I Was Followed By A Strange Man While Traveling Abroad - Safety tips for solo female travelers
“Turn left” my Google Maps navigator said. I waited on the side of the road as the heavy traffic passed on the busy main street before proceeding to make a sharp left turn on a street that almost seemed like a different world, not one car in sight. It was a short street that would lead to another busy street. I made my way up that vacant street not long before someone appeared behind me making hand signals. Was something wrong with my bike? Had something of mine fallen into the road? Was the street a dead end? I slowly stopped as the skinny Sri Lankan guy pulled along side my scooter. “Ayobowaun” I said, as I removed the right ear phone from my ear to hear what he wanted. “You want sex?”, he’d asked me. I immediately grew angry. “What the fuck?” I yelled. “Get away from me, now!” I said as I proceeded to drive up the street, making a left turn onto the other busy road. I checked my rearview mirror, catching a glimpse of him turning left onto the same street. I watched anxiously, checking his whereabouts as I drove off. He’d pulled along side of me attempting to say something else. I stopped, deciding to wait along the side of the road for him to pass far ahead. He continued on. After about three minutes I decided to start my motorbike again, checking my right side for traffic before merging on to the road. I’d started my music again and sped off. Just 300 meters up he’d pulled over on the left side of the road. I spotted his blue backpack as he’d made a stop and was checking his mirror. “Is this fucking guy waiting on me?” I gave him a look of disgust as I’d passed. Now worrying a bit more about my safety than I had before. He’d pulled off behind me as I passed. I pulled over on the side of the road again and stopped. He pulled pulled along side me and stopped to. “Are you following me?” I yelled. “I’m calling the police! What is wrong with you?” I asked. “STOP!” I yelled at him. His mouth moved, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying to me as I filled with rage. I didn’t wait for him to continue speaking before I drove off again. I was now 5 minutes away from my destination. I continued checking my mirror and he appeared again, this time riding not too far behind me, but not wanting to go ahead of me. I stopped again. He stopped again. I pulled out my cell phone and began recording him, making sure to capture his tag number and a clear view of his face. I quickly sent it to my sister with the audio as I said, “This guy has asked me if I want sex and has been following me for about 5 minutes!” “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” he said as he pulled off ahead of me. For the rest of the ride I was paranoid, checking every other second to see if he’d hidden somewhere along the road waiting or if he had actually left me alone. Was it what I was wearing? The traditional kanzu dress I’d gotten in Kenya covered my entire body with the exception of my shoulders that I’d wrapped a shawl around. Was it my body language? Was it because I was one of the very few women driving a scooter in the local area? I rarely saw women driving in Sri Lanka, an observation I’d made after many tuk tuk excursions and hours long road trips. What if he would have continued following me? I did have plans to stop at a shop along the road and tell someone about the guy and ask them to call the police if he had persisted. I was upset. I pulled inside of the auto repair shop, and after a few short minutes completely allowing that experience to pass as I’d met a pleasant group of locals, smiling, and trying to help me, as I asked about the price to fix the front lights on my scooter, but later in the day I couldn’t help but think, what if this was a first time solo traveler or someone who didn’t feel as confident as I did to stop, yell, and video record this guy?
“Traveling is dangerous”, “Traveling alone is not safe”, “You don’t worry about being kidnapped?”, “Have you seen Taken?” These are questions that I get often as a female solo traveler. But, honestly, it’s not often that you are followed by a strange man in a foreign country. Actually it was the first time that this had ever happened to me outside of the United States. Was I worried? YES. Was I angered? YES. Was I cautious? YES. Will this experience stop me from traveling? Hell no and here is why:
After hundreds of pleasant encounters I refused to let one strange encounter consume me.
I felt equipped with enough tools and knowledge to be able to protect myself had the situation escalated.
I know this could have happened anywhere.
