It seems to me that I have actually had quite a lot of power and opportunities as a person travelling alone. Others are usually quicker to help and will try harder to make sure that that help works. People are more likely to offer opportunities or make exceptions for one person than for several, or even a pair. It’s because you’re not threatening when it’s clear you don’t have backup; and because people do like to feel generous and unorthodox from time to time – letting one person slip through the web of rules and formalities is a way of fulfilling this without serious repercussions. It’s an obvious point, but what I find interesting is that the lack of a threat a single person poses is important even in non-combative situations. I believe that this is true for men as well, that as long as they are relaxed and friendly a solo male traveller will receive busloads of hospitality as well. But I also think that this desire to help is intensified when they see that you are not just alone but female and young.
A lot of people would assume that travelling alone is more risky for women than for men, because they imagine predation and women on their own being stuck for options in handling this predation. My personal opinion is that with all the dangers that there are, most people want to help and protect you. They will even go out of their way to do it. I’d say this constitutes about 75% of people. 20% are simply selfish without being deliberately malicious, and 5% are malicious and could never care about you. Naturally these are my own percentages arrived at by globbing together anecdotes and broad and specific travel memories, and then intuitively putting them into those divisions. No data was actually recorded and no calculations were carried out. I am pretty satisfied with them, but I think if there is something that would skew this representation it is that variable of people who might be momentarily under the influence of drugs or alcohol…
I have once again changed the plan and this interpersonal section itself will be divided in two: persistent men and making friends.
The rest of this post will present several strategies for dealing with persistent men when you do not wish to take them up on their offers. They are the bane of many women’s existence, and often seem to pop up with even greater frequency when you are travelling alone. Again, I state that this is about how to respond to the advances that you categorically do not welcome – it has nothing to do with whether or not it’s a good idea to date or get it on with guys while you’re travelling. This is about safety and retaining independence; it is in no way dating advice.
Why is the topic of persistent men in the preparation section? Because I think that trouble is most likely to occur when women act vague about their real wishes and passively let themselves be led into their pursuer’s plans. If you know you don’t want it, stop it early.
Say “No”. Say it firmly. Say it more than once when you have to. But say it and don’t feel awkward. A “No” only angers the truly disturbed; for most it is a clear sign, and it is an important part of your defense because it gives you at least a modicum of strength – you show them you know what you want when you say No. They may choose to pretend they didn’t understand what it meant and persist offering and trying to persuade, but they still recognise somewhere that No is a boundary that you have set. They just enjoy the game of trying to get past it. The alternatives to saying No are refraining from outright declining, or giving half-assed other reasons… Pretending it’s about something other than them. This gives a guy more permission to press on and makes them think that they do have the right to decide your mind for you, since you clearly aren’t sure yourself… If you don’t know yourself, then why shouldn’t they help you decide in a way that is favourable to their own interests?
Me for example, I like to say “I don’t think so”. Experience has shown that this is not an express enough rejection for some men. These men seem to rely on the “think” portion of the sentence more than the “don’t”. If you don’t think so, then perhaps it’s still an idea that’s up for debate and amendment in your mind. “No thank you” is much more superior. Not just because it’s simpler but because it leaves less for dissection. Some men might ask why, yes, some definitely have asked why even to no thank you. But it will invite fewer whys than “I don’t think so”. Roughly, “I don’t think so” = doubt, while “No thank you” = certainty. Any doubt leaves room for challenge. So you will make things a lot easier for yourself with a greater proportion of guys if you just say “No thanks”. Not, “I don’t think so”, “I’m not sure”, “I would but……..” or especially “I can’t”. “I can’t” is almost an invitation, it says that you would if you were only able to. No no no!
