They may say this is a man’s world, but there’s no reason why us ladies can’t conquer the globe. In fact, thousands of British women pack in the nine-to-five every year and hit the road in search of wild parties, emerald shores and enchanting cultures. But if all of this seems a bit scary, here are a few tips to get you started on the journey of a lifetime.
The choices you make before you even leave your front door can really determine the success of your trip. One of the most crucial pieces of kit to get right is your bag. Most serious travellers opt for a rucksack over conventional luggage, because dragging a suitcase across anything other than a shiny airport floor really isn’t fun. When it comes to choosing a rucksack, size definitely matters. Almost every traveller you will ever meet wishes they took a smaller bag. For most women, trying to carry anything larger than a 70-litre bag, when it’s full, will not only prove backbreaking, but may also impact your trip. Trying to squeeze your life into a 50 or 60-litre bag may seem a bit daunting, but you’ll be glad you did when you’re lugging it across a beach in 40-degree heat. Look for a rucksack that’s specifically designed for women, especially if you’ve got a smaller frame. A lot of rucksacks now come with a handy, removable daypack attached to the front; not only are these useful for daytrips, but also as somewhere to store things for easy access. Rucksacks with wheels, however, are not just impractical in most situations but also add to the weight of the bag.
Think carefully about what you take with you; are you really going to need your Ugg boots, your ski jacket and your dressing gown in Thailand? Remember, you can buy most essentials along the way if you’re short of something, but don’t forget the charger and an adapter plug if you’re taking a mobile phone or an mp3 player, and a spare memory card if you’re taking a digital camera just in case you can’t get to a computer. Packing your belongings in small bags can make things a lot easier to find and stop your toothpaste exploding all over your rucksack, but steer clear of noisy polythene if you don’t want to make enemies in hostel dorm rooms.
Of course, the most important thing to do before you go is to plan your trip. Some travellers like to go with the flow, whereas others like to book all their hostels and train journeys before they go. Whatever you fancy doing, make sure somebody at home knows a rough itinerary of which countries you plan to visit, and do a bit of research before you go so that you don’t spend your whole trip with your head in a guidebook.
Top Tip from the road – Remember that other travellers will probably have the same bag as you. Whether you tie some colourful ribbon to a strap, sew on some badges or use a luggage tag, you should make sure you can identify your rucksack.
It can be pretty daunting to hop on a plane to the other side of the world, especially when our newspapers are full of horror stories from abroad. But remember, the vast majority of women come home completely unscathed, with no concerns other than how they’re going to afford their next trip. Some backpackers choose to enrol in a self-defence course to give them some extra confidence, but even if you don’t fancy that, there are some pretty straightforward things that you can do to make sure that your emails home recount tales of all-night parties and finding inner peace, not spending two days in the British Embassy and run-ins with the local police.
Flashing your cash is a sure-fire way to attracting unwanted attention abroad. Don’t be apathetic; muggings do happen, so keep your purse hidden. Money belts are an effortless way to conceal your valuables under your clothes or, if your budget won’t quite stretch to one, you can always hide some notes under tubeygrip bandages or even in your bra. Wearing loud jewellery won’t do you any favours, but a false wedding ring may prevent unwanted leering.
“If you think you’re at risk, set off a personal alarm, scream loudly or just convince the world that you’re utterly mad,” says Tom Griffiths, founder of Gapyear.com, “If you do find yourself in a mugging situation, having a dummy wallet, with a few old notes in it, will make your attacker think that you’re giving them everything you’ve got, and will save you the hassle of losing the important things like bankcards, photos and ID, let alone any money, that are in your real wallet.”
Mixing with new people, from all over the world, is part of the appeal of travelling but, however close you think you are to someone, keep it in perspective – you probably know very little about your new best friend, so keep your wits about you, especially if you’re drinking.
And don’t let your guard down in hostels, either, warns Tom. “You may have a key to your dorm, but assume that 50,000 others have had that key before you – there will inevitably be other copies. Tuck your valuables to the bottom of your sleeping bag, or stuff them into a pillow case and sleep on it.”
But don’t let a few safety checks put you off travelling. “The fact is, backpackers aren’t really at any more of a risk than other holidaymakers, as long as they prepare,” says Steve Jewitt-Fleet, Head of Consular Communications at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “The largest amount of crime and violence abroad is young British people against other Brits in resorts such as Falaraki.”
