The Solo Travel Girl’s Guide to Dealing with Unwanted Attention in Asia

September 3, 2011

A couple months ago, I got an email from a young woman who was planning on moving to China to teach English. After reading several blog posts and articles by other female travelers about the treatment of Western women in this part of the world, she was concerned. She’d read stories of women being harassed or groped or propositioned like hookers, and she was, quite logically, worried that the same thing would happen to her.

I sent her an email blithely telling her not to worry. I assured her that Asia is a perfectly safe place for solo female travelers. I told her that I hadn’t really had any trouble at all since moving here over five years ago and that I was sure she’d be fine, too.

And then, a few weeks ago I found myself in Hangzhou where I was, as you may recall, propositioned like a hooker.

On my second night in town, while at a night market, gorging myself on grilled meat and beer, the meat seller whom I’d just bought dinner from sat down across from me. He first asked me where I was from. Then, having gotten the pleasantries out of the way, he asked me if I wouldn’t mind going to have sex with him. You know, because that approach works so well with the ladies.

Of course, in the beginning, I had no idea what he was saying as he was saying it all in Chinese. It wasn’t until he switched into gestures that I understood what he was getting at because, as it just so happens, I am totally fluent in Gesture.

I’d love to say I responded in some suitably indignant manner. But because of my limited grasp of Mandarin I couldn’t even muster up an appropriate response. Probably the best I could have managed would have been something along the lines of, “I am American. No thank you. You are not correct. Goodbye.”

Instead, I quickly paid my bill and scuttled off in the direction of dumplings and cake. Because, really, if there’s anything that’s going to help a lady get over being mistaken for a hooker, it’s dumplings and cake.

Oh, right, I should probably mention here that the young woman who emailed me was planning on moving to Hangzhou.


I think this is the part in the blog post where I cue the Alanis Morissette music.

After this incident happened to me, it really made me think.

Okay, admittedly, the first thing it made me think was, “Wow. I can’t wait to write a blog post about this!” (I’d like to think this is my glass-half-full way of looking at the crappy things that happen to me. Either that, or I have absolutely no self respect.)

Then it made me think about other stuff – deep, thinky, dark stuff — stuff I, frankly, haven’t thought much about since my Women’s Studies classes in college.

It also made me think about all the other times something equally sleazy has happened to me while in Asia.

There was the time last year while I was on Tioman Island, when the owner of the guesthouse next to mine invited me to stay at his guesthouse for free if I would “be his friend.” And, of course, just like with the meat seller, it took me about twenty minutes to figure out what this man was getting at, even though he was speaking in perfect English. I was like, “Wow, what a nice guy! He’s going to let me… Wait. What?

There was the time in Nepal when our tour guide decided he should hug both my friend and I – vigorously and repeatedly – until I “accidentally” hit him in the nose.

Then there was the time, quite recently, when a Chinese friend-of-a-friend bid me farewell by attacking my neck with his tongue (which, I’m pretty sure, is not the customary way people say goodbye in this country).

And, of course, there’s been the odd leery glance or creepy taxi cab driver, who spends more time watching my chest in the rearview mirror than he does watching the road.

The incident with the meat seller also made me think about how I tend to overlook the sleazy things when they happen to me. Or I make light of them and think about how they will make good blog fodder.

I had forgotten about these incidents when I wrote my blithe email to the young woman bound for Hangzhou. I had also failed to mention these incidents in a comment I left on a fellow travel blogger’s post about the times she’s been similarly propositioned while living in Korea.

Instead, I prattle on about how safe it is to travel alone. And how people are all really nice to me. And how I must be super lucky to never have had any bad stuff happen to me here.

Don’t get me wrong. I do feel safe here. People have been really nice to me. And I have been so ridiculously lucky that it doesn’t even make sense. Because, you know, sometimes I do some stupid stuff.

But crappy things still happen.

Traveling alone as a foreign female is bound to get you some attention – and some of that attention is bound to be the creepy kind of attention.

So what to do when it happens to you?

1.    Don’t take it personally

Unfortunately, Western women kind of have a reputation for being hussies in most parts of the world.

I don’t know what on Earth would give people that idea.


I’m pretty sure the meat-seller in Hangzhou did not think that I personally looked like a prostitute.

After all, I wasn’t exactly dressed for that line of work.

It was ninety-five degrees out, and I was wearing long pants, flip-flops, a t-shirt and a scarf. (Yes, I said a scarf. Sometimes I like to pretend I’m European and I wear scarves in the summer. It’s just something I do, okay? Stop giving me such a hard time about it.)

He probably just thought all Western women were hookers.


Nothing personal.

Mind you, I’m not saying this to justify his behavior. Even if I were dressed like a cast member from Baywatch, this would not have given him reason enough to sit down and ask me to go have sex with him.

But it wasn’t my fault I was being treated like a hussy. It was his fault. And it’s the fault of the media, which has the tendency to portray Western women as hussies. So, while I may look in the mirror and see a tastefully dressed woman, this man looked at me and saw Pamela Anderson.

I think we can all agree that this is just ridiculous.

Besides, Pamela Anderson would never wear a scarf in the summer.

2.    See no creepers

I think one of the reasons I tend to overlook the attention I receive in Asia is because, well, I fail to even see it — that is unless someone’s propositioning me over meat-on-a-stick and beer. (And, even then, it takes me a good twenty minutes to figure out what’s going on.)

In lots of other places I’ve been to the unwanted attention was pretty hard to ignore. In Morocco, I had to put up with catcalls, wolf whistles and vulgar comments uttered in twelve different languages. In Lisbon, I had to listen to men hissing behind me like a herd of wild snakes. And Brazil… Well, Brazil is Brazil. In Brazil, if a guy likes what he sees, he’s not too afraid to tell you.

