Safety

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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.

An informative article on situational awareness can be found at http://www.survivethewild.net/situational-awareness/. I recommend reading this article 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? Everyone (of  any gender) who comments on this topic between today and the next time I’m able to look at this post (Monday, October 3) will be entered in a drawing to win something made with my own little hands. Comments must be made in the comments section of this blog (not on Facebook). You may leave more than one comment, but each person who comments will be entered in the drawing only once. I reserve the right to choose the prize.

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About Blaize Sun

I live in my van, which makes me a rubber tramp. I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. I like to play with color. I make collages and hemp jewelry and cheerful winter hats. I take photographs and (sometimes, not in a long time) write poetry. All of those things make me an artist. Although I like to spread joy and to make people laugh, my wit can be sharp. I try to stay positives in all situations, to find the goodness in all people. But I often feel compelled to point out bullshit when I smell it. I like to have fun, to dance, to eat yummy food, to sit by a fire and share stories. I want to know what people hold dear and important, not just make surface small talk. This blog is a way for me to share stories. This blog is made up of my stories, rants, and observations, as well as my photographs.

36 Responses »

  1. Hi Blaize,
    Thanks for that information. It’s sad that as women we have to put safety above comfort in choosing our clothing, but thanks for pointing out that truth. I think living in a van makes us even more vulnerable to that.

    As an urban van dweller, one thing I do is never tell any strangers where I’m staying. For example, just yesterday I ran into a fellow van dweller and started chatting him up (I’m in a different city and wanted info on the area in regards to van life). He was very nice and willing to give me all sorts of info, but when it came to him asking where I was thinking about parking, I was very vague and indicated that I wasn’t even sure I’d stick around. The question was innocent I’m sure, and it was relevant to our conversation. Even so, I don’t want to put myself in a vulnerable position, and I’m sure being guarded will pay off without my notice.

    The thing I mean to do (and really should) is get some pepper spray.

    Liselle

    • Thanks for leaving the first comment on this post, Liselle. You are now entered in the drawing to win something handmade by me!

      You make a good point about not telling strangers where you are going to park your van. Yes, the question was probably innocent, but who knows? Someone with bad intentions probably knows how to come across as innocent and friendly. I saw err on the side of caution. If you keep seeing this guy around and he proves himself to trustworthy, then you can disclose more as you see fit.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences.

      You are also right that being guarded will pay off without you noticing. If we keep manage to keep ourselves safe, we’ll never know what danger we avoided.

      I also want to say, we can do everything in our power to keep safe and sometimes things still go wrong. No blaming the victim here. Sometimes bad things happen, despite our doing everything right.

      • I keep meaning to get bear spray, Liselle, but I haven’t yet. I work in bear country, so it makes sense that I would keep bear spray around.

        For folks who are thinking about “weapons,” be sure to know the laws in the state(s) where you live and travel. And maybe don’t say you keep anything particularly for self-defense if you have interactions with the police.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Cheri. You are entered in the drawing for a handmade prize!

      I’m glad you found the information in this post useful, and I’m happy to know you enjoy the blog in general. Feel free to share this post (and any others) with folks who might also find it helpful.

  2. Hi,

    All great tips and things to think about, some of that I’ve never heard of before and will check out that link. Interesting about avoiding the eye contact, guess I do that sometimes and other times I look them straight in the eyes to let them know I see you and put on my “bitch don’t mess with me” attitude or vibe.

    Also just going with your gut on feeling out your surroundings and listening to it. I had a friend recently who had some man playfully touching her arm and head. She just let if go because she was around other people in a work environment. She has had lots of things happen to her with men invading her personal space and I think it does have to do with the vibe she puts out. It’s not only with men but women as well. When someone gets in your space call them on it, tell them no, act crazy but don’t allow it to continue on.

    Take care,

    Tina

    • Hi Tina! Thanks for your comments. You are now entered in the drawing by something handmade by me.

      I think you are right that sometimes looking someone in the eye and vibing “don’t mess with me” is the right thing to do. Perhaps the tricky thing about safety is there are no hard and fast rules of what to do. Different situations call for different reactions.Figuring out what to do in the moment can be really difficult. But listening to our guts seems like a good first step in any situation.

  3. When I go shopping, I park way in the back away from everyone so my car is all alone. There’s been several instances in my area of men hiding between rows of cars (think vans and SUV’s that block sight) and robbing, beating, stealing, car jacking women. If my car is all by itself, no one will be able to sneak up or hide. If there is a car beside me when I come out, I call security to walk with me.

