I’m sure he’s a nice guy and we’re just overreacting, my roommate and I repeated  as we got off the bus, following a man we thought was following two girls.

They’d been in the seat in front of us on the upper level. He was across the aisle.

When we scooted into the bench seat, they’d been chatting about where they were from, why they were in Dublin, where they were traveling next — very low-key small talk.

He asked if they knew where they were going and, when they said yes, asked where. Their hostel was only a block from a stop, luckily. Looking at the map on her phone, one girl held it out towards him.

As an accented, soothing voice murmured a street name in English, then Irish, the two girls stood up and made for the stairs.

“Getting off here?” he asked, still sitting.

“Yep!” one said, already on the top step. They were half-way down when he stood up and started descending.

My friend immediately looked at me and asked if I’d caught what was happening. I’d only been half paying attention, looking at my phone instead, but as soon as she asked I realized how sketchy it all felt, like an overly perfect educational example. We got off the bus, too, trailing him as he trailed them to their hostel. He said something to them we didn’t hear at the door, then they ducked inside as he turned back the way he’d come.

It could have been completely innocent — maybe he really was just a nice guy making sure they didn’t get lost — but that wasn’t a risk we were willing to take.

Travelling can be nerve-wracking, even scary at times, for young women especially.

Adding to the worry, the laws of self-defense and weapon restrictions vary vastly across the globe. In the U.K., for instance, the pepper spray I bought for $5 at a convenience store in the U.S.  is considered a class-three firearm and is incredibly illegal for a civilian to carry.

The differing laws leave me at a bit of an impasse. I don’t want to break the laws, of course, but I’m also a young woman traveling — sometimes alone — and I don’t want to be vulnerable. I’m sure plenty of travelers can relate, so I did a bit of research for our #squad, and here are some options.

Whistle

I didn’t research this thoroughly, but something tells me whistles are A-OK in every country. They’re an easy, non-violent form of protection. Someone trying to run off with your phone, sneak into your bag, or wrap a hand around your wrist? They probably aren’t going to like attention brought on by a screeching whistle ruining everyone’s restful calm or excited picture posing. If you were blessed with a banshee cry, use that, too; I can say from experience that it usually startles people, if nothing else.

Pocket Knife

A pocket knife might border on an extreme option — it’s not viable everywhere — and hopefully it won’t be needed, but they’re easy enough to get anywhere. After the flying portion of the trip, find a cheap pocket knife that you can keep just for the stay, then ditch before your flight home. It’s not the most cost-effective way, but it would be effective.

Aerosol Deodorant

I truly hope you were planning to bring deodorant anyway, so give yourself a pat on the back for being an efficient packer. It may not burn quite like pepper spray would, but if sprayed into the eyes, it’s still going to sting like a bitch and give you a head start, which could be all you need.

Fingernails

While you’re chowing down on local cuisine, save some room for protein and biotin to keep your nails at the ready. Even if you usually keep them short, it might be worth growing them out a little for your holiday. My nails grow faster than a trip passes and, since I’m lazy about filing them, I can vouch for their effectiveness, even if it’s on accident.

Confidence

The saying goes that confidence is key to everything. I don’t necessarily believe that, but it can’t hurt. In over-packed, cliché tourists spots, there are so many potential targets. And while I 100% believe we should all stick together, sometimes that’s just not an option, as you won’t see any warning sides or sketchy business. Looking like you know exactly where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and when you’re arriving makes you a bigger challenge and probably not worth the hassle. So pay attention to the people who look a little lost.

Pepper Spray

Ah, pepper spray, my old go-to. And it still can be, in the following areas: Austria, Colombia, Czech Republic, France*, Germany*, Italy*, Latvia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain*, Taiwan, Thailand, United States

[*France: must be under 100mL, *Germany must be labeled “for the purpose of defense against animals,” *Italy must be 20mL or under *Spain cannot exceed 5% CS]

To be blunt, no one wants to deal with the legal repercussions of using pepper spray in a foreign country, but it’s better than just keeping your fingers crossed. If anything, it’s a scare tactic that, when brandished, could get people away from you.

 

Now go forth, everyone. See the world, make memories, and then give me plenty of recommendations!

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