But in Asia the majority of the attention is the staring kind of attention, and it’s usually not even the creepy kind of staring. It’s just the staring kind of staring.

The thing is to notice the staring, you have to actually make eye contact with people. And, frankly, I kind of gave up on eye contact about five years ago.

One reason for this is because I lived in Japan, where making eye contact with a perfect stranger is considered, well, a bit forward.

Another reason for this is because sometimes I like to play this game with myself where I pretend I’m a normal person leading a normal person’s life and doing normal person things like grocery shopping and riding the bus and eating meat-on-a-stick. But it’s kind of hard to play this game with myself if everyone’s staring at me like I’m a freak (which they are because this is China and that’s just what people do). So I just stopped making eye contact with people. If I don’t see the staring, I can keep on pretending I’m normal, and they can keep on staring at me like I’m a circus freak.


Everyone’s happy!

My no-eye-contact policy also means I miss out on most of the leery glances and taxi cab driving creepers checking out my chest. (That is until they swerve off the road because I happen to be wearing a v-neck… and I forgot to put on my scarf.)

3.    Be careful with your personal information

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against getting a little male attention.

I’m pleased as punch when someone actually tries to flirt with me – well, that is, after I catch on to the fact that they are, indeed, flirting with me.

Prior to leaving for my trip to Hangzhou, I was at the Wuxi train station waiting for my train when a cute guy came up to me and started chatting with me in English. He asked me where I was from and where I was going. I asked him where he was from and where he was going. We talked a little bit about his hometown of Nanjing. Then before he ran off to catch his train, he nervously blurted out, “You have beautiful eyes,” and asked me for my phone number.

And that’s when I realized he had been flirting with me.

Or at least I think he was flirting with me. I mean, telling someone they’re pretty and then asking them for their phone number is flirting, right? (Forgive me. You see, I don’t really have a good grasp on this kind of thing. I have a physical condition which makes it impossible for me to flirt while I’m sober. And, let’s just say, things don’t get much better after I’ve been drinking.)

As cute as he was and as flattered as I was, I didn’t give him my phone number. I’ve learned my lesson about handing out my phone number to random strangers. (And, let’s just say, that lesson was delivered to me at three o’clock in the morning by some random stranger’s jealous girlfriend.)

But I did give him my email address as I have yet to learn my lesson about handing out my email address to random strangers. (So if you’re reading this, Cute Dude, call… err, email me!)

4.    Use your imagination

Okay, so let’s say the guy who’s laying the moves on you is, well, not someone you want laying the moves on you. Then, you may have to call in the big guns – the imaginary boyfriend.

Luckily for me, I’ve had a long history of imaginary boyfriends. In fact, I’d say most of my successful relationships have existed solely in my head. There was the lacrosse captain in high school, the newspaper editor in college, the film director I met in DC and that guy who would always shop for groceries at the same time I did while I was living in Buffalo. Sure, none of these guys knew I existed, but we were very much in love… if only in my head.

Given my long history of imaginary relationships, I really have no problem making up a boyfriend who doesn’t exist should the situation warrant one.

Once while I was hanging out in the lounge area at my guesthouse in Vang Vieng, a young man sat down next to me and started chatting with me. When he found out I was American, he began quizzing me on how one goes about getting a green card to America. When I responded that I didn’t really know much about that sort of thing, he inched closer and told me I had a “beautiful smile.” Now, I don’t usually have any problem with men complimenting me on my smile, but I have to say I was a bit suspicious of his intentions. (Just a hint, boys, if you’re interested in a lady, you might want to lay off the talk of green cards until after you’ve told her how lovely she is.)

I thanked him and then told him I had to go. When he asked me if he could come up to my room with me, I informed him that I had boyfriend, who was upstairs in the room taking a little rest. Because, you know, it can be really tiresome basking under the glow of my beautiful smile all day.

While my new friend looked doubtful, he also, thankfully, didn’t follow me up to my room. (Which is a good thing because my imaginary boyfriend can be a tad bit possessive. That’s why I don’t tend to date much in real life. Don’t want to make the imaginary boyf jealous, you know!)

5.    Remember there are jerks everywhere.

The incident with the meat seller in Hangzhou was kind of a wake-up call for me. I realized that I was not as safe as I thought I had been. But I also realized how ridiculously lucky I’ve been over the past five years.

But not everyone I know has been this lucky.

I have friends who’ve been groped in public. I have other friends who’ve been harassed and threatened and stalked. Another woman had someone repeatedly try to break into her apartment. One of my friends was physically assaulted while she was living in Thailand. Not only did she have to endure the attack, but also a long, painful police investigation. Afterwards, her attacker was let off with little more than a slap on the wrist.

If the same thing had happened to me, I probably would have gone back to the States and locked myself away in a small dark room for the rest of my life. She, on the other hand, went home, but then returned to Thailand a year later. When I asked her why, she told me, “There are jerks everywhere. What happened to me could have happened to me anywhere. I’m not going to let one jerk in Thailand ruin Thailand for me.”

She was right.

If I could rewrite my email to the young woman moving to Hangzhou, I would.

I would tell her that she might meet some jerks in China, but that she’d also meet plenty of good people here.

I would tell her she should have a good time and not let the jerks ruin her experience.

And I would tell he to go punch a certain meat seller in the nose for me.


I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On September 3, 2011 at 2:16 pm TravelMaus said:

    Half way through your post I was going to comment that there are jerks everywhere. I just ran into one 2 weeks ago, on the beach, right here in Toronto. A perfectly normal-seeming man, nice looking ( picture Daniel Craig), educated, good job , etc, and we talked for about 4 hrs. So we exchanged cell phone numbers… by 7am the next morning I had 28 text messages and one of them read ” have some respect and answer your texts!” . Total psycho. So you just never know. It doesn’t take a trip away from home to realize that single women, and women in general need to be aware and careful. I always thought I was , and that I had good instincts, and even with that, it still happened to me. It took me 2 weeks to shake him off ! I still flinch when the text message bell rings.

