Solo female travelers face a new set of threats to safety, given the changes in the infrastructure of travel, including ride-sharing and Airbnb. The sharing economy isn’t new, but the problems it poses are variations on old issues.
Airbnb and Uber have recently been in the news because of the slayings of two women who used those services. Arrests have been made in both cases.
Security and intelligence experts I spoke with emphasized their advice is meant for everyone but may be of particular interest to women, especially those who travel alone.
Focusing on women may strike some as feeding a stereotype, but FBI crime stats show a 4% increase in rape from 2016 to 2017. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center notes that 91% of rape victims are women and that 1 in 5 women will be raped.
It’s “100% easier to be a man” traveling than a woman, said Bruce McIndoe, president and founder of WorldAware, a global risk management provider for companies.
With help from McIndoe and his colleague, Katherine Harmon, the senior director of category intelligence; Kevin Coffey, a retired L.A. Police Department detective who speaks on travel and risk; and Matthew Bradley, regional security director Americas, International SOS and Control Risks.
Whether it’s an Airbnb or a hotel, choose a place that has plenty of reviews (track record is important) and positive postings. Are some of those fake? Maybe, but it’s hard to fabricate hundreds of reviews.
Figure out its location using Google maps (satellite) and see what’s around it. Avoid accommodations that are in the middle of nowhere, but even in a city try to divine whether the neighborhood is sketchy. Supplement that with a crime-mapping program such as Crimemapping.com or CrimeReports.com if you’re in the U.S., Coffey said.
Hotels may not be your cup of tea, but most have security and may be designed to enhance that security. A big, lavish lobby may look pretty, but common sense suggests properties with a smaller footprint have a “security advantage,” Bradley said, because “it’s easier to secure a smaller space.”
Those properties with rooms that begin on an upper floor may provide an advantage; you generally must pass one layer of security just to get to the elevators that take you to the lobby.
When you get into an elevator with someone else, let him or her punch the floor button first. If it’s the same as yours, go up another level.
Check for hidden cameras in your room. Be suspicious if there’s a smoke detector over the bed or in a corner.
When you summon a ride share, be sure to check the license plate and the picture of the driver on your phone — but don’t stop there. Before you get in ask, “Who are you here to pick up?” or “What’s my name?” Do this before putting anything in the trunk.
Text someone to let him or her know that you’re taking a ride share. Explain where you are going. And text when you arrive.
Uber and Lyft have a help button if your driver is driving erratically or being abusive. If your driver isn’t using the correct route (one you know or have checked out ahead of time), use the help button (remember, the company is tracking your route) or call 911. Or both.
Every time you go out, you should be as prepared, by researching ahead of time, as if you were going on an excursion, Bradley said.
Women should not stop traveling because of fear, but be prepared to take action and speak up if there’s a problem, Coffey said.