Destinations where women need more caution, compiled by RaeJean Stokes

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 10, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Jessica Labrencis and RaeJean Stokes, vacation package, women's travel.

Destinations where women need more caution, compiled by RaeJean Stokes

The three weeks I spent in Turkey with my fiance were the best vacation either us had ever taken. We found the people gracious, the food amazing, the culture fascinating, and the country overall a very hospitable place for budget travel. But, when I first ventured out on my own one morning to get breakfast in Istanbul, I felt the men staring at me. I noticed some women were veiled. I was not. Most of the women had on long pants. I did not. I never felt threatened, but I did feel that I was on display for all the local men drinking their morning tea.

For a lot of women, this kind of encounter is enough to deter them from traveling to some of Earth's most interesting places. Don't let it be so for you. Here is some advice, taken from personal experience and the experience of other women travelers, about how to feel more secure in destinations where taking a few extra precautions is a good idea.


Middle East and Northern Africa

Before traveling to the Middle East or Northern Africa (or anywhere, for that matter), do your thorough research on the culture and society you'll be encountering. Religion in particular is a big part of daily life in many of these countries, so learn about it. You'll not only be saving yourself potential embarrassment by committing a faux-pas (such as walking into a mosque with bare shoulders), but you'll also get more out of your trip.

In Turkey, for example, you'll see summer tourists from across the Middle East flock to Istanbul. As such, you're likely to see many women in full hijab, or at the very least covered discreetly by veils, long shirts, and flowing pants. No one will tell you that you have to follow suit, but if you're planning a trip, consider these details when you're packing. Leave the tank tops and miniskirts at home.

Caroline Chalouhi, Coordinator of International Students at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, says, "Respect for local tradition and culture on the part of the woman traveler is very important. Of course, this doesn't mean that female travelers shouldn't exercise caution. [In Beruit], like any big city in the world, women should use common sense, street smarts, not look strange men straight in the eye, not walk down dark deserted streets, and always ignore cat calls and advances."

The laws may also be different than you expect. For example, the State Department warns: "In many Islamic countries, even those that give tourist visas and do not require sponsorship, a woman needs the permission of her husband, and children need the permission of their father, to leave the country. If you travel or allow your children to travel, be aware of the laws of the country you plan to visit. Once overseas, you are subject to the laws of the country where you are; U.S. law cannot protect you." In both Iran and Lebanon, there is little the U.S. government can do to assist an American woman married to a local man who wants to leave the country without her husband's permission.

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