Wearing a fake wedding ring is a travel safety tip that is often thrown around the Internet, especially for solo female travelers.
The idea is that pretending to be married when you're not helps prevent unwanted attention and advances. But does it really work?
I spoke with several other travelers to find out what their experiences were like when they tried wearing a fake wedding ring on-the-road, and given how often this travel safety tip is shared, the results were interesting.
Travelers who tried wearing a fake wedding ring when traveling solo
Sharon Gourlay of Simpler and Smarter says:
In addition to wearing ankle length skirts and loose tops in the cities in Turkey, I wore the wedding ring. I was sad to find it did not make a difference at all and did not stem the flow of guys asking me to go back to their homes.
Ironically now I am married but don’t wear a ring and don’t find I get hassled in the same way. Travelling with kids seems to be the ultimate way to stop unwanted attention and now I get respect instead.”
“Over the last 12 years I’ve visited The Gambia in West Africa numerous times for work, on holiday and for charity work. It’s sadly notorious as a place older women visit on the look out for a young lover. It drives me nuts that locals assume if you are there without a husband in tow that you are only there for one thing. I’m married now but before I was I did start wearing a wedding ring in the hope that it would stop unwanted advances. It didn’t!
I remember one morning in particular when the country was celebrating a religious festival. There was a buzz in the air. The hotel staff were dressed in their finest clothes and everyone was in high spirits. I had four marriage proposals before I’d even finished breakfast. When I told someone that my husband wouldn’t like it if I went out for a drink with another man, he replied: “But your husband will be glad that you have someone here to look out for you.”
Don’t get me wrong though, The Gambia is a wonderful country. I’ve always felt safe there, even when travelling alone. Unwanted advances can be annoying, but no one means you any harm so don’t let that put you off. Just be firm and polite and enjoy the sun, sand and vibrant culture of this magical corner of our world.”
Jennifer Melroy of National Park Obsessed says:
“I don’t like lying to people. I don’t like pretending. That was until I started a rotational travel job – based in the west African country of Equatorial Guinea. During my first month in the country, I had over two dozen marriage proposals. It was pretty much, “Hey pretty lady, I want to marry you.” I wish I was joking but I am not.
What surprised me was how many were rather upfront about wanting the United States Green Card. I had several flat out tell me they wanted to marry me for the Green Card. There seemed to be this myth floating around that marrying an American immediately granted one a Green Card.
As I arrived for my second stint, I had a plan to keep the proposals at bay. I had picked up a nice shiny fake gold wedding band. My first night back in Equatorial Guinea, I went out with a few friends. I had a guy walk up to me. He could clearly see my left hand and the ring. Yet, he still asked me to marry him. The wedding ring didn’t really work. The co-worker marriage proposals stopped but that had more to do with one of the American co-workers telling them that ‘I had just married a US Navy SEAL.'”
Unmarried traveling couples pretending to be married
Wearing a fake wedding ring is not limited to solo travelers; it can also be a strategy used by couples wanting to prevent unwanted lines of questioning or awkward situations.
Prior to getting married, my now husband and I took a six and a half month-long round-the-world trip, and both wore cheap, fake wedding bands. We found that it didn't prevent solicitations and sometimes strangers would even ask my “husband” whether they could do a “trade.” Once he was offered twelve camels in Egypt for my hand in marriage.
What it was very useful for, however, was smooth interaction with locals when booking hotel rooms, sharing tents or any activity that required us to be in close proximity with one another. I remember being asked if we were married when checking into a hotel room in Cairo. The staff glanced down at our rings and said, “Very well,” before proceeding to check us in. It was a way that we could be both respectful to the culture and religion, and not have to go through the hassle of altering our travel arrangements.
While we were never really pressed for details about our “marriage,” some may find it useful to get some details straight if it comes to that.
Tom and Raquel of Spaghetti Traveller say:
“Occasionally we have had a fake ring and a fake wedding story, including where we got married and how long. This isn't used very often, however occasionally we have gone through areas where people are either overly forward or slightly disrespectful to us just dating rather than being married and settled down. It is just a much easier way of escaping awkward situations.