Give them their “Yes”
The flipside of this is that in certain situations, saying yes and then standing people up is the smartest strategy. It is the quickest way to get rid of someone and is useful if you know they cant track you down. I am usually good at declining offers and in general believe honesty is the better route. But there are some guys who are gifted at being just shy of sleazy, who can talk in ways that could not be construed as offensive. They don’t say or do anything particularly “wrong”. They are just persistent and will not leave you be until they get their yes. They know what to say so that you cannot reject their offer, this is the more true the less you know each other. Things like : “Give it a chance! You never know!” and “I like to take it slow, get to know people. I don’t rush things…” They sound so reasonable that if you are speaking to them reasonably as well, you don’t have much cause for turning them down… and of course if you bring up the fact they’re trying so hard, they will defend themselves by saying that you don’t know each other, don’t know how much time there is, and they’re just really that interested in getting to know you.
I’ve stood up three guys in my life, all while on travels. The dates proposed have all sounded like a lot of fun: picnic on a hillside in Madagascar, tapas in Granada, boat ride in Berlin. However these are all guys who wouldn’t leave after approaching me on the street. They wouldn’t leave without some form of yes. They are leeches, and yes is the only anti-leech. Well, bar being a total bitch. Maybe it was wrong for me to agree to meetings I knew I wouldn’t make. Yet I don’t feel guilty for them. They didn’t care about what I wanted. They didn’t care that I was trying to get home, that I felt trapped having this person follow me around when I’d already said I was busy. That I was off to meet friends and felt awkward that he, complete stranger, was going to stay by my side. The sort of situation a Yes is good and particularly useful in, is when you need to get rid of them because you are on your way home or to a club/bar/park where they could conceivably locate you again. With these guys, the longer you give them fodder, the more they can find out about you and track you. You don’t want that.
And apparently, this really does happen. An Australian guy in a hostel at Rome was once telling everyone about how he used to work in a hostel in Australia and was endlessly getting guys turning up off the street asking if “Sophie” was staying at this hostel and if she was, what room she was in. Nice one. He of course told them to fuck off. Meanwhile the reason why he mentioned this was because the latina girl at the hostel had just been called on the hostel phone by an admirer, who had somehow gotten her number and wouldn’t stop calling to ask her out…… Of course, she didn’t help matters because she would just laugh on the phone and talk about random things to avoid answering his questions, reserving her true opinion of how she would never go out with him for the other hostel-goers. Nice one again.
The answer might be under your nose
Sometimes, the best thing to say to get pursuers to stop is surprisingly simple and obvious. Let me demonstrate this through a case study that comes from my August travel in Italy.
Case study: Gianni in Lucca.
He came running up from behind me on the street, having spotted me as he was unpacking groceries from his car. He wanted to walk with me, as when he spotted me he thought to himself “This is the most wonderful girl I have ever seen!”, and he was delighted when he found out that I could speak English. I was pretty proud to be the 567th most wonderful girl Gianni has ever seen. You can bet I used No with Gianni. No to walking on the city walls with him, even though it was cooler there. No to having lunch with him. No to spending the afternoon with him. But still he wanted to just have one beer with me. That’s all! Trying to steer us away from the more secluded area he was trying to head to for the beer that I hadn’t yet agreed to, we stopped at my imposed impasse and literally 2 seconds passed between him stating that he was “a good boy” and then asking if he could kiss me. (If you’re at all curious, I jumped back saying “Whoa whoa whoa! No! No kiss! No!” in the same way as one might shout at a dog who’s getting too close to the dinner table.) One can only speculate that it would take only 2 more seconds to go from a kiss to god only knows (and I do not want god to tell me what).
Do you want to know why Gianni eventually did let me be?
It was because I informed him that I was staying near Florence, which takes about an hour and a half by train to get to from Lucca. Too far for Gianni. Only the quandry of an external, physical nature could dissuade this guy. How great to have that on my side seeing as my own wishes factored in not one iota.
What this shows me is that one of the things that makes me so attractive to a guy such as this is the sense of “easy opportunity”. Woman is alone. Woman has no strings attached when not in their own country. Woman must be easily impressionable because who could actually be happy on their own for any real length of time? Many many women travellers have had the experience of being approached very bluntly and vulgarly by men who would never dare to try the same thing on “their own” women.
