In about a month, I’ll be leaving the U.S. to embark on the biggest adventure of my life: a 6-7 week trek through South America. Even though I’ve done a fair bit of traveling, mostly in Europe, I consider myself an amateur when it comes to adventure travel and backpacking. But as I plan for this trip, I can’t help but realize that I’ve picked up quite a few tips and tricks along the way–knowledge I’m excited to drop right here and now in this list of my Top 10 Travel Tips for Adventure Ladies.
1. Use your body as a hiding place for valuables. Okay, I’m not going to go so far as to suggest hiding things in body cavities (not super hygienic, I’m told) but your body is the most secure space you’ve got. First of all, wear a money belt. I know they’re dorky and uncool and yes, they feel like a sweaty pad cushioning your pelvis, but they are effective when used correctly. First of all, do not store your walkabout money in there. It’s not a fanny pack. You are not a kangaroo. The only items in there should be your passport, a credit card and some cash for emergencies. Do NOT use it as a substitute for a wallet. Do not pull it out of your pants when making purchases. It’s supposed to be a secret, guys. That’s the whole point.
If you’re staying at hostels, learn to sleep with your valuables in your underwear. Or, at least learn to snuggle them while you’re sleeping. I developed a system where I’d put my wallet and money belt in my pillowcase under my head and shove my camera and iPod down by my lady castle for safekeeping. Traveling with a smart phone? Guess what! It’s your new boob pillow.
2. If you’re a lady who menstruates, get a menstrual cup. I’m pretty sure God created the menstrual cup as a way to apologize to women for the pain of childbirth and not being able to pee standing up. I’m not kidding around. Get one now. Traveling with a menstrual cup means that you don’t have to fill precious space in your bag with tampons. It means that you don’t have to figure out where to buy tampons in unfamiliar countries, or how to ask for them in a foreign language. They’re also perfect for camping, because who wants to pack up and carry out their used tampons? Not this girl. Oh, and they save you around $200 per year–money that you could be saving for your next adventure.
3. Wet Wipes are the shit. Seriously. They are way better than hand sanitizer for those times when you want to touch food but can’t find a place to wash up. Wiping down your face, neck, and chest provides serious refreshment on those days when you’re touring in the hot sun. They also double as a shower when the hostel shower is out of order or the sink water smells mysteriously of bleach, or you’re spending the night on a train and would really like to stop smelling so bad. Just wipe down your armpits and crotchal area and you’ll feel like a new woman.
4. If you’re a lady who shaves, stop. I’m serious. Just stop shaving. You’re on vacation. You will never be so free from the pressures of the American beauty ideal. Embrace it. Let it grow. Give yourself a chance to feel what it’s like to grow out your natural leg hair. Discover what it’s like to have armpit hair. I promise you that no one around you will give a crap. Plus, when you return home, your impressive body hair will stand as a testamant to your badassery. Cherish it. You have the rest of your life to deal with stubble and razor burn.
6. If you’re rocking the sexy nerd look with some sweet frames, bring a back-up pair. I’m serious. I have terrible sight and I wear my glasses every day. When I was planning a 9-day trip to Belize, my dad warned me to bring a back-up pair. But I was like, “Naw, Dad, I’m fine.” After all, I take very good care of my glasses. I never lose them or break them. What could go wrong? (Oh, my hubris!) Well. One day in Belize I encountered a monkey, who immediately ran up to me and snatched my glasses off my face. Yes. So the moral of the story is that you should always bring back-up glasses because you never know when a monkey will appear and try to STEAL THINGS FROM YOUR FACE.
7. Take care of the ounces and the pounds will take care of themselves. No, this has nothing to do with dieting. It’s about packing light. Literally. I first heard this phrase from some backpackers I met on the Appalachian Trail. They were explaining how they chose each item in their pack with special care. They chose the lightest tent. The lightest sleeping bag. The lightest shoes.** They chose the lightest toothbrush. Even if it’s only a matter of an ounce or two, those ounces add up. If you don’t want to be carrying around a super heavy pack — and trust me you don’t — pack light. Make a pile of everything you need. Then cut that pile in half. Then cut it in half again. (Don’t worry, if you realize you need something, you can always buy it.) Then, choose the lightest versions of all those things. It will be worth it.
**This is why Crocs were invented, people. They were designed for backpackers because they weigh virtually nothing and protect you from stubbed toes when you’re walking around your campsite in the dark.
8. Perfect the art of the assertive “NO.” Tourists are targets, and as a lady, you are a double target. People will want to take advantage of you either by trying to sell you things at unreasonable prices, playing on your privileged-lady-heartstrings by begging for money, trying to steal your money, or sometimes by assaulting you. One of the best lines of defense is the assertive “NO.” Having been conditioned by The Patriarchy to always be pleasing, women are not always good at saying no. A lot of times we apologize when we say no, or we smile. Don’t do this. An assertive “NO” is loud, serious, and unapologetic. Hold your eyes steady and look right at the person bothering you/invading your space/following you/grabbing your arm. Say “No” loudly. Project. It should sound different from your usual conversational tone. Draw the sound up from down in your gut, round and deep. It should reverberate. Practice this in the mirror. Practice it a lot so that in the moment, when you might be scared or anxious, it will come as a reflex.
Of course, the assertive “NO” is not a safety guarantee, but it can be a good way to preempt situations by letting people know that you are not an easy target. Of course, if you feel unsafe you should always trust your instincts and try to remove yourself from dangerous situations and people as quickly as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
9. If something bad happens, seek help and support from friends and counselors from your home country. Every country/culture has its own way of handling or even recognizing sexual assault. Unfortunately, you may not get a helpful reaction from local authorities. (In some cultures, you might experience victim blaming/shaming, or encounter the attitude that sexual assault isn’t a big deal.) Get in touch with people you trust, people from home. If you can afford it, buy a phone card and call a crisis hotline from your home country. If you’re studying abroad, call up your university’s study abroad office or the counselor’s office. Go to an internet cafe and connect that way. Connect.
10. Don’t be afraid to take risks. As Jaclyn Friedman explains so well in her new book about sex, life is never without risk; we can only pick and choose which risks we feel are worth taking. For me, and probably for you, brave adventure lady, travel is worth the risks. On my most recent trip I got stung by fire ants, had a close-enough encounter with a coral snake, and my throat nearly closed up from a freak allergic reaction. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Travel is perhaps the best way to learn how to cope with things going wrong–anything from a cancelled flight to getting caught in a monsoon to getting robbed. When you get home, you will be able to handle anything. You will be a zen master.
Bad things happen in this world. Some of them might happen to you. But staying home doesn’t guarantee your safety, so you might as well see the world. Be brave. Make friends. Try the food.
Go forth, adventure ladies. Go forth.