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

I’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]

3. 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.

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!

The 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.

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.

Having sex on a beach can get you jail time

World travel is a wonderful thing–or can have dire consequences when cultures clash. Having sex in a public place isn’t exactly celebrated in western culture, but it’s not uncommon–particularly under the cover of night when the stretch of a beach seems private.

In some cultures having “safe sex” is more than using a condom.

In Dubai, if you get caught having sex in public, you will get arrested and face years in jail–six in fact. Such is the possible fate of Michelle Palmer, a British woman who has worked in Dubai for three years. She and her male companion were caught having sex. If all goes well, she might only be in jail for three months–the minimum sentence.

The story is not complicated. Palmer, a manager of ITP Publishing was at a champagne brunch where the bubbly stuff flowed. Eventually, smashed and feeling frisky, she and a man headed to the beach for some adult fun and letting off steam.

Unfortunately, the police came along. Having sex in public in Dubai is not the only big no-no. So is having sex if you are unmarried. So is being drunk. Three strikes, you’re out. Or in–as in jail.

This article in MailOnline gives the scoop. As I’m reading between the lines, I see a traveler’s tale that is not so uncommon of others I’ve heard. When living in a culture that is different from ones own, it’s difficult to stay vigilant–to not slide into comfort and think that you’re safe when you are being yourself.

These women SHOULD have gotten jail time, no?

Yes, people who live overseas know that if you live in another culture, and the laws are strict, you need to abide by them. In the beginning, that’s not so hard. You’re caught up in a new culture, new experiences and you’re a well-behaved guest. Then, guest status wanes, and you get bored–or complacent– or horny. Mix in alcohol and there’s a recipe for a world of trouble. Sometimes the trouble is so silly, it’s hard to believe.

A friend of mine was at the end of three years of living in Saudi Arabia. He was at a party, had a bit to drink, and decided that the Canadian nurse who needed a ride ought to be able to get in the front seat of his car. They were arrested, tossed into prison, and he had no idea what was to become of him, particularly when his head was shaved and he was transported to a jail away from the city. In Saudi Arabia, an unmarried man and woman should not be out in public together. The woman is also not supposed to be in the front seat of a car, no matter who is driving. They were not dating. He was just giving her a ride.

Luckily for my friend, his company got involved. His boss was friends with a Saudi prince. My friend was sprung after two weeks. The Canadian nurse was released also, but “prostitute” was stamped in her passport. My friend can’t go back to Saudi Arabia.

In Palmer’s case, her company has dumped her since the company’s aim is to maintain a good standing in Dubai. That also is not uncommon. If you have troubles overseas, don’t expect help. People and companies will usually cut their losses to protect themselves.

Palmer, of course, wants this nightmare to be over and has stated that she’s a good person. Of course she is, and I mean this sincerely. The problem is that all beaches are not the same and when you’re traveling, keep that in mind.

If you have an urge to have sex, be very, very careful. Sure you have the condom, but that’s not all that’s needed to have safe sex in all circumstances–particularly if you’re female. Notice that so far only Palmer has had her situation flaunted. Only the Canadian nurse was called a prostitute. My friend just lost his hair and that grew back.

The guy has only been mentioned in Palmer’s story. All that’s known is his name is Vince and he may have made Palmer an honest woman by marrying her.

I hope people get behind Palmer and help her get out of this mess. Since three months is the minimum sentence, I’m hoping she gets lucky.

UPDATE: The man is also being jailed.

Please keep your comments relevant to the topic. All abusive comments will be deleted. — Ed.

Safe Sex Around the Globe

So Western Europe, particularly the Nordic countries, are ‘all that’? Maybe not, when it comes to safe sex.

There’s a very interesting graphic in this month’s Foreign Policy magazine regarding which countries practice safe sex and get STDs (sexually transmitted diseases).

The study (more parts of which appear here) was sponsored by Durex condoms and put together by Miguel Fontes of Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. Over 317,000 people in 41 countries were surveyed about when they first had sex, what the rates of STD infection are, and whether they practice unsafe sex without knowing their partner’s history.

The worst of those surveyed? Norway. That country gets the worst record in terms of STD infection rate and percentage of people who practice unsafe sex. Sweden, Finland, and Denmark are also on the wall of shame. Subsequently, those are also the countries with the highest standard of living. Is there a correlation here?