Posts Tagged ‘safety’

A Solo Traveler’s Guide to Polynesia
Monday, February 18th, 2013

Relaxing on a beach. Sipping fresh coconut juice from an actual coconut. Watching palm trees sway gently in the breeze. How is that picture not appealing? You can experience it for yourself if you include Polynesia on your career break itinerary.

Polynesia is a term used to describe many of the Pacific Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. There are hundreds of Polynesian islands in the South Pacific, but some of the most accessible are Samoa, Tonga, and the Cook Islands. Traveling solo to Polynesia may bring up some unique concerns, so here are some things to keep in mind.

Arriving in Polynesia

The Polynesian islands of Samoa, Tonga, and the Cook Islands are a lot less developed for tourism than their Fijian Melanesian neighbor. Flights tend to arrive at ridiculous hours of the night as well. My flight to Samoa arrived at 1 am. I am the type of traveler who usually has no qualms with sleeping in airports, and I initially planned to do that in Samoa. However, when I arrived, I did not feel comfortable to do so as a female on my own. Because I had planned to sleep at the airport, I hadn’t done much research into nearby accommodation. Luckily, I had a very helpful taxi driver who not only didn’t rip me off too badly, but also took me to the cheapest guest house in the capital city of Apia. When I arrived in Tonga, it was also late at night, but I had booked ahead with a local hostel that offered a pick-up service (Toni’s Guesthouse), so I was secure in knowing I would be safely taken to my accommodation.

Tip: If your flight will arrive late, do your research and know what hotel or guest house you want to go to. Try to find some other travelers to share a taxi with and try to bring a small amount of local currency with you as ATMs are not always reliable on the Pacific Islands.

Cultural expectations

The majority of Polynesians are devout Catholics. Everywhere you go, you will see villages competing with each other to have the biggest and most ornate church. Everything shuts down in Polynesia on Sundays, so don’t expect to get much done. Women in Polynesia are very strong and independent, so most locals won’t think it is too weird that you are traveling alone as a female. I never got any questions about whether or not I was married, or where was my boyfriend, except by one particularly hopeful young man in cafe.

With such a religious population, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Polynesians are also very modest people. Although you do get a little bit of leeway as a foreigner, women should take care to dress conservatively. This doesn’t have to be over the top – just keep your swim wear to the beaches, and when walking through towns or villages make sure you are not showing too much skin. Under no circumstances should you walk around a village in a bikini top. I made sure to pack t-shirts instead of tank stops, and I wore leggings under my short shorts, or knee length skirts.

If you want to attend a church service (and you should – the Polynesian singing is something to experience!), then make sure you pack something appropriate. A long skirt or trousers will do, or alternatively you can “go local” and wear a sarong or lava lava. Polynesians are very proud about their dress and their religion, so make sure that whatever you choose to wear, it is clean and presentable.

Dangers and annoyances

Like in any place that is unfamiliar to you, it is probably not the best idea to walk around late at night by yourself. This is especially true if you have been drinking, or if you are walking around in areas where other people who have been drinking are congregated. In the villages and small resort towns, the bars will most likely be located in your resort so there isn’t too much worry about safety there. In the cities though, you need to be more careful when walking at night.

I didn’t find that anyone was threatening or made me feel uncomfortable when I walk at night, although I did notice a distinct lack of street lighting around. If something did happen, it is unlikely anyone would be able to notice in the darkness. If you do need to walk alone at night, stick to the busier main roads or just take a taxi – they are incredibly cheap on the Pacific Islands.

More than anything, use your common sense, and you should have no problems at all. So just relax, enjoy your coconut, and work on that tan.

Jade Johnston is a Canadian expat who now lives in Australia. She writes about budget travel, destination and adventure travel, and family travel on her blog, Follow her on Twitter as @our_oyster or on Facebook.

How to Safely Travel Solo on Your Career Break
Monday, February 11th, 2013

The recent death of a New York mother, Sarai Sierra, while traveling in Istanbul has led to scrutiny over whether it is safe for women to travel solo. Many comments on articles about the incident have asked why Sierra was traveling alone or have stated strongly that women should not travel on their own overseas.

Obviously, here at Meet, Plan, Go! we support, and even encourage everyone to travel solo – male and female. We also understand that incidents like the killing in Istanbul or the recent gang rape in Delhi, India, raise questions for individuals who may be considering traveling solo on their career break – especially if they have not previously traveled alone. To that end, we’d like to share five safety tips to keep in mind as you set out on your journey.

