Today, women hold one in five senior management positions globally and make up 45 percent of the corporate travel market. In other words, there are more women traveling for business than every before. However, organizations still have a long way to go when it comes to providing the right travel safety advice to female employees. Areas of concern include sexual and opportunistic crime, managing cultural sensitivities, and understanding local systems and health risks.
In a recent pre-travel training program for women in business, International SOS found that 75 percent of those surveyed felt that their organization should be more prepared to address the specific travel needs of women.
Compared to 2011, International SOS has seen a 20 percent increase in the number of women travelers calling its Assistance Centres for medical and travel security advice, with 751 women calling in the last two months and 400 in June alone.
With that in mind, here are some health and safety concerns to keep in mind for women traveling abroad:
1. Access to medication which may be in short supply in less-developed or low-income countries
- Make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic checkup at least 6-8 weeks before you depart. If you have an ongoing medical condition, ask your doctor about any additional precautions you’ll need to take while away and find out if any vaccinations or health checks are required for your destination.
- Always take a medical kit wherever you go, and consider packing medical items in a personal carry-on bag so it will not be affected if checked luggage is lost or delayed. We’d advise you to carry your medication in its original packaging, and keep copies of your prescription with you.
- Women travelers can be susceptible to urinary infections and thrush, and there can be side effects from certain kinds of malaria tablets. If you think you may be at risk, ask your doctor if you can take some medication with you.
2. Sanitary supplies and contraception
- If you are due for a period while you are away, it would be wise to take sanitary supplies with you as they may be unavailable in some cultures. Alternatively, you may wish to speak to your doctor about continuing your contraception to avoid having a period while away.
- If the issue of contraception comes up, make sure that you plan ahead, discuss contraception with your doctor, and consider packing supplies. If you suffer from diarrhea while away, this can interrupt the absorption of the pill and may leave you unprotected.
3. Risks to personal safety
- Dress modestly to avoid drawing attention to yourself, avoid wearing expensive jewelery, and respect local clothing customs. If you do receive attention from local men, ignore any propositions or suggestive comments they may make.
- When walking alone in the street, keep your handbag and luggage away from passing traffic. Familiarize yourself with your itinerary, walk purposefully, and avoid using a map in full view. It is also a good idea to separate your credit cards from your cash; if one source is lost or stolen, you still have a backup.
- When driving, roll up windows to within a few inches of the top, park in well-lit areas, and always lock your doors.
- Ensure your hotel room numbers remain confidential. Do not display the room’s key tag in public areas, and stress to the front desk that your room number should not be given out to any inquirers. When checking in, ask the receptionist to write the room number down, rather than tell you within earshot of others.
- Insist that the hotel room has a key chain, deadlock, and spy hole, and that the door and window locks work properly. Never open the door to anyone without taking precautions. If someone claims to be a member of staff, get their name and department and check with reception.
4. Implications for pregnancy while traveling
- If you’re planning to travel while pregnant, be sure to see your doctor well in advance. Make sure your travel health insurance covers pregnancy-related conditions and neonatal care. It’s also worth checking your airline’s rules for pregnant passengers, as some require a letter from your doctor confirming your stage of pregnancy.
- Water quality can vary widely, so only drink boiled or bottled water – and plenty of it – and avoid ice. Avoid any pre-peeled fruit or salad; only eat fruit and vegetables that you’ve peeled and washed yourself.
- Avoid malarial zones, if possible. Even when taking anti-malarial drugs, pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to the illness, which tends to affect them more severely.
- Steer clear of destinations higher than 12,000 feet in altitude, as it’s unknown what effects this may have on an unborn baby.
5. Know your surroundings
- Finding out some information about your destination can be very important, while assumptions can be quite dangerous. Start by finding out which time zone your destination is in early on, so you can start mentally and physically preparing for the adjustment.
- Have you been there before? Do you know where the office is located and what local contacts will be available to support you? If not, speak to colleagues at home and abroad who may be able to provide you with this information.
- Some countries offer female-only hotels, which you may prefer to stay in. When booking your hotel room, keep in mind that floors 3-6 give good security, as they’re far enough away from the lobby area but are still reachable by a fire engine in the event of an emergency.
- Will you be able to review the streets surrounding your hotel and the route to the office in the daylight? An understanding of the basic geography of the city and potential trouble spots may be invaluable, so look up the hotel website and speak to work security experts and people who’ve visited the country before.
These tips are courtesy of International SOS, which offers a number of security measures for women traveling abroad, including an emergency hotline and pediatric services.
Photo by Victor1158 via Flickr