    • On September 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm Sally said:

      Omigosh, that’s crazy! I’m so sorry to hear about your experience, but glad he’s finally off your case. I had a similar experience in Japan, and after that I stopped giving anyone my phone number even if I had a “good feeling” about them. Now, I’ll give someone my email address if I feel like I might want to stay in touch with them. It’s much easier to erase a few emails or block someone from emailing me if necessary than to put up with phone calls & text messages from a crazy person in the middle of the night!

  2. On September 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm Sarah said:

    Oh man, making up imaginary boyfriends is like, the best thing ever.

    My imaginary boyfriend is totally okay with me being away from home 12 months of the year, he doesn’t get mad if I talk to strangers, and sometimes we get in these massive imaginary fights and then it becomes totally excusable to eat all the candy in the world.

    Yup, I’m pretty sure my fake boyfriend and I are soul mates.

    Maybe you should tell your fake boyfriend that you’ll commit forever if he buys you more pretty scarves?
    Sarah recently posted..The Time with the Condoms in Bangkok

    • On September 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm Sally said:

      Well, I’m kind of between imaginary boyfriends at the moment. I’m trying out a new imaginary dating website — it’s called Twitter. 🙂
      But I’m happy to hear you’ve found fake love. Aren’t imaginary BFs the best? They always know to tell you that you’re pretty even after you’ve eaten all the candy & can’t fit into your pants.

  3. On September 3, 2011 at 3:27 pm Pamm said:


    I think your boyfriend is really my husband, so lay off okay. I don’t like to think about the imaginary cheating going on. 🙂

    I have been hassled in the past. Egypt, because I had such white blond hair that it attracted a ton of attention. And it was long enough ago (I am ‘really’ old now – 60) that men still owned their wives. I was traveling with two male friends and when they tried to explain that no, thank you very much, but three cows, two camels and 400 Egyptian pounds was not enough to buy me, things got a little tense.

    Also, two years ago in Dubai I was groped by a shop keeper. As I turned to leave, a big rack of spices came tumbling down thanks to my imaginary husband.

    Things happen. That is just the way it is. Things happen here. Like my real friend’s boyfriend sitting in jail. He only lied about being a convicted murderer and rapist, and, jumping for joy, I get to go tell a judge why this psychopath (court system diagnosis) should be kept in prison for a long time.

    You are right, Sally. It is not personal. There are jerks, and worse, everywhere. My next book will be titled “The Psychopath Among Us and How To Do a Background Check on the Scumbags

    • On September 3, 2011 at 11:59 pm Sally said:

      Wow, I’m really sorry for your friend. It’s really horrible when people you love and care about end up in relationships with people like that. I hope she is able to find the strength to get through all of that.

  4. On September 3, 2011 at 5:26 pm Andi of My Beautiful Adventures said:

    I LOVE that you added that there are jerks EVERYWHERE!!! I have encountered them all over the world. I’m so sad that women have to deal with their crap.
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..My Secret Adventure (Part 10)

  5. On September 3, 2011 at 6:11 pm Dyanne@TravelnLass said:

    Great tips my dear, and good to air both sides of the issue – i.e.”But crappy things still happen.”, yet…

    I too have traveled solo all over the globe for 30-odd years and like you, I tend to gloss over the stray “ick” that comes my way. It really is pretty rare (and rarer still the more dodderin’ I get) 😉

    But yes, lass-crap does happen, and your tips are spot on – esp. the “imaginary boyfriend” (though I coincidentally have a favorite gold ring that happens to fit only my left ring finger, so… I’ve long had an imaginary-husband – who’s waiting for me back at the hotel, oh and did I mention he’s Arnold Schwarzenegger’s older brother?)
    Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..Have you Hugged Your QR Today?

    • On September 3, 2011 at 11:54 pm Sally said:

      I’ve thought about bringing out an imaginary husband but I don’t have a ring and I always thought that might make my imaginary boyfriend feel a bit of pressure… you know, don’t want to rush him! 🙂

      • On October 24, 2011 at 11:33 am Alex said:

        I’ve definitely done the fake wedding ring. When I first went to Spain (a year out of High School) I was traveling alone. I was definitely grateful for that ring (and imaginary husband) when I hit Valencia! I had a 40-year old Italian man wanting to take me to the (topless) beach or out to the bar. Uh, no thanks! My husband is waiting for me at the hostel. Didn’t work so well when he decided to rent the room across from me, but that’s another story.

  6. On September 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm Erik said:

    I can’t even imagine what women go through in the rest of the world, much less here. It makes me simultaneously relieved and ashamed to be a guy.
    I’m also not really worried about being an offender on any of these, even before I was married I didn’t have the confidence to leer, much less talk to a girl.

    Thanks for the honesty, I hope this helps many women get over the initial shock they may experience when heading overseas. If they know it’s coming, they may be able to just deal with it right away and move on so they can enjoy their travels.
    Erik recently posted..Photo of the Day- The Grand Canyon

    • On September 3, 2011 at 11:46 pm Sally said:

      There’s definitely good and bad parts. In general, I think people feel more comfortable approaching me since I’m a woman and they don’t feel threatened. This can be good especially in places like Japan where people are pretty shy around foreigners. But at the same time it can be bad when those people approaching you are creepy. But, so far, thankfully, the good has outweighed the creepy.

  7. On September 3, 2011 at 11:38 pm Whitney said:

    Whenever I run into creepy men around the world (and you’re right: they are EVERYWHERE) I like to take it as an opportunity for guilt-free lying. Why stop at a fake boyfriend? A fake name, a fake job, a fake nationality that usually comes with a horrible fake accent… Predictably, this works best after a few drinks.