1. Let someone know where you’re going.

If you have a fixed itinerary, give it to friends and family before leaving, including information about where you are staying and any planned activities. On the other hand, if you tend to travel more spur of the moment, keep loved ones updated through social media – email, tweet or update your status on Facebook to let people know where you are and what you’re doing. Also take a minute to register with the U.S. State Department so they know you are in the country in case of political unrest or natural disasters.

2. Dress appropriately.

Women should be careful to dress conservatively in countries with more conservative cultures. Covering shoulders and knees and avoiding low-cut or tight clothing will help to defray unwanted attention from men and will help you blend in more.  Furthermore, both men and women are less likely to stand out as tourists by dressing as the locals do and by not wearing expensive watches or other jewelry that thieves might target.

3. Expect to be safe

This doesn’t mean be naïve or oblivious to the risks – it means adjusting your attitude so you expect good things to happen as you travel, making decisions to maximize your safety and exuding confidence. As Lash World Tour explains:

[I]magine a different traveler who goes out into the world nervous, scared, worried about their safety. What kind of body postures, facial expressions, eye expressions, and vibe do you think they’re going to exude? Do you think people -particularly importantly here ‘bad’ people- are going to pick up on that, either consciously or subconsciously? Of course they are. Will that traveler seem vulnerable, an easy target? Quite likely.

4. Do your research

While some travel tips are universal, others may be specific to certain cities or countries. Refer to guidebooks, online travel forums or even simple Google searches to find out what neighborhoods you should avoid in your destination. Likewise, read up on what typical scams might so you know what to watch out for. Understand what the cultural norms are in the countries you are visiting so you don’t inadvertently offend someone with your actions.

5. Talk to locals and make friends.

As children, we are often taught not to talk to strangers. And when you are traveling alone in an unfamiliar place, it may be tempting to keep your guard way up in an effort to protect yourself. But to do so would be to miss out on one of the best aspects of traveling – meeting people! Not to mention, when you make friends wherever you are traveling, those people can advise you about where to go and what to avoid. More importantly, your new friends are more likely to look out for you if something goes wrong.

For more safety tips and perspective, see Travel Tips and Safety Advice For Your Career Break, as well as these posts from top female travel bloggers:

Breathedreamgo: Why we need the WeGoSolo movement, Top safety tips for women in India (and elsewhere) and Commentary on travelling safely in India

Solitary Wanderer: 5 Safety Tips for Women Traveling Alone

Legal Nomads: Revisiting the Solo Female Travel Experience and Solo Female Travel, Trust and the Art of Fitting In

Twenty-Something Travel: Solo Female Travel is NOT the Problem and Experiencing the World through a Female Lens.

A Dangerous Business: Dear Dad: Please Don’t Worry (A Treatise on Solo Female Travel)

Journeywoman: She Travels Solo

Adventurous Kate: The Truth About Solo Female Travel and Safety

Travel Yourself: Yes, It is Safe to Travel Solo as a Female

Katie Going Global: No, It’s Not Stupid to Travel Solo

Flora The Explorer: Happy, Safe and Solo: Travelling in India by Yourself

Hole In The Donut Cultural Travel: Traveling Safely

Solo Traveler: Am I the Pollyanna of Solo Travel?

Grrrl Traveler: Is Solo Travel Still Safe for Women? …6 Safety Tips that make it so.

LashWorldTour: Travel Safety Tips: How to Travel Safely pt 1 – Attitude and Travel Safety Tips: How to Travel Safely pt 2 – Education

WAVEJourneyWomen’s Adventures, Vacations & Experiences!: Travel Tips: Female Solo Travel Safety

Also be sure to follow the #WeGoSolo hashtag on Twitter and join the conversation this Wednesday, February 13, 11-11:30 a.m. EST.

Volunteering in Dangerous Places:Lira, Uganda
Monday, January 21st, 2013

As I travel around the world, I often volunteer with global nonprofit organizations. To me, volunteering is a great way to get to know local communities and cultures and I like the idea of giving back while benefiting from the experience.

Before I left on my two-year around-the-world trip, I spoke with several nonprofit organizations and lined up a few volunteer gigs during my first year of travel. One of these opportunities was to work with an American nonprofit organization that is building wells in East Africa, bringing clean drinking water to communities in need.

I was super excited about this opportunity and planned my entire first year of travel around this particular volunteer gig, coordinating my schedule so I could accompany the U.S-based team that was to visit the region in mid-October.

Imprecise Planning

Unfortunately, once I arrived in Uganda’s capital Kampala my pre-trip preparations unraveled fast. It soon became apparent that I would need to make my own way to Lira (a 5-hour drive north of the capital), arrange for transportation to the well site (a further 3-hour drive on dirt roads), and figure out my own accommodations.

