When I tell people that I’m taking a trip to Ireland, I usually get asked, “Who are you going with?” It’s not common for people to travel alone, much less women, and I can see the nervousness and fear cross their face when I say, “I’m taking a solo trip.”
Although I am traveling to another country, my very first solo trip, I’m not that nervous. Granted, I’m not crazy–I have had a few anxious nights where my mind wandered off to all the bad things that could occur to me while traveling. However, I’m a very positive person and I believe in the law of attraction. If I think positively, positive things will appear, and if I think negatively such as picturing movies like Hostel or Taken, well, bad things tend to happen.
Having said this, I’m not crazy and I have on previous trips, and will on this trip, take many precautions concerning my personal safety. Whether you are a man or a woman, traveling alone or with others, I believe that you could benefit from these safety measures. For the purpose of this blog post, I will only focus on safety measures that deal with protecting yourself from major physical harm while traveling.
1. Self-Defense is the Best Offense
Whether in your home country or traveling abroad, the reality is that there are people in the world that might want to harm you and I believe that the best way to prepare yourself for anything is to learn self-defense.
I took my first self-defense class in undergraduate school. It was taught by a campus police officer who was extremely knowledgeable in the art of self-defense. I wasn’t taught how to fight but rather I learned how to escape from deadly or harmful situations. I was taught what points of the body to hit, such as pressure points or nerves that would knock out an attacker or incapacitate them momentarily. I was also taught how to disarm someone who had a gun, what to do in a kidnapping situation, if someone tried to car-jack me, and how to get out of certain holds. This class was very practical and the things I learned have stuck with me.
Recently, I took up karate and am learning from one of the best Masters in the world, Soke Takayuki Kubota. Three months in and I’m an orange belt. Not only am I learning traditional karate moves but I also spar each week, which includes learning how to fight off physical attacks, like punches and kicks, from opponents (and of course how to share even better punches and kicks back).
With self-defense you aren’t just learning how to defend yourself from an attack, you are gaining confidence in your ability to protect yourself and I truly believe that any upper-hand that you can have in a travel-related (or home) attack will increase your chances of survival.
2. Don’t Make Yourself A Target
Obviously victims of crimes are not at fault. It’s the criminal. However, the fact remains that crime still occurs and when you are traveling to a new city or abroad you might be placed into the “easy target” category of crime. So how do you make criminals not see you as a target when traveling? Check out a few points I’ve written below:
- Look and act as a local as much as possible.
- Don’t let people see how much cash you have.
- Try not to text or talk on the phone while walking around; it makes you unaware of your surroundings and could prevent you from that split second that you might need to defend yourself.
- If you are traveling with friends, try to stick together.
- Respect the culture, the customs, and the beliefs of the place you are visiting. People are very proud of their homes and their beliefs and if you mock that culture or their beliefs, you could be a target for assault.
- Stand tall and confident; appearing “weak” could make you appear as an easy target.
- Stay in well-lit areas at night.
- Take a taxi if you feel unsafe walking at night. Who cares what it costs? This is your life!
By far my most most interesting advice about how to not make yourself look like a target, especially at night, is to skip. Yes, skip, like “Skip-to-my-lou, my darling.” I once read an article that said if you are walking in a bad area of a city or you think someone might be following, skip. Why? Because what grown adult skips in public? Which is the whole point.
Ever see someone talking to themselves on the street? You give them a wide-berth, don’t you? Because you associate talking with yourself as “crazy” or “weird.” Similarly, a grown adult skipping is also a little “crazy.” I’ve always said that if someone tries to hurt me, I’ll act crazy. Maybe I’ll bark like a dog, or start talking to people who aren’t there, or pretend to revert back to my 5 year old self because to others, a “crazy” person is not in their right mind and therefore are unpredictable and dangerous (even to a criminal). This does work! I’ve had people tell me that they’ve done this, in different manners, and they’ve been left alone immediately. Just saying, act crazy.
3. Be Tough
When I was in junior high, I went to a track meet in a small town outside of our city. My friends and I were talking to some runners from a different school when they found out my name. Her eyes got big and she said, “You’re Alex?” My friend asked her what she meant and the girl told us that she had heard “to not mess with me.” Thus, the beginning of my bad ass reputation that does not have any base in reality. It followed me into high school and perhaps was increased due to some tough chicks that I hung out with.
The truth is, I’ve never been in a fight. I’ve never even had anyone try to fight me! Part of it may be that people like me and no one wanted to fight me but it could be that I always seemed more tough than I am because I make it a point to appear that way for my own safety.
