Joran van der Sloot confesses: 10 critical tips for women for travel safety

The last five years of Joran van der Sloot's life have been chilling. Although he has not been convicted of any crimes, this week, he confessed to killing Stephany Flores, a 21-year old woman in Lima, Peru. It is suspected that he murdered her in a hotel room five years to the day after the disappearance 18-year old American Natalee Holloway, a case that has repeatedly pointed to van der Sloot as a prime suspect.

His confession to police and suspicion that he is responsible for Holloway's disappearance and likely death are only part of a long string of unnerving activities he's allegedly participated in since 2005. Van der Sloot was also charged last week in the United States of attempting to extort $250,000 from the Holloways in exchange for information about how she died and where her body is. In 2008, a reporter from van der Sloot's homeland in Holland wielded a hidden camera that caught him saying he asked a friend to dispose of her body in the ocean after she collapsed on the beach. The Dutch crime reporter went on to report that van der Sloot was trying to convince women from Bangkok to become sex workers in the Netherlands. Last Friday, two homes connected to van der Sloot were raided and computers, phones, and electronic equipment were confiscated by police.

None of these details of van der Sloot's complicated and unconfirmed involvement in the lives of Flores, Holloway, and even the Thai women he allegedly tried to recruit are as chilling as considering the tragic turn of these young women's lives.

Flores, a business student who police report met van der Sloot at a casino while playing poker, was beaten, killed, and her body left on a hotel room floor for two days before it was discovered. A Peruvian newspaper reports that Flores took hold of his laptop without his permission and for that, he broke her neck.

In his confession, Van der Sloot said, "I did not want to do it. The girl intruded into my private life... she didn't have any right. I went to her and I hit her. She was scared, we argued and she tried to escape. I grabbed her by the neck and hit her."

Natalee Holloway's activist motherNatalee Holloway's activist motherHolloway and van der Sloot's paths crossed in Aruba, where she was celebrating her high school graduation. The investigation into the Alabama teenager's disappearance is also marked by the ardent involvement of her mother, Beth Twitty. Holloway's father and ex-husband of Twitty, says that Natalee's mother continues to be involved with the FBI in the investigation and it is his hope that van der Sloot's confession will spur him to reveal information about his daughter's death as well.

"[H]opefully justice is served this time. We're hoping this is the end of the line for him," Dave Holloway said.

This story, however, is not just about one man and two women. It is about how quickly a vacation or a fun night at a casino can go horrifyingly wrong, particularly for young women. And while we cannot live our lives afraid of who or what might be around the next bend, we certainly can take steps to protect ourselves and our women friends from being victims of someone like van der Sloot, or even from ending up on a beach, intoxicated and alone as Holloway was said to be.

While we await to see what unfolds for van der Sloot and if any further details are opened up, it feels important for each of us to go into our summers with safety and empowerment at top of mind when we travel.

These ten tips are not intended to up the paranoia or even to persuade you to not explore a new city, state, or country. Instead, they will help you and your girlfriends have a fun, relaxing vacation while still traveling wisely.

1. Make a pact that none of you will leave with a man alone. This might counter your ideas of a great girlfriend getaway, during which you're really hoping to meet a cute guy or hook up with someone fun. The harsh reality is that no matter how phenomenal the intimate opportunity, it is not worth the risk. Outline the rules before you go on the trip, and be sure to be specific. Do not get into a car, go on a walk, go back to a house or hotel room alone with a man. Stay in a group if you can and if you do meet up with men, do it at a restaurant, bar, or event. You'll not only be safer, you will have better access to help if you need it, phones, and cabs.

2. Agree to consistent check-in times. If you are traveling with a big group of people and split up to do different activities, know that you will always meet back at the hotel at 4 p.m. and midnight. Or if you need time alone, be sure to have pre-set call or text times so you can keep track of each other. Set cell phone alarms or watches to ding at these check-in times so you don't miss them while you're basking in the sun or sipping on cocktails.

3. Research any tours or activities you sign up for while you're on your vacation. You may be bombarded with great sales pitches by tour guides at airports, train stations, or even the hotel lobby. Choose to do activities that are led by companies or guides recommended in travel books or on trusted sites rather than paying a person you don't know in cash to whisk you away in a private car, no matter how good the deal or how enticing the activity sounds.

4. Take careful precautions with your finery.
Rather than travel with your fine jewelry, pick up cheap and sassy costume accessories at Forever 21, Discovery, or H&M. Don't entice attention or thieves with your diamonds, expensive watch, or Prada purse.

5. Take a note from your grandmother and stash some cash for emergencies. Pin, tape, or tuck cash inside your bra or panties or even your swimsuit top so you always have enough money for a cab ride (or more). Divide the rest of your money up into small amounts to carry with you and do not pull out a big wad of cash when you are paying for a taxi, a tip, or anything else. Bring along a photocopy of your credit card (as well as other important documents).

6. Fill up and prep your phone before the trip. Put in all the numbers of your traveling companions, the hotel, transportation and cab companies that are recommended, emergency services, airport shuttle, the airline 800-number, and customer service lines for your bank and credit cards. Download a flashlight app if you do not already have one and a translator app if you are traveling to a country where a foreign language is spoken.

7. Exchange emergency information with your fellow travelers. Make sure you have easy access to doctor, family, necessary medication and other contact information if one of your friends sprains an ankle, has an allergic reaction, or for some other pressing concern. Don't stress about this being invasive. Consider it one more way you are taking good care of each other so you can focus on the fun stuff while you are away.

8. Ask other women who have experience traveling in the area for advice on safety. Talk to the flight attendants on the plane, a female employee at the hotel, the hostess at a restaurant, or a friend who has been to the area before about any precautions they took that made them feel secure so they could have fun and where the best places to go and to steer clear of are for women. Travel site message boards may also have good advice from other women.

9. Lie about meeting someone.
This sounds petty, but if you are feeling insecure in a cab or asking for directions, make it appear as if someone big and beefy is just around the corner waiting for you. For example, tell the taxi driver to take you to a certain address where your husband is meeting you. In the same vein, make your hotel appear occupied by placing the "do not disturb" placard on the door even when you are not there (and then call housekeeping to arrange to have the room cleaned), and don't be afraid to ask a server, concierge, host, or bartender to call a taxi for you so you avoid standing on an unfamiliar corner waiting alone or in a small group.

10. THIS IS A BIG ONE. Do not trust a man just because he is clean-cut, attractive, or appears to be wholesome, honest, naive, young, or trustworthy.
Joran van der Sloot is a pretty typical attacker, no matter how guilty or innocent he is in these cases, because of his appearance. Dangerous men know how to use their looks to their advantage to isolate, intimidate, manipulate, and abuse (or worse) women. No matter how many beach cocktails you've had, how great the vibe is, how fun it might seem to spend some alone time with a relative stranger on vacation, don't allow yourself or your girlfriends to be pulled into a potential violent or fatal situation.

These tips might seem persnickety or over the top. But I am very sure that Stefany Flores' and Natalee Holloway's mothers would say that they would much rather have had their daughters be overly cautious and alive today rather than lost to the night with one man.

What tips do you have to share with other women for a safer girlfriend getaway this summer?

For more information, I found these tips by a detective to be thorough and may help you feel safer and more empowered on your travels.

[photo credits: Beth Twitty, Natalee Holloway's mother by Mark Wilson/Getty Images News; Joran van der Sloot via AP/Yahoo News]