10 Travel Tips for Adventure Ladies

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.

Doing my part for global health

I recently discovered the Fully Sick Rapper through Facebook. and have developed a huge internet crush on him! Christiaan VanVuuren, aka the “Fully Sick Rapper,” is an Ozzie who had contracted Tuberculosis (TB) on a trip to South America. He has been in quarantine for months, and maintains his sanity (or lack thereof) by creating hilarious rap videos about his life in quarantine and sharing them on Youtube. I put one on while I was checking email this morning, and realized that – wait a second – I should be taking my weekly malaria pill!

I’m leaving for a trip to Belize (in Central America) on Wednesday. A couple weeks ago, I was looking up travel tips on WikiTravel. I found a note about checking the CDC’s Travelers’ Health website, where I found information about Belize by click on “Destinations.” That’s how I learned that there is a risk of contracting malaria in that area, and that preventative antimalarial drugs are recommended.

We have heard a lot lately about pandemics thanks to H1N1. Despite the fact that most people consider the H1N1 scare an “overreaction,” flus and other viral communicable diseases like TB are a big fucking deal, especially when drug-resistant strains develop and spread to countries unequipped to treat them. It’s also important to realize that other diseases, like STIs can also be passed around through international travel. Randy Shilts, author of And the Band Played On, theorizes that HIV came to the United States in 1976 during the national bicentennial celebration. To celebrate the country’s 200th birthday, New York harbor was crammed with Navy ships that had been all over the world, and a whole heck of a lot of world-traveled sailors partied hard in the same city. Four years later, gay men began to show symptoms of what we now understand to be AIDS.

The World Health Organization and plenty of NGOs work hard to prevent the international spread of disease, especially of communicable disease like TB, H1N1, avian flu, etc. But some responsibility lies on the part of the individual. Now that we live in such a global society, where people can hop planes and cross oceans in a matter of hours, we are each responsible for protecting ourselves and others when we travel. For me, this meant doing a little research and getting a prescription for anti-malarial drugs before my trip. It also means remembering to TAKE the pills, which I almost forgot until the Fully Sick Rapper reminded me.  So, next time you travel, do your part to prevent the spread of disease and follow these steps:

  1. Research the country you are traveling to for information about health risks, vaccines, and other preventative health care. I think the CDC Travelers’ Health page is great for this.
  2. Follow up.  Get your immunizations and fill your prescriptions.
  3. Comply with preventative treatment. (Don’t forget to take your pills!)
  4. Comply with treatment if you do get sick. (Don’t be like that guy who found out he had TB and had to be forcibly quarantined after he hopped a plane to Europe and put hundreds of people at risk.)
  5. Bring condoms. This rule may not apply to everyone, but it definitely applies to anyone who hopes meet someone on their trip. It also applies to anyone staying in youth hostels because even if you aren’t going to need them, someone you meet in the hostel probably will.

Thanks for listening to this long-winded public service announcement. Safe travels!