How to Be Safe as a Solo Female Traveler

Last night, about a block away from the apartment I am renting in Marseille, France, I turned around to find the man I rejected at a bar was following me.

Traveling alone can be an intimidating experience. This is especially true for women. As females, we can find ourselves at a series of disadvantages. Despite any gun-ho independent women battle cry, the majority of us are physically weaker than the other gender. Additionally, we garb ourselves in heels, mini skirts, and the like, which can make us even easier targets.

Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear rape and death.” ― Gavin de Becker

Being a woman is scary. Even post #metoo movement, to which men are now supposed to be aware of, “No means no” and that “She was asking for it” is no longer an acceptable excuse, our gender still faces the age-old fears of being attacked, raped, and left for dead. And, solo travel for a woman can magnify these fears.

However, giving into these fears will never balance the gender scales. There are several things you can do to keep yourself safe. The basic tactics, which hold true no matter if you are abroad or at home, include:

  • Being aware of your surroundings.
  • Staying reasonably sober.
  • Staying in well-lit public places.
  • Not telling strangers you are alone.

Don’t Be Cheap

Young Fela
The night I was roofied.

While a traveler’s budget is often the baseline for pretty much everything, frugality has its limits. Think of your accommodations as your temporary home. Would you opt to stay in a bad part of town just to save a few bucks on rent? From Airbnbs to hotels, you should select a place where you feel safe. A budget-friendly and, oftentimes, safe option is to stay at a hostel in an all-female room.

But, more importantly, buy your own drinks. While it can be easy to spend 50 euros on a Friday night, there is no price tag too great for safety and peace of mind. Likewise, watch your drinks. It only takes a second for someone to slip a roofie into your beverage, and it only takes a few minutes for your good time out to become your worst nightmare.

Fela Gets Roofied
Smiling at the ER because I knew it could have been worse but I was smart.

When I was 22 years old, I went to my favorite local dive to hang out and drink with my friends. Down the street from my apartment, this bar was convenient and familiar to me. After drinking half of my Long Island ice tea in between song breaks, my eyelids grew heavy, my speech became slurred, and I could barely see straight. Immediately I grabbed my best male friend and told him that something was wrong and to take me home. 

After being unconscious for six hours, I woke up to vomiting and proceeded to purge for another three. Upon the advice of my friend, who had decided to stay the night on the couch, we went to the emergency room. Eight hours of uncontrollable heaving later, we found out that I was not the only one to be admitted to the hospital. Four other girls had also checked in for expelling whatever had been put in our drinks. 

Predators don’t always show their faces. That night taught me that someone, or a group, will victimize many on the off chance that they get what they want. Whatever you put in your body, always keep both eyes on it prior.

Who knows how many didn’t make get the medical attention they needed or experienced worse.

Trust Your Instincts

It’s called women’s intuition and, myth or not, it has saved my skin countless times. Some might think that it is paranoia or an overactive imagination but it truly is better to be safe than sorry. Like the night I was roofied, I had a feeling that something was wrong and acted on it.

When I crossed the street away from the bar, I thought, “I hope he doesn’t try to stop me.” By the time I was crossing the second street, my spine became ridged with, “I hope he isn’t following me.” I turned a corner and threw my hood over my head as I contemplated how drunk I was. While still in the midst of a crowd, I stopped and turned around to appease what I thought would be paranoia but, low and behold, the man I had rejected was three feet behind me.

He approached me with, “What did I do wrong?”

“You followed me?”

“I want to go home with you and…”

“No! No! No!”

‘No’ means no in almost every language. Saying it multiple times, particularly at an increasing volume, is a surefire way to make clear your intentions as well as turn a few heads in your direction.

After he walked away, I stayed in the square and ordered a slice of pizza to wait out the time he might spend waiting for me to continue on my journey as well as absorb the drinks I had consumed. 

Travel Solo Without Being Alone

Buying a SIM card for your mobile phone in another country is an affordable solution that will allow you to stay in contact with those at home. Having an internet connection with access to GPS will also prevent you from becoming lost in a new area.

One of the first things I do once I have the address of my accommodations is to favorite it in Apple maps. This way, I can always find my way back to my temporary home with ease and verify the direction I need to go before leaving any location.

Similarly, I text or call my best friend and mother every day. Not only does this ward off feelings of loneliness buy it also ensures that someone who cares about me knows where I am and that I am safe. While it does not work abroad, sharing your location (sorry, this is exclusively for Apple users) is another way for someone to verify your whereabouts in the event that something terrible happens. My best friend and I have been sharing our location with each other for years and inform the other of when and where we will be going on dates.

Have Some Class

I’m no person to judge another on any aspect of morality. And I’m a hypocrite for saying this, but going home with a stranger that you just met, particularly in a foreign place, is just not safe. While most young, single females would love to get caught in a travel romance, the real world is not a Hollywood rom-com (more like a Lifetime drama).

If he or she is truly into you, then they can meet you tomorrow. Make a date to get together the following day when heads are clearer. You can have your whirlwind romance during the daylight too. This also gives you an opportunity to look them up online and through social media for red flags and serial killer traits, like few friends and into devil worship. Hey, you just met and everyone is aces at first. Think of your ex.

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