As a solo female traveler, I have to be on my A-Game more than I’d like. It’s a price us solo female travelers have to pay for the independence, experience, and our safety. Dressing more modestly then we’d like to “not look too sexual”, keeping count of how many drinks we have on the nights we’d just like to let loose, watching over our shoulder to make sure no one is following us, silently ignoring cat calls and sexual advances. In a perfect world, we’d be able to mind our business and just enjoy our travels, but the truth is you cannot control other people’s ignorance, lack of respect, or strange behavior, however, YOU CAN use these tips to make sure that you feel comfortable, prepared, and most importantly SAFE when you travel
#15 BE CONFIDENT
Why is a lion the king of the jungle? A lion is not the fastest or the biggest. Why isn’t it an elephant or a hyena? The lion is the king because of it’s confidence. The way it walks, the way its powerful presence is felt, the way it stands its ground. Call a spade a spade, if you look lost, confused, and hopeless that is exactly what people will perceive you as and will try their best to take advantage of that, but you’re not any of those things. You are brave! Anyone that sets off on a solo journey is taking a big step and challenging their comfort zone, which most people never do. Especially if you are a female taking this journey in a “man’s world”. Be confident, walk that walk and talk that talk!
#14 TELL PEOPLE WHERE YOU ARE
Two days ago I was up West in Hambegamuwa, then I’d taken a road trip South to Hikkaduwa, and today I’m further South in Hirikiteya. One of the best parts of traveling is how unpredictable every day can be and being on the go can make it quit difficult to keep your friends and family updated with where you are at all times, but you should. Always send them a quick update of where you are or where you are going.
#13 ALWAYS SHARE YOUR LOCATION
Before you board your flight share your location with as many close friends and family members as possible. Your mobile device should have this option and it is probably one of the best ways to allow others to keep tabs on where you are. At least 10 of my family and friends have my location indefinitely and can always check where I am after I let them know where I plan on being. When you’re in a country like Sri Lanka where the street names are "Anada Coomaraswamy Mawatha", your family and friends will most likely have no idea where that actually is to properly identify your whereabouts, but sending them a message of the street, town, or province name and sharing the location should help them keep an eye on you.
Airtags are intended to be placed on items like keys, handbags, important equipment you have, but you can also place one on yourself. Attach an Airtag to something you always carry around and allow it to keep track of your whereabouts.
#11 FIND A PUBLIC PLACE
If you can help it, try to always stop in a public place where there are many people around. Gas stations, markets, restaurants, busy roads, and tourist shops make perfect places to have a stop or seek help if you need it, whether that be for directions, a pit stop, or to find a police officer and report something.
#10 DON’T BE AFRAID TO SPEAK UP
Most people are too scared to speak up about bad experiences in a country. We don’t want to escalate the situation, offend the majority, be blamed, and quit frankly just rather avoid the conflict, but being harassed, followed, or put into an uncomfortable situation anywhere is not okay and you should feel comfortable to speak up immediately. Not only for your own safety, but also for the safety of others like you. Yell if you have to, find a police officer immediately, and threaten the perpetrator if it feels like the right thing to do. I am so happy that I decided to pull out my phone, record the strange guy, speak out loud about his actions, and send it to someone, which eventually led him to leaving. Tell them things like, “I’m calling the police”., “I have already sent your tag number and photo out”., “The police are on the way now”., “If you don’t leave I will pepper spray you”. I know this sounds extreme, but mostly these kind of people think that they are dealing with someone who is hopeless and scared. Even if you are, have confidence to try to scare them away even if it’s for a little so you can make your way to a public place and notify someone.
“Are you traveling alone?” “No, my boyfriend is waiting on me at the hotel”. Plot twist, I don’t have a boyfriend. You do not need to tell everyone that you are a solo traveler. While I do think it is something that is inspiring to share and deserves recognition, you can avoid sharing it with in most cases. Especially when you feel that a man is inquiring a little too much. Trust your gut and lie your heart away.
#8 HAVE FUN, BUT NOT TOO MUCH
I know, that sounds a bit harsh, but it’s the reality. Traveling is about having good time and experiencing new places and people, but you still have some things to always keep in mind as a solo traveler and nothing should get in the way of you remembering these key tips.
Pay attention to your surroundings. Use Google Maps to pin points like where you parked your car or land marks that help you remember where you are. Slightly keep an eye on the people around. No need to obsess over every little detail, but you should notice the guy who keeps staring at you from across the room, the person pacing back and forth, the car that has been on the same route as you for sometime. It could all mean nothing, but it’s best to have it in mind.
Even if you are with a group of other travelers, remember that you are still responsible for yourself. You’ll often find yourself out with groups of people that you’ve met. It’s also one of my favorite things about traveling. Although, mostly these people will be kind and selfless, almost feeling like you’ve known them forever, it’s best to not become too dependent. Don’t get caught up in group thinking and forget to make decisions for yourself.
