Preparing before leaving is one thing, but I also always try to act preventive while traveling and enjoying places. I always try to look ahead, to be aware about all that is going on around me, and to stay focused. When I’m walking around I want to look convinced and self-confident. I’ve noticed that I attract “shady” characters when I show my insecurity or that I’m lost; I think I make myself just more vulnerable. Sometimes I consciously avoid eye contact, because just a polite smile or look into the eyes unfortunately can send out wrong signals. Guys who are not used to female company and have bad intentions will misinterpret it as a flirt intention from my side. It is a shame, but I have learned to trim back my politeness or my natural behavior in order to protect myself.
Acting preventative also means changing street side if somebody suspicious is approaching. If I’m looking for a seat in a train compartment, I’ll sit in an empty one, close to another woman or by an exit. No matter if it may seem impolite or anything – if I feel unwell, I listen to this inner intuition and act accordingly. When I walk, I don’t walk fast, but not too slow either. I try to show that I know where I want to go, convinced instead of insecure. I always make sure that I have a street map with me and that I know where I am at that precise moment.
I often try to adapt a certain local behavior and try not to look too much like a tourist. I would never wear clothes that are too colorful, sparkling, or that show too much skin. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend? Not when I’m traveling! I take with me only a few, cheap pieces of jewelry and a watch, but that’s about it. It’s also time-saving when you pass the airport security checks without too many accessories to take off and on again.
When it comes to luggage equipment, I’m always careful with having my bags closed at all times. I like to wear small bags under my clothes to hide my money and passport. Also, bags with many zips, hidden pockets and bags to wear across your body can come in handy. If necessary, I keep the bag in front of me, not on my back where it is out of sight to me (especially in crowded places). I always try not to put my money in places that are too obvious, and I never use big wallets. I like to carry with me some cash in the front pocket of my jeans. This way, if I have to buy something I don’t have to open my bag every time.
Personally I also like to wear backpacks, but several times I have had the experience of locals classifying me immediately as a tourist and treating me like one. In Florence, Italy for example, I was walking over a rather touristy “piazza” in the city centre. As it was just before dinnertime, the advertising waiters lurking outside their restaurants were shouting in English to me: “Hey beauty, so alone?”; “Wanna have dinner at our place?” etc. They treated me like a naïve tourist girl, and I am sure they would have played games with me when it came to paying for the dinner. You really should have seen their faces when I told them in almost perfect Tuscan-Italian that I had already eaten and that I wish them a good night! I’ve had similar experiences in which people didn’t take me seriously because I look like a sweet naïve girl that cannot defend herself. It has been always like that; first they treat me unfriendly or try to fool me. But when I start to talk to them, not only in the local language but also in a determined and confident way, they become friendly, give me advice or even a reduced local price for something I wish to acquire.
During my travels I always have a fully charged mobile phone with me. If I stay longer in a place, I buy a local SIM-card. I save all relevant contacts, and I also write down on paper the most important ones, in case my mobile gets lost (for example my accommodation address, or my closest relative at home). When I am lodging in a hotel I sometimes leave my number to the owners (only when they seem trustworthy), when I’m going on a one-day-trip by myself or something.
When I’m traveling I like to discover a place at daytime, but also at night-time. I am always interested in getting to know the vibrant music scene of a city, or places where I can get in touch with locals and their cultural habits. It is very difficult to decide if you can go out safely as a woman. In general, I never go out on my own when I am travelling. It is a fact that in every place bad intentions can lurk, and maybe even some more for women. When I went out I had either travelled together with friends and therefore was never alone, or I stayed longer in a place until I had met some new acquaintances with which I could built up a trustful relationship (for example, other travelers, language students from my school etc.). There were also nights in which I simply resigned and stayed in my room. It might sound lame, but I just never wanted to risk anything. When I had the chance to go out with friends, I always wore comfortable shoes. I wouldn’t recommend to girls neither high heels nor flats. Flats are very thin, and when you walk through streets at night, glass splitters and junk of all sorts can lie around and cause you serious trouble. Also I would never take big handbags with me, for comfort and safety reasons.
I can consider myself as lucky that so far nothing serious has happened to me while travelling. Only twice I have almost been robbed, and I wasn’t even by myself. Unfortunately I’ve had negative experiences like suggestive looks or remarks from men. Once I also got felt up in a crowded bus by an old man. It was absolutely surprising and unexpected, for that guy did it in absolute discretion and I wouldn’t have expected it from his appearance – it was not the classic weirdo. I tell you this story to show you that things like this unfortunately DO exist and that while traveling you obviously expose yourself more to the outside world than in your daily routine at home. In my eyes this is a fact that especially women should be aware of at all times. Nevertheless, it is not a reason for you to not explore the world. To me, it is just crucial to plan the journey ahead, and to keep a clear head during the whole travel.
Mara Strufaldi is a 27 year old Swiss who is living in a small town close to Zurich. After studying Social Work and working in this area, she decided to make a time out studying English and Italian, finding inspiration again for the world of languages. She spent the last half year in Galway, Ireland, and in Tuscany, Italy. Travelling to her not only means to get to know the outside, but also the inside world of herself – and to experience that in every spot on this earth special persons are waiting to meet her and to teach her something for life.