Self defense for women travelling alone: Household items edition

spray bottle of self defense

Safety is a very important issue when travelling and even more so for women travelling alone. While you might think that you need to sign up for karate course, actually there are other ways of self-defense that doesn’t require you to be physical.

I do many things when I am abroad to be safe. Before my trip, I read up on dangerous places and avoid them. During my trip, I am aware of my environment and I get the hell out of a place when I feel unsafe.

I also take precaution and arm myself when I go out on the streets. No, I don’t mean taking a gun but taking everyday things that can be used as a weapon. Fortunately, I never had the chance to test of my “weapons” would work in a real threat.

Here are some of the unconventional ways I used to protect myself.

Deodorant spray/ hair spray/ medicated oil as pepper spray

Spray bottle
Spray bottle

Did you know that pepper sprays are prohibited in Singapore? That’s why I don’t have any of it for self defense. Luckily, other daily items can be used as an alternative.

During my very first solo trip in China, I wanted to take a walk in Suzhou at night but I didn’t have company. I looked around my bag and saw that I had a small bottle of medicated oil.

I uncapped the bottle and held it in my palm during my walk. I practiced in my head how I would give the bottle a good flick of the wrist so that the oil would sting the assailant’s eyes.

Bottle of medicated oil
Bottle of medicated oil

You can also use small spray cans to double as pepper spray. Travel-sized deodorant work well too and can leave a scent mark in case you need to identify the baddie.

Pen as stabbing object

Sometimes I hold a pen with its pointy side out (kind of like Buffy) when I am walking alone. I would visualize how I could use the pen to stab any strangers that mean to harm me. Thank goodness I haven’t poked my eye out this way.

[Edit: Works with a key too as pointed out by Ana in the comments.]

Umbrella as a club or eye-poker

An umbrella is a very basic weapon that has many other functions. I carry an umbrella to protect myself against sun or rain but also for protection.

A closed umbrella can be used as a stick to beat off animals. The pointy ends of an open umbrella can be used to poke bad people in the eye but you will need a good aim for that.

Bag of fruits as weighted bag

On one of the nights in San Francisco, I was walking back to the hostel at an hour that I would usually be in. Heck, I’m usually back in the hostel before sundown in case of any bad incidents.

I didn’t have anything that I could use to fend off any possible attackers. The only thing heavy enough that I had was a mesh bag of oranges which I bought from San Jose. A bag of orange in hand is better than a club nowhere.

So I held on to the mesh bag and practiced swinging it like a lasso. The oranges felt heavy enough to cause damage to any assailant that might be stupid enough to come near me.

Of course, I didn’t consider what I would do if the bad guy had a gun.

Whistle as loud noise maker

Some time ago, Debbie pointed this tip from Legal Nomad’s Jodi about bringing a whistle when travelling. Since then, I try to remember to bring a whistle when I travel.

I have only used it once in Egypt when a vendor kept trying to block my way to show me his ware. I acted like a crazy lady and blew on my whistle. He got the message.

Still, my whistle is a sports whistle from the two-dollar shop so I’m not that sure if it would work sending sounds far.

Flashlight as surprise blinding light

I keep a flashlight on my day pack when I travel, this is useful to light up the interior of my bag as well as dark streets. But it’s also useful when you have a strong light that you can shine into an attacker’s eyes and hopefully blind the person momentarily.

Share how you stay safe when travelling:

Well, those are some of the strange things I have used as self-defense when travelling. Do you have other tips to share?

More information:

Why a weekend trip is the best time to start solo travelling [Weekend Traveller series part 8]


Welcome back to the fortnightly Weekend Traveller series where I share tips and strategies for travelling during the weekend so you can travel more using less work leave. You can find all of the previous posts for weekend end travel here.

Today, I want to share why a weekend trip is the best time to travel solo.

solo travel selfie

After travelling around the world alone for 4 months, I have come to appreciate travelling with companions. That is, companions whom I can get along with on the road. There’s just something nice about being to share a moment with another person.

Check out the rest of the post…!

Scary situations I’ve encountered as a solo woman traveller

creepy note in Dubai

On my blog, I focus on the good things about travel because I love travelling and I wish that more people will travel.

One of the excuses people give for not travelling is that they do not have anyone to go with.

Rubbish. If you travel alone, you can travel anytime you want.

