I have been wanting to write on this topic for a very long time now. If there is one of my skills that I feel entirely confident about, it is my know-how in travel. I tend to only get anxious if I have a fixed arrangement to meet another person by a certain time, otherwise I am good at all the waiting involved; at apportioning time to be able to get through the various stages of leaving a country without hassle; and at making sure I have the necessary documents and don’t have the unnecessary items (whether there be logic behind customs’ requirements or not). I have few troubles with maps, timetables, and the use of public transport. When I need them I can locate sources of information, and if these prove unhelpful, have no problems approaching people to ask for help.
As a seasoned traveller I can say that even if you are well-prepared and alert, things can get tangly simply because people see that you are female and alone. Perhaps I’ll report back in some 20 years time to give you an update but for now I should probably also add “young” to that list.
There are two main sections to this piece. Firstly, I will cover preparation; then comes what I think of to myself as “the place of no return”. HooOooo, I know, spooky-sounding eh?
My basic idea is that in general preparation goes some way to keeping the baddies away. The best way to protect yourself is to avoid “the place of no return” in the first place. You step into the place of no return when you find yourself in any situation where you are alone and an obvious target. Or when you are alone with a guy who you don’t know well. A place of no return is one where you know deep down that there is no one else to rely on or go to for help. It is a period of time in which all that you really have is your own wits and your own will, should something go wrong. These are the places you walk through in the dark of night wondering “hmm… was this really a good idea?” The place of no return can only be passed through, there is no way to sidestep out of it or go back the way you came to have another try, conjure up a safer alternative.
I’ve read a couple of articles and posts online concerning solo travel for women and providing a list of tips “for solo travel”. But I haven’t found them particularly meaningful or satisfying, the tips are always very general and based on common sense. These articles will give a brief sentence or couple of sentences about how it is/can be dangerous for women to travel alone but how so many women do it without a problem. Then they list stuff like have money and make friends and know your surroundings… In short, most of what I’ve read has seemed cursory and forgettable; it doesn’t take a truly personal and realistic look at the situations women might find themselves in, nor does it go beyond suggesting the precautions they should take while they are still safe.
Common sense is of course the bulk of any strategy aiming at safety in interactions with other people, and I have some of this in my first section too. What I really wanted to include that I think most others don’t cover though is this concept of “the place of no return” and how to feel competent once you’re in it. I think it’s unrealistic in this day and age to imagine that you can always have every base covered and a protective group of friends around you wherever you go. If you enjoy your independence as a woman, you will be exposed at some point or another. Heck there’s a good chance you will even if you do prefer to follow and be under the care of others.
The tricky thing about travelling alone as a young woman is that your primary threat might not even be the shadowy figure trailing you half a street back. It’s that it might be the nice guy on the subway who missed the same stop as you. It might be the helpful, eager tour guide. It might be someone you work with, if you are volunteering or picking up a casual job. I say this not to be a fearmongerer, but to highlight the fact that when you are travelling alone as a woman, that is all that some predators will see: the big flashing sign “ALONE, ALONE”. Because if you are travelling you are less likely to have a support system, to know your way around, and to be familiar with the local transportation system. There is less accountability when they go after a girl far away from her home. I think it is a combined assumption that someone away from home is going to be easier to get because a) they must be lonely and b) they have less confidence in their surroundings.
Ideally, you will not put yourself in situations where you don’t have options. This is the purpose of the first section, preparation, to provide suggestions for groundwork that you can lay down so that you will both feel more confident as you move around a new place, and have some tools and a headstart should you find yourself in a tricky situation. However, it is possible to end up in a place of no return by chance; and what I consider an even more important point is that you might feel that putting yourself in the place of no return is necessary simply because wrapping yourself up in cotton wool might mean compromising your interests, your desires and your own sense of adventure. I personally have to come to decisions by weighing up my quite strong instinct for self-preservation with my need to express myself and seek out that which thrills me.