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]

Women adventurers heed the Call of the Wild

With the adventure travel market continuing to grow at an astonishing rate, women only adventures have become an increasingly popular option as well.These trips generally offer all the same wild and challenging options that any other adventure vacation would, with perhaps a few creature comforts added in for good measure.

One of the top travel companies that specializes in women’s only travel is Call of the Wild, based out of Mountain View, California. The company first began organizing adventure vacations back in 1978 when founder Carole Laitmer was unceremoniously fired from her secretarial job. In order to make ends meet, she soon began organizing guided trips for women into the High Sierra Mountains of California, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Now in its 32nd year of business, Call of the Wild continues to organize some of the best adventurous getaways both domestically and abroad. For instance, some of their upcoming trips include hiking around Lake Tahoe to enjoy the Indian Summer, trekking in the the shadow of Mt. Everest in Nepal, and a weekend of snowshoeing in Sequoia National Park. Other trips will take clients to Peru, New Zealand, Guatemala, and beyond.

But just because you’re traveling to remote corners of the globe doesn’t mean you can’t pamper yourself at the same time. One of the hallmarks of any Call of the Wild trip is the gourmet cuisine and the company puts a great deal of thought, and effort, into planning a wide variety of healthy and delicious meals on all of their trips. Even their backpacking excursions offer fantastic meals on the trail thanks to fresh ingredients that are dehydrated prior to departure, and combined to make surprisingly tasty backwoods offerings. The ladies on these trips all agree, an amazing meal after a long and challenging day of trekking, can make everything feel better.

Many of Call of the Wild’s clients return for multiple trips, and often report making good, life-long friends on their journeys. These vacations allow them to get closer to nature and escape the daily grind, while putting some much needed adventure into their lives. For a complete list of Call of the Wild adventures and to choose one that best fits your style of travel, click here.

[Photo credit: Call of the Wild]

Breastfeeding is best when you travel

There have been discussions about breastfeeding and travel on Gadling before. Breastfeeding on an airplane, in particular, has come up as a subject with many opinions. Here’s my take. I was reminded of my breast feeding days when I saw a woman with a two-month old at the movie Sherlock Holmes. When it comes to travel, breastfeeding is the way to go. And don’t worry about what anyone thinks about it.

If you’ve ever been to West Africa where a breast is for nursing children and not used as an object desire, you’ll see where I’m coming from. My Peace Corps male friends who were in The Gambia when I was would moan every time they saw a woman pounding grain without a shirt on or whipping a breast out in the middle of a conversation to nurse an infant, “This is ruining it for me,” they would say. What would they have to fixate on-to fantasize over?

When my son was born in India on New Year’s Day, I was fortunate to be living in India, a country where breast feeding is seen as natural as breathing. It gave me the notion that babies and travel do indeed go together.

Because I breast fed only, for six months my husband and I traveled bottle free. There was no worry about our son getting sick. No paraphernalia to pack. I’d pack onesies, a few cute outfits, and a pair of baby shoes, one of those plastic diaper changer travel kits, disposable diapers, burp cloths and a cloth baby blanket. (The portable changer rolls up to slip into a daypack and has a pocket for carrying two or three diapers and baby wipes.)

Breastfeeding made our lives easier. What I also discovered is that if one is quiet and discrete, you can breast-feed about anywhere as long as you look comfortable. I breast fed in movie theaters, museums, and restaurants. If you’re not worried about what people think about you nursing, you’ll feel comfortable. If you’re comfortable, chances are they won’t notice, and if they do, it won’t seem like a big deal. Think of it this way. Your breastfeeding is helping add to the peace and quiet of everyone else. Your baby who is breast-feeding is not crying. On an airplane, that’s a real gift to give to passengers-particularly during take offs and landing.

To help make breastfeeding easier, take a light weight shawl with you and wear shirts that provide room for your baby to nurse comfortably, but also will cover your breast.

Even when I traveled in the summer in the U.S. and breast fed there, I never had any problems.

For more tips on traveling with a nursing infant, whether breast or bottle fed, check out “Travel Recommendations for The Nursing Mother” at the Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

Device helps women on the go “go” in the woods or elsewhere

If you’re a woman traveler, you’ve probably been in a quandary at one time or another wondering how and where you might pee. Gazing about, it seems that no bush is big enough. Trees seem skinny. Where is the best angle to squat to be the most discrete in case someone unexpectedly rounds a corner?

If in a vehicle and nature calls, the nearest gas station or fast food place may seem like the only solution.

For a guy, it’s a different story. I mean, really–don’t guys just seem to go any old place?

Here’s a new solution for women that’s better than the portable toilet that Catherine wrote about two years ago–no offense to the portable toilet. It may be a swell idea for a car trip, but it’s not as if you’ll lug one along on a hike.

The GoGirl, however, looks practical. According to the description of how it works in Hilary Howard’s New York Times article , it could be fun. The contraption allows women to pee in “an arc-like penile stream” while standing up.

Sarah Dillon, the president and founder of GoGirl, is currently focusing on the women hikers and women traveling with young children market. Another market Dillon might consider tapping into big time is women who are traveling to countries where squat toilets are widely used. Squat toilets create another dilemma.

Squatting and peeing straight down takes practice. GoGirl might be a perfect solution to keeping shoes pee free. With its small size and affordable price of $6.99, GoGirl could be easily added to Annie’s Top 10 things not to forget on a trip. For women, make the list a Top 11 list for peace of mind.


A book for women that most women travelers might recognize

When I read about Rachel Kauder Nalebuff’s intriguing book My Little Red Book yesterday, I thought about women travelers and the calculations many make when hitting the road as to not be surprised by “that time of the month.” Sorry guys.

Nalebuff has collected 92 short memoir type pieces from women of all ages around the world about their first period experience. As the book review in the New York Times indicates, each selection is presented as a slice of life. Each, though, is part of a whole and offers up an aspect of the lives of young women not often talked about. From the book review, the stories are a cultural journey into what ties half of the world’s population together.

Nalebuff, who is only eighteen years-old, thought of this book after her own horrifying first period experience and began to interview female family members to find out about theirs. In the process, she found out intriguing, but not normally talked about stories like that of her great aunt Nina who avoided being strip-searched by guards at the German border while she and her family were fleeing Poland for France during World War II because “HER FRIEND” made a just in time first visit.

Again, reading about this book reminded me of certain traveling moments and the number of times women who scale mountains, trek across deserts, scuba dive in waters where a shark might lurk and perch precariously on top of a cargo truck on an adventure down a narrow highway, might sigh with relief at the sight of a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom that they’ve just dashed into because, despite careful calculations, travel can bring about the unexpected.

At the book’s Web site, people can add their own stories.