He called out to me in the dark of night. “Madame come,” he said, from about 20 minutes away. There was no way in hell I was going over there. I didn’t know the guy. I couldn’t even make out his face in the darkness. I picked up my pace and headed in the opposite direction.
I’ve spent the last year and half traveling around Asia and living in India. I never had any real problems, but I was also acutely aware of my surroundings and very cautious. If you are a woman traveling around on your own in Asia, here are my recommendations for safety. Of course these precautions probably would apply to anywhere, but in a country where you might not understand the culture or speak the language, you must be extra careful.
I hate having to suggest this. It goes against every principal of my being. Why should we have to lie for our own safety? The feminist in me hates it! We shouldn’t have to lie, but in certain circumstances it’s justified. Let me give you an example. I was in a taxi in Thailand driving through a fairly remote area at night. My taxi driver asked me if I was traveling alone. “No,” I said, “my husband is waiting for me at the hotel. He has some work to do.” About 15 minutes later the driver continued to ask me uncomfortable questions, like where did I live and how long were we there? I realize it’s possible he was just being friendly, but my instincts told me to be very careful. I picked up my cell phone and acted like I was dialing and talking to my husband until we arrived at my destination. Many times I have had strange men hurry up to catch up with me and then ask me if I have a boyfriend or husband. I learned the hard way to say yes. If you don’t they will continue to follow you and try to make conversation.
Don’t get out numbered.
There will be times when you mysteriously attract unwanted attention. I remember once when Kirti and I were at a tea stall in a remote village. We got out of the car to order tea and there were just a couple of guys there. Within a few minutes there were several more men continuing to come over and stare at me. When there were about 8 of them Kirti said we should leave. I wasn’t sure if it was my fair skin, height or the fact that we were an interracial couple that made them stare so hard at me, but that is exactly what makes a crowd dangerous. You don’t know what customs they have or what could set them off. It’s best to just be careful to not get out numbered and make a quiet exit.
Always have cash
Many vendors, especially in remote areas, aren’t set up to take credit cards. If they do take cards, they still might not accept foreign cards. Always have cash handy and keep it in a few different places so if it gets lost or stolen you will not feel desperate.
Have a working phone
At most international airports you can buy a sim card for short temporary use. I usually get a combination of both data and talk time, and then I save it for emergencies. It can help provide navigation, allow you to surf for accommodations, find service providers and be your life line in an emergency.
There are many times I have stopped to take a picture of the car license plate and my driver. Then I act like I’m sending it to someone once I get in the car. I’ve had them ask me why I do that and I just tell them my sister worries about me. It gives a message though. It suggests that people know where you are and who you are with. It’s just one more precaution you can take to ensure your safety.
There’s no need to be consumed by fear and allow your worries to keep you from visiting the places you dream about. But a little common sense and awareness can make a huge difference and make you feel more in control. Have fun and be safe.