I, like many other women, was raised to be polite. To add to it, I was raised in the South where we’re raised to be, perhaps, too polite. The culture that I grew up in taught me to be hospitable; to make sure others were comfortable, and to be welcoming and ‘sweet’. While I think this is a great way to be in everyday life, after I started traveling, I realized that my genteel way of growing up was an easy way to become an easy target. I had to catch on and tweak my M.O…. fast.
When people ask me if I am ever afraid when I travel, I usually respond by saying that despite what we might hear on the news, there is much more good in the world than there is bad. I truly do believe this, but I am not oblivious to the fact that there is, indeed, some bad in the world, and not everyone means me well. So because of this realization, I’ve had to toughen up at bit and improve my ability to assert myself. Many of the times that I have had to practice assertiveness has luckily come in non-threatening situations, like people trying to sell me things. If you’ve been abroad, you can probably attest to the fact that there are many people who you’ll encounter that want to sell you things, and these people are persistent! At first I would feel guilty for not wanting to buy their things, so I would pretend to look and contemplate buying whatever they were selling, but I found that by doing this, I just got more roped in. Eventually I had to learn to firmly say no, or just keeping walking and ignore them altogether. On the other end of the spectrum, female travelers, especially women traveling alone may encounter negative male attention. Catcalls, heckling, and even unwanted physical contact may be an issue that some will encounter. Assertion, in this case, as well as familiarizing yourself to the societal and cultural norms of the area, is imperative. Here are some ways to deal with situations that you may encounter:
- Get conformable with eye contact. depending on where you are traveling and the cultural norms, eye contact can play a major part in asserting yourself. If you don’t use eye contact you may appear passive or shy and an easy target for anyone who’s motives range from harmless to harmful. Be sure to keep in mind customs of the country that you’re in, because direct eye contact may be seen as disrespectful in some places.
- Practice a confident “no”. I remember a time when saying “no” was a difficult task for me. “No” seemed too harsh, so even when “no” was what I meant, it may not have been what I said. Instead, I would soften blows by saying, “Maybe not today” or “Maybe another time” or “I don’t think so.” What I soon had to realize was that “no” was a powerful, necessary answer. I also had to realize that “no” by itself was a complete answer with no explanation or qualifying needed. And what I found was that it was oddly satisfying to say “no” and mean it. It was empowering, and it’s imperative to practice saying “no,” because it could make all the difference in getting a pushy salesperson out of your face or be as important as avoiding becoming a potential victim.
- Up your cold shoulder game. When it comes to heckler or men who catcall, sometimes the best way to deal with it is to ignore it. Many times people are looking for a reaction out of you, but if you refuse to give it to them, they’ve lost their reason for playing their rude, little game. Don’t think of ignoring someone as being rude. It may be, but if it is annoying to you or compromises your safety, it’s safer to be rude and risk hurting their feelings. If someone is bothering you, particularly from afar, it’s best to avoid eye contact and keep moving. If someone is closer in your personal space, this would be a good opportunity to practice that eye contact that I mentioned earlier. The reason that I say to make eye contact in this situation, because the fact that the person knows that you’ve clearly seen them makes someone who means you harm think again. Give them a stern look in the eyes, and keep walking.
- Practice your white lies. I am the worst at lying so I had to get better at this one. When traveling alone, I noticed that people will frequently ask me if I am alone, or where my husband is. Depending on my level of comfort in the situation, I may tell the truth. Other times- most times- I’ll probably lie. I had to learn to practice lying with confidence. I’d tell taxi drivers that I was on my way to meet up with my husband or a group of friends, or tell someone who asked that my visit was not my first time to the country to make it seem like I was familiar with the area. Lying may not be the easiest thing for you, but it can be important to stretch the truth if it means keeping yourself safe.
- Understand that your comfort will always be what’s most important. Many women are taught to be ladies- to be nice and accommodating to others at all times. This is good teaching, but sometimes it must be thrown out of the window for the sake of your own wellbeing. Don’t be afraid that you’ll hurt someones feelings or be overly concerned about coming off as rude. If you are in a position that makes you feel even the slightest bit of discomfort when you’re traveling (especially alone), remember this: your comfort and your wellbeing is the most important thing. Never compromise yourself and your safety for the sake of being polite.