    Ladies, don’t be afraid or think it’s silly to call for security or even the non-emergency police number if you feel unsafe.

    • Thank you for your comments, Maddie. You are not entered in the drawing for a handmade prize.

      You make a good point about not giving people who want to do harm a place to hide. We are often taught to stay with the crowd to be safe, but it does seem unlikely that someone would run across an empty area of parking lot to try to snatch a purse or hijack a car.

  4. Paying attention to your instincts is incredibly important, but many women don’t. Your subconscious never sleeps, and is always paying attention. It can tell the difference between an everyday sound, and a ‘new’ sound. That’s why you can sleep with a train going by, but wake up instantly, fully alert, when your subconscious hears a strange sound like glass breaking or a wrong noise from the baby’s room. When your ‘gut’ says something is wrong, SOMETHING IS WRONG! Many victims of crimes say afterwards things like ‘it made me uncomfortable’, or ‘it just didn’t seem right’, etc. Don’t let your PC training override your instincts. And Blaize is right about the gadgets; you CAN run w/o your music, you CAN ride the subway w/o being glued to your texting. Some women die because they’re doing something so stupid that you would think they were begging for trouble: jogging in the dark, lots of alleys or shrubbery nearby, jogging in bear country, ears plugged, totally oblivious to what’s going on around them. You read about people doing things like this and, personally, I have a hard time feeling sorry for them. I’ll save my sympathy for the ones who didn’t beg for trouble.

    • Thanks for your loyal readership and comments, Sue. You have been entered in the drawing for one of my handmade items.

      Situational awareness is a lot about paying attention to anything out of the ordinary. If you don’t yet know about situational awareness, I highly recommend the article at Survivethewild.net (http://www.survivethewild.net/situational-awareness/) that I mentioned in the post.

      While I don’t think anyone deserves to have violence done to them, I do believe folks should take personal responsibility and precautions. We should not assist the forces in the world who want to hurt us.

  5. Great article, I think most of us have had to learn to live that way no matter how we live or where we go. It’s something that most men need to be educated on, if they’ll listen!

    • Thank you for your comment, a.mo. You have been entered in the drawing for a handmade item.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

      I agree with you that most (or at least many) men need to be educated about how women actually feel while moving through the world. Good guys might act differently if they realized how their words and actions often make women feel. But yes, first they have to be willing to listen. I hope some men comment on this post.

      I also hope transgender folks feel free to comment about their safety issues and how they deal with them.

  6. Thanks for this, great advise. I’m a year out from living full time in my van so I’m practicing now. Maybe in a year these tips and tricks will be second nature. One less thing to overcome when the time comes. I think the thing I need to work on the most is not being too chatty with strangers.

    • Thanks for this comment, ScatterVanshine. (Great handle, by the way.) You have been entered in the drawing.

      I’m glad you found the advice in this post helpful. Yes, start practicing now!

      Being chatty with strangers can be difficult to overcome. We just want to be friendly. We just want to be nice. But remember, we also want to be SAFE! My advice is to keep things on a need-to-know basis. Maybe start by keeping your chatting to topics like the weather, kind of boring, but safer than talking about the fact that you live in your van alone and will be parking at the Wal-Mart for the next three nights.

  7. I forgot something important! Do you know how to get out of your locked car trunk?

    All American-made cars built after 2002 have a trunk release in them. Do you know where yours is, and how to open it? FIND IT! Ask hubby, boyfriend, neighbor, mechanic.

    For older cars, find the key lock — it’s usually in part below the trunk lid, between the tail lights, that grabs the latch (the thing the key goes into). It is usually a lump maybe 2×3″ or larger. Sometimes it is covered by carpeting or rubber matting. If it is, get a box knife and poke it into the lump, then cut out the carpeting that is covering the square hole. Now, see that little lever? The ones I’ve seen are about 1/3″ long. Push it to the side with your finger. Get a trusted friend (not an idiot, or a kid, or a drunk) and make sure they have your key in their hand. Now climb into the trunk and have the friend slam it closed. It’s totally dark. You’re a claustrophobe? That’s called ‘incentive to get it right’. Find the hole in the lock and move the lever. The trunk should pop open.

    Don’t let this happen to you! Woman Locked in Trunk, Killed: http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/08/us/montana-abducted-woman-calls-husband/

    THIS woman had her cell phone, and her hands weren’t bound. So what does she do? The fool calls her husband and her mother! CALL 911. CALL 911. CALL 911.