    Plus this comes with the added bonus of being able to tack ‘pseudonymic performance artist’ onto your resume.
    Whitney recently posted..Punakaiki to Westport

    • On September 3, 2011 at 11:53 pm Sally said:

      Ha ha! This was great! I’m usually too clueless to realize that someone is being creepy to make up too many lies about myself. I’ll be blathering on endlessly about myself and then things will turn fishy and I’ll be like, “Oh, right, did I tell you about my boyfriend? He looks like Brad Pitt. He’s just, you know, resting his muscles right now.” I do think I should try to adopt a fake accent, though. I think that will totally throw the creepers for a loop.

  8. On September 4, 2011 at 4:22 am Shannon said:

    same reader, different identity!

    Hey Sally!

    I know this post is mostly for women, I saw one or two posts from a guy here too. I was raised with respect in mind, flirting can be appropriate if you do it respectfully and asking for sex in part of being flirty isn’t respectful and neither is asking for the girl’s info (that’s just my opinion unless the girl/guy has hit it off much further down the path and its ok to ask).

    I realize men behave differently in other cultures, though I have never seen/experienced it but doesn’t every culture know respect universally?

    II’m not the kind of guy who would flirt but I would comment how pretty the woman is, etc and leave it at that to make her day (every woman wants to be appreciated/known she is pretty).

    • On September 4, 2011 at 4:56 am Sally said:

      Hi Shannon,
      I was a bit worried about writing this post. While, yes, the topic is pretty female-centric, I didn’t want to turn men off (and I definitely didn’t want to come off as male-bashing), so glad to see some of you responding!
      I think, yes, for the most part most cultures have a code of conduct for male-female interactions. The big problem that I’ve run into is that when you come from a different culture, sometimes men in the other culture suspect this code of conduct no longer applies & will do things to you that would cross the line in their culture (and most likely in mine).
      For example, my experience with the huggy tour guide. While, hugging among men and women isn’t such a big deal in the States, I think it would be pretty taboo in Nepal. So, even though I usually wouldn’t feel uncomfortable hugging a male friend in the States, I felt really uncomfortable when he hugged me as I knew it wasn’t a cultural norm there. And he kept doing it over and over again (which should be prohibited anywhere!). But I think he figured, “Why not? These are Western ladies. They hug in their culture. Why don’t I just try to hug them… A LOT.”
      Unfortunately, I don’t think this is a phenomena that only Western women experience. I’ve known Western guys who’ve treated Asian women unfairly just because they knew the Asian woman would feel intimidated and probably not complain like a Western woman.
      But, all that being said, I’ve been lucky that most of the guys I meet while traveling and living abroad have been respectful. And, yes, complimenting a girl is appreciated no matter what language or culture it’s done in! (Or at least it is appreciated by me!)

      • On September 4, 2011 at 5:22 am Shannon said:

        Just so you know,

        I don’t think you’re male bashing, it may seem that way but you are a woman I would expect this kind of writing.

        I just wanted to share my thoughts, whether it is women from my culture or theirs they get the same respect (or a little better).

        Stay safe! And thanks for sharing!

  9. On September 5, 2011 at 1:35 am Jess said:

    I had a similar experience with the immigration issue. Some guy asked to marry me at a bus stop before he even knew my name so he could get an Australian passport. Sob. There is more to me than my passport… The imaginary boyfriend certainly helped with that one.

    Although, getting used for your passport isn’t just for the ladies. One of my male friends once got offered $10k to get married so someone could get a US passport. Obviously they didn’t know him well because you would have to pay me ten times that much to even get close to accepting a proposal from him!

    I’ve been pretty lucky travelling but have heard some horror stories from friends too. Pays to be cautious. Although sometimes, regardless of how cautious you are, you can find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time and have to make a quick exit. Creeps really are everywhere.

  10. On September 5, 2011 at 1:51 am Kyle said:

    EWWWW, all your stories gave me the heebie jeebies. I HATE when men gross catcall or hiss. It’s ridiculous, but somehow it makes ME feel like I’m the dirty one. Even though I know I’ve done nothing wrong.
    Kyle recently posted..Beautiful Baby Ava Boo

  11. On September 5, 2011 at 4:16 pm Ruth said:

    I totally identify with you on this one – not only am I similarly slow on the uptake, I tend to gloss over the few times when men have attempted to get a little too friendly in SE Asia. So thanks for putting it out there, and I love that you added useful tips after the entertaining story!

    As you say the are jerks everywhere, so it’s worth thinking how one might deal with these encounters should they happen. I don’t think I was as prepared as I should have been at first but after a non-serious wake-up call my first week solo, I’ve been both more careful and luckier. The only place I got frustrated enough to use the imaginary boyfriend was in Indonesia my story clearly wasn’t good enough as I was once told ‘it’s ok, he’s in Europe’…

    As it is I also had a street food vendor proposition me (at least, I think so) here in Vietnam. The first time I went there I chatted to him briefly in my practically non-existent Vietnamese (all of 3 sentences on my part), excited he could understand. The second time after a smiley hello he pointed at me, pointed at himself then made the sleep gesture. After a few seconds I realised what he meant and told him ‘no understand’ (coupled with my best puzzled look) each time he repeated or rephrased the gesture. I avoided the place for two weeks but then decided that wasn’t going to stop me from eating at my fave pho joint. I think he still tries to flirt sometimes…

    Hope the cute Chinese guy does email you!
    Ruth recently posted..A little confession – I’m still suffering travel burnout

    • On September 6, 2011 at 4:54 am Sally said:

      Omigosh, that’s the exact same gestures the street vendor who propositioned me used. This must be some international sign language used among street vendors to get Western girls to go sleep with them. I really sincerely doubt (and hope!) it never works.

