Based on that experience, here are my top five tips for women traveling by transit:
- On buses, trains, and subways, remember what mama said. Sit next to another woman when possible, and if you must sit alone, choose a seat where you won’t easily get blocked in. On a bus, if it’s empty or you’re traveling overnight, sit up front, near the driver (if they’re interested, try striking up a conversation—you’ll feel more connected and give off a sense of camaraderie).
- If another traveler displays warning signs (such as being overtly drunk, belligerent, or lecherous), heed them and move away. I know some women who’ve shamed a groping harasser on crowded cars by grabbing the groping hand, holding it up, and loudly inquiring after the owner; others who employ a single, withering glare; and still others who prefer an unobtrusive, quick seat change. Whatever you choose to do, put as much physical distance between yourself and the offender as is safely possible.
- When making an escape, plan wisely. If the scene is uncomfortable enough that you’re thinking of changing buses or trains, be sure you know where you are and how often they run first. Hopping off blindly at the next stop may seem like a good idea until you’re stranded at a deserted station with no next train in sight.
- Understand your environment. Reach out to other women for help, but don’t take it to heart if they seem unwilling to intervene on your behalf—remember there may be many social and cultural influences at play. Observe how local women travel and carry themselves in public, and take a moment to reflect on any cultural assumptions you may have unknowingly brought along with you.
- Consider recruiting a like-minded woman to be your ‘travel buddy’. If you happen to run into another woman traveling solo, consider hooking up for the transit legs of your journey, then splitting up for sightseeing at your destination. Traveling in pairs doesn’t preclude harassment, but you’ll have a sympathetic ear for horror stories and at worst a helping hand in an emergency.
Women travelers: Do you have any tried-and-true travel tips you’d like to share?