  8. I believe you have to truly trust that you’re safe. My favorite story: My friend Amy (not her real name) was attending a party in an iffy neighborhood in Washington, D.C. As she was parking, another woman pulled up. She noticed that when Amy got out she didn’t lock her car. It had a camera and a fur coat in the back. The woman reminded Amy: “You didn’t lock your car!” To which Amy said: “I trust the Universe!” Does that sound goofy, or what? A couple of hours later, they both left the party together. The other woman’s car was broken into. Amy’s wasn’t touched. And that’s a true story!

    If you can’t make that leap of faith, then get a dog. It will protect you, and knowing you have one makes you feel safe–and fulfilled, and loved.

    • Thanks for your comment, Muriel2pups. You are entered in the drawing for a handmade item.

      Some people seem to have great success with the “trust you are safe” method. My dear friend Mr. Carolina used to talk about his “bubble.” We all did seem to be safe within that bubble of his.

  9. Great article and even better discussion!!

    I wear pants, jeans mostly, not tight not fancy. As for personal safety, I’m lucky and unlucky. I have psoriasis! It’s definitely not attractive. If I’m in a questionable space, I roll up the cuffs of my shirt. 90% of people look at my arms and would never think to touch me! This speaks, of course, to the general ignorance of Americans about this disease. You can not catch it. Ever. But I don’t spread that around.

    Also, on the rode, I sleep with 3 safety devices. 1. A tire knocker which will break any bone it comes in forceful contact with. 2. Wasp spray and 3. My car keys which have a horn button.

    Lastly, as gross as this may sound it came from a man convicted of rape at a safety training for women. If all else fails and you are in a very bad situation, he said to his audience to piss themselves and better yet, if you can s**t yourself, you have a huge chance of having your attacker leave.

    Again, very good discussion! I hope I don’t offend you when I ask you to not enter me in your contest, which BTW is a fun idea. I am trying very very hard to downsize my life and need all the help I can get!

    • Ford, am not offended that you are trying to downsize and don’t want any new stuff. I’ll put your name in the hat and if you win, you can have the thrill of doing so, and I’ll draw another name for the prize. Or if you win, you could use the prize as a present. But no pressure whatsoever.

      Glad you enjoyed the article and the discussion. Thanks for sharing your experiences and suggestions.

  10. Very, very well said. I have a Mom who is literally petrified of the world. She sit and watches the news all day and reiterates every bad thing she sees hoping to deter me from traveling and living in my van. I’ve tried over and over to explain all of the things you’ve shared to her so she can somehow resolve herself to the fact that I will be going and living my life instead of sitting around doing nothing. She is still paranoid. Any thoughts? I dont want her to fear for me, I want her to be excited for me. She and my Dad traveled and took pictures of every capital in the continental U.S. and Alaska. She loved traveling and when I bring it up she says she was not alone and thats the difference. I am frustrated. I am a mature woman with a good head on my shoulders and have explained all of these safety measures and more. She still says I’m crazy and insensitive to her feelings. Any suggestions?

    • Thanks for your comments, Colleen. I’ve entered you in the drawing.

      As for your mom…It sounds like she has made up her mind that she is right and you are wrong, so I’m not sure what would help. Show her this blog post. Show her that other women are doing what you are doing. Tell her what you are doing to stay safe. Maybe you are going to have to give up trying to change her mind and just live your life the way you want to. Maybe you are going to have to quit discussing this aspect of your life with her.

      Are you crazy? I say no! Insensitive to your mom’s feelings? Maybe. But as you are a grown woman, I think you get to make your own decisions, no matter who those decisions make your mom feel.

      And maybe you will have to let go of wanting your mom to be excited for you. Maybe that’s never going to happen.But I think you should still live your life for yourself.

  11. About using wasp spray: If your wasp spray has a sentence in the warning section that says “It is a violation of federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling”, YOU can be prosecuted BY THE PERP. Talk about adding insult to injury…..

    Instead, invest in a can of foam-type pepper spray. This stuff can shoot 8 feet, and I suspect that it doesn’t float around in the air like the liquid. It sticks to the perps face and eyelids. (YEAH!) For an actual demonstration on volunteer victims getting sprayed with each kind, watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xf5LjaE_JQ0 It’s 11 min. long — the last one is the foam — be sure to watch to the end for the closeup that shows how it affects his eyes.