Now, traveling in northern Uganda is dangerous by any stretch—Think Joseph Kony 2012, Lord’s Revolutionary Army, child soldiers, mass rape. I had to make the serious decision on whether or not I would go it alone to Lira.

After much reflection and quite a few sleepless nights, I decided to go. Clean water is an issue in which I feel passionately. Also I was already in Uganda and looking forward to meeting the local community. Finally, this was my largest donation to date and I wanted to see the funding in action.

Ensuring Self Safety

After making my decision to move forward, I lined up my resources to ensure my own safety. Here was my 5-point plan of action:

1. Kidnap & Ransom Insurance

Before I left on my worldwide travels I bought Kidnap & Ransom (K&R) insurance. I knew that I’d be traveling alone throughout Africa and the Middle East and so bought the policy for about $1,200 a year. (Individuals can’t buy this type of insurance, but companies can. As president of my own consulting firm, I purchased the policy for myself.)

Along with the policy, you get access to a personal safety team. I called them before I left to introduce myself, thinking that if they have a voice / face with the name, they might try just a little bit harder to find you. Before leaving for Lira, I also sent emails to my contacts to let them know I would be traveling in the area, the dates I was traveling, and the name of the organization I was volunteering with.

2. U.S. State Department Registration

I always register with the U.S. State Department’s STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) before entering a new country. Not only will this alert the government that you are in the country during times of conflict, it also supplies the government with next-of-kin information.  Another advantage is that you’ll receive local travel updates, as well as invitations to parties and consular events.

3. Private Driver / Bodyguard

I decided not to take local buses like I normally do, but instead hired a driver, that could then serve as a sort of bodyguard for me. I wanted someone who spoke the local language, knew the area, and would accompany me into town.

While in Kampala, I contacted another nonprofit organization that I had worked with several years earlier. They arranged for a driver for 5 days, supplying me with his State ID, Driver’s License, and a background check. At about $1,000, this was a significant cost for me, but my driver Fred was the consummate professional, trained in Germany and incredibly serious about his job. This was exactly the person I wanted by my side.

 4. Personal Emergency Procedures

My family and I have a safe word that I can use if I’m in imminent danger. If they receive a call or message with this word, they are instructed to call the K&R team, the U.S. State department, and the local Embassy. I sent a message to my family to be on alert that I was heading into dangerous territory.

5. Self Defense Training

Before I left on my travels, I went through a 3-day self defense training course by a global nonprofit called IMPACT. The classes are taught by women, for women. The training I received was the single most empowering experience of my life. While making my arrangements in Kampala, I took the time to review what I had learned, so my skills were fresh.

Prepared for the Possibilities

In the end, my days visiting the well site in Lira were a highlight of my trip. I met many members of the community, talked with women who lived in the village, gained a greater understanding of the village’s need for clean water, and visited the children attending school in the area.

The children showed me the current well, which is too shallow and now polluted with E.Coli, and we broke ground at their Apache SDA school where the new well was being built. Tears repeated welled in my eyes as the local congregation and school children sang for me in the age-old African tradition.

Was my 5-day trip into northern Uganda worth the extra safety precautions and added expense? Unequivocally yes. I was happy that I visited Lira and got to join in the building the well.

The dedication plaque on the new well reads:  “May your life overflow with possibilities.” The opportunity to travel to northern Uganda to volunteer was a possibility that, despite the risks, I could not pass up. But it was a possibility for which I was well prepared.

A former finance executive, Erin Michelson is now an “Adventure Philanthropist,” who recently completed a two-year global giving adventure, visiting all 7 continents and exploring 60 countries. Volunteering with global non-profit organizations along the way, Erin helped build a house in the Philippines, a well in rural Uganda, and a library in northern Laos, sponsored secondary school education for a young woman in India and helped provide self-defense training for young girls in Israel.  Read more about her experiences on or follow her on Twitter as @GoErinGo.

Safety is Relative
Monday, February 13th, 2012

I was just sitting down to dinner at a deserted hotel a few miles from Chichen Itza when I got a frantic call from my wife that we’d been robbed. She had come home from school to find our front door wide open, a window broken, our cats escaped, and our place ransacked. She was scared, worried, and alone.

