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.