The myriad terrorist threats and natural disasters have demonstrated the challenges affecting the travel industry today. Whether at home or abroad, it's become increasingly important for travelers to feel safe.
We talked with serial-entrepreneur Stephenie Rodriguez, CEO of Mighty Media Group Pty. Ltd. and founder and CEO of start-up JOZU For Women—a travel portal transforming the way women explore, book and see the world through female vacation planners and its own artificial intelligence (AI) tools, to harness some of her top safety tips.
Why did you start JOZU for Women?
As a consultant to blue chip travel companies including Club Med, Oakwood Asia Pacific Hotel Group, Cebu Pacific Air, and SSP–The Food Travel Experts, I have spent more than two years at 30,000 feet and more than nine years in hotel rooms. I have been to 51 countries and most of this travel was solo.
Like many women, I found the information I read on popular review sites did not meet my unique needs. They were incomplete, and these sites lacked transparency. How could I know what TripPlanningDude65’s version of “clean” was, or how experienced they were?
In 2010 I went from Australia to Geneva, and booked a hotel from Kayak that was purposely close the train station so that I could easily commute to and from work.
At 7 am in the morning, I came out of the elevator to be propositioned by a surly Frenchman. I was on the way to yoga and with [my] heart pounding ran out to the sidewalk to [see] in the light of day that I was in the Geneva’s Red Light district.
The clean rooms and great WiFi I had read about in the reviews was true, but the reviewers had left out this very big fact. A man would have either found it a benefit or ignored it, but my safety was clearly compromised. It was then that I decided to create a better solution.
As a seasoned traveler, what are a few of the most important travel tips you would share with women?
Beyond the obvious ones: Store your itinerary in the cloud so that you can retrieve it from anywhere and let your loved ones know where you are going and when, here are a few that I live by:
Learn a few key phrases in the local language of where you are going, including 'please,' 'thank you,' 'good morning,' 'excuse me,' 'where is,' 'how much is,' 'is it safe for me to go alone,' 'yes,' and 'no,' 'thank you,' 'help' and 'I’m OK.'
Introduce yourself to hotel staff and call them by name. Studies show that we are more engaged when we are familiar, and they are likely to be more helpful and also aware that you are in-house and look out for you.
Do your homework when planning a solo trip. A quick search of a keyword on Instagram and Twitter will return lots of visuals on a potential destination. A search is likely to return folks to whom you could ask a question in a DM (direct message).
If you have a potential interest, like running or yoga, find a local running group or attend a local yoga class. Your fellow classmates offer a treasure trove of local knowledge and likely [will] welcome you to their city, provide unique insights and an instant social circle.
Be mindful of over-sharing. Telling everyone where you are on Instagram leaves you open for stalking. Post after the fact, not during.
Leverage social communities like JOZU to connect with others who have experience and visible profiles over anonymous ones. There is safety in numbers.
What is the most important lesson you learned through traveling?
Travel makes us global citizens. When you travel, you appreciate that we are all so similar, despite our skin color, religious beliefs or economic status. We all want the same things, to be happy, healthy and connected. Travel creates empathy.
Do you have any travel rituals?
Yes. I try to fly on carriers where I have some status in their mileage program and that offer WiFi ... I wear two pairs of fitted compression socks. Two pairs ensure that your feet don’t swell and reduce the risk of DVTs (deep vein thrombosis). I put them on before I fly and only take them off when I am at my hotel or destination. A pair will last about five years and are a great investment if you travel more than once a year.
I always endeavor to get a bulkhead seat for added legroom. I wear a fabulous pair of leggings or stylish jersey pants, paired with a loose but elegant top. If the flight is more than four hours, I change into a pair of comfortable breathable bamboo fiber pajamas. They roll up compact in size in my roll-a-board and I ask the flight crew to hang my clothes for me so that they stay fresh.
A little mascara, dab of perfume and lip gloss goes a long way after a long flight.
You’ve visited 51 countries, why did you settle in Miami?
As a Puerto Rican, I prefer cities that speak Spanish and where I don’t have to apologize for being a Latina. Miami is a vibrant epicenter for the arts, entertainment and culture. It’s friendly and I love the tropical climate. It’s my favorite city in the United States.
For a guest looking for a night on the town in Miami, what would you recommend?
I love the new food scene [in] the Brickell area—Il Gabbiano is a trusted favorite. After dinner, it’s karaoke at Casa Tua with my girlfriends or Sugar—the rooftop bar at East, Miami hotel, if the weather is favorable.
Which destination is still on your bucket list?
Belize is one country that intrigues me and is a ‘must do’—it has both, great spots for enjoying marine life and unspoiled natural beauty.