Five things (most) women should pack when traveling to a foreign country

women's pack listI’m not one to whine about the hardships faced by solo female travelers. Sure, some things are frustrating, but in general, I much prefer to travel alone, and the more challenging the destination, the better. I don’t go out of my way to attract trouble or visit sketchy places, but I’ve had my share of close calls and situations that set off alarm bells.

For the most part, however, I’ve been treated with generosity and kindness while traveling alone, and had my most rewarding travel experiences. That said, there’s a few things most women should bring on trips to foreign lands, solo or no. Guys, you got it easy.

1. Appropriate attire
More than just practicality, wearing the right clothes is important from both a cultural/religious respect and personal safety standpoint. Showing too much skin or your hair is definitely not cool in much of the Middle East or Muslim world, and skimpy attire or sunbathing topless is just plain disrespectful, not to mention dangerous, in many countries.

Remember that we’re incredibly liberal here in the U.S. (too much, in my opinion) when it comes to public dress code…or lack thereof. Don’t make yourself a target for crime or unwanted solicitation. You don’t have to go all Victorian, but use good judgement.

2. Tampons
It may come as a shock, but to most of the world–including much of Europe–tampons are a foreign concept or a luxury/exorbitantly expensive. If you’ve ever tried to find tampons in Latin America, you know what I mean. Whether the reasons are cultural, religious, or geographical doesn’t matter. If you’re not down with wearing the equivalent of a diaper, BYOT.

[Photo credit: Flickr user fisserman]

Solo Travel Tips For Womenwomen's pack list3. Prescriptions for UTI’s, yeast infections, morning-after pill, etc.
There’s no better teacher than life. Let’s just say that enduring 14 hours of rutted highway on a janky Mexican bus while suffering a raging bladder infection is not an experience I care to repeat. These days, I travel with a full-on portable pharmacy, but at the very least, bring these basic Rx’s.

As for the morning-after pill, better safe than sorry. Don’t assume you can get an Rx filled overseas, so bring the actual dosage in its original packaging, and scan and email yourself copies of all prescriptions. And speaking of the morning after…

4. Condoms
You never know when you might need them, and purchasing them from a vending machine in a bar in a developing nation (not that this happened to me) because they’re not available elsewhere is just asking for trouble. Don’t trust foreign condoms–they’re not subjected to the same FDA testing and safety standards as American brands manufactured domestically. And please: if you’re having a foreign (or any other) fling, no glove, no love.
women's pack list
5. Hard and email copies of important documents and contact information
Email yourself, family members, and a close friend your itinerary, contact numbers (if applicable), emergency contact numbers (including bank and credit card companies), and copies of your passport and medical (and travel, if applicable) insurance card. If you’re going somewhere prone to natural disasters, civil unrest, or general sketchiness, it’s not a bad idea to register with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

Oh, and one more thing you should always bring with you:Common sense.
Don’t be lulled into complacency: always walk with a sense of purpose, and keep your wits about you. Same goes for partying: the only one responsible for your personal safety is you, so go easy on the beer or local libation. If you’re going to hook up, better to go back to your accommodation, and make sure an employee sees the two of you together or openly text a friend of your whereabouts and who you’re with. And please, don’t be tempted to use or buy illegal drugs: besides the stiff penalties for getting caught (life in a Thai prison or death isn’t a good way to end a holiday), you may also find yourself the unwitting victim of a set-up. Just say no.

[Photo credits: pills, Flickr user michaelll; luau, Laurel Miller]

Free condoms in New York City? Safe sex is only an app away, so tap that app today!

condom, condomsThe New York City Health Department is serious about safe sex. So serious, in fact, that it gives away a staggering three million free condoms every month. Now they want to make sure everyone knows where to find these little packets of joy. They’ve come out with an app for the iPhone and Android phones that shows you exactly where the five closest distribution points are. And with more than a thousand locations all over the city, you won’t have to go far to ensure a lower risk of pregnancy and STDs.

The NYC Condom Finder not only tells you where the distributions points are, but also their hours of operation, and what other safe sex products are available there. To get it, users of Android or Apple mobile phones should search for “NYC Condom” in the Android Market or the iPhone App Store.

Despite the title of this post, safe sex is serious business. HIV is still a deadly problem, as are numerous other STDs. Consistent use of a condom seriously reduces the risk of catching these infections.

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley says, “Using a condom every time you have sex protects you and your partner from contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Condoms also prevent unintended pregnancy.

Well said, Dr. Farley. So if you’re going to play, please play carefully.

The sexiest city in the United States is …

Don’t waste your time looking at the coasts, if you have a map in front of you. And skip the big cities and clichés – you won’t find Las Vegas at the top. Austin, Texas is the sexiest city in the country according to a survey by Men’s Health Magazine. A number of factors contributed to the win, including birth rates, condom sales and the rate of STDs … not to mention sex toy sales.

Texas came out looking pretty good, with Dallas, Houston and San Antonio also getting props behind winner Austin. In all, seven of the 15 sexiest cities were in Texas. It must be the heat, because colder cities didn’t fare as well. It isn’t hard to be too sexy for Portland, Maine, which finished last, and Burlington, Vermont.

Some of the likely suspects failed to deliver. Vegas came in at #70, with New York following at #73. San Francisco was #74, with Miami #88.

[photo by Steve Zak Photography]

South African sex workers call for decriminalization during World Cup

As South Africa gears up for the 2010 World Cup, the country’s sex workers are starting a campaign to have prostitution decriminalized.

The drive is being spearheaded by the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), an organization that strives to protect the health and human rights of sex workers. SWEAT’s website documents numerous cases of harassment by police and the public. SWEAT fears that this harassment will only increase during the World Cup. The organization wants to have sex work permanently decriminalized, or at the very least for the duration of the World Cup.

The globe’s biggest football (soccer) event is expected to draw 450,000 visitors, some of whom will want to pay for sex. This has raised the concern not only of sex workers, but health workers as well. With South Africa being the source of an estimated 17 percent of global HIV infections, the potential for a major spread of HIV is very real. The South Africa National AIDS Council has stated that if prostitution were legal then it would be easier for the sex worker to demand safe sex. It would also make it easier for sex workers to get abusive clients arrested.

At the moment the government is not considering a change of policy. South Africa, despite its large sex trade, is socially conservative and there is resistance to even talking about these issues. And if even free-loving Amsterdam is clamping down on its red light district, sex workers in South Africa have a long fight ahead of them.

British backpackers spreading sexually transmitted diseases

“No sex please, we’re British.”

That old joke has been proven wrong by a new medical study that found British backpackers in Australia are picking up more than just short-term partners; they’re picking up infections that they spread around Australia and back home.

A survey of 1,008 backpackers at youth hostels in Sydney and Cairns revealed that 24 percent of British backpackers had unprotected sex with multiple partners, meaning 24 percent of British backpackers are total idiots. About half of those interviewed reported inconsistent condom use. The report found that even those who arrived with a partner were getting in on the act, with almost 20 percent them hopping into bed with someone else.

Australia receives an influx of almost 700,000 Britons a year, many of them backpackers, and while the study did not specifically check for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (called Sexually Transmitted Infections by those randy Brits) it doesn’t take a medical expert to put two and two together. In fact, the UK government last year reported that chlamydia, genital herpes, and genital warts are at an all-time high, with the 16-24 age group being the most affected.

Please, guys, wrap your John Thomas. And ladies, make the guys wrap their John Thomas. If you’re British, why not use a Big Ben condom like the one shown here? It’s a great way to inject some of your national culture into the local population.