As a woman who travels alone, safety is very important to me.
Of course, most women travel alone sometimes, even if it’s a walk to the corner store or a commute to work. Safety is important to all women, so I share my ideas in hopes they will help women who live in conventional housing, as well as those who live in vans, cars, RVs, etc.
(Yes, I know safety is important to men too. However, since I am a woman, that’s the perspective I’m going to write from.)
When I’m out and about in the world alone, I’m careful about what I wear. Yes, I believe women should be able to wear whatever we want without being harassed. Unfortunately, the reality of women’s lives is that some clothing we may be comfortable in allows some men to feel justified in making rude and lewd comments to us. While I tend to dress very colorfully, I usually wear clothes that cover my body. I wear long hippie-lady skirts and loose shirts that show no cleavage. If I’m wearing a tank top in the privacy of my van, I’ll usually throw on another shirt over it before I go outside. In public, among strangers, I don’t wear booty shorts, miniskirts, or sports bras as outerwear—nothing to give anyone a notion I might be out looking for sex with strangers.
I’m also aware of the how the clothes I’m wearing might help or hinder me if running or fighting in self-defense might be necessary. (My long skirts might not be the best choice in such situations.) I don’t typically wear flip flops unless I’m on my way to the shower. Flip flops or other shoes that could easily slip off my foot could be a hindrance when running from an assailant or kicking an attacker in the knee. I usually wear closed-toe shoes fastened securely to my foot. Since heels could also slow a gal down if she needed to run, I prefer flats.
As women, we are socialized to be “nice.” In a million ways, we’re taught we must smile at men and giggle at even their stupid jokes. We’re taught we need to respond to the overtures of chitchat from strangers. Sure, many men are just trying to be friendly, but too many men think a woman alone must be out looking for a man, and our every smile and giggle is encouragement that he might be the one. I do my best not to give strangers any sort of encouragement. I don’t instigate eye contact or smile if I don’t feel pretty confident I’m in a safe place, and I’ve almost trained myself not to giggle at stupid jokes. (I love to laugh, but only when a joke is truly funny.) I try to present myself as bland, rather than hostile. I often pretend to think a joker is serious, and I respond seriously to a supposed-to-be-funny-but-not question or comment. In any case, unless I do actually want to spend time with someone, I try not to show any interest. Out in public, I mind my own business and try to appear boring so on one thinks I’m worth paying attention to.
I typically don’t party using alcohol or other drugs, either with strangers or on my own. I’ve very sensitive to alcohol and other drugs—after one drink, I find it difficult to make wise decisions. I might party a little if I were with trusted friends, but I usually feel as if I need to be at the top of my game—alert, aware—and I don’t necessarily feel that way if I’m chemically altered. Better to be boring than out of control.
Whenever I’m spending the night in my van in a place among strangers (Wal-Mart, truck stops, public land), I don’t go traipsing around outside in the middle of the night. Once I’m in the van with the curtains closed, I’m in for the night. I have my pee bucket and supplies for a defecation emergency, so I don’t have to go anywhere in the dark. I don’t know if nighttime is actually any more dangerous than daytime, but darkness feels scarier, so I plan to stay in during the wee hours.
Another precaution I take, whether I’m traveling or staying in one place for a time is checking in often with a trusted friend. I text this friend every day when I have cell service, even if just to say good morning. When I’m traveling, I let her know where I’m spending the night. If she doesn’t hear from me and can’t reach me the next day, she’ll have an idea of where to start looking for me. If I know I’m going to be away from cell phone service for a while, I alert her so she won’t worry when she doesn’t hear from me.
Body language is important. Although my posture is terrible, I try to remember to not to walk like an easy mark. I do my best to stand and walk with confidence: head high, back straight, no slouching.
Sometimes making eye contact with a person invites further—unwanted—interaction. Years ago in a women’s group, I learned a way to avoid eye contact without looking weak. The woman leading the group told us that looking at the ground to avoid eye contact makes a person seem—and feel—passive. She suggested we keep our head and eyes up with avoiding meeting a stranger’s gaze. When I use this technique, I feel as if I’m sliding my eyes past the eyes I’m trying to avoid. I continue to feel confident while conveying that I’m not interested in a conversation.
“Situational awareness” is a phrase tossed around a lot these days. The concept is not new and has other names, such as “paying attention” and “getting your head out of your ass.” (The latter was a favorite of my father.) Situational awareness basically means knowing what’s going on around you and doing your best to avoid sketchy/scary/dangerous situations. In order to maintain situational awareness, I avoid walking around absorbed in my phone or wearing ear buds that block out the sounds of the world around me.
I recommend reading this article about situational awareness to learn more about staying alert in order to stay safe.
Our society tells women the world is a dangerous place and we should be scared all the time. While the world can be dangerous, it’s no fun (and probably not healthy) to focus constantly on being scared. Knowing I’m taking precautions to keep myself safe helps me overcome my fears and enjoy my opportunities to travel and visit new places.
What do you do to stay safe, either while traveling or while staying in a conventional dwelling?