  12. On September 5, 2011 at 7:08 pm Ken C. said:

    Another fine post, filled with good advice for all types of travelers.

    One good thing about your “invisible friend” is that he’s a ready-made, proven way to extricate yourself from uncomfortable, perhaps even scary situations.

    Most [the VAST majority] of our interactions when traveling are positive or benign…but it’s good to consider what we might do when the spooky background music starts playing in our head.

  13. On September 5, 2011 at 10:23 pm Mario Lurig said:

    I read it all the way through (you know, as a guy) and it’s unfortunate but true that this kind of thing happens. What’s crazy is that, as a good guy (so my female friends tell me), if you step into a situation like this it can be just as detrimental. Creeps are tricky.
    On a side note, flirting across cultures is tricky. What may be a simple compliment to a stranger in the US becomes viewed as a ‘trick’ or ‘scam’ or other negative connotation in other cultures (this happened in Sydney when I complimented a girl on her dress while passing her on a busy street, both walking the same direction and I kept walking after the compliment).
    Wow, run-on sentence anyone? Anyone?
    Mario Lurig recently posted..Truth in Cereal – Photo Evidence of Portion Sizes

    • On September 6, 2011 at 4:51 am Sally said:

      I think flirting in general is tricky! I know I certainly haven’t figured it out. But, I agree with you, that for guys it’s extra tricky. Depending on the situation, even a heartfelt compliment can be taken the wrong way.

  14. On September 6, 2011 at 1:09 am Jackie said:

    I think every woman who has traveled alone at one point can add a story to this mix. The last time I traveled I was with my boyfriend the whole time, and I felt so much safer and more relaxed…not necessarily because I felt like I wouldn’t be able to defend myself if I was traveling alone, but because it was a relief to think that maybe I wouldn’t have to if he was around the whole time. If needed, I could just point in his direction and shrug with a kind of “Oops? Have a boyfriend, sorry!” gesture and not even have to worry about making up a fake boyfriend or having to flee the situation. Traveling by myself is definitely more empowering and in a lot of ways more enjoyable, but it was nice to be able to experience that one trip without having to worry about constantly watching my back.
    Jackie recently posted..Scotlandiversary: Year One

    • On September 6, 2011 at 4:50 am Sally said:

      As much as I love my imaginary boyfriend(s), I totally agree that a real life boyfriend would certainly come in handy while traveling. When I was in Morocco, I vowed that I wouldn’t come back to the country without a boyfriend just because the harassment was so exhausting. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much luck on the boyfriend front, so, sadly, no Morocco for me. 🙁

  15. On September 6, 2011 at 6:08 am Valerie Hamer said:

    OMG and I thought I was the only one with the fake bf! He served me well in Beijing, and is always around here in Korea.

    Brilliant post, love it to bits and am looking forward to reading more. Would you mind if I link to this from my blog/website?

  16. On September 6, 2011 at 7:23 am Choi kum fook said:

    I think, it is quite common happening nowadays when you are traveling alone. Any how, Miss Sally, you have done very good deals to overcome with all this sleazy things, as mentioned in the post. Be alert of stranger, usually, directly approach to you and try to flirt or propositioning or whatever. Secondly, don’t try to take advantages and greed from strangers! Recently, a French girl, 29, had been killed in Tioman Island on last May, and corpse been found beside a cave nearby the jungle, after three months of detection by the police. A Malay, owner of a snorkeling shop , is now being the accused under court’s charge of assassination. Finally, I have full confidence on you on dealing all these sleazy matters on you voyage! Miss Sally! Bien voyage! Salamat jalan!

    • On September 6, 2011 at 9:29 am Sally said:

      Mr. Choi,
      I heard the story about the French tourist. It’s very sad & scary, but very uncommon. Thanks for your tips, Mr. Choi. I will try to stay safe!

  17. On September 8, 2011 at 10:35 pm Lorna - the roamantics said:

    i love this post sally!!! great tips that truthfully, are not a bad model to follow at home as well! don’t know what it is about traveling, but some of the very same things that we gloss over/find invisible at home, stand out abroad. maybe because it’s done in a more familiar, less-seemingly-threatening way? that’s why i like your last point so much. jerks are everywhere…even in the states! in fact, i’d take a cat-call over the threat of a country full of serial killers just about any day, you know? wow this got me thinking! great stuff 🙂
    Lorna – the roamantics recently posted..Never Say Never- What I Learned From Rock Stars

    • On September 9, 2011 at 6:25 am Sally said:

      Thanks, Lorna. Glad you enjoyed it. Yes, I do tend to think more about my safety when traveling than I do while living in the States. I lived for two years in DC and didn’t think twice about walking home at night by myself (probably not the best idea). But when I moved to Brazil, I had to spend a night in Rio and I hardly even left my hotel room I was so freaked out.

  18. On September 9, 2011 at 5:50 pm Ceri said:

    This is the one thing I’m a little anxious about when I head to Mexico in a few weeks. Mexico’s kind of notorious for the catcalls, hissing and comments.

    I don’t get it much here at home but when I do get the occasional wolf whistle/car horn/comment yelled out, I feel unbelievably uncomfortable. I have no idea how to react and I feel way too self conscious.

    I don’t know how I’m going to cope when I’m over there.