Not knowing if the perpetrators were still inside, she hid in the car while waiting for the cops to arrive. Thankfully, the hotel had WiFi and while both visual and audio Skype failed, SMS worked, so I was able to keep her virtual company during the three-hour wait. It pained me to be so far away, powerless to help. Eventually the police showed up, and she left to go file the report. There was nothing I could do but be thankful she was ok and hopeful that not too much was stolen. (It turned out that only our PS3 and a bowl of change seemed to be missing, most likely by a couple of bored and underprivileged kids.)

Ironically, before I left for Mexico, a number of people cautioned me, “Are you sure it’s safe?” The worst thing that happened to me was being swindled by a gas station attendant.

It just goes to show that safety is relative. While I was in what many consider an unsafe country, our home in the U.S. was broken into. For many years I’ve heard people say that they wouldn’t go to a country deemed risky by the State Department. And yet countries like Mexico, Afghanistan, and the Philippines are places where you can find exquisite natural beauty, rich cultural history, and warm-hearted people.

While it’s true that the chances of something unexpected happening in such places might be higher than in Japan or Norway, it’s wise to remember that danger exists everywhere, and crime tends to increase exponentially with population density. There are several U.S. cities in which many Americans might feel comfortable, but some foreigners might consider too risky, Oakland included.

One might be tempted to let the fear of the unexpected keep them from leaving home, yet even that isn’t a guarantee of safety. It’s better still to go out into the world, appropriately cautious but unafraid, and lead by example, treating people with respect and kindness. If and when the unexpected happens, the following two principles will work in almost every situation;

  1. Find a safe place, calm down, think rationally, and get help.
  2. Think positively, learn from the experience, and move on.

Learning to both manage a critical situation in the moment, and to let go of negative minimally-serious outcomes afterwards are key components to traveling safely in many parts of the world, and in your own neighborhood.

An adventurer at heart, Ted Beatie is at his happiest when he’s off the beaten path. His deepest passion is sharing the world through his photography and writing, which can be found at The Pocket Explorer.

He is also the managing editor for Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding, where he publishes a weekly Case Study series. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

On the Road: Safety Concerns
Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Safety is a valid concern when traveling abroad for any length of time. And with the latest travel warnings, even the most intrepid traveler may be a bit intimidated. But in a society that focuses so heavily on the negative (especially in the news), how concerned should you be? And should you let such warnings, and the concerns of family and friends, stop you from pursuing your travel dreams?

MPGNYC Panelists
Our New York City panel for Meet, Plan, Go! share how they approached safety concerns during their own travels.

Brook Silva-Braga (A Map for Saturday)
The world is an amazingly safe place and the greatest practical danger travelers face in 99% of the world is having their possessions stolen. The unfamiliar is often scary–heck the first week of college is scary–but it is almost always a fear of the unknown rather than a marker of actual danger. Even for solo travelers. Even for women.

Jennifer Baggett (The Lost Girls)
One thing I always say when asked about safety abroad is that during the entire year I was on the road (which included notoriously dangerous locations such as Rio de Janeiro and Nairobi), I only experienced one non-threatening attempted pick pocket incident and a crazy cab driver trying to cheat us with a rigged meter. Whereas in NYC, I’ve had my wallet stolen out of my bag two times, punched by a homeless guy and been jumped in an all out fight on the street with two crazy drug addicts. Not to mention that I grew up not too far from Baltimore and Washington D.C. where there was no short of very violent crimes.

And of course after having been to so many places abroad and seeing firsthand how much safer it is than people think, it’s almost mind blowing how many misconceptions there are about international travel. Although considering that places such as India, Africa, Asia and the Middle East aren’t typical tourist destinations for Americans it’s understandable why there are so many perceived fears of the unknown. But like many places in the States as long as you keep your wits about you and make smart, common sense decisions (keep an eye on your stuff, don’t wander off down a dark alley alone or go to notoriously bad neighborhoods at night), you’re likely going to be just as safe abroad as you are at home. Especially since often times people are just after your money and don’t actually intend to do you harm.


What to Do: Small Group Tours
Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Recently, Sherry Ott and I gave a presentation on the “Benefits of Small Group Tours for the Solo Traveler” at the GAP Adventure Concept Store in New York City. Both Sherry and I have incorporated small group tours into our various travels and for various reasons. Here are highlights from our presentation. Maybe you’ll be inspired to incorporate small group tours into your travels as well!

