Women are trained from birth to think that home is safe and ‘Out There’ is dangerous. However, home is often quite dangerous, and Out There is often quite safe. Besides, you can’t really do much with your life without going Out There, at least sometimes. You may find that the mere idea of doing so immediately brings you out in a rash of terror, as every bit of your brain’s training screams at you, ‘But Something Will Happen To Me!’
Of course it will. That’s the point. If nothing happened to you, there wouldn’t be any point leaving the house.
At this point your brain, richly enabled by every television drama you’ve ever watched, will take on the voice of your mother, and tell you in a reproachful way, that was it obviously meant was that you will be mugged, raped and murdered.
Of course this is possible. It is quite possible that this may happen to you if you stay at home doing your boring job, when you drink too many Babychams at the office party and get accidentally-on-purpose locked in the stationery cupboard with creepy George from the Sales Department.
Your brain, however, discounts this risk, since it is used to it. No, what your brain really meant was that if you step off the path, if you leave the light, to wander on an unknown and unmapped track, you will robbed, raped and murdered by strangers in a strange city, maybe down a dark alleyway. This is your NIGHTMARE SCENARIO.
Ladies, this may happen. Sadly, this may happen anywhere. However, it is not particularly any more likely Out There, than it is back here. Should you decide you do need, wish or want to go Out There, for some reason, consider the following scenario.
You go Out There. To France or India or Brazil or even Scunthorpe and you know what? It’s great. The world is full of interesting things. You are just adjusting to this fact when after a week of being Out There you get up late and realise you put your sensible shoes in the bottom of your pack and so you put on your flipflops instead and run to the station to catch your train and and you catch your flipflops on a step and fall over and hit your head and pass out. When you come round there are half a dozen very nice and helpful French/Indian/Brazilian people being embarrassingly kind to you and they hustle you off to hospital looking slightly reproachfully at your flipflops as you bleed all over them, and a very nice and embarrassingly kind French/Indian/Brazilian doctor tells you that you have slight concussion and a sprained ankle and you can either hole up in a 5-star hotel for a week or phone someone to come and take you home. So you phone your Dad/boyfriend/elder sister/housemate who decides that clearly you should have never been allowed out on your own ever because you’re incapable and they come and get you and it costs five grand because when you read the small print of the insurance it specifically says ‘Point 17.2.3.a.iii.b this policy is invalid in any incident in which flip-flops are involved’ and then you get home and it turns into A STORY which your family and friends tell every Christmas, birthday and party about how useless you are and you realise that your brain was right, you should never have gone anywhere anyway and so you marry creepy George from Sales because you can’t think of anything else to do and anyway you need someone to make decisions for you because clearly you’re incapable, and then you stay at home while he molests drunk women in the stationery cupboard and when you’re finally released from your hellish existence and your granddaughter says at your funeral how it’s a shame Grandma never did anything with her life, someone will tell her that you tried once but you fell over your flipflops and knocked yourself out, which is proof that you never should’ve tried in the first place.
So, ladies, I ask you, what’s looking like the nightmare scenario now, eh?
So in order to avoid the above I offer the following list.
LESSON NO 1. Think carefully about shoes.
LESSON NO 2. Have a reason.
You’re not going on a family holiday. The reason for going on a family holiday is to spend time with your family. You’re not spending time with your family. You’re spending time with you. So have a reason. This reason may include, in a non-exhaustive list: looking at art, making art, walking up mountains, eating seafood, looking at turtles, lying on a beach, playing golf, playing tennis, playing away, playing fast and loose with your inheritence, going shopping, reading books, writing a book, pretending you’re in a book, going to where your favourite book happens, buying antiques, sleeping with an antique, stealing an antique, etc ad infinitum.
Shallow reasons are also reasons. Your husband/sister/boss/mumsnet group does not need to approve of them. ‘I always really wanted to get a haircut in Paris’, ‘I just wanted to eat cake without anyone disapproving’, ‘I fully intend to visit all the locations used in a cheesy 1990s romcom’, ‘Actually I like collecting Nazi memorabilia’ and ‘I enjoy being chatted up by sleazy blokes half my age’ are all reasons. The reason is for you. It’s not for anyone else. It doesn’t matter if it’s stupid.
