You’re walking down a street in Barcelona – in the dream, you blend in, you’re part of the parade, you’re at ease. But how do you join the scenery and not look like what you most likely are, a tourist or at least a visitor?
In an earlier post, we talked about feeling safe and confident. Security boosts your confidence and helps you do all that you hope to do in a strange city. There are also practical tips that fellow travelers can offer that do boost your safety. Part of being and feeling safe is not sending out the signals that you are out of place, unsure of yourself, distracted or inattentive.
Barcelona comes to mind because The Rambles is the most recent place where I didn’t feel safe and I wanted to go back to the hotel. I was sure the area was prone to pickpockets and I felt like a target. Luckily, I had been warned (and by savvy travelers who never overreact!) I had taken precautions and I was fine but I didn’t like the feeling! You can do simple things to take care. I asked some friends who travel often to share their best ideas.
How You Look
Posture. How do you walk through the world? Looking both in control and aware makes you a less obvious target. My good friend, Beth, has terrific posture. She says, “whenever I am in a situation where I feel vulnerable, I straighten my spine, throw back my shoulders, and channel my inner force field.” Confidence, strength and focus make a difference.
Blending in. Look around when you arrive in a city. How do people dress? How do they carry their belongings? Are there ways you can easily change your appearance to blend in?
What You Carry. If you can, no maps, no backpacks. You might stop for coffee and get your bearings with your map at a table but not in front of your face on the street. I have come to love using the map app on my phone but I don’t walk along staring at my phone. Look up and around you. Get the route and put the phone away.
Attentiveness. You don’t want to stroll the streets staring at the phone. Don’t you dare wear earbuds.
What You Do
Ask for help smartly. Lisa Ball of Lisa Ball Travel Design in Kansas City is beyond savvy. She says, “Know who to ask for help. If you’re lost in a city, go inside a reputable hotel. Hotels always have maps and usually a nice person who will give directions.”
Remember the little things. Look for small things you can do. In Paris, so many residents use metro passes and I find the smaller station’s ticket machines sometimes out of order. I buy more than a single ticket and kept an extra or two. Keep a little easily accessible cash in your pocket for the small things. Carry a card or brochure from your hotel in case your pronunciation is as bad as mine.
Care for your financial security. Another friend, Cliff, once asked why I was stressed about packing. “All you need, really,” he said, “is your passport and credit card.” To some degree, he’s right. Here are things I do to secure those:
- Take your debit card and at least two credit cards. Check them for damage. Really. You may forget that your debit card has a little crack until it gets remarkably worse…in Istanbul. Call your card companies and make sure they know your travel dates and destinations so you won’t be surprised by fraud alerts.
- Don’t carry all your cards and cash with you. I leave a card and cash locked in my suitcase or in the room safe when I am out and about.
- Copy or photograph the front and back of your cards and stash them somewhere separate just in case you need to cancel a card.
- Recently, I signed up for Venmo. If something goes wrong, a quick way for friends or family to send you cash would be good.
- Also, scan and email a copy of your passport to yourself as well as tucking a print copy in your luggage.
Have quick and easy access to your travel information. I still go old school and print out my spreadsheet (yes, it is true) with my confirmation numbers, prepayments, train and plane information. I also email this to myself so I can retrieve it digitally.
Travel light. A woman in heels with too many bags doesn’t just look like a target, she is. If you are traveling alone, travel light and smart. Once settled in, I never carry a normal purse when I’m alone. Use a small bag under your jacket or good cross-body back that you can slide to the front.
My friend, Susan, travels solo in a different way for her work. She does a lot of driving between small towns in the U.S., often leaving her hotel before dawn. This advice is just wise whether you are in the next state or across the globe:
- I wear my work uniform–a white lab coat–when I walk around. I know most people don’t have this prop, but it gives me an air of someone of importance.
- I ALWAYS have my keys in hand (hotel room, car) when I exit the hotel or vehicle.
- I keep a large tote in my car so that I can consolidate the items I am carrying in and out of hotels (my purse, food, drink, etc.) so I’m not fumbling with a lot of separate bags.
- I park as close to the entrance as I can. I often am working at 4 am and I’m supposed to park in the outer parking areas, but I don’t. I always park very close and then move my car after daylight.
There is great advice online from women who travel including choosing your room, safety inside hotels, and taking transportation. Just being aware and doing some reading can give you both greater safety and greater confidence.
What I Learned
- Make it personal. We are all different so what causes you stress? Make a list of your top three and then construct clear plans to address your list.
- If you feel insecure and are flustered, stop. Find a restaurant, hotel, or good shop, and stop and recollect. You are more vulnerable when you are off balance.
- Pick your home base with care. I know that on my list is having zone of space in a city where I do feel at ease, can take a late walk, feel like I can travel without armor. I will pay more for a small single in a hotel or inn with good staff in a great neighborhood for this — and make up the cost in some picnic dinners and less shopping.