For the vast majority of our travel experiences however this hasn't been a necessity. We are normally together anyway, so we might be lucky, however there are some areas where not even wearing a ring stopped annoying advances.”
Skipping the wedding ring and focusing on how you travel
Some travelers say that wearing a fake wedding ring isn't necessary, and instead we should put our energies towards garnering respect through how we travel.
Stephanie Langlet of Ethno Travels says:
“I have never worn a false wedding ring during my travels, whether in Morocco, Egypt or Asia. I have travelled to India often in recent years. Despite the population's interest in me, I was only really bothered once on a bus.
Generally, people respect me because of my work promoting tribal culture. I also noticed that my own behaviour has a strong impact on the behaviour of locals towards me. I am always smiling, curious about the local culture and confident, which inspires both sympathy and respect.
This attitude allowed me to spend two weeks with Burmese monks in Mae Sot in Thailand and to be invited all the time for festivities or to locals' (places), without any hidden agenda but simply out of pride to make me discover the local hospitality and culture.”
When wearing a fake wedding ring can have value
I think that wearing a fake wedding ring can work to prevent unwanted attention, but only if the person you're interacting with has a monogamous view of marriage and places value on it. This can be highly dependent on one's culture and religion, but more often than not it can come down to an individual's belief sets and motivations.
Faking being married may shut down some romantic advances, but it's not going to stop someone attacking or assaulting you, if that is their agenda. You'd be far better off focusing on measures to maintain your physical safety than faking a marital status that is irrelevant in such situations.
I do think though that wearing a fake wedding band can make travelers, especially solo female travelers, feel more comfortable on their travels. I know that on a few occasions when traveling solo or just when I've been out alone, I've pretended that I'm off to meet my husband or have said that he was coming back any moment now to stop a conversation I wasn't comfortable with.
However, I don't think you need to be wearing a ring to pretend to be married – a lot of people who are actually married don't wear rings. I also don't think it would make any difference if I said I had a boyfriend instead of a husband. The idea in those situations is to give the illusion that someone who cares about you, and who could possibly overpower the person you're trying to distance yourself from, is “right around the corner.”
As long as you're not thinking of a wedding ring (whether you are actually married or not) as some kind of magical protective shield, and you're paying attention to your overall travel safety, I think that if it makes you feel more confident in your travels, you should absolutely go ahead and wear one if you want to.
When faking your marital status can damage potential relationships
There are some complications in pretending to be married when you're not though and that unmarried travelers need to navigate.
For example, if you tell people you meet that you're married and then actually become really good friends with them, or you end up finding a love interest on the road, how will you broach the fact that you actually made the whole thing up?
While some people might understand, others may feel it to be dishonest or they may even feel offended that you didn't trust them in the first place. You may end up damaging these relationships and/or missing out on them entirely. I'd therefore recommend using this strategy with caution and on a case-by-case basis.
I don't need to pretend to be married anymore, but when I do occasionally feign that my husband is traveling with me (when he actually isn't), I only do so with people who are making me feel uncomfortable – i.e. people that I wouldn't want to be friends with anyway and who I won't be seeing again after my trip.
Overall, travel is a wonderful way to make new friends and it's a shame to start off every potential friendship on a lie that may come back to bite you.
When it comes to your safety though, whoever the person may be, it's vital to listen to your gut and, when something doesn't feel right, to use whatever mechanisms at your disposable to secure your safety. While it may not always be an effective means, if faking being married could help protect you from or prevent an unwanted advance, then you should absolutely do what makes you feel safest, and you shouldn't feel the need to apologize for it.
Fake wedding rings don't make a difference?
While I'm sure there are some travelers out there who have had positive experiences with wearing fake wedding rings, the overwhelming response from the people I spoke to was that doing so didn't make much of a difference at all.
Have you ever pretended to be married while traveling? Have you ever worn a fake wedding ring? I would love to know your experiences either way in the comments!
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