While I love solo travelling, there are times that I wish I was travelling with someone else. These occasions are times when I did not feel safe.

I always take care to be back in my room before sundown. I feel like Cinderella with her midnight curfew, only my curfew was well earlier.

But despite all the precautions, sometimes scary situations still happen. Today, I want to share two of such tales. Thank goodness the situations were not majorly disastrous situations so you don’t have to feel too uncomfortable reading them.

Failed stalker in Istanbul

Istanbul otogar
Istanbul otogar

After I dropped off my mom at the Istanbul airport, I was back to being a solo traveller. This meant that there is no one to ask me if we’re walking in the right direction and that I can go wherever I want without any reason.

So I got off at the Coach Station stop on the metro. I remember seeing IKEA not far away from it. I really like visiting IKEAs of the world so I thought it was a good chance to add to my Local Things in IKEA list.

The Coach Station metro stop was a mess. It seemed like there were 50 bus companies around and each had a shop facing the metro exit.

I walked around to see where IKEA was. It looked quite far away but I decided that I should go nearer and find a path.

While I was walking, I heard someone talking really loudly. Thankfully, I have mastered the art of ignoring anyone that wasn’t talking directly to my face. Often, I see people over-react to voices on the streets and I don’t think that is very street savvy.

As I was walking to IKEA, I saw a short slim man in a blue polo shirt walking about 5 steps away from me. I thought he was heading to the same direction as I was.

I slowed down to let him walk ahead. Then, I realized that he kept looking back, as if to see where I was going.

By then, I decided that IKEA was too far and I wanted to head back. So I turned around.

Then I saw that the man turned around too. I walked faster, hoping to reach the metro station ahead of him.

While I was walking, some other person walked to me and asked me where I wanted to go.

At times like these, “nowhere” is not a good answer even if it is honest. I said “nowhere” and mimed taking photos.

The direction-giver pointed to the metro entrance and said “Metro. Metro.” I thanked him for his kindness.

I did not check if the blue-shirt follower was still with me but I suspect that seeing me talk to the direction-giver probably scared him off.

Thank you, good man.

The creepy note and persistent delivery man in Dubai

Creepy note
Creepy note

I didn’t mention receiving a note under my door on my first night on in my blog posts because it felt too scary to write about it at that time.

My plane arrived in Dubai quite late at about 10:30pm so I checked into my AirBnb close to midnight. The area from the metro station to the house didn’t seem like the best place since there were many men loitering.

My studio apartment entrance was in a dark lane. I had to take a lift to the house as it was above some shops.

After checking me in, my AirBnb host (a guy) left my studio apartment at past midnight. I took a shower and when I got out, I saw the note under the door.

I thought it might be from the laundry person who came by to drop off my sheets and pillow cases. However, he did not leave a company name so it was unlikely.

I  sent the AirBnb host an e-mail to ask if he knows the person. The host didn’t know and said he would take care of it.

I didn’t know how he took care of it but the incident left a mark on me.

Some nights after… There was a knock on my door. I thought it might be the host but I still asked, “Who is it?”

A man whose voice I didn’t recognized said he was delivering groceries. I tensed up and went behind the door.

After the note incident, I had tied up my door knob to something sturdy with laundry string. No amount of pushing will open the door.

I stood behind the door as my heart raced. I shouted back at the “delivery man” that I DID NOT ORDER ANYTHING.

The man was persistent. He asked if my friend had ordered any. I thought it would be bad to tell him that I was alone so I said that my friend was not in.

The delivery person was silent. I was still behind the door. Then he banged the door again, saying that he was delivering cigarettes.

I was angry. I spat out, “I DO NOT SMOKE! NO ONE ORDERED ANYTHING.”

I could still hear the person behind the door. He made a call on speakerphone but no one picked up. I wondered if he was pretending to check if the phone who called for the delivery would ring in my room.

It wasn’t after a long while when he finally left. I was still in shock and e-mailed the host.

The host didn’t get back until days later since he was out of the country. He said that it was his friend who made the delivery call and said the wrong floor.

I felt really really pissed off that the person did not even bothered to give the right door number and caused me such anxiety. Still, there was nothing I could do.

I would still travel solo

Not everybody is pleased that I travel alone.

Someone once threatened me that “A girl travelling alone is not alone. She is with the Goddess of Death.” [I am sure that line was totally made up.]

