Should I Bring Pepper Spray on my Trip?


If you’re worrying about an upcoming trip, you might be thinking about taking a self-defense course, or whether or not to bring something like pepper spray. These questions alone are enough to have you unpacking your bags and losing your gumption to travel. We at Go! Girl Guides don’t want that! So, let’s focus on one thing at a time.

First and foremost, Pepper spray is not legal all over the world, and you might not be able to fly with it. According to the TSA, one can of less than 4 fluid ounces is permittable in your checked luggage, so long as it cannot be discharged.

What is pepper spray?

You know those habanero peppers? Well that is what is in pepper spray but at a much higher level of concentration. Its chemical name is Oleoresin Capsicum (OC). The chili pepper is combined with water and glycol and housed in a plastic canister under pressure. A normal can of pepper spray is about the size of a Twinkie (RIP Twinkies!). Pepper spray can also be “disguised” in things like lipstick containers, pens, and lighters.

How does it work?

If used properly, the oily chili pepper mixture is sprayed out of the can using force from a propellant (i.e. Nitrogen).  It can spray continuously for about 8-10 seconds. Because OC is an inflammatory agent it will cause temporary blindness, coughing, a strong burning sensation on the skin surface, and nausea.  These affects can last up to 30-45 minutes; however pepper spray does not cause permanent damage.

There are also less harmful dog repellants that won’t cause permanent damage.

Where do I buy it?

Pepper spray is usually found in the sporting goods section of department stores such as Walmart or Dick’s Sporting Goods, or through online retailers such as Defenzo. It ranges in price from $8-$20 depending on product type and concentration.

How to Use it the Right Way:       

If you are going to use pepper spray, follow these basic tips to effectively use it to get out of danger.  Note: The cardinal rule being, if you do not have confidence in your ability to use your pepper spray DO NOT carry it; it could be used against you and it will hurt!

Have it either already out in your hand or on a very accessible keychain.  Avoid having it attached to a key ring full of things where you might have to fumble around.  Your attacker will not wait for you to get ready.

Make sure it is not locked. Swivel the plastic lock mechanism so the spray eyehole is exposed.

Have the spray out, pointed outward in the direction of the attacker. To spray, press down hard with your thumb. Quickly spray at the attackers eyes’. A swift kick to the groin could always help if you have the wherewithal. After you strike, do not stick around; run away preferably to the closest public place with uniformed officers.

Spray with authority!  Use your dominant arm to spray and have your other arm up in defense (think boxer stance). Aim for the eyes and spray across from side to side. Check out this great video which illustrates how to properly use pepper spray for more info.

Now… Should you use it, or more, bring it with you on your travels? Well, that depends.

Pros of pepper spray

  • Provides you with a defense, rather than nothing
  • Protects you from a distance: it can spray from 10 feet away
  • It does not require a lot of strength to use, you just have to press the button
  • You do not have to inflict permanent wounds on the attacker.  Once the pepper spray makes contact with the attackers eyes they will close their eyes involuntarily giving you time to run away.
  • If you know how to use it, you can have a chance at evading your attacker
  • It can be great to use on scary dogs as this is an often overlooked situation; feral dogs are all over the world and can attack you with or without provocation.
  • It can add to your arsenal of defense while traveling.  Pepper spray in combination with a few solid self-defense tactics would be very useful (in theory).

Cons of pepper spray

  • Potentially false sense of security
  • It can easily be taken away at venues that you may attend on your trip such as soccer matches causing you to waste money every time to replace it
  • It can make for a headache if you forget to transfer it into your checked bags before you hit airport security; you could get hung up at an airport and miss your flight
  • It can be used on you by your attacker, thus leaving you more vulnerable.
  • It is illegal in some places at certain concentrations

At the end of the day it is always up to you as there is no cut and dry answer to this question. For more information about being safety savvy on the road, check out our femme fatale article.

Would you, or have you, brought pepper spray on your travels?


About Author

Traci is a bold New Yorker who loves taking her empire state of mind global. She holds a degree in International Business, and bleeds humanitarianism. Traci spent a semester in 2007 living in Italy and bouncing around Western Europe. In the past 3 years she volunteered at a homeless shelter in California, worked construction in New Orleans, and moonlights as a bartender everywhere she goes. She recently completed an epic 7 month backpacking trip through Central and South America and spent a month road-tripping the East Coast. Check out her personal blog at Based out of: New Orleans, LA


  1. Pingback: | Stories of a Traveling Renegade

  2. Great article, Tracy! Definitely one thing to check–if you decide pepper spray is for you–is whether it’s legal at all in the country you’re traveling to. For example, in the Netherlands, only cops are allowed to carry pepper spray.

    • It’s amazing how often people ask me this question. I don’t think that personally I would carry it, but I’m curious to see what other ladies think.

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