It is shit, that especially as women we need to take extra precautions because other people are dicks. I have predominately travelled by myself and as a consequence have always had to be more aware of my surroundings. I was physically assaulted on our trip to Amsterdam and it made me reflect on times when I have encountered issues when travelling. For the most part travelling is fantastic but there are occasions when other people have to ruin it. Women are often physically and/or verbally assaulted when travelling (or even when not travelling) and you do unfortunately get used to it. You don’t want to change your behaviour and take precautions because it is unfair that you have to suffer the consequences for other people’s bad behaviour. For me the more it happens the more I am comfortable in responding immediately when it happens. The first few times it happened, it would take me by surprise, the person would be gone, and I would feel a sense of injustice.
The most “memorable” occasions are the following:
Washington D.C. longest cab ride ever, where I did not die.
A few years ago, I attended the American Society of Criminology conference, as part of the trip I visited a colleague in D.C. I had a very late-night flight so decided to catch a cab to my hotel. A man approached me and offered me a cab. All good so far, until he took my bag, started walking towards the carpark and not the cab rank, and he then made a call and started talking to someone in another language. I felt very uncomfortable. I told him to stop and asked what was happening, he responded that he had parked in the carpark because he had dropped off a disabled passenger. Okay, so what do I do now? It is a reasonable explanation… I went with him to his large unmarked black car, took a picture of his number plate and messaged it to a friend while I still had free Wi-Fi. Then the ride started…
For those who haven’t been to D.C. it is the world’s longest cab ride to the city. It was autumn, with a freak snow storm coming through, it was pitch black, we were on the motorway, and I had absolutely no idea where we were. So starts the questioning that always makes you feel at ease – how old are you? Oh, you don’t look that old, do you have a boyfriend? How long are you here? Etc. Here comes the conundrum, answering questions in the least amount of detail but in a way that doesn’t upset your potential killer. I survived the cab ride, but it is still hands down the most uncomfortable and scary cab ride I have ever taken. His offer to take me back to the airport was surprisingly not accepted, though of course I let him write his number down.
South-East Asia. Where do I start?
It has been a couple of years since I was in South-East Asia – Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It is only now after all this time that I would consider revisiting but only if travelling with other people. I spent almost four weeks in South-East Asia by myself except for a week when travelling through Cambodia. I took a tour through Cambodia because when I researched it had the least amount of infrastructure, spoke the least amount of English, and the tour covered the border crossings between Thailand-Cambodia and Cambodia-Vietnam (which was good because I didn’t have to read minds about how much to bribe people).
I really enjoyed my time especially visiting temples, doing lots of cooking classes, and eating the food in general. In saying that I had a really hard time, I was dressed appropriately because of temple visits but I received a lot of physical harassment (not to mention the verbal harassment) – people (men and women) groping my body, especially my breasts on the street. After four weeks it was too much. For my last few days in Vietnam I needed a break, I didn’t leave my hotel, I didn’t even let anyone in my room to make it up, I just needed to avoid people, not to be followed, to have space, and not be touched and groped.
My most recent “incident” was in Amsterdam when getting off a tram near the tulip market. A man approached me, grabbed me by the shoulders and asked me to go with him. I told him to please stop touching me (see as a woman, always polite lest the you upset someone). Surprisingly he didn’t stop touching me and instead he started to feel my breasts. I repeated no and was able to get away.
The incident was to me not a surprise, it is just the norm now, however to Glen it was a surprise as he has never experienced something like that. It shouldn’t be the norm, but this is life for women, having to say no but in a polite way so things don’t escalate.
In retrospect, being more comfortable with myself now, I would have declined the cab driver’s offer once he started walking to the carpark instead of the cab rank. But you don’t want to be “rude” and you feel like you have to offer an explanation. For Asia, unfortunately I would only return if travelling with other people to help minimise the “attack” feeling I got when going out by myself and I would have more down time away from public spaces. As for Amsterdam I kind of wish I had kicked or punched him, but that’s wishful thinking… maybe next time – cause we all know there will be a next time. Fuck politeness.