So it can pay to try to identify the real, physical aspects relating to your life and movements as a traveller that actually make you difficult – a chore and extra work for the man rather than the opportunity that has just walked by them. You might have the answer in the form of a very real “can’t”. I don’t recommend making something like this up though – if I had deliberately lied and was actually staying in Lucca, I’m sure I would have run into him again, it’s a fairly small place. Even with standing people up…. I do consider this a last resort measure, because again, you could run into them somewhere in town and then you’re really stuck in the crapper. The mere pressure in the back of your mind that you could run into them again should be deterrant enough. Lying… is not good karma, whatever the reason.
In the end, survival and autonomy are paramount to me, so I weigh it up – guilt and concern over being caught out as a liar, or having this persistent guy stick by my side and find out where I’m staying?
When they don’t own their own mind
As I very briefly mentioned earlier on, the wildcard here is the possible influence of mind-altering substances on a person’s behaviour. In this case, I have no standard response that I believe is effective. What I would do is wait to see where it is this person is exactly (e.g. Spiralling Out of Control Anger-land, I’m Going to Forget What I’ve Just Said in 8 More Seconds-land, Have Completely Lost All Inhibition of Behaviour So Will Never Stop Pawing and Falling On You-land), as this will help me to decide upon the best approach for trying to get away. Hopefully there would be other, non-wacked out people in the vicinity too. I think getting off and staying off their radar is the only advice I can give. Sometimes this means joining their club by acting like a weirdo yourself (I haven’t done this but a friend has, I was surprised and impressed by how well it worked to get them to stop paying attention to her); other times it means being as unengaging as you can without being rude and finding a group of people amongst which you can hide yourself.
Bitchiness as defense
Why don’t I just be a total bitch from the start? You know the drill, outright ignore the guy who is trying to talk to you; or communicate your rejection and disapproval through sneering, frosty stares and a confrontational tone of voice.
It’s quite simple. Because some guys are decent and actually accept your first No. Also, I don’t relish the thought of having my first response to others, or even selectively to men, be a hostile one. You never know what the story is, and I’d like to be a nice, normal person to everyone at first. I can’t say “Be a bitch. Distrust everyone. Cocoon yourself. Arm yourself to the teeth.” That is not life. Not a fun life for you as a woman, nor an accurate reflection of the varied interactions you’re going to have with people – who will each have different motivations and ways of seeing you.
Persistent men aren’t necessarily dangerous…
Indeed. However I see two things at play here:
1. You cannot predict what this guy’s intentions are and how likely it is he will be able to, or will want to, stop himself if you let things go any further with him. But I think it’s always safe to say that if he can’t respect your expressly stated wishes, then he is not trustworthy.
2. It’s a bloody pain in the ass to not have freedom of movement. I can see some guys reading this thinking I am overreacting, chuckling at how if only he could have such a problem. Oh really? As a guy, do you really want girls you are not attracted to, sometimes even consider a bit scary, following you around? You want said type of girl to try to force you into spending time with her and who treats you like some kind of deluded moron for even wanting to say no to her? You want this girl to continue to spend an hour or two ignoring your no, nattering on like “oh we could be so great together!!” when you just want to get away and do your own thing? BLOODY, PAIN, IN, THE, ASS. And if you still don’t understand the problem… it might be because you don’t have in your general awareness the possibility that this person could become a physical threat to you.
As you can see there are various strategies and these are dependent on the decency of the guy as well as your immediate physical safety. The most important first step is to not shove away how you feel, pay it heed. You have the right to be honest and to want and not want things. At the same time, I have never had to be mean or to insult anyone. By had to I mean I never felt that it was helpful to the situation or helpful to my feelings to be mean to the guy. The point is getting yourself out of it, not emphasising the rejection of him.