What we can do as a community to spread awareness.
I get asked for travel advice daily. There’s nothing I love more than to be able to share my knowledge from the past two years of exploring the world and help others do the same. Something I’m very aware of is that the advice I give to female and male travelers is vastly different. I could talk to a male and female traveler who went to the same location at the same time and their experiences, while similar, would be completely different solely because of gender. I would never tell my male friends: “Don’t go to _____ alone”, “Cover your knees at _____”, but yet sadly when it comes to travel, and life, women experience it in a different way.
I’ve never been one to follow the rules. I like to experience everything for myself. Whether that be good or bad. I’ve always been this way. It’s gotten me into as much trouble as it has incredible experiences. As a traveler I’ve always hated the idea that being a woman can limit my experiences in certain places, or force myself to be extra cautious in places my fellow male travelers wouldn’t think twice about. Not because of dangerous animals or climates, but because of dangerous men.
Solo male traveler? “Have fun”. Solo female traveler? “But aren’t you scared?” “Don’t stay out late.” “Wear a wedding ring.” “Don’t walk alone at dark.”
To my women travelers, I applaud you. I love your fearless spirits and your bravery. And while I believe nothing should hold you back, I urge you to be smart. Trust your instincts and never let your guard down. This doesn’t make you any less of a bada**.
We need shine a light on the inevitable dangers of female travel and what we can do as a community to spread awareness. With the viral hashtag #metoo going around, it’s made me really look at the advice I give out. I always urge women to travel smart yet I never explain why it’s so important to me. While so many brave women are sharing their stories, I’ve been motivated and inspired to share mine.
Last summer I traveled to Costa Rica with one of my girlfriends I had met in Europe. I felt stuck in a job I hated, recovering from a breakup and desperately needed travel to “cure me” like it always had before. There’s something about being in nature that makes me feel so relaxed so what better place to escape to than the jungle? Costa Rica will forever be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. I gained clarity, peace and new friends but I also learned the biggest and scariest lesson of my entire life.
After a few days of traveling around with new friends, being disgustingly sweaty with zero makeup, and living our best jungle life we decided going out salsa dancing would be fun. Most of you reading don’t know me, but at the time I was in the end of my professional dance career. I’ve always felt the most comfortable on a dance floor which was especially true that night since I was the only one of my friends who knew how to salsa. There was an incredibly handsome Costa Rican man there that night. After a few songs I walked right up to him and asked him to dance. He had the most gorgeous grey eyes and was a natural when it came to salsa. We had an amazing time dancing the night away. After a few hours my girlfriends and I all separated ways. Some ran off to explore with some local guys we had met earlier that day, the others back to our villa to sleep, and I wasnʼt quite ready to call it a night. Since the salsa club was closing I went to hang out for an hour or two with the Costa Rican. We had an extremely early travel day and the idea of an overnight date never crossed my mind. Going into it I was pretty naïve, I’ll admit. I didn’t think anything of it and I figured it was harmless. Nothing bad happens in Costa Rica after all, right? I’ve always been a “go-with-the-flow” person and 99% of the time it has led me to wonderful memories. However, this time was different.
Towards the end of the car ride I felt a little uneasy and more aware of my surroundings. I decided I would stay maybe 10 minutes before calling it a night and heading back to my villa. When we got out of the car we started talking and joking and then he kissed me. I don’t know how to explain it, but everything about that kiss felt so wrong. I immediately stepped away and told him I was feeling tired, needed to pack, and thanked him for a wonderful night. Pleading with me to stay a little longer he kept kissing me. My nervous playful laughter quickly turned into nervous panic as I started to gently push him away. I suddenly realized he wasn’t giving up so easily. He pushed me up against the wall and I firmly asked him for the number of the cab driver. (This Costa Rican town did not have official taxis, just personal drivers which required their personal phone number.)
He said “no”.
I paused, confused by his response. Then he tried to force himself on me. I screamed in his face trying to push him away. Everything about him changed. His once beautiful grey eyes turned into the iciest, evil stare I’d ever seen in my life. A cold look that haunts me to this day. He glared at me with pure anger and hatred and screamed back “You f*cking b*tch, you asked me to dance.” In that moment I realized three things. This man was either going to rape me, beat me up or leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere and I truly didn’t know which was worse. I didn’t know how to process or react and I immediately started bawling and fell to the floor. He stood over me and said “Don’t start with that fake bullsh*t.” I looked up at him and begged once more for the cab driver’s number. He then grabbed me so hard and through my tears I remember saying,
“Please, I’m a human being.”
The next few minutes were a blur of crying, screaming and begging him to just let me go. I will never know what got through to him but he eventually called the cab and then left me alone. I didn’t know whether the driver was actually coming, but I sat by myself hyperventilating until a car appeared after what felt like hours. I recognized the driver from earlier and ran to the car and gave him the address of where I was staying. I spent the whole ride home paranoid the driver was going to do the same thing and I remember him repeating “I’m not going to hurt you, I’m not going to hurt you.”
Once I saw the villa I gave him way too much money, jumped out of the car, and ran as fast as I could back to my friends. I went into the bathroom, threw up and then cuddled up next to girlfriend as I quietly cried myself to sleep.
I told my girlfriends in Costa Rica a lighter version of what happened to me the next day at breakfast. After the trip I kept this story buried and only told a handful of my close friends. Iʼve always felt like what happened to me was my fault. I flirted to much at the salsa club, I didnʼt go home with my friends. What else did I expect?
This entire experience taught me the lesson everyone else had tried to teach me my whole life: I’m not invincible. Traveling was my safe place. But here I was, in one of the happiest countries in the world terrified for my life. It just goes to show you that you should never feel too comfortable in your own shoes. It wasn’t the first experience I had with a man who put his sexual desires over the human being in front of him but this time, thinking I was about to be the latest news story, my whole perspective of my carefree spirit changed.
There’s no perfect advice I could ever give. There’s no set way to avoid terrible, evil men. I wish there was an app that could detect a sexual predator but there’s not. What you do have is your gut feeling. I wish I would have listened to mine. To my women travelers out there, I’m not trying to scare you or tell you what to do. I can’t say “never go home with that cute guy” or “go home with that cute guy” because I’m not in your shoes. Just never assume it won’t happen to you. There’s nothing wrong with being sexual and having a good time, it’s human nature. Have fun, live your life, but BE SMART. Trust your instincts, they’re always right.
I will leave you with the advice I’ve learned along the way:
– If you’re going out, have a way to get home. Then have a backup way to get home.
– Always carry enough cash on you for an emergency situation. -Know the emergency number for the location you are in.
-If abroad, know the address of your countries embassy. -Bring a portable charger with you.
– Have your address on you in written form or your accommodation’s business card. (In case your phone dies)
– Always make sure at least one person knows your address or location. (Friends, family member, etc.)
– Agree to check in with friends at certain times.
Photos: Hanna Jobes
Have you ever encountered sexual assault during your travels? Share with us in the comments.