I find that there’s always something therapeutic about travelling solo. You get to explore a new country on your own terms, and usually come back feeling renewed.
When I got to travel to South Korea last year, I was beyond excited. I had been there before and was excited to explore the spots I didn’t get to the last time as this time I was headed there on my own.
But halfway through the trip, I experienced something that changed my perception and travelling experience completely. Luckily, I came out of it unscathed and relatively safe, but it taught me a few things that every woman travelling alone should know or equip themselves with.
Here’s what happened, and how you can also learn to trust your instincts.
Strike #1: His approach made me uncomfortable straight away
I was sitting down on a bench waiting for the rain to stop when I was approached by a local. He asked if the next bench was taken and I said no. He started to make conversation and I gave him one-word replies as I didn’t think much of it at first. Unsatisfied with the way I was being, he moved closer.
Strike #2: His questions got too personal
He asked if I had a boyfriend and when I said yes, he said I should leave my boyfriend to be with him. His questions really got too personal, and I was getting freaked out. He made remarks on how I looked and said I looked ‘sexy’ and ‘exotic’ to him, not like the local girls.
Strike #3: He advanced physically
He then went on a little rant about how he prefers ‘international girls’ because we’re ‘more open’. He put his hand around my shoulder and when I tried to get out, he would put it back there. He even tightened his grip. Then he tried to kiss me.
I knew I needed to leave. But frankly, I did not know how or what to do. When you’re alone in a foreign country, getting out of a sticky situation can be tough, but here’s what worked for me:
1. Tell your friends and family in any way you can
Trust your gut. As soon as you start feeling like something is off (perhaps at the level of Strike #1), start reaching out to your friends or family. Text them and let them know of the situation, it doesn’t have to be in detail as you have to be smart about it.
So, as soon as I felt uncomfortable, I reached out to my closest friends and asked them to call me as soon as they could. Yes, roaming rates can be a bummer, but for your own safety, it’s worth it.
2. React smartly and never reveal anything
When the person tries to fish for information out of you, be smart in how you react and answer. In my situation, I lied a few times to make sure he didn’t put his tracks on me.
Never ever say that you’re alone or travelling alone. Always say you’re with somebody and are waiting for them.
3. Don’t give them any chances
We girls, unfortunately, face a number of challenges while travelling and have to be smart about this. One wrong move and it might not end up well. Ignoring someone is a good option – you don’t give the person a chance to get more out of you. If they start touching or grabbing you, you need to fight back.
What proved to work best was fighting back in their language. Even if you’re not fluent, simply shouting ‘No’ proved effective. It will get the attention of people.
Getting away from the perpetrator is your priority so once you push them off. Immediately head to a crowded area and take winding roads (that you are familiar with) to make sure the person is lost, and be sure the person doesn’t follow you.
4. Speak to someone, get safe, and centre yourself
Sexual harassment is traumatising and can leave you feeling upset, confused, and angry afterwards. It’s completely normal and there’ll be all sorts of emotions. Speak to your friends and family in deciding the next course of action.
However, I found that it’s best to not let this dwell on your mind for the rest of the trip at least. This is because it might show on your face or in your actions that you’re scared, and people may take advantage of that.
This doesn’t mean you should invalidate what happened. If you’ve got the luxury of time, take some time off to partake in activities – exercise, meditation, or the like – that can help centre your energy back to normal before continuing your trip.