. These may include:
Certain members of the LGBTQ+ community may also need to bring along documents on their travels, especially to regions with varying levels of LGBTQ acceptance and legal protections. These documents include:
- Medications, mobility aids, and communication tools that you need to remain comfortable and get around smoothly.
- Prescriptions from your doctor that explain what medication you need, what it’s for, the dosage, and other details.
- Doctor's letters that detail the nature of your disability, necessary accommodations, and any medical conditions or requirements.
- Confirmation emails or letters for pre-arranged accessible accommodation or other specific travel arrangements you made for your accessibility needs.
- Service animal documentation: If you’re travelling with your service animal, bring along their health and service training certifications. This may include their vaccination records.
- Proof of equipment ownership: If you make use of certain equipment, don’t forget documentation for your medical devices, such as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine for sleep apnea or a wheelchair for you to get around. These documents will help facilitate smoother passage through security and customs.
For all travellers, including PwDs, members of our rainbow community, and women, remember to pack the right clothing. No, we’re not just talking about bringing your Uniqlo down jackets for winter, or your swimsuits for the beach. On the contrary, we’re encouraging you to dress for a country’s local customs and traditions, not its weather. Check travel guides, cultural etiquette websites, and forums for insights. To get you started, here are some resources you can tap on: Consider modesty levels, religious practices, and typical attire in public spaces. Adapting your wardrobe shows respect for the local culture and enhances your travel experience by blending in more comfortably with the community. Yeah, you could always go there and buy clothes, but depending on where you’re headed, that may not be MoneySmart! This also brings us to our next point.
- Health documents: This includes prescription notes for medications (particularly for transgender travellers with hormone prescriptions), vaccination records, and any relevant medical history.
- Legal documents: In countries where LGBTQ rights are not recognized, you should bring any marriage certificates or legal documents that clarify the relationship between you and your travel companion. This is especially essential in emergency medical situations.
- Letter from your doctor: For transgender travellers, a letter from a doctor explaining the need for hormone medications or other treatments can be helpful during security screenings.
- Your rights: Know them! Carry information on the legal rights of LGBTQ individuals in your destination country. We’re not encouraging you to make a scene, but we do want to advocate for standing up for what you’re entitled to when you can.
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5. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Let's talk about the art of blending in. We're not suggesting you ditch your true self! But when in Rome, or anywhere else that celebrates different customs, being respectful of local traditions can be vital in ensuring a smooth, stress-free holiday. Adapt to local customs and dress codes to blend in seamlessly. Not only will you feel more comfortable and less like a tourist, but you'll also reduce any unwanted attention. When travelling to more conservative countries such as the Middle East, you have to adapt your wardrobe. Remember, as much as you love your crop top and short shorts combo, it might not be the best choice for certain destinations. But hey, don't worry, you can still look fierce while being culturally sensitive. On the note of blending in, do remember that body language, gestures, and language phrases can also play a role in helping you navigate your surroundings. For example, did you know that in countries like Afghanistan, Iran, parts of Italy, and Greece, a thumbs-up gesture is considered offensive? So put those thumbs away and save them for your selfies in other parts of the world.
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6. Secure your valuables.
“Be street smart,” everyone says. But how? As a first rule of thumb, make sure your valuables are safe. This actually starts from Singapore—don’t pack things like your NRIC, driver’s licence, or extra credit cards if you know you’re not going to use them. Remember, anything you bring can be lost or stolen. Anything you leave behind will remain safely tucked away in your drawer or cupboard at home. Of course, that isn’t to say you shouldn’t bring any credit cards. Some cards are fantastic for saving your money overseas! Check out our top picks for the best credit cards for overseas spending. Or, you could bring along a digital multi-currency card like YouTrip or Revolut. Now, on to what you must bring on your trip. My personal tip is to make your valuable stuff look as scruffy and unappealing as possible. I have a special drawer in my room where I keep an old, nondescript wallet that’s halfway to its demise. I reserve this wallet for my overseas trips, and only fill it with essential cards and cash I choose to bring. When in public spaces, keep your passport, wallet, and (hopefully not too shiny) gadgets tucked away safely. Too many tourists have learned this the hard way with a sneaky pickpocket manoeuvre worthy of a heist movie. A friend of mine once got his brand new iPhone pickpocketed at a crowded event overseas, when he was trying to protect his female friend from being quite literally pushed around. He felt someone touch his pocket, and pop! Out went the phone. Suddenly that pocket felt a lot lighter. The real genius of the pickpocketer was their choice of setting and timing; with the jostling crowds, there was no way for my friend to even identify who the pickpocketer was, much less go after them. That being said, a good travel insurance plan should also cover you in the event such thievery occurs. Make sure your policy covers lost or stolen belongings—most do. Insurance won’t get you your wallet or phone back, but some monetary compensation is better than nothing. Learn more about the best travel insurance plans in Singapore to protect you and your personal belongings overseas. ALSO READ
: 10 Data Roaming Plans in Singapore—Which is Most Worth It?
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7. Don’t put yourself in dangerous situations.
Here's a secret weapon: trust your instincts. If a situation feels uncomfortable or sketchy, don't hesitate to remove yourself from it. It’s better to be safe than sorry. One reading recommendation I’ve gotten is “The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence” by Gavin de Becker. It’s a book about learning to trust your instincts and spot subtle signs of danger. “True fear is a gift. Unwarranted fear is a curse. Learn how to tell the difference,” de Becker writes. Whether or not you pick up this book, always walk away if your gut says something is up.
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8. Protect yourself with travel insurance.
The truth is, no matter how well-prepared you are, no matter how many precautions you take, things can and will go wrong. So, let's talk about the ultimate travel sidekick—travel insurance. The right travel insurance plan can be your shield against unexpected mishaps. Look for insurance policies that offer coverage for things like lost or stolen belongings, trip cancellations, lost or delayed baggage, and medical emergencies. If you don’t know how to go about selecting the right plan for your trip, check out our travel insurance guide to start. When choosing travel insurance, look for providers that offer assistance services, including access to emergency hotlines and support for women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and PwDs. Ideally, for LGBTQ+ travellers, look for a travel insurance provider that understands your unique needs and offers policies that cover potential incidents of discrimination or harassment. Your travel insurance should be as inclusive as your crew. MSIG made the news back in 2015 when they accepted a travel claim from a Singaporean woman and her lesbian partner after they faced an 8-hour delay. The couple were legally married in California the year before. Although same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Singapore, and they didn’t get married in Singapore, MSIG gave them $360 in compensation. For PwDs, seek out travel insurance plans that cover you for emergency medical expenses, trip delays, and lost or damaged assistive devices. Depending on your needs and trip, you might want to prioritise different coverage points. For example, if you make use of a wheelchair and know you’re going to travel somewhere with pavements or roads that are less than ideal, make sure your travel insurance includes coverage for damage to your device. If you have a mental disability, ensure that your policy includes mental health coverage and pre-existing conditions. With the right insurance, you can explore the world with peace of mind, knowing that you're protected every step of the way. So, there you have it. With these tips and tricks, we hope you can confidently embark on your travel adventures, no matter who you are or the challenges you may face. Remember, your safety and well-being are paramount, so never leave home without the right knowledge, a fabulous attitude, and of course, travel insurance that understands and supports your journey.
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