While planning my mostly solo multi-country trip, I was rather uncomfortable at the thought of being unable to take certain of my handguns or a couple of my other favorite weapons with me. It wasn’t that I expected to be in danger anywhere in particular. It’s more so that having something within reach that I can protect myself with in the event a situation arises while I’m off wandering around alone far from my comfort zone simply gives me that added measure of self-assurance. Traveling solo is already hard enough. Traveling solo defenseless is senseless.
This article is to highlight a few weapons that female travelers, especially solo, can use to defend yourselves, if need be, no matter where you go. I share both multipurpose tools that double as weapons as well as dedicated weapons.
Self-defense planning is just as important a part of travel as choosing your destination. Plan in advance and you won’t be caught completely unprepared or defenseless. And if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.
For my own weapons planning, I had to focus on packing weapons that were lightweight but heavy on effectiveness, that were not illegal in any of the countries I’d be visiting, and would clear customs’ scrutiny.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Before purchasing or traveling with any of these, use your best judgment and be sure to check the laws of the country(ies) to which you’re traveling. This cannot be reiterated enough, so pardon my redundancy because I will mention it again a couple of times with regard to particular items.
A natural first choice for weapons you can bring on a trip are those that aren’t normally considered defensive weapons or don’t appear to be weapons but can be used for precisely that.
I’ve flown with this Koch Tools creation for over a decade either in my carry-on, personal bag, or my key ring. Unlike my cat knuckle ears, two of which got confiscated on a couple of trips thanks to my forgetting they were on my keys, this escapes attention because it looks like a basic tool with the 1/4 and 5/16 hex wrenches, bottle opener, and S hook on it. However, it’s also a two-finger knuckle sandwich that can cause significant damage even with just a little strength behind it, particularly if you punch them dead in the eye, nose, temple, throat, jaw hinge, chin or the side of their neck.
It can be a little hard to get this item as it's almost always sold out, but join the mailing list and they'll notify you once they have them back in stock. They have lots of other similar tools on this site, so look around.
Yes, seriously. A hatchet. This beauty travels in my checked bag. It serves multiple purposes—obviously it’ll be immensely useful while attending that eco retreat where we’ll be doing organic gardening, right? 😉 But mine also has a seat belt slicer on the back and several hex wrenches. (The newer version I've linked to also includes a fire starter and 96-inches of 3mm paracord.) I keep mine razor sharp, wrap it carefully, and place it somewhere in my luggage that customs agents won’t cut themselves if checking my bag.
The FBI teaches a course on tactical self-defense, and one of their go-tos is the aluminum water bottle which can be as effective as a brick in putting down a threat. That rope pack loop on the lid of this one is NOT breaking; wrap it around your hand as a handle and you have a wicked weapon in your hands to smash heads with. This one is much heavier than normal bottles, but you can put it in your carry-on if you need to avoid adding the weight to your luggage. Another benefit, beyond serving as a regular drinking bottle, is that these can be used to boil and sterilize water.
I LOVE this thing. I've never seen a flashlights that can compare to this one—not even stun gun flashlights. Although it's a truly amazing weapon, it can get past both customs in your carry-on and TSA in your checked bag.
APE Survival Strikelight Tactical Torch
This tactical flashlight is crafted from aircraft grade aluminum with solid alloy construction with beveled edges for maximum damage. It's extendable from 17" to 21" to give you a bit more distance to strike from, has an adjustable light zoom with three different light strengths—full blinding brightness, half power and strobe lights, and the tip is a glass breaker. It also comes with a wrist strap to make it harder for you to lose it in an attack. Not only is this beyond strong enough to daze or knock a would-be attacker on his ass, but these are legal in places where other weapons I discuss may not be.
Not concealable but still worth mentioning is another of my favorites, the machete. Some countries allow you to travel with a machete, especially if you can state a valid reason (such as that eco organic gardening retreat you're on your way to/just left!). It’s common to see natives walking around with machetes across Central America, for example, so check your destination's laws on this one. Machetes come in lengths from 10" to 28", with 18" being most common.
If you pack one in your checked bag, be sure to wrap it so that the sharp edge is not exposed and label it appropriately in both your native language and the language of the country you’re visiting. (That's all TSA requires of blades, at least.) You don’t want an unsuspecting customs agent to cut themselves over your carelessness.
This lightweight easy-to-conceal (and use) pepper spray fits in perfectly with a makeup bag for an excellent checked bag disguise. It's a bit bigger than a lipstick—more like contour size—and contains 12 bursts and shoots a distance of 10 feet.
