For women traveling abroad, there are a few cultural hitches that can make for awkward moments; nothing that should dissuade a female from embarking on an international trip, but if known ahead of time, can make traveling as a female a whole lot easier. Here are a few points that often are overlooked on the standard packing list:
Toilet Paper; something many of us take for granted. But once out of metropolitan areas, there are many countries that consider toilet paper a luxury. If you are not a big drip dryer, make sure you bring along a travel size roll of paper. And work on your squats before you go—many toilets are not really conducive to sitting down.
When it is “that time.” The last thing you were thinking about when packing for your trip was the ol’ monthly girl time. And even if you check the calendar to make sure you are not going to overlap, traveling often screws up the timetable just to be a nuisance. Pack for it even if it is not going to happen. Outside of large metropolitan areas, many cultures take a different view on how the monthly plaque is handled. Solution: pack enough of your favorite product for the time you are going to be gone. And think about disposal. If you are traveling in a country that has little access to public bathrooms, or has septic systems that do not accommodate paper products, you need a disposal solution. Bring a supply of snack-size zip lock bags. And have a bit of toilet paper folded in each one (for reasons already mentioned).
Prescriptions. Many countries bypass the doctor when handing out prescription drugs. You walk in to a pharmacy, describe your ailment, and as long as you are not asking for your favorite recreational drug, you will probably be taken care of. Exception to the rule: birth control pills. Don’t leave home without them. It is not only uncomfortable asking for them, but all but impossible to get a prescription filled in countries that do not exactly condone the use of modern medicine in birth control.
Changing. If you are visiting a country that has religious and/or cultural stigmas about public nudity for women, don’t embarrass your host country. You will not win any friends flaunting your inhibitions. Respect their culture—even if their culture is not shy about calendar photos of half-dressed women snuggling up to sweating beer bottles, they might not take you changing in front of them well; therefore, bring a changing towel, dress, skirt, long shirt.
Cat calls/wolf whistles/being ignored. Sure it might be sexist in your country. And it is in theirs. But that is beyond the point. In many countries (Latin American countries for example) if you are a good-looking lady, you are going to be appreciated. Don’t shoot them the finger and shout “pig” in every language you know. Just continue on your way and be flattered. On the other extreme, there are certain cultures where you will be overlooked if you are part of a group embarking on an adventure—particularly an athletic adventure. Don’t be offended when there is a show of surprise that you are going to do the same thing as the guys…kayaking a river, climbing a mountain, riding a mountain bike. There are cultures–even in this day and time, where women do not participate in such activities, much less alone with a group of guys. Don’t back off from what you are doing. But don’t take things personally if dubious eyes turn towards you when you start putting on your gear.
The Bar Scene. In many countries, it is against every cultural norm for a woman to hang out in a bar. Nightclub/dance club, yes. Bar, no. That doesn’t mean don’t go—but make sure you are with friends if you do so. Do not try being a bar fly on your own; it will be taken the wrong way—even if all you intended was to have a glass of wine before going to your room for the night.
And above all, remember that television supersedes you. Take care not to play into the preconceived notions that certain cultures have about women from your culture. Take the time to do your homework before traveling to learn the faux pas of your destination’s culture. And remember that you are an emissary for all the women that will travel after you.