    I think I’ll end up taking a leaf out of my friend’s book – She lived in India for a couple of years and would get the same kind of thing but, over there, tthey would grope her. In the end she got so fed up with it that whenever she was groped in the street, she’d shout at the offender at the top of her lungs so everyone could here. Apparently that’s the best thing for a girl to do there because it shames and demeans them in public.
    Ceri recently posted..The Panic Sets In

    • On September 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm Sally said:

      I did the shouting thing once. But I made the mistake of doing it at 2 AM on a deserted street in Manhattan. I had been living there for a semester in college and got so fed up with the catcalls/wolf whistles/etc (see, jerks ARE everywhere!), that I completely lost it on my last night in town. I was coming home from a work event and just started screaming at these two HUGE guys who were trying to come on to my friend and I. My friend was completely freaked out & like, “Sally, calm down. Those guys are HUGE. Stop yelling at them.” But the screaming fit worked. The guys were like, “Whoa, calm down, crazy lady.” I still wouldn’t really suggest doing it late at night, though.

  19. On September 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm Sabrina said:

    I love that this is a funny post despite the serious topic! And I’m totally with you one the “no eye contact” policy. I implemented that when I was living in Egypt. Well, not the first few months when I was smiling at pretty much everybody because I had an awesome job, was living right by the sea… what’s not to love? But after realizing that smiling and nodding and being friendly to people on the bus or in the shop is not the smartest thing to do when doing anything as a single female in Egypt, I implemented the “no eye contact / being a snooty foreigner” attitude with strangers. There’s probably tons of people out there who think I’m a bitch because of it, but it made my life sooo much easier. Totally worth it! While I haven’t lived in Egypt for a long time, this policy goes right back into effect when I travel by myself 🙂
    Sabrina recently posted..Texas Wildfires 2011 Update

    • On September 12, 2011 at 12:23 pm Sally said:

      My problem is that I always forget to make eye contact when I return to the States. It’s not a problem not making eye contact in Asia as it’s not really seen as not being rude (in fact, a lot of places it would be considered rude to make eye contact). But, I find when I go back to the States, I have to remind myself to look at people & smile or they’ll think I’m a bitch!

  20. On September 10, 2011 at 3:46 am Sasha said:

    I like living in Asia partly because the guys are pretty subtle about being creepy so it makes it pretty easy to be completely oblivious most of the time! I had one incident though when a Chinese guy started talking to me on the metro in Mandarin, I don’t really speak Mandarin so he pretty much was the only one in the conversation. When I got off the metro he followed me, I could feel him behind me then he grabbed my shoulder and started stroking my face (no joke!) I pushed him away and told him to F#@k off which he must of thought I meant I wanted to F$#k because he then invited me back to his place! I was not only freaked out and grossed out I was also shocked, it was 3pm for one and he was a Chinese guy, they’re not usually so sleazy! I mean I would expect things like that to happen in parts of Europe *ahem* old Croatian man, no I don’t want you to buy me a drink and please stop touching me!…but in China WTF!
    Sasha recently posted..Learning to Love my big butt

    • On September 12, 2011 at 12:20 pm Sally said:

      Ahh, your story is so scary. But, like you said, luckily it doesn’t seem to happen that much in Asia — or at least when it does happen it’s a lot less overt so it’s easy to ignore/not even notice.

  21. On September 12, 2011 at 4:22 am Sueann said:

    I’m Asian, and I would say that none of us girls are spared from the creepy advances.

    In Singapore, it’s rather tough to walk by an open air coffeeshop in a pretty attire without getting disgusting ‘kissy noises’ from old men.

    I also know a lot of girls here who get ‘harrassed’ in the train by grown Chinese men who pretend to sleep while seated beside them, before trying to ‘accidentally’ lean against them while in ‘slumber’.

    A few years ago, my best friend was molested by an Indian national in the midst of the New Year Celebration crowd, when he slammed his hand in the middle of her crotch. Sick!!!

    I would say that a lot of men in my country try to use the ‘sneaky’ tactic, which is so much worse than being direct and outright. How do you tell off someone who does something ‘accidentally’, right?

    But then again, there are also a lot of great, gentlemanly men out there, who do not condone such acts. Like you said, jerks are everywhere, it’s a matter of how unlucky we are to meet them.. But thankfully we get to bump into the chivalrous ones at times, too!
    Sueann recently posted..Finding Your Writing Voice

    • On September 12, 2011 at 12:19 pm Sally said:

      Thank you so much for your insightful comment. I think you make a great point about creepy men in Asia often using the “sneaky” tactic to harass women. This happens a lot in Japan — men will grope women in crowded trains so as they can’t be found out. I think both the sneaky way and the outright way are downright creepy & end up making a girl feel threatened and unsafe. But, like you said, it’s harder to accuse someone when they’re being sneaky — especially if you don’t even know who they are!
      And, yes, luckily there are lots of great gentlemen out there. Now, if only the creepers would all go away!

      • On September 14, 2011 at 2:52 pm Jack said:

        You know, this strangely reminds of my childhood growing up in New Zealand as asian immigrant…. The no eye contact strategy “largely” works – when you are confronted by a group of racist skinheads. It is as if you look at them, its OPEN SEASON on the asian. I had been beaten up by a group of young men when I was 13, while minding my own business. This was in broad daylight, in front of a church (yeh, I kid you not), on a busy street. I merely looked in their general direction (I noticed them because they look like they were boozing in front of church, which was kinda odd) and one of the guy approach me and just look me in the eyes and ask if I got the time – and without thinking I looked at my watch while he wind up for a right hook – I just didn’t see it coming, then it was just a lot of shouting and kicking then I don’t remember because I passed out.

  22. On September 14, 2011 at 3:01 pm Jack said:

    The mistake I made was I acknowledged them, I “invited” them to assault me. After that whenever same thing happen when I can’t avoid it, I ignore them and avoid eye contacts. It sounds kinda strange but my thinking is as long as I don’t acknowledge them, my “invisible” bubble of personal space is intact. Does this sound strange?

  23. On September 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm Jack said:

    Oh yeh, I forgot to mention, the best strategy is not to be single out, always have a group of local friends to travel or hangout with is always the best. Because nothing beats the local knowledge even if you have good instinct.