[singlepic=1813,195,,,right]STEPPING STONE

  • Good for the novice traveler
  • Group leader to translate and answer questions
  • Experience all the new things within the ‘safety’ of a group
  • Used it as a ‘test run’ for extended travel


  • Comfort level varies for different countries
  • Unsure of safety as a woman traveling alone
  • Language barriers also vary country to country
  • Transportation issues

[singlepic=1812,185,,,right]BREAK UP EXTENDED TRAVEL

  • Variety – solo, travel with friends & group tours
  • Travel is work!
  • Nice break from booking transportation & lodging
  • Offered a ‘vacation’ type experience
  • Also offers a level of independence
  • May provide future travel partners

[singlepic=1810,175,,,right]CULTURAL EXPERIENCE

  • Access to cultural activities you may not have on your own
  • Experience life like the locals, including transportation and staying with families
  • If you want to understand a country and it’s people, ride with them
  • You aren’t on the outside looking in
  • Times when you have to have a guide (ie, Galapagos)

[singlepic=1814,175,,,right]NO TRAVEL PARTNERS

  • Some experiences you don’t want to do on your own
  • Even if you don’t have a travel partner doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the experience
  • Make new friends
  • Have cultural experiences within your own group


  • When booking, think about what you want to get out of the experience
  • Comfort level/Age range
  • If you are solo, try to arrange an airport transfer when possible
  • While on trip, be patient with new cultures
  • Also be patient with your group members

Some of the destinations we’ve used small group tours include
Peru | Galapagos Islands
| Morocco | Brazil | Cambodia | Vietnam | Egypt

Recommended Tour Operator

Travel Solo But Never Alone

Health Insurance for American Travelers
Monday, February 8th, 2010

[singlepic=1668,250,,,right]There are many fun steps in preparing for your career break travels, and planning for health insurance issues is not one of them. However, it is probably the most important issue you should pay attention to, especially for Americans.

Keith and Amy Sutter have successfully made the transition from briefcase to backpack. They are currently traveling the world while documenting efforts in environmental sustainability on their blog, Green Around The Globe. They share with us how Americans must navigate a complex process to get health insurance while traveling around the globe.

Second only to our salaries, health insurance was the most valuable component of our employer-provided compensation before we made the leap from briefcase to backpack. Walking away from the relative simplicity of employer-provided health benefits was fraught with forms, confusion and seemingly endless options. Tempting as it was, throwing our hands up and foregoing health coverage was not an option. Going without health insurance seemed riskier than riding a motorbike through downtown Hanoi at rush hour blindfolded, not something either of us want to do. By detailing our experiences throughout the process of obtaining health insurance coverage for our career break we hope to share what we learned and make the process a bit easier for you.

Private health insurance in the United States is a quagmire of benefit statements and long medical history applications. We quickly found this out when we began researching our options. As this was the first time we would not have employer or university-provided group health benefits, we had to start from scratch. We quickly discovered the world of travel insurance.

There are many reputable travel insurance companies out there that offer great coverage while traveling abroad. As an American, however, you must keep in mind that most of these plans will not cover you within the United States and many of these plans are not recognized as “creditable.” “Creditable coverage” is defined quite broadly and includes nearly all U.S. group and individual health plans. But despite the broad definition nearly all travel insurance is NOT deemed creditable coverage. One notable exception is HTH Worldwide’s Global Citizen, which is underwritten by A-rated insurance companies licensed by each State’s department of insurance as admitted carriers. The trick here is that depending on what state you live in you may need to go through underwriting in order to obtain coverage.


Travel Tips from Hole in the Donut
Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Barbara Weibel of Hole in the Donut shared with us some of her favorite travel tips she utilized on her career break – and we want to pass them on to you!

[singlepic=1431,250,,,right]It’s very important to understand the culture and etiquette of a country you are traveling to so that you can be respectful to the people you may encounter.

Travel guides are a great source for this information, but during her six-month trip, Barbara didn’t want to have to drag these heavy books with her. Instead, she visited sites like Wikipedia (type in “Culture of [insert country]”) and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum to find this information.

Then, she uploaded text files to her iPod for reference. When she was getting ready to enter a new country, she could easily read up on their customs and etiquette to avoid doing anything that might be offensive.


Letting Go: Project Plan – Financial/Legal/Medical
Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

[singlepic=1235,250,,,right]FINANCIAL – The first thing to do is to move EVERYTHING you can to online banking. However, I quickly found that you can’t do anything online without a mailing address. So, the prerequisite to changing everything to online banking and bill pay is to have sorted out what your mailing address will be and do a change of address with your post office.

When faced with choosing a new mailing address, I first had to choose a reliable, close friend whom I knew would stay put for a year. He was my ‘go-to’ person in the States if I needed anything done – you really need one of these. It’s inevitable that you will need this person to mail something, cash something, or meet with someone in your absence.


Career Break Guide Table of Contents

Meet Plan Go