    A few tips:
    * Buy a known brand, like Sabre, Fox Lab, UDAP or Cold Steel. Sabre foam costs about $15 from Amazon (I don’t know about other sources).
    * Buy pepper spray intended for humans, not bear spray; bear spray is only 1 to 2% pepper, while the kind for humans is 10 to 20% pepper.
    * Aim for the eyes, but there’s no harm if he gets it in his nose, too. ***grin***
    * Get used to paying attention which direction the wind is coming from, so you’ll have a better chance of remembering when you’re in a panic. After spraying, MOVE INTO THE WIND so the breeze blows it away from you.
    * Don’t get a lipstick-sized container; perps come in gangs these days, not singles, so you want enough to spread around.
    * If you have to use it, don’t press the button with your forefinger, use your thumb; it’s stronger and the container will be harder to get out of your hand.
    * Get a new container every 5 years — it doesn’t last forever.
    * AFTER YOU USE IT, RUN AWAY! Don’t just stand there and admire your work!

  12. Do not depend on the universe to keep you safe. Nuns get raped. Monks get assaulted. Gurus get shot. The universe did not give us a brain to allow air to blow through our ears. What you wear may decrease attention – which is a good thing in some cases – but it will not deter a rapist or a robber, not the slightest bit. Lack of opportunity and a difficult hit will. Make it as hard for the would be perpetrator as possible. I don’t park in isolated areas. I have self defense spray and I know how to use it. I’ve taken self defense classes. I wear my headphones with one ear piece in. I sit where I can watch the room or the street. I look people in the eyes so they know I see them and so I can identify them. I make friends with people wherever I go so help is available if I need it. I keep in touch with family and people know my schedule. I lock my doors and keep valuables out of sight. I’m not under the influence of anything when I’m the only person watching my back. I follow my instincts no matter what and I could care less if someone calls my a paranoid b**** or femi-nazi or worse. As far as clothes, I wear whatever. Men hit on me more when I’m in jeans and a t-shirt, then they do when I’m in short shirts and a tank top. I was scared when I first started traveling that my face would attract to much attention (people actually comment on my looks on a regular basis). What I learned is that I haven’t had to hide or act like a man to successfully vandwell alone. I just have to be a woman with common sense and some street smarts.

    • Thanks for commenting , Cerene. You are entered in the drawing.

      Good point about lack of opportunity deterring people who might want to do us harm. I think you are right that as much as possible, we need to make it difficult for people to hurt us.

  13. Sue, thanks for the info on wasp spray. I’m going to look into pepper spray as you suggested!
    Sometimes I think we live in a very bizarre country where defending yourself to the best of your ability is a crime. I don’t get it & I’ll never get it but I respect the laws of the country.

  14. “I think we live in a very bizarre country where defending yourself to the best of your ability is a crime.”

    If a perp hurts himself breaking into your home, he can sue you. If a bank robber breaks in through a skylight, falls breaks his back, he can sue the bank.

    A chronic drunk can be caught 50 times driving, but nothing much will happen until he/she kills someone (maybe).

    Politicians make the laws, and they don’t pass laws when it could directly affect THEM! They drive drunk. They commit crimes.

  15. I mostly try and project confidence and awareness. Try not to look like prey. . If I go hiking alone I generally carry my Swiss army knife and a large glass bottle of tea. I will dress in whatever I’m comfortable in. A dog goes a long way to helping make you feel safe. . if you’re a dog lover. I once read a statistic saying you were 70% les likely to have your home broken into if you have a dog. Any size dog. But most of all I trust my instincts. If something doesn’t feel right I skeedaddle

    • Projecting confidence and awareness is very important. Try not to look like a mark.

      Just wondering, do you think you could get Swiss army knife out of wherever you keep it and open quickly enough to defend yourself if you needed to?

  16. Thanks for everyone who commented on this post and entered the drawing. It is now Monday, October 3, 2016 and the contest is CLOSED. I’ll let the winner know as soon as I’ve done the drawing. In the meantime, I am excited to read all the responses I’ve gotten in the last two weeks and add comments of my own.

  17. I didn’t have time to do the drawing during this trip to civilization, but I will do it first thing next week, I promise.

  18. I just did the drawing and we have a winner! I will contact the winner personally. If it’s ok with her, I will announce who she is. If it’s not ok, she will remain anonymous.

    Thanks to everyone who commented on this post. I really appreciate all comments, but these suggestions went well beyond the advice I thought of. I like it when we can discuss and learn from each other.

  19. And we have a winner! It’s Cheri Vincent. I will be sending her one of my handmade collages next week when I make my last trip to my mountain post office.

    Thanks for everyone who commented on this post. Look for more contests from the Rubber Tramp Artist coming soon.

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