  24. On September 16, 2011 at 12:49 am Tawny said:

    I’ve had so many imaginary boyfriends in my time. I’m glad I’m not the only one. I actually wear a ring (from my parents) on my wedding finger now and I rarely have any problems. (It might also be because I have a real boyfriend now 🙂 )

    • On September 16, 2011 at 5:08 am Sally said:

      So, umm, does the imaginary boyfriend know about the real boyfriend? And how did you break it to him? Because basically I’ve been totally holding out on having a real boyfriend as I’m too scared to break the news to the imaginary boyfriend. His imaginary feelings do get hurt so easily!

  25. On September 18, 2011 at 10:26 am Naomi said:

    I love your attitude.

    But there is another side to the story which is that there is a growing trend in sex tourism for women in many countries, and that there are enough women travelling who do behave like hussies to encourage men to try their chances with us.

    I reckon some guys just try it on with any single girl and hope they get lucky. I think that’s what makes ’em jerks!!
    Naomi recently posted..Impatience

    • On September 18, 2011 at 11:04 am Sally said:

      Yes, there are women who go overseas and become prostitutes (whether by choice or by force) and plenty who go overseas and just go, well, crazy. But, honestly, judging from the women I’ve met traveling and living in Asia, I’d say the hookers and hussies are definitely in the minority.

  26. On September 18, 2011 at 5:20 pm Uncle Ed said:

    It’s not just women or Asia, I think there is something about train and bus stations. Was almost robbed/mugged in Tampa, twice, if they open their trunk to show you jewelry and watches, it’s a diversion, run like the wind! When I was in college I was propositioned several times in bus stations, once by this really, really creepy woman with greasy hair, open sores, and two equally creepy guys that loitered just outside the door. That was in Fort Wayne, same spot I was once propositioned by some creepy gay guy. “Whoops, gee, I think this is my bus, sorry have to go. My girlfriend’s waiting for me, really, have a nice day. You should put something on that! “.

  27. On September 18, 2011 at 8:45 pm Kae said:

    I lived in Japan four times, accompanying my husband on employment assignments, raising my kids there for about a third of their lives. Though, mostly I agree that culturally the Japanese are reticient to approach, and generally are gracious in social situations, I will say I learned to really attend to who was around, and did my best to teach my kids, particularly my daughter, to be street-wise. Once, on a rainy night, early even, I stepped out of a well lit drycleaner with my husband’s shirts onto a well trafficed street straight off the train station. When I stopped at the light to cross a sudden heavy downpour started and I raised my umbrella, and one commuter huddled, looked to me, raising his eyes to the umbrella, and I raised the umbrella higher, allowing him some shelter. Light changed, we crossed, walked to the next intersection where the streets narrowed and darkened, I bid good by and turned down the main & lit thoroughfare just as he indicated the convenience of a large sprawling bush and I stepped up my pace. He touched my arm and I with speedy deliberation lowered/closed my umbrella and turned into him with the tip well aimed, then ran all the way home (about 3 blocks and around a corner). I never checked to see if I was followed, but plunged to safety…..and a bath…..I felt so “dirty”….and I made a call to a local friend (a single parent mom) about whether to report the incident….she advised not to do so…..afraid as a foreigner I’d get the worst of it, and as a local woman there would be not help at all. I lived in fear until we moved, as we were a rare foreign family in that area, and if he reported an assault it would be easy to find me.

    I’ve other tales of indecent liberties targeted against my daughter and I, in Japan, and even in the States I had a Japanese man grope me in a public venue where a crowd milled. Their magazines actually publish stuff about how to walk up stairs so the male can see up a woman’s skirt, or even how to sit on a train to take the same advantage. Most the manga exploits women, particulary foriegn women as targets.

    Yeah, there are jerks everywhere. Some cultures institutionalize it as approved behaviour. My daughter went back to Japan as an adult to work. I know things happened to her there that she won’t talk about. Yes, Japan is a wonderful place and many wonderful people to get to know, but caution even about the apparent benigness.

    • On September 22, 2011 at 11:48 pm Sally said:

      Hi Kae,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences. I lived in Japan for four years, and heard from a lot of friends who were harassed, groped and worse. I also had a lot of Japanese students who reported being groped on the train and such. I was lucky enough not to experience anything too skeevy. In fact, the few times where I felt harassed or threatened or treated unfairly while there were with Western men — go figure!

  28. On September 22, 2011 at 10:35 pm Viajera said:

    You have to watch out in Latin and South America. In some countries they might just stare at you. The norm here is cat calling, hissing and making lewd comments about wanting to have sex with you. They leer. They grope you. They proposition you. And they don’t take women seriously or respect them in any way. I

    If you tend to wander and travel alone as a single white woman and choose to stay in a spot for longer than a week, please remember that they are all watching you and your patterns. They do know what you’re doing and who you’re with or not with. The fake boyfriend only works if you’re passing through town. A wedding ring actually made the propositions worse in Nicaragua and Peru, where if you’re married and traveling alone, they assume you’re easy.

    And, yeah, all of the western chics who come through on vacation, pick up the super young guys who are hustling them, pay for everything (drinks, dinner, dancing, whatever) and have sex with these dudes are not making the situation any better.

    If you want to do outdoor sports, good luck. I had a flat tire on a bike ride in Nicaragua and was immediately surrounded by a group of Nicaraguan men who wanted to hassle me. In Colombia, I went to a local gym (in the baggiest, ugliest most concealing clothes you could imagine) and still yet a group of local men formed in front of my elliptical machine to hassle me and make lewd comments.

    I even got hit on by a yoga instructor in the middle of a yoga class, a univeristy professor (supposedly professional) in the middle of a university class in Spanish and a physician during a medical appointment.