They write like any other pen, but they’re equipped with glass-breaking tips and impact edges that can really cause a lot of damage to a would-be attacker or an Uber-napper (one of those kidnappers driving Ubers). Not only can you take out the Uber driver, but you can also smash out a car window and escape.
By far one of the most effective at stopping would-be attackers. Super easy to use, conceal in your makeup or other accessories bag, and they get the job done! Check laws of the destination to which you’re traveling and get you one. If it’s illegal to be in possession of a stun gun and you don’t feel comfortable traveling there alone without reliable protection, there are always other safer places to go and bodyguards for hire.
Credit Card Knife
One of my long-time favorites by far, this knife looks like a credit card but folds into an awesome weapon. They can be easily concealed in checked bags as well as on your person at your destination. I toss in a few of these, depending on how long I’ll be traveling, and stash them everywhere—inside my hair products bag, makeup case, tripod bag, and various places in my suitcase alongside other items that wouldn’t normally compel a second look. The blade is small enough that it falls below the guidelines of the 4” blade length prohibition in most countries that ban knives, but check to make sure this 2.5” blade is not illegal where you’re planning to go. Remember to remove from your carry-on or purse before going through airport security. They WILL snatch these.
Another of my favorites but only useful IF you know how to use them against an attacker or you have the element of surprise on your side. These knives are designed for quick access/use, with easy-to-grip handles. This time you want to avoid the shiny things. Be sure to get one that’s non-reflective to make it more difficult to see. You don’t want light glinting off your blade and alerting an attacker that you have it. Tactical knives are supposed to be non-reflective anyway, but not all of them are. Some tactical knives, like mine shown, also serve as multifunction tools. It's a 6-in-1 survival tool that includes an LED light, seatbelt cutter, glass breaker, magnesium fire starter, and bottle opener.
Pack in your checked bag and attach it to your keyring upon reaching your destination. This very lightweight aluminum stick can break bones. Grip it in your fist and strike an attacker's joints and hands or use as a flailing weapon toward the bridge of their nose, mouth, eyes, shins, knuckles, or other sensitive body parts.
I wouldn't be Tia the Weapons Queen if I didn't share at least one totally outside the box weapon for travel self-defense. 🙂 You definitely need practice with these before you bring these along with you for protection and you also want to be absolutely certain beforehand that these are not illegal in your destination, such as the UK, Austria, Greece, and Netherlands. They’re also illegal in California, as is pretty much every weapon there, apparently.
Everyday Items as Weapons
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to defend yourself but don’t have any weapons, you may have access to more than you think. Look at everything as a potential weapon. Scan your surroundings for a rock, stone, brick, stick, bottle—even an aluminum can can be used as a weapon if you twist it so that it ruptures, exposing sharp edges.
Silverware / Fork
I despise eating with flimsy plastic or paper utensils, so I travel with a set of real silverware. A fork—or steak knife or even a butter knife or spoon used combatively—can enable you to cause an attacker enough pain that will give you time to get away. Aim for the eyes or throat.
If you don’t travel with your own fork, have no other tools or weapons, or are already leaving for your trip and can’t get any of the weapons mentioned above, you can always get a fork. Note: TSA will confiscate a butter knife. Found that out the hard way.
Attached to your keychain, this can be pressed to emit a loud siren. Always handy to have no matter where you are. Look for at least 130 decibels.
Called the World's Loudest Whistle, this whistle emits sound up to 142dB 8x louder than a regular whistle with a two-mile range. It even works underwater (although who'd have breath to blow a whistle underwater?).
This one you slide up to the door, and the alarm will sound immediately if the door is opened. It’s extremely loud too. Not only will it wake most sleepers, but it’ll scare the hell out of any intruder and hopefully run him off.
Extra tips for personal security
Avoid staying in rooms on the first or second floor of a hotel or anything below a 4-star hotel, and even then still consider a higher floor.
If you’re not expecting a delivery and someone comes to your door, do not open it AT ALL. If they persist, call the front desk or hotel security to make sure there’s no situation occurring that you should know about and ask that they lend assistance.
Always familiarize yourself with the location of exits and stairs before you need them. Have a plan for getting out or getting away in case a situation arises.
Let me know in the comments if you found this post informative and discovered some awesome weapon or tool you can’t wait to get your hands on. And please share if you have any favorite tools/weapons I didn’t mention that you feel is worthy of inclusion. (I’m always looking to add special ones to my collection.)