Minimalism, vanlife, traveling, solo female traveler, sober travel, traveling in USA, downsizing.
Safety is the biggest “issue” with nomading, especially for women, the LGBTQ+ community and POC. And by “issue” I mean that it’s the topic that everyone in your life will worry about. I’m not saying that safety isn’t #1 or that there won’t be issues but this is something I will address now and, most likely over and over again along my adventures.
Last night after work something scary happened, which is what prompted me to write this. I was leaving work and going to the dumpster in our parking lot in order to throw away a lot of trash. I work in healthcare so getting rid of trash in a timely manner is important. Some things may be infected with Covid but I don’t know for sure. I went to the dumpster like I always do but this time there was a homeless man sitting on top of it screaming. He was violent and pulling at the dumpster lid, cursing. He jumped up and down on it with a flowing litany of obscenities. My nervous system went on high alert. I threw all the trash into my car, jumped in and locked my doors. I drove away and called the police to make a report. But I still had to go back to work in order to lock up. When I pulled back around and parked illegally out of his line of site he was still raging and screaming. I was shaking and terrified. This man appeared to be on drugs or/and mentally unhinged. I waited, watching and after awhile he lay on the ground. I ran back inside my office to lock it up and by the time I left he was gone. The dumpster lid was broken and there were massive holes torn in the two recycling bins. Imagine what he could have done to a human body with that rage.
Still shaking I drove home. In the shower I thought about all the extreme times I’ve been faced with violence from strangers.
Feeling unsafe, as a woman, is the norm. I took a wonderful Alison Armstrong class called “Understanding Women” in which each woman brought their significant other. The teacher asked us all, “how many women here have felt unsafe, like your life was truly in danger in the past month?” Everyone raised their hands. She said, “men, please look around the room.” They did. Then the teacher said, “how many women have felt unsafe in the past week?” Everyone raised their hands. The men looked around. “How many have felt unsafe in the last 24 hours?” Everyone raised their hands. The men looked around. “How many felt unsafe this morning?” Everyone raised their hands. The men looked around and my boyfriend at the time turned to me and asked, “is this true?” I assured him it was. He was shocked. This is the world we live in as women. We are always on guard because we have to be. It’s not right or wrong, good or bad, it’s just a fact. We have to be hyper vigilant and hyper aware all the time.
I’ve been in a lot of scary situations, mostly not when traveling but two in particular that I can recall when I was.
In the tiny town I live in, there are at least a hundred homeless people. We have great weather and great services. Many of them are drug users and violent, individuals. When I owned a clinic on the main street, the homeless robbed me (multiple times), they threatened me and my patients and staff (multiple times), they even hid in my establishment and refused to leave. It got so bad that the police suggested I carry a gun. But in each of these situations and many others, I didn’t confront anyone. I left and called the police.
The only times where I was very close to being physically hurt were the few times I stood up for myself and every single time I was with a man/men (or woman/women) who were supposed to have my back. None of them did. Ever. Maybe they thought I had the situation under control even though it never felt that way to me?
Twice in movie theaters when I was young I yelled at people to stop talking. Both times (in different years with different “men” at my side), the person got increasingly aggressive and threatened to physically hurt me.
The scariest moment I ever dealt with (from a stranger) was stopping at a liquor store on Haight Street in San Francisco when I lived there. I had just completed a very thorough self defense training. A man came up to me and started verbally harassing me. My husband (now ex) and five other friends of mine were inches away. I puffed out my chest and said, “I’m not afraid of you.” And the huge man leaned down, got directly in my face and whispered, “well you really should be. I can make you disappear right now and your friends…” he waved toward them (they all ignored the interaction and none came to my aid) will never see you again or have any idea what happened to you.”
That was a huge lesson for me. I learned that NO ONE has my back, especially a “big, strong” man. I also learned I should keep my big mouth SHUT!
