I have traveled solo across many countries and honestly I feel it is the best way to travel. I like being on my own schedule. I like being pushed out of my comfort zone. I have always found it to be an empowering experience that leads to self-reflection. This is not meant to scare women from traveling alone. For 99% of my travels, I have felt safe and met amazing people. But I think my naivety helped me to forget about that pesky 1%.
I had just booked a 2 week trip across China when I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. I usually live to explore but for the first time, I didn’t want to go. I was afraid of jeopardizing the health of my baby and felt queasy overall. Although I didn’t throw up a lot, I was always on the verge which was almost worse. I called to cancel, but couldn’t get a refund since I had paid in full. So off I went.
I tried to make the most of the trip despite my lack of energy. I was staying at a nice hotel in Beijing when I took a shuttle out to the Great Wall for a hike. It was really beautiful and I was enjoying the nice sunny day. I stopped for a rest when I turned to see a man that I recognized from the hotel. Being friendly, I turned to him and said “Oh hi! We are staying at the same hotel!” He gave me an almost confused look, as if I caught him off guard. We made small talk and I turned to keep hiking. He quietly said something about spending time with me later, but I just chalked it up to the words not translating.
When I returned to the hotel that afternoon, I hadn’t taken two steps into the lobby when I saw the man spring to his feet and walk toward me as if he had been waiting for my arrival. He again repeated that he wanted to spend time with me. Now things felt awkward and I brushed him off saying that I was headed to the pool with some friends and that I was sorry.
I headed to the indoor pool and was surprised to see that there was nobody there. I dove in for a swim and just as I resurfaced, I saw him walk in. My heart started to beat faster and faster as all the red flags and alarm bells went off in my head. He entered the pool and swam toward me, so I headed to the ladder and climbed out. I wrapped myself in a towel and sat down to put my flip flops on and gather my things. He sat down close beside me. I felt naked in my bathing suit and clutched my towel as high as I could.
Now, I am not going to say what country he is from as to not add to any stigma, but suffice to say that his country lacks in the women’s rights department. Women are the property of men and rape isn’t a thing, yada yada.
He started to compliment me and talk about my blonde hair all the while leaning into me and making me really uncomfortable. I told him that I was flattered but I was actually married. He looked down at my ring-less hand and told me I was lying to him. I tried to explain that I never wear my wedding band when I am traveling because I worry that it could get lost or stolen but he argued with me that no man would let his wife travel alone. What caught me off guard was that instead of getting the hint, he was getting increasingly angry with me.
Sure that I could top that, I said “I’m actually pregnant as well.” This didn’t have the desired effect of being repulsed by me. In fact, it made him furious. I was only a few weeks pregnant and wasn’t showing at all, so he thought I was just taking a piss out of him. He started yelling at me that I was lying to him.
There was a long awkward silence as I wracked my brain on what to do or say next to get out of this situation. I wanted to walk away, but feared that one step away from him would make him snap, so I sat there frozen.
Then he slowly, methodically, reached his hand over to me and wrapped his hand tightly around my wrist. He put his face so close to mine that I could feel his hot breath on my cheek. “You will come back to my country and marry me.”
Now my heart was beating out of my chest. I scanned the room in instant escape mode. I had to get away from him. I was praying someone would walk in the door to use the pool. It was a huge hotel, how could there be nobody around? I thought about running into the women’s locker room, but then I would be more cornered and isolated. There was only one door in and out of this room. I told him I had to go to the bathroom and he loosened his grasp. I walked toward the locker room, but just as I got to the exit, I turned and ran.
I ducked into the first room I came to, which was a small computer lab. I stood with my back against the wall trying to quiet my breathing. I wasn’t hidden, but the fear that was taking over me didn’t allow me to move. I heard him run out to the hallway and stop just outside the door. About ten second went by, which felt like an eternity. Then his footsteps went in the opposite direction. This was my chance. I just had to make it to the elevator. I made a run for it.
I never looked back but I knew he was chasing me because I could hear his flip flops slapping the marble floor, gaining on me. I turned the corner and by some miracle the elevator door was open. I jumped inside and hit the button for my floor over and over again, as if that would somehow speed things up. Just as the doors closed, seemingly in slow motion, I heard him punch the door in defeat.
I still didn’t feel safe because there was a huge dial above the elevator that shows what floor it stops at and I was only going up two flights. I have never seen that except for in the movies and now I am actually running for my life and it’s there?! When the doors opened to my floor, I bolted. It was such a long hallway and I was at the very end. I was so scared that he would see what floor I got off of and be on my heels in no time. I got into my room and bolted the door shut, then barracked it with furniture just for my own piece of mind. I slid to the floor shaking out of control, with the added fear that the stress would send me into a miscarriage.
This was the first trip that I actually paid money to go home early. I had enough. It shook me. I won’t ever understand victimology, but I was so angry at myself. I was thinking of all the things I did wrong. I shouldn’t have been so friendly. I shouldn’t have talked to strangers. I shouldn’t have put myself in that position. I shouldn’t have worn a bathing suit. In. The. Pool.
The most messed up part was that even though all of the red flags were going off, I remember thinking, “well, I don’t want to be rude.” Like, really? This guy was ready to take me hostage and I was afraid of offending him?! Why is that?!
Crime Junkie is one of my favorite Podcasts and they have a saying “Be Weird. Be Rude. Stay Alive.” And trust me, those are words to live by. I always thought that I would fight back if I needed to, but I have learned that my fear reaction is to freeze.
I didn’t travel for a while after that. For one, I had a child and all of my responsibilities shifted. For another thing, I never wanted to leave my house again. The next time I set out on a big solo trip, I had a lot more anxiety. The truth is, this wasn’t the first time I had been assaulted while traveling and sadly, I am sure it won’t be the last. What I really want women to know is that if something bad happens to you, it is not your fault. No matter what you wore, what you said, or how you acted, it is not your fault. Say it with me, it is not your fault.
I recently attended Women’s Travel Fest and there was a panel of women speaking about safety. What one of them said has really stuck with me. She said “Your experience doesn’t define you, so don’t let it confine you.”
The more I travel again, the more relaxed I am. I refuse to let one man change the way I see the world. I will continue to explore and believe that the good far outweighs the bad. It will just be with pepper spray in my pocket and a fake wedding ring on my finger.