On the heels of everyone discussing safety when it comes to solo travel, particularly in regards to the Sarai Sierra tragedy, I happened to find myself in some sticky situations while off on my own. With a 24 hour stint in Hong Kong, I was left to explore the city by myself and while I very much enjoyed it, there were a few instances where I felt a bit uncomfortable. Hong Kong itself was great and I delighted in having the opportunity to wander around and mingle with the bustling population, however the few isolated incidents reminded me of how important it is to keep alert and be prepared when you find yourself on your own (anywhere that may be). Here are a few of the ways that I personally try to ensure my safety while traveling alone:
*Sidetone: If you have seen the movie “Taken”, please please PLEASE do the exact opposite of the two young girls in the beginning of the film (i.e. tell a stranger you are on your own and then lead said stranger to the very address where you will be staying.)
Keep It Simple
I never wear expensive or flashy jewelry if I’m out wandering by myself. In fact, when I first left home to work on the yacht, I left almost all of my good jewelry at home (partly because for the crew working on a yacht isn’t really all that fancy, but more so because I rarely do anything that requires me to be dressed in something nicer than a t-shirt). However, big diamonds and shiny gold only make you more of a target, especially if you are on your own so you might as well just leave it all at home (like I actually own big diamonds…). This goes for expensive handbags as well.
Cover the Goods
By “goods”, I mean your body (sorry I’m not sorry for being cheesy). I’ve been known to show some cleavage every now and then, maybe even wear some too-short dresses, but I try to keep it classy when I’m off on my own in a foreign country. Maybe not %100 classy… but you get where I’m going. Particularly, research the culture and traditions of the country you will be visiting for some useful insight. For instance, I would never wear a mini skirt in Egypt, but in Bali, you probably wont stop traffic in shorts and a tank top.
Walk With Purpose
In some busy shopping/touristy areas it’s probably okay to mosey around checking out all the sights, but in many places, I find it best to walk with purpose, as if you have a destination in mind and are completely confident in where you are and where you are headed. It makes you look more like a local than an easily targeted lost tourist.
When I was learning how to drive (I’m taking it back old school for you) my dad always repeated the mantras “drive defensively” and “look out for the other guy”. Essentially he meant that you should always be alert as to what is going on around you to ensure your safety as best you can. I’ve found that this works not only for driving, but for walking the streets of a new city. If you are walking around, not paying attention, you aren’t going to be aware of potential danger. Things like big unfolded maps and headphones will decrease your ability to see and hear what is going on around you, so I try to stay away from them when I’m out in public.
Look like a Local
By all means look at a map if you have to, but I try not to advertise that I’m lost when I’m in a foreign country. I prefer to either use google maps on my phone (it makes it look like you are texting- although, still not %100 alert, so it’s not a perfect solution) or simply duck into a shop or bathroom to look at the map.
Be an Early Bird
Depending on where you are, the situation may vary but a good rule of thumb I try to adhere to is if you are on your own, stick to early nights. Even if you are in a “safe” place, it’s never a bad idea to call it a night at a reasonable hour. I broke this rule when I was in Hong Kong, because there was a Lunar New Year celebration going on and the city was bustling late into the night, but had it been quiet and dark, you bet I would’ve already been back in the hotel room.
If you feel like you are being followed, or find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, what I like to do is duck into the nearest shop I can find. Make it look like you were on your way there (walk with purpose) and see if they follow you, or wait until you can see them leave from inside the safety of the shop. One guy in HK, after making me feel uncomfortable, actually waited outside a shop while I tried to ditch him, so I walked back out in the opposite direction when I saw he was looking the other way and then blended myself into a crowd (I even pulled out my ponytail and stuffed my jacket in my bag). It might seem extreme to some people, but I’d rather err on the side of caution. Had I still felt unsafe, I probably would have alerted the shopkeeper or have asked a group of people or a couple to let me join them.
This may all combine to make me sound like some paranoid homebody, but obviously that’s not the case or I never would have left Maryland. Of course in my life I’ve gone on long runs in the evening with my headphones in and my long hair flailing behind me in a ponytail that screams “I’m ASKING to be abducted!” (my mom actually said that one night before I went for a run in my quiet hometown). And of course I’ve found myself out late at night on my own (actually that happened all the time in college). The point is, it’s up to you in your given situation to gauge your safety based on proper research and thus act accordingly. Don’t allow yourself to become another tragedy if you could’ve done something to prevent it.
Most importantly- enjoy yourself, you only get one life!