Today’s guest post is by Jessalyn Pinneo of Diary of a Wandering Student.  More and more, young women are tossing away fear and taking up the challenge of overseas travel.  Many are doing this alone.  It’s something I eagerly applaud, but young women need more than encouragement.  What’s absent is the honest advice that your loved ones might exclude.  Jessalyn explains.

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When you tell someone you’re thinking about traveling over the summer break or after college, they usually want to talk about what a great time they had wherever you’re going or how envious they are that you’re heading somewhere they’ve always wanted to visit.

What almost no one talks about is the awkward side of travel, especially for young women heading off on extended trips. But we’re going to fix that!

Think of this post as a no holds barred guide from your big sister, what she should have told you about traveling if she hadn’t been so excited about your trip. (And guys? Think about all of this before you complain about peeing behind a rock again. Dude, you have it so easy.) Some of these tips have a solo traveler bent to them, but they all apply to any kind of travel as a woman.

1.  Lose the Self-Consciousness

In the “normal” world, we spend a lot of time worrying about what other people think. When traveling, you expend more than enough energy getting from place to place, communicating in an unfamiliar culture and keeping yourself safe without worrying about what you look like or who’s going to notice your B.O. when you’ve spent the past 13 hours on a bus and haven’t had access to a shower in days. Do what you need to stay safe and moderately comfortable, and don’t worry about how many people may have spent half a second wondering why you needed to ask directions to the bus station half a block away.

2.  Aunt Flo isn’t Going Anywhere – Plan Accordingly

Remember that beach trip you took when you tried to use a tampon for the first time and you couldn’t get it out and hyperventilated in a dirty beach bathroom for twenty minutes? (No? Maybe that was just me…) Getting your period on vacation is never ideal, but when you’re going to be traveling for more than a month, it’s a fact of life. Whether you use pads, tampons or The Diva Cup, do your research on which of the places you’re visiting will sell them and decide if you’re okay trying out unfamiliar brands. If not, figure out what you’ll need and pack it (gallon Ziploc bags or even plastic grocery bags are great for keeping everything in one place and cutting down on the space taken up by the original packaging). As an alternative to packing six boxes of Tampax, nail down one address and the dates you’ll be there for every few months in your itinerary and arrange to have care packages shipped by a friend or relative. If you can, buy what you’ll need before you leave, box it up, address it and just leave a reminder with your friend of when you’d like it dropped off at the post office.

3.  Voulez-vous Coucher Avec Moi Ce Soir?

If you’re single and traveling for long periods of time, it’s likely that you’ll meet someone you’re interested in (even if the only phrase you’ve mastered in his or her language is “Excuse me, do you speak English?”). Attraction doesn’t necessarily require much forethought, but staying safe does. If you take hormonal birth control, it’s a) a good way to be sure of the date of Aunt Flo’s next visit and b) a step toward protecting yourself during your fling with a flamenco dancer. Whether or not you’re on the Pill, condoms are next on the list. As with everything else, condom customs and availability vary from country to country, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be 100% comfortable (and 99.98% safe) with what you and your partner are doing when any kind of sex is involved. So pack your preferred brand and be sure to pull one out early on in any sexual encounter. And honey, if he won’t wear one or pretends not to understand, he isn’t worth your time, just like at home.

4.  Keep Up With Your Medications

The most common questions about medication for women revolve around the Pill, so let’s start there. Places like Planned Parenthood in the U.S. will let you buy up to a year’s supply of birth control pills as long as you get a pap smear first, and many pharmacies now offer a three-month supply of the Pill as a standard option with a valid prescription. Pharmacy prices vary (and generics are always cheaper): expect to pay anywhere from $10-$30+ for a one-month supply or $20 and up for three months, depending on your insurance situation. Funding for clinics like Planned Parenthood varies drastically from one region to the next: in California, you may just be asked to make a voluntary donation of whatever you can afford for the pap smear and the Pill (if you can provide a valid California address), while in Virginia you’ll be responsible for the full cost of the exam and $25+ per Pill packet. The bottom line, with the Pill or any other medication, is that during an extended trip is not the time you want to have medical or prescription issues, so discuss your trip thoroughly with a doctor beforehand. He or she should be able to answer any of your questions about medication and general health while traveling, and give you advice based on your personal medical history.

5.  Be the Smart, Self-Aware Woman You Are

Part of traveling successfully as a woman is luck, but most of it is paying attention to the situations in which you put yourself. Trust your intuition: if something feels off, even if you can’t figure out why, get away from whatever it is that’s triggering your internal alarm. Keep your senses on high alert, especially if you’re traveling alone. This means keeping the partying to a minimum, too. There’s nothing wrong with having a good time, but you can’t stay alert if you’re looking at the world through margarita goggles. Stay at least one drink below your limit at all times (if you don’t know your limit, it’s best to keep it to one or two drinks in an evening) and never, ever let your drink out of your sight. If you put it down for a second and turn your back, consider it opportunity cost and order a fresh one or switch to water. Staying so in tune with what’s going on around you can be tiring, but staying safe and making your trip an experience you’ll never forget for all the best reasons, rather than the worst, is worth it.

Most important of all: don’t forget to enjoy every moment! Even the ones that don’t go as planned. Worry about the details and get them sorted out before you go, so that you can focus on experiencing new places, people and cultures once you get started. The memories you make when traveling are priceless, and you’ll keep them forever. Each day of travel is a once-in-a-lifetime experience; revel in making the most of every one.

About the Author

Jessalyn is a student in the classroom and of the world.  In 2011, she starts her post-graduate work in Australia.  Join her current and upcoming adventures at her site or talk to her on Twitter: Nomad_Student.  P.S. She also gives terrific advice!

Photo: Bailey Rae Weaver