    The incidences of rapes and attacks in these countries is very high. You have to be conscious, cautious and move around only by day. So you lose a level of freedom that you might take for granted back home.

    The only place you can be without getting harassed in these places is inside your apartment with all of the doors, windows and curtains shut or inside your hotel room, all sealed up and locked up. Even then, the moment that you open your front door and walk down the street, you are the target of unwanted attention by both the men and the women.

    In the end, I have mixed feelings about traveling alone as a single white woman. Plus, the younger they think you are, the worse the harassment gets.

    • On September 22, 2011 at 11:40 pm Sally said:

      Wow, I’m sorry to hear about your experience in Latin America. I lived in Brazil for a year, and I can’t really say I had anything similar happen to me. I guess it all depends on where you are. I lived in a pretty isolated area where a lot of people knew who I was & where I worked. Plus, I didn’t really stand out that much — I have dark hair & was also much bigger than most of my svelte Brazilian counterparts. I had a friend from Southern Brazil who was very small and very fair with blonde hair and she got a lot of attention — definitely much more than me!
      I do have to say, though, that I think one of the reasons why I’ve lived in Asia so long & feel so comfortable here is because any harassment and unwanted attention I receive is pretty mild here. Of course, bad things do happen, but so far I’ve been very lucky.

      • On September 23, 2011 at 3:20 pm Viajera said:

        Hi Sally,

        Thanks for your response. I think there are a few factors at work with my situation. I’m a very independent traveler and don’t often flock in large groups of foreigners … because I do want to connect with the local culture. I’m *very* white (that does make you stick out) and I’m taller and a little bit skinnier than most of the women here. I recently died my hair a little bit darker shade of brown, which I like better, but I think maybe it makes me look whiter! Oh, well.

        I did live in Asia — Korea and China. The staring goes on wherever you are, big city or not, but more in smaller towns. But, as you say, it’s staring staring, not leering staring. There’s also a different atmosphere there … in Latin America, it’s like extended tourism wherever you go. In Asia, most of the foreigners I knew where there to work, which makes things slightly different.

        Great blog. Thanks for your posting! It’s good to connect with other single women travelers and swap stories.

  29. On October 5, 2011 at 1:08 pm NLM said:

    Dumplings and cake…I’m gonna remember that. In fact, I hope someone mistakes me for a hooker soon–I love dumplings and cake!

    Have a great Wednesday,
    NLM recently posted..Baby Got Back

  30. On October 6, 2011 at 3:39 am Ekua said:

    Great advice, and I really like the way you approached this article. I think it’s important that you made it clear that a man has choices in deciding how to treat you… it’s not all about the woman modifying her appearance or whatever so the man then has everything in place to be able to treat her well. Kudos for encouraging women to be strong when the unfortunately have to deal with this type of attention.
    Ekua recently posted..Photo Essay: Scenes from San Cristobal de las Casas and Chiapa de Corzo

    • On October 7, 2011 at 3:12 am Sally said:

      Thanks Ekua. Glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve read a lot of posts that stress the importance of women dressing more conservatively and/or modifying their own behavior to not attract attention to themselves. I think this is important, especially in more conservative countries, but, at the same time, I think posts like that often just end up blaming the woman by telling her what she is doing “wrong.” From my experience, it usually doesn’t matter what I’m doing or wearing. I tend to dress very conservatively (especially in comparison to young Chinese women) and I don’t go wandering down dark alleys on my own, but I’ve still found myself in situations where I’ve felt uncomfortable or unsafe. Unfortunately, this is just what happens when you’re a woman on your own in this world — no matter what you happen to be wearing!

  31. On May 22, 2012 at 10:08 am Eugene said:

    Its so unfair – I’ve traveled the world and I’ve never been propositioned… Ok, there was that time in England with the Irish Wolfhound, but that doesn’t count right?

    Wow, I’ve never really given much thought to what a woman on her own must live with – I just go anywhere I like, whenever I like, whether the street is lit or not! My only concern is whether the thug is bigger than me or not. Its a little unfair that you women have to deal with the creeps of the world – they should make a law that if you’re gonna creep a woman out, you should try the same with a South African farmer and if you walk away with all your front teeth, you can try with the girl…

    I read the whole post and even the comments – that’s something, not only for my ADD but I felt in touch with my feminine side – I going out now to buy kleenex and a scarf!

    Thanks for pleasurably (not in a creepy way!) enlightening me about the plight of single female travelers, I am now educated and a better man for it!

  32. On November 25, 2014 at 9:13 am Jenna said:

    I know it’s been years since you wrote this post, but I’m thankful you did. I appreciated the insights, but what I most noticed was your writing style. You have a distinct voice, your ideas are clear, your post flowed nicely, and you’re really funny. I hope you notice that.
    I’m currently traveling and I have recently discovered I’m a decent writer. Do you have any advice for cultivating your own writing style?
    Thanks a lot!
    Jenna recently posted..Three Lessons

    • On November 25, 2014 at 9:17 pm Sally said:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Jenna. As for cultivating your own writing style, my 2 big suggestions are:
      1) Read a LOT — that can be books, blogs, whatever. Figure out what kind of writing you like and you don’t like to read. 2) Write what you like to read.
      It sounds simple, but it isn’t… at least not always. I’ve definitely gone through phases where I’ve written what I thought I SHOULD be writing or what everybody else was writing or what I thought people would want to read.
      Oh, and one more:
      3) Just keep writing. It honestly took me 2 years to figure out what my “blogging voice” was. I was a writing major in college, but hadn’t written for an audience for years when I first started my blog. I had no idea what a blog was when I first started, and my first posts were seriously horrendous — just me kind of blathering on about my lunch. But I kept at it, and I eventually figured out what I was doing (kind of).
      Good luck!


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