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