Another person made a face and said, “What sort of parents let their daughter travel alone?”

Funnily, it is men who say such things to my face.

No woman has ever told me that we womanfolk should stay at home and knit. Usually, women tell me that they do not dare travel alone but they do not make threats. I give some encouragement in the form of, “Just try it.”

Despite everything, I would not give up travelling solo. It gives me peace and less anxiety when I am able to follow my own itinerary that is made up as every minute passes.

What was the scariest situation when you were travelling alone?

The day I begin travelling solo again [YQrtw Day 57 Jun 3]

kfc in istanbul

[Update June 20, 2014: This post is from the 57th day of my round-the-world trip in 2013. I had been travelling alone until my mom joined me in Turkey. This post marks the day my mom flew back home, leaving me to travel alone for the next 63 days.]

Location: Istanbul, Turkey

(I don’t think anybody’s checking but the post for Day 56 June 2 will be up a bit later. I was on the bus all night long and didn’t have time to update about our visit to Troy.)

5:26PM The sun is still bright outside but I’m now back in my solo travel mode and I won’t be going out until tomorrow morning.

10:25PM Finally back to writing this post after a lot of web surfing and tidying up of future posts.

In the morning, mom and I walked around Istanbul, doing last minute souvenir shopping. To us, souvenir shopping means a trip to the nearest supermarket and grabbing local stuff instead of decorations for the house.

Before noon, I wanted to bring mom to a restaurant that was highly praised. We took the tram to the Asian side of Istanbul. I found the restaurant but it wasn’t serving lunch until an hour later. In the end, we went back to a little cafe near the hotel and had lunch there.

Mom’s shuttle bus came. I went with her to the airport. I felt sad that mom was leaving but I didn’t want to show it. Instead, I became surly and refused to help mom ask where the right passport lane was. In the end, mom figured it out and left.

I waited until mom was inside before leaving the departure area. When I saw mom look back at me after her passport check, I was teary. I thought that it would be lonely being by myself.

I bickered with mom right before she went to her queue because I'm a horrible daughter.
I bickered with mom right before she went to her queue because I’m a horrible daughter.

Turkey’s 3G data policy is horrible

Since my phone’s 3G stopped working since yesterday, I checked with the guy at Turkcell airport counter to see what’s wrong. On my first day in Turkey, I already had problems with the Turkcell folks in Istanbul not giving me my mobile data so it was really annoying having to check with the company again.

After the Turkcell dude served a few tourists, he helped with my phone.

Him: When did you sign up for data?
Me: About 11 days ago.
Him: Oh… Foreign phones can only use 3G data for 10 days. Have you tried switching to another phone?

Well buddy, that’s news to me. Obviously I didn’t read all the entries about Turkish 3G on Google. From Wikia:

All mobiles phones purchased outside Turkey using a turkish SIM card must be registered with the government. There is a grace period that can be as short as 2 days, after which the phone will be blocked for the Turkish SIM.

Thank goodness I bought spare dumbphone with me. I switched my SIM card to the Nokia dumpphone and used it on the super slow 2.5G.

Twitter client on my dumbphone
Twitter client on my dumbphone

Of course, the first thing to do is to check-in on Foursquare. The dumbphone didn’t support Foursquare apps so I used Opera Mini instead for the check-in because the default Nokia browser takes forever to load. I’m glad that the Opera Mini browser was built into the phone so I didn’t need to download anything.

Super blurred photo from the Nokia dumbphone
Super blurred photo from the Nokia dumbphone

I decided to check out Carrefour as my first solo adventure after mom’s companion. I reached Carrefour’s area by Metro but the place was giving me weird vibes (someone tried to follow me and waiters were yelling “Coffee, tea or sex.”) so I went back to the Metro to the city.

Alone again

But I got back to my solo travel routine so easily that I scare myself. I ended up at a mall and had a meal of KFC to cheer me up.

KFC in Istanbul has Coke, not Pepsi like back home.

I was pretty lost then but after tinkering around some of my apps, I found the right direction back to the hotel. After I settled in, I haven’t been out but I do have a list of things to do tomorrow:

  • Go to a hammam
  • Eat Turkish delight
  • Be at the airport on time

I will be in Buenos Aires on June 5. See you when I reach!

Read more about my mild adventures: