This question was originally tagged “Boston” on Quora – and yeah, even for a “scary black guy” like me, lots of areas of Beantown[*] (or even places like Harvard campus) were pretty frightening to walk alone at night.
A few key guides that helped me in my East Coast years, which should be readily applicable to any fairly dense metro area(s):
- Know the people, so they recognize you. Stop in regularly at stores and restaurants along your path home. Figure out who has the best exorbitant price on snacks, which places will let you use the restroom in exchange for some quick banter, etc. If something happens to you around their shop, you may find you’re not as outnumbered as you originally thought… And if they’re still open at night (or the doors aren’t locked) it’s usually okay if they know you and you’re honest about just wanting to duck inside to avoid some creeps. In a pinch, you can do this with the residential brownstones as well – just walking up the stoop can make some followers hunt other prey, and if that doesn’t work, the shame in asking a stranger to let you in because you’re terrified is nothing compared to the worst that could happen.
- Don’t be distracted. Okay, this is a much bigger problem now – when I lived in Boston, I had barely started looking into cell phones, and the iPod didn’t exist yet. Just turn all that shit off, put it away in your bag, and notice your surroundings. It may seem boring at first, but would-be thieves/attackers have less overt signs you’re carrying valuables, and they know you’ll see them coming… Most times, that’s all it takes for them to wait for the next unlucky soul.
- Swim with the other fish. While route planning, try to not only look for the best-lit routes home, but see if there are regular faces on your morning/evening trains who head at least a block or two “your way” at night… You’re not the only one who feels nervous at night – old brick casts a dark shadow – and most people are happy for the company, even if all you ever do is slightly nod heads that you recognize each other. Sort of a dupe of the first item, but for mobile, rather than stationary peeps.
(Even just a couple people going the same way is a huge deterrent. Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/998…)
- In case of fire, break a $20. Always, ALWAYS have cab fare home, in cash. If the situation starts looking too sketchy, don’t get all brave about it, walk back to the nearest sign of civilization, and call up a taxi to get you the rest of the way. I say this as someone who unknowingly lived across the street from a crackhouse for 3 months – I never felt like I had conquered that fear, or that I was getting closer to doing so. Eventually I just wised up and moved somewhere safer.
- Just. Fucking. Lose. It. If the worst should happen – there’s someone right behind you, same turns last four blocks, looks weird and evil, etc… Just scream. Lose it. Call as much attention to yourself as possible, but unless you are actually attacked, do so without accusing/referencing your stalker. I can’t think of a time when loud human noises in whatever neighborhood I was in didn’t get a fair number of folks popping to check windows, or running outside with a frying pan in hand. Most of the people living, working, and sleeping around you are good folks, and they won’t just let you be taken. Note – If you acknowledge the “bad guy(s)”, they are more likely to try to actively silence you… But if you’re just “crazy lady/guy”, then they can easily walk on without any ego bruising.
(Sometimes, you may have to go “ren fest” crazy to scare them off. Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/esc…)
Hopefully, none of the above situations will happen to you, but given how hard it is to properly arm and defend yourself effectively without a lot of training and practice, I highly advise using a mixture of evasion and escape techniques for your summer stay. Oh yeah, and sneakers. Put the heels in your bag if you have to wear them at work, and swap to sneaks for the commute. Night and day as far as escape velocity/running speed on cobblestone and cracked cement pavers.
[* Yeah, I said it. You heard me. Whatchoo gonna do about it? ]
This answer originally appeared on Quora: What are your best safety tips for women walking alone at night?