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Posted by on Feb 27, 2013 | 15 comments

Solo Travel Safety

I woke up with this story running in my head this morning. I think it needs to be told.

Solo travel safety ©pennysadler 2013 Broadway St Los Angeles, CA

Look closely

This post is a personal commentary directed toward women traveling solo, like myself. It’s not something that I normally blog about. However, it’s a topic that has been well covered in the news lately, as well as by other bloggers, both male and female. Though I am most often a solo traveler, that’s not the focus of this blog.

Last Sunday I was with friends in Los Angeles, and we decided to visit the downtown historic area. Specifically, we went to see the famous Bradbury Building and to walk in the old theater district. The main drag there is actually called Broadway. The entire area is rich with architecture from the late 1800′s to the 1960′s. On Broadway, there is one spectacular theater after another, in styles ranging from Renaissance Revival to Art Deco, with Mexican markets between. It also used to be a thriving garment and jewelry district. It’s a wonderful area for photography and for culture and history, which I will cover in a future post.

So here’s the scene: I’m standing out on the street in front of the Bradbury Building, taking photographs, and my friends have detoured into the Sprint store next to the Bradbury.

Out of nowhere two guys approach me and they are in my space. I wasn’t afraid at first, mostly just annoyed. They had an attitude – street guys doing an I’m cool routine. They didn’t seem threatening, but there were two of them. One of them said, “Hey, you look like a tourist,” and I replied back, “Hey, because I am a tourist.” Then they started rambling on about the pretty tourist woman on the street. I don’t know if it was meant as an attraction or a distraction, but I started to feel uncomfortable and knew it was time to exit. I didn’t see a red light in my head flashing the word danger, but I wasn’t going to wait for it either. I told them to F off and walked away and into the Sprint store. Meanwhile they were yelling at me what I could do with parts of their anatomy that I’d prefer not to ponder.

I never felt truly threatened by those guys and they probably weren’t dangerous. The point is that I never saw them coming. They surprised me. Reflecting on that day I realize that I really was vulnerable, even if they weren’t dangerous. What happened?

It was daylight, I was with friends, and there had been no one around me. It was a broad street and not a lot of people were passing by at that time. We had just parked the car and walked a block or two so I didn’t really have a feel for the neighborhood yet. And I was distracted by all of the cool architecture.

If I’d been alone, truly alone, my intuitive radar would have been on high alert. I would have been scanning the area for several blocks, not just the block I was on, and I don’t think I would have spoken to those guys at all. In retrospect, I think that was a mistake. I’m not suggesting that women should walk in fear, or even that they should never talk to strangers on the street – only that it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Coincidentally, later that day, a friend called to chat. I was telling her about the day and describing the neighborhood and the awesome architecture when she said, “Is that where the Canadian girl’s body was found in a water tank on the rooftop of the hotel where she was staying?” What?! I knew nothing about this. She went on to tell me that a young Canadian girl, a tourist, had gone missing. About a week ago, due to complaints from customers staying at the same hotel, her body was discovered in a water tank. Guests in the hotel had been complaining about the color, taste, and smell of the water, thus, the missing girl was found. I was stunned. Yes in fact, we had been in that very neighborhood and walked right past the Hotel Cecil. Now my brief encounter with the two guys on the street seemed more ominous.

I have to say that I cannot understand how a woman of any age could think that staying in that neighborhood would be ok. Yes it’s close to a very high end area, but it’s pretty obvious if you just look around, that there are no celebrities or anyone else with any real capital hanging out there – not to mention the strong aroma of urine. Many of the buildings I photographed had newspaper in the window or the windows were missing completely. Yes, it’s Los Angeles, and it is an historic area, but in the U.S., I don’t think you can assume that it’s going to be like an historic area in another country. Many older and interesting neighborhoods are left to decline. It’s not Europe where an historic area is a “tourist area,” and therefore well traveled and secure.

I still think in most cases I’m just as safe on my own as with someone, but there are many factors to consider. My message today is: do your research, pay attention, and if anything seems the least bit uncomfortable, get the hell out.

If you’d like to read some of the most current news regarding solo women traveling here are some suggestions.

On the blog Breathe Dream Go, an extensive list of resources on solo travel for women

On Wanderlust and Lipstick tips for staying safe in your hotel room.

On Travel Yourself, tips and links to lots of other articles on solo travel.

On NBC news:

On the Canadian girl Elisa Lam

or follow the discussion #WeGoSolo on twitter.

15 Comments

  1. I am truly surprised and pleased at the response this post has received. It’s true that women are more vulnerable and I appreciate all the comments. The reason I wrote this however, is because I think it’s important for women to not be fearful, but proactive, and do everything they can to protect themselves in order to fully enjoy their rights and liberties as a human being.

  2. Women are not safe alone in many areas. I worry for my three grown daughters.

  3. That could easily have happened in your home town. It’s got nothing to do with travelling, and everything to do with being a woman in a sexist world.

  4. The Historical part of Downtown Los Angeles is one of the safest area of Downtown (asides from the concentrated part of Little Tokyo.) Revived restaurants and hangouts are concentrated around that area. Most people and bums around DTLA are not harmful creatures (unless you travel down to skid row with an open wallet drunk at night, which is literally 2 blocks away.) Aggravating words actually can set people off into a bad mood and bring yourself more drama. When random crazy people start yelling in Los Angeles or most urban cities, just quickly walk away with a frown on your face. Although the neighborhood is safe for solo alerted women during the day time, I wouldn’t recommend being alone there after 10pm. I enjoy your post, but being a Los Angeles resident myself, it is sad to see tourists’ skewed point of views of LA.

    • Hi Frank, thank you for your comments. I don’t think ALL of downtown LA is unsafe for single women. Only this particular area and only at night, as you pointed out, which is why I would not chose to stay in a hotel in that area. I travel to LA often and I’ve never felt unsafe there. I became uncomfortable because there were TWO guys and there really wasn’t anyone else around. But, yes, I should not have said a word – just walked away.

  5. I was traveling with friends in Mexico a few weeks ago and they missed a connecting flight (long story for another day). I suddenly found myself alone in a small fishing town, getting into a cab and praying with all my might that I’d make it safely to the hotel. High alert! I watched everything, particularly the road signs directing us to the hotel zone. Had he turned off that path, I was out of there! We do need to be mindful, whether traveling solo or with others.

  6. excellent tips – and it’s always a good idea to pay attention (even at home!)

  7. After having some scary things happen to me traveling solo in Sri Lanka, this article couldn’t have come at a better time. I am seriously considering traveling with a taser from now on!

    • I’ve been thinking about this too Val. I don’t travel in Asia and in general, I think I travel places that are pretty safe, but a woman alone has to be doubly alert!

  8. I have travelled solo most of my entire life. But in the last few years I’ve become more aware of my safety. I had an incident in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt which seriously frightened me. Basically, I ended up alone with a local Egyptian Bus Driver on a Hotel Shuttle Bus from the Airport to my Hotel. This guy had promised earlier to drop me at my Hotel before all the others but didn’t keep to his promise. So he started a conversation with me…. at first the conversation was quite normal but it then turned to him telling me that I was beautiful and him wanting to know where my Boyfriend was and asking me if I would meet him during my stay in Sharm El Sheikh. He harassed me all the way back to Hotel and because I didn’t know the area or where he was driving to I had visions of being brought down a laneway or alley and being attacked. I remember that I nearly got down on my knees and thanked God when I arrived safely back at the Hotel. When I recounted my Story to other British Holidaymakers they also were able to tell me that they had met another girl who was travelling solo in Sharm El Sheikh and whilst on a day’s shopping she was locked in a Shop with 2 Men ( presumably the Shop Owners) until she purchased an item from them. So, for any girls or Women planning a solo trip my advice is – know a lot about where you’re going before you go, be aware of the cultural differences and above all do NOT put yourself in harm’s way. Because, it is all too easy for things to go wrong.

    • Priscilla, Thank you for your story/advice. Very helpful and enlightening. I’d agree, yes, know your location and something about the culture, don’t just show up.

  9. Great advice and thanks for giving it. I often see women out alone is some iffy places and kind of keep them in the corner of my eye to make sure nothing happens. The evil is always among us and we must be watchers for each other. I am so glad you are okay and so glad you took the time to post this. I have been in that Los Angeles neighborhood many times and even I do not think I would go alone. Beautiful and Historic, but full of nooks and crannies to pull you into. Be Safe! XXOO Tin Man

    • Hi Tin Man, Thanks for reading the story. It is a wonderful neighborhood isn’t it! It was a Sunday afternoon so there were lots of people on the streets, just not that particular corner because the Bradbury Building is on the edge of the neighborhood – the better edge. Still, I’d never go there alone or at night. It’s sketchy!

  10. Thanks for the support. Good luck on your travels!

  11. Good work for following your instincts and getting the hell out of those guys’ way. It’s rough… I mean, I live in Los Angeles and I carry an SLR with me all the time… I could have been mistaken for a tourist myself if I were in your position. Like you though, I’d have probably gone into the Sprint store too… waited for them to disappear before I went back out. You gave good advice. It’s important to always be aware… Trust your instincts! :)
    Stay safe, girl!
    Eartha

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