Top tip from the road – Don’t advertise the fact that you’re a female backpacker; when you check into hostels and hotels, don’t write ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’ on the form, and write your initial rather than your first name.
Ok, so travelling isn’t always a glamorous business; we can’t all look like the girls out of ‘Shipwrecked’ when we’re slumming it in the Aussie heat or dragging our rucksacks through the jungle. But there are a few simple tips that can make you look, and more importantly feel, a bit more like a lovely lady.
Let’s face it; a bad-hair day can make you feel minging, but what can you do to tame your tresses in the middle of nowhere? Taking your hairdryer and straighteners isn’t advisable – not only is it a hassle to find somewhere to plug them in, but they’ll also take up too much space in your rucksack and your hard work will be undone in minutes in humid weather. You’re better off encouraging your hair to dry naturally, using a serum or a salt spray to keep the frizz at bay. Take plenty of hair bands and kirby grips – they have a habit of going on travels of their own – to tie your hair up in really hot weather or pin it into a quiff to keep loose strands off your face.
But the hair on your head may be the least of your worries. Stray body hair is never a good look, and it may prove more difficult than you first thought to keep up your normal de-fuzzing routine. If shaving’s your bag, you might want to invest in a small bottle of shave oil to take with you, which cuts out the need for lots of water and shaving foam. Those of you that swear by waxing may have a bit more of a problem – although there are plenty of places around the world that will happily rip out your stray hairs, you might not be so happy handing over a chunk of your travelling fund every few weeks. Home waxing kits are a cheaper option – but of course they’re not as effective as salon results – or consider taking an epilator with you if you’re feeling brave.
Trying to keep your face in place in mascara melting heat is a tricky business. Don’t plaster your skin in foundation; opt for a healthy natural glow instead. If you really can’t stand the bare-naked look, take a mascara, an eyeliner and some bronzer with you for a bit of instant glamour, or get you eyelashes tinted before you go. If all else fails, there’s nothing like a pair of big sunnies to hide tired eyes.
The idea of living in the same clothes for the whole of your trip may seem a bit scary, but pack carefully and you can reinvent the same outfit again and again. Invest in a multi-purpose dress, for example: one that can be slipped on over a bikini to go to the beach, that is comfortable enough to be worn on day trips, and that can be dressed up a bit to go out at night. Remember, in some countries you’ll have to cover up a bit so make sure you’ve got a long skirt or some linen trousers too.
Top tip from the road – Take a big, pretty scarf or a sarong – it can be used for a blanket for sunbathing or sleeping, a scarf when it’s cold, as a head scarf on a bad-hair day, as a pillow on long journeys or over a bikini in places where you have to cover up.
Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
You may pick up some souvenirs along the way, but make sure you don’t pick up any unwanted ones; the travel bug is the only bug you should bring home. Protect yourself before you go by checking out what jabs you’ll need and whether you’ll need a course of malaria tablets for the countries you’re visiting. Having a check-up with your GP before you go is a good idea, especially if you need to discuss contraception options. The pill is the most popular form of birth control amongst women, but it may be unreliable when you’re backpacking, especially if you get a stomach upset, and your doctor is only likely to prescribe you up to year’s worth of pills – no good if you’re away for longer. A good alternative for some women is the contraceptive implant, a small hairgrip-sized tube that’s put just under the skin in your upper-arm, which gives you protection for three years. But remember, neither of these methods will stop you getting STIs while you’re away, so don’t rely on men, make sure you take some condoms with you too.
As far as periods go, take as many tampons as you can fit into your rucksack – they’re not widely available in a lot of countries – and pack a small bottle of hand sanitizer for those times when there’s nowhere to wash your hands.
Put together a small first aid kit, but don’t go mad – you’ve got access to emergency medicine in most countries. Some painkillers, antiseptic cream, diarrhea relief and re-hydration salts are useful staples to include, and don’t forget to take sun cream and insect repellent with deet.
Investing in a good travel insurance policy may seem like a waste of money, but it will be your only lifeline if your bag gets nicked or you get badly hurt. Some companies offer insurance that’s specifically for backpackers, but check the small print and make sure it covers any sports you might have a go at while you’re away, like surfing, scuba diving, snowboarding or… eek… bungee jumping.
Top tip from the road – Eat locally made yoghurt when you arrive in a new destination to build up immunity to the region’s bacteria and help prevent nasty stomach upsets.