Bad reasons are also reasons: not wanting to be in the same country as your ex, not wanting to be in the same country as your boss, and not wanting to be in the same country as your government are all bad reasons, but the reasons nonetheless. You can make up your own reason, and you don’t have to explain it to anyone. But have one. If you just go to where you went on family holidays because it’s where you know, you won’t enjoy it.
This isn’t to say that if you spent the last twelve holidays being dragged round wine tours of Tuscany while all you wanted to do was visit the art museums, that you can’t go to Tuscany and visit the art museums. That’s the same place, but it isn’t the same thing.
LESSON NO 3. Don’t go to Tuscany*.
It’s over-rated. It’s also full of middle-class English bores, and no-one else speaks anything but Italian. *Unless you a) Are looking for a middle-class English bore for your next husband, b) Speak Italian.
LESSON NO 4. Talk To People
This is firstly, for your enjoyment. One of the chief pleasures of being on your own is that random people will freely converse with you. This is sometimes memorable, sometimes boring, and very often useful, as they will have the local knowledge that hours of trawling through the internet won’t reliably generate.
This is secondly for your safety. You are far less likely to be bothered/molested by a nice person you identified as a likely source of directions/help/advice than by the random person who has, for some reason, picked you as their target. If someone is bothering you, pick someone who looks safer and start a conversation with them. If you do get axe-murdered, the fact that you chatted to ten random people before disappearing will make it easier for the police to find your remains. If you spoke to no-one for five days, no-one will notice you disappeared.
LESSON NO 5. Have an official reason why you are there.
This may not be the same as your real reason. Especially if your real reason is ‘my boss found out I was stealing the petty cash’, or ‘I heard the drugs were cheap.’ Tell them you’re there for the art, or the seafood, or that you’re checking out the hotels for a possible conference booking. You might get a free drink out of the last one, but have to put up with a boring tour of the boardroom facilities. The official reason can also be useful for getting rid of unwanted attentions: your husband is at a conference in town and will be back later on. Make it up skillfully, and it can be used for all sorts of purposes, including identifying potential axe-murderers. Just tell ‘em you work for a company that exports axes, and you’re there because they’ve noticed a really specific rise in sales locally.
LESSON NO 6. Learn to read a map.
Ladies. You’re there for a reason. The reason isn’t standing in a public plaza looking lost while your phone screen zooms in and out and upside down and then dies leaving you bereft of your last and final visit to wherever it is that’s the reason you’re there.
LESSON NO 7. Learn to look like you know where you are, and are quite at home there. The less you look like a tourist the less you will be a target for bullshit of every variety, including scams, hawkers, beggars, and pick-up-merchants. Also, normal nice people will chat to you. Cultivating some at-home chill will get you through most things from insalubrious lorry park diners to 5-star hotels. You don’t actually have to feel at home: if push comes to shove, fake it. You don’t need to look like you’re a local, or dress up in local clothes. Just looking like you’ve been here before and are unfazed by it will be sufficient.
LESSON NO 8. Leave. Really don’t feel at home however hard you try? Leave. If you want to see the interior of the poshest hotel in town, buy a coffee. Realised you can’t afford a coffee? Leave. Just do it casually, no apologies. Table-full of Russian oligarchs with twitchy bodyguards at the next table? Leave. Cockroach in the curry? Leave. Keep a reserve of money so that if necessary you can go to a different restaurant, hotel, or get the next bus outta town. There’s no shame in beating a tactical retreat, sometimes. Get to tell the difference between tiredness/paranoia and your intuition pinging you with some really important updates. You’ll get better at this, after a while.
LESSON NO 9. Can’t leave? Ask for help. You don’t need to wait for someone official/respectable to do so. Most people will answer an appeal for assistance, including those that are to be found in unsafe places, like bar staff, sex workers, homeless people and even local gangsters. These people have codes. They might not be your codes, but they have one. Once you have asked for someone’s help, that kind of puts you under their protection.
LESSON NO 10. Don’t wear flipflops in the railway station. This goes for bus stations, ferryports and airports as well, and is really the only item on this list that is actually NON-NEGOTIABLE.