Except that apparently I needed one more lesson. Twenty years later I was in Venice, Italy and a homeless man was harassing a group of my female friends. They kept ignoring him and he grew increasingly aggressive. I yelled, “Basta, basta.” (Which means “stop” and is what my Italian friend told me to yell in such situations) And he got closer to me, screaming obscenities in my face. It was terrifying. My group of friends whom I had so chivalrously tried to defend did not come to my defense, not a single one of them. Afterwards as I stood shaking and almost wet myself, one of the women said, “you don’t need to stick up for me, I can stick up for myself.” More lessons learned. She didn’t say thank you, none of them did. And no one, once again, came to my defense. People don’t want to get involved, even if it is the right thing to do. Maybe they're afraid too. Maybe they believe my bravado. Maybe it's because there's a serious lack of empathy in our culture right now.
I’m not writing this to illicit a "poor me" response. I take full responsibility for my bad choices!
When I initially posted this I forgot about my time last year in Leipzig, Germany. It wasn't until I was interviewing a woman for my podcast yesterday that I remembered. And it is important to mention because of the way I handled it. I was walking back to my airbnb from an appointment and it was a two hour walk. I love walking for hours each day when I travel. It was a national holiday so the streets were packed. I had my phone in my hand, looking at the directions/google map periodically. At some point I noticed a large man following me. He was very distinct looking. I stopped at the side of the street, pretending to do something until he passed. A few blocks later he was behind me again. I went down a side street and waited for about ten minutes. A block later he was behind me. I stopped and waited for him to pass me and then walked behind him so I could keep him in my sights. He kept looking behind to make sure I was still there. At some point I lost him and he turned up behind me again. I went into a restaurant, when I came out, ten, or so minutes later he was waiting across the street "hiding" behind a pole. He couldn't really hide because he was quite large. At this point I told myself I wasn't being paranoid and knew for sure he was following me. I ducked into a Jack in the Box and waited until he walked by. He didn't walk by for about fifteen minutes but when he finally did, I ran out and ran down a side street as fast as I could. I zigzagged left and right, down streets until I found myself completely alone, which wasn't good either. It was hot and I was tired and scared. I kept walking, still zigzagging away from the main street where he'd been following me and toward my airbnb and several blocks later I spotted a policeman. I told him what happened and he said if the man wasn't visible there was nothing he could do. I asked for an escort back to my airbnb but the cop refused. I asked for him to please call me a cab as I was in a foreign country and didn't speak German. He refused. So much for the police being helpful. I stood next to him and changed my appearance as much as I could. I had on a bright colored top so I threw a sweater over it, even though I was already sweating. I had on a skirt and leggings so I stepped out of the skirt. I wasn't wearing a hat so I dug one out of my daypack and threw it over my head. Then I went on my way, trying to be as observant as I could and walking/running all the way back to safety. I made it but that was a harrowing experience.
My take away: The most important thing, for me, is to walk away from dangerous situations if I can. If I can’t, I need to call the police unless I'm somewhere where the police refuse to help. I need to ignore crazy people, if I can. If I can’t, I need to try and deescalate a possible violent situation and call the police, if I can. If someone else is being verbally abused near me I can call the authorities or keep an eye open for violence and ask someone else to help them. If I'm being followed I can do my best to escape and change my appearance. I can try not to stick out in a crowd. I can wear a single earbud in one ear and listen to GPS directions instead of holding my phone in front of me like a "rob me" beacon.
Now if I saw someone else who needed help would I just turn my back them? No, I would not. It’s not in my nature. I only hope that doesn’t get me in trouble someday! How other people can just ignore someone in need, someone who is hurt or hurting, I will never understand. Nor do I want to, because I don’t want to be that kind of person, but in their defense - I have to believe they thought I could handle the situation on my own. Perhaps I should have cried out, "help me please." I do wonder if that would have changed anything.
Caveat: I hope this doesn't sound "blaming" - I think it's important to talk about my experiences so that others know that you can't always count on someone else. I'm not saying that any of these people or even the cop (who didn't come to my defense) are bad people. The "friends" made their choices based on their past experiences and even now, I don't blame or "hate" them. Would I want to travel the world with them, probably not, but I need to look at each of these incidents as a learning experience so I can make better decisions in the future. The cop, on the other hand, just taught me that I can't count on the police for help. So in the end the message really is the same, the only person who truly has my back-is ME.
~by Kimberly Anne©
Hi, I'm Kimberly Anne! (aka K.A.)
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