Twice I’ve been followed by men; one occurred when I lived in Oklahoma and the other occurred on vacation in Washington D.C. In Oklahoma, I was followed by a man around the mall. I thought I had lost him while I was still in the mall but I discovered that he was still following me when I was walking to my car. I put my stuff on my car and turned around and confronted him.
“Are you following me?” I said loudly. I took a step forward and he stopped.
“No, uh, yes. You’re very pretty,” he replied. He wasn’t expecting me to speak to him.
“You do not follow women around! That’s not cool!” I yelled at him. He walked by, giving me a wide-berth.
“But you are very pretty,” he repeated.
“Get away from me! You do not follow girls around malls and then follow them to their cars. Don’t do it!”
He walked away and I got in my car. I turned around and grabbed the bat from my back seat in case he decided to not leave (yes, I carry a bat in my car–can’t ever be too safe!). Although I don’t think he meant me any physical harm, I had to act tough and not play into his idea of being a “pretty innocent woman” that he could take advantage of.
The second time I was followed, I was in Washington D.C. with two friends. We got off the subway at night and were walking to a bar when eight young guys, probably 18-20 years old, tried hitting on us. They began to follow us even after my friends and I said we weren’t interested. One got mad and said something to the effect of “Why are you walking so fast like you scared of us? We’re just trying to talk to you.”
I stopped and turned around, “There are eight of you and three of us. You really can’t see why we are walking fast? You don’t follow women around at night especially when they have said that they’re not interested. Please just leave us alone.”
I quickly saw that he and his friends had not realized how nervous they were making us and they walked away.
Act tough, and speak up if you need to, ladies. Unfortunately, many men do not realize how their behavior sometimes can scare us or make us feel threatened.
I may have never been in a fight but acting tough makes me feel tough and I’ll be the tough chick that I act like if I’m threatened.
4. Cell Phones & Phone Numbers
If you are traveling to another country be sure to know the emergency numbers of that region. Knowing that number in an emergency could save your life. For instance, if you are being followed or have just been accosted by a stranger, you will need to call the police right away.
You should also have the U.S. Embassy’s number written down or saved in your phone as well. This also means that you will need to be able to access your cell phone when overseas. Contact your carrier before traveling so that they can activate your phone and you can use it abroad. This doesn’t mean that you should use your phone overseas because that can be quite costly. You just need the option of being able to use it. You can also buy phone cards when traveling abroad which might be more cost efficient. Regardless, a pay phone or a land line might not be readily available to you at all times and it’s safer to be able to use your cell phone in emergencies. Remember you are more important than those foreign bill charges.
5. Use What You Got
For women and men, physical makeup can be the determining factor in being attacked by another person. Most men are taller, bigger, and stronger than women. Similarly, there are men that have the physical abilities to hurt other men. So if you find yourself in a situation where someone is trying to physically attack you, use what you got to defend yourself. That might mean using your keys like a knife. Using your nails to scratch or your teeth to bite. Hitting back with your purse or grabbing dirt and throwing it in their eyes or using whatever object near you as a weapon. Well, why can’t I just use pepper-spray? In some countries pepper-spray is illegal. Some countries (and even some states in the U.S.), it’s illegal to carry around a knife or a gun for protection so the only weapons you have will be those that are around you. Use them wisely.
6. Drink Responsibly
Alcohol inhibits your ability to judge situations. I think it’s safe to say that drugs do too. If you are traveling with others, try to make a pact to drink responsibly (and to not do drugs). If you are traveling solo, this is even more important to consider. A drunk traveler is an easier target for criminals. Ladies and men (because I’ve known a few men this has happened to), watch your drinks! Date rape drugs are a reality all over the world.
7. Make Others Aware of Your Presence
Get to know the hotel staff, say hello to the security guards at the club or bar you’re visiting, and make conversation with your waiters and bartenders when traveling. Why? Because you want these people to look out for you! Some creep follows you into the hotel–when you’re cool with the hotel staff, they tend to watch out for these things and watch out for you. Same goes for bartenders–they see an aggressive drunk customer messing with you, they will probably help you out. Not only will others help you out if they are aware of your presence but it just makes for a more enjoyable trip because they usually give you great traveling tips, great conversation, and sometimes VIP treatment.
As a traveler, you can protect yourself from harm but always be smart about it. If someone is trying to rob you at gun point or with a knife, just hand over your wallet or purse. Don’t be the cause of unnecessary harm. Items can be replaced, you cannot.
And like I mentioned before, I absolutely believe in the law of attraction. These safety tips are meant to be precautions, not obsessed over. Keep an eye out, but first and foremost, focus on enjoying yourself and making the best travel memories possible.