Going Soulo: Safety First!

As a fun-loving human being, I immensely enjoy doing all things adventurous, except drugs and breaking the law (sneaking into an abandoned castle doesn’t count if you’re a princess at heart). However, being a female, I recognize that kind of lifestyle does not always conform to my gender. Is this fair? No. But it is reality and I have to learn how to deal with that.

night busSometimes I come back late. I’ve taken the tube at dark and ridden a night bus. I walk by myself. I’ve spent hours in the park without seeing another human being and I’m aware that those are not ideal or safe situations for my well-being. But I’ll be damned if I limit myself.

Before I present my list of safety procedures to travel by when solo traveling, I’d like to share a story with you from about a week and a half ago:

My mother says I eat like a Viking and I won’t disagree. When I’m hungry, I am hungry and I need the food ASAP. It was already past dinnertime, so I was understandably cranky and in need of a veggie burger. But being the cautious young woman I am, I took a friend with me to a pub down the street, since safety comes first.

This pub was only a five minute walk away, we stuck together the whole time, and we expected to be in and out within half an hour. Everything went according to plan: we got to the pub, ordered food, and chatted in the nearly empty restaurant with our beer while waiting.

There were two men sitting in a booth near us. My friend and I were minding our own business when one of the men mentioned something about the “two lovely ladies” behind him and started breaking into the conversation. At this point I was incredibly hungry, but despite having finished his plate, this guy looked like he wanted to eat me. He kept asking questions and talking to us, all creepy-like, though I made it clear I wasn’t interested in talking. Honestly, I wanted to tell him to get the hell out of my face, but antagonizing him didn’t seem to be the best game plan.

Eventually, he and his friend went to the back part of the sitting area, around the corner in a different part of the restaurant. We proceeded to eat and I thought that maybe he was finished being a creeper, though I was still on my guard. I was wrong.

followedTen minutes later he came out of the other sitting area with an extra man who hadn’t been in the restaurant. The three of them sat in a table quite close to us, and I could hear them talk while they glanced back at our table. Soon after they sat down, another man (making a total of four) joined them. They kept talking about the ‘lovely ladies’ at the next table. No one in the pub seemed to notice their behavior.

I got that feeling you get when something is wrong. The hair on the back of my neck was on end, I was on edge, and I knew that my intuition was spot on: we had to leave before more of them showed up. Luckily, it wasn’t my first time in the pub and I knew there was an extra hallway through the bathroom doors leading to an exit.

Loud enough for them to hear, I said, “So, bathroom first and then back to the tube station?” The tube station was a 15 minute walk in the opposite direction and the bathrooms were downs a flight of stairs in a corner. I must have been a wonderful actress because my friend looked at me, nervous and confused, before nodding her head.

We scurried out, taking the alternative exit, and made it back safe. My first thought was to call one of the guys in our group to pick us up, but not having their numbers put us in a sticky spot. Virtually no one in the group had international phone plans anyway, so the odds of them answering were slim, and there were just enough people on the streets for us to walk away without too much worry. If we had stayed longer, the streets would have probably cleared and they might have been four men stronger. You have to be discerning.

Solo traveling can be dangerous and I get that. But things happen, even when you’re using the buddy system, and you need to be prepared no matter what. This is my list, which I follow both at home and abroad:

  • Carry mace. And don’t be afraid to use it. Also, make sure that it works, obviously using a space free of people and wind.
  • Know self-defense. The SING maneuvers from Miss Congeniality aren’t good enough. Lots of places offer classes for free nowadays, so suit up and get your head in the game.
  • Check your surroundings. This is especially crucial if you’re in an unfamiliar environment and there are two parts: people and environment. When I check into a hotel or hostel, I do a self-guided tour so I know where the exits are. And I’m always aware of who’s in my space. Due to some personal experiences, I’ve been doing both these things since I was 13 and they’re now second nature. Better safe than sorry.
  • watch your drinkBe smart. Don’t walk around in sketchy areas after dark. Check in with family or friends. Don’t hop in cabs with strangers, no matter how good looking they are. If someone is following you, pop into a public place and ask for help. Watch your drink. Basically, just use your head.
  • Lie. If you are traveling by yourself, do not divulge revealing personal information about where you’re sleeping or what your travel plans are. Tweak your reality a bit and be confident.
  • Have a game plan. I have an emergency plan if anything happens or I’m in a bad situation. I also have a secret code to text to my family if something goes wrong, so they have a starting point if I disappear.

While there are plenty of other safety procedures, these are my basics and they generally keep me out of harm’s way. Bad things can happen anywhere, so make sure you have an arsenal of resources if you find yourself in a sticky situation!

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