Never drink past your limit. It’s easy to get caught in the moment. After two shots of tequila you start to lose count and before you know it, you’re extremely drunk. Avoid alcoholic drinks that take you far out of your element, accepting free drinks (they may be free, but they add up in other ways), and consuming any other substances that alter your perception.
Do not go home with strangers. You will meet many nice people who want to continue to hang out with you throughout the day, whether it be locals or other travelers. Try to meet up a few times in public places first before you decide if you’d like to visit their home.
“Where are you staying?” is a common question I get while traveling and having a conversation with someone. Giving vague details like, “The next city”. “About 10 minutes away”., or “Not too far from here.” This is more than enough information to move past the question. Never share your hotel or accommodation name with anyone.
#7 TRY TO STICK WITH ONE LOCAL DRIVER OR UBER
If you opt for private rides, avoid having multiple taxis and drivers. Most countries have taken on Uber or other ride share options. Use them or ask your hotel or accommodation host if they can recommend a driver that they normally work with. Exchange WhatsApp numbers with this person and use them as your driver for the remainder of your travels in that particular area. This limits the amount of people that know where you are living and where you are going throughout your trip. This also gives the local driver the opportunity to have a stable income for a few days or weeks.
#6 NEVER SHARE YOUR CURRENT LOCATION ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Sometimes we get so excited and want to share our exact location because the place is just too beautiful to be kept secret, but we forget the power of social media. Once you share your exact location everyone now has access to you and you never quit know who’s watching. Never post in real time. Wait until you have left and continued on your journey before tagging the exact location of the place.
#5 DRESS APPROPRIATELY FOR THE CULTURE
This is my least favorite tip, but it is probably one of the most important. Coming from a Fashion Business Management degree, a ex-designer, and a culture where “fashion is an expression of self" I easily forget that is not the case everywhere in the world. Religion, environment, and social structures play a big part in dress around the world. It’s best that you dress to be what is considered respectful in the country that you are in. I always recommend carrying a sarong or shawl so you have the option to cover when its needed.
#4 PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY
Your phone is a distraction, even if it is what you are using as your map or to research something briefly. Most people will notice that you are distracted and this makes you a target. Wear bluetooth speakers and put your phone away when transiting through the streets. In many countries smartphones are a luxury and worth a lot. Having your phone taken is probably not the best way to experience a new country so avoid using it in busy areas.
#3 LEAVE YOUR VALUABLES HOME
There is no need to walk around with all of your valuable items. Leave all of the important things at home; documents, jewelry, large amounts of cash, designer and luxury items.
I recommend making copies of all of your important documents and saving them to a file on your phone or having the copies laminated AND sending a copy to a close friend or family member. Here are some items to consider:
#2 TRUST LOCALS
While it is nice to meet people from all over the world, there is nothing like building friendship or trust with a local. I enjoy connecting with locals and I trust that they know best when it comes to safety, areas to avoid, must see places, and hidden gems. In some countries the locals are more friendly than others, but mostly majority of the locals everywhere enjoy speaking to travelers and are eager to share what they know about their home. Despite popular belief, you’ll more than likely encounter 1000 helpful and kind locals before you encounter the one or two bad apples. Ue these tips for those bad apples whether a local or tourist.
#1 TRUST YOUR GUT
Vibes don't lie! “How do you know if you’re safe or not?”. As cliche as it may sound, you will feel it moments before. We all have felt that feeling of wanting to say no, disregarded it, and having a poor experience follow. Only later to say, “I knew I should have never went”, “stayed home”, “went the other way”, “made that my last drink”. The biggest advice I could give any solo female traveler is to trust your gut. You know what feels right for you and what doesn’t. Never disregard this gut wrenching feeling. Just like most other animals we have instincts. They aren’t just there for fun, use them and trust that they are guiding you.
Ironically I don’t know if I would have been as brave and confident as I am without solo travel. Traveling has allowed me to see the world in so many different ways, exposed me to so many different people, and learn about so many different places that I mostly feel safe and ready to protect myself if needed anywhere even if I am in an uncomfortable situation.
Solo travel is my favorite type of travel and you shouldn’t allow fear to overpower your desire to live a free and independent life! Despite popular belief, most people are kind and after traveling 20 countries, I can count the few times that I’ve had strange encounters with people on one hand. Follow these tips and you’ll be ready to safely travel beyond your wildest dreams!