For a number of years, my husband and I owned a small hardwood business in Oregon. He and I were the only employees, and, since I didn’t know how to run some of the saws and the planer, I was the one elected to do any out of town travel for the business.
In the early years, we were always looking for new suppliers so I headed out once or twice a year to places like Iron Mountain, Michigan, Chicago, Illinois, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Houston, Texas to see what I could find. It was exciting to travel to places I had never been before, and I managed to stop here and there along the way to see some really interesting places. Our small Datsun pickup with a canopy on the back became my home away from home for up to a month at a time.
At the time, I really didn’t think that what I was doing was dangerous, but it was. In those days, I didn’t even own a cell phone and didn’t hesitate to strike up a conversation wherever I landed for a quick lunch, or to camp in a KOA Campground for the night. When I thought it was time for a night in a softer bed and a chance to watch some TV, I opted for renting a room in the first motel that came along. Today, I would be far more cautious.
If you are a woman who travels alone by automobile, here are some ways you can avoid taking unnecessary chances with your safety:
1. Plan your trip carefully ahead of time.
It only takes a short time to map out your trip. Make an itinerary to leave with a family member so that you can be reached if necessary, or so that loved ones will have an idea of where to begin looking if, for some reason, you fail to check in with them when expected. And have an agreed upon time to check in with a family member or a friend at reasonable intervals. If you don’t, it may be too late by the time someone finally realizes that something might have happened to you.
It’s fun to take unplanned detours along the way, but such detours can be dangerous. A family visiting Oregon several years ago decided to take a detour that led them to a snowy mountain pass where they were marooned for several days in their car. The wife and children survived, but the husband, who had decided to hike out for help, perished. Be sure you check out areas you plan to visit along the way, and the local weather reports when you get there.
2. Make sure your vehicle is in good condition.
Breaking down on the road is never a pleasant experience, and it can be especially unnerving to a woman traveling alone. You owe it to yourself to have your car checked out before you leave on a long trip to make sure there will be no unexpected problems along the way. Each morning, before leaving your motel, hotel, or campground, be sure you have plenty of gas to reach your next destination. If you are totally non-mechanical like me, have someone show you how to change a tire and fan belt before you leave home. It goes without saying that the spare tire is full of air and that there actually is a spare fan belt in the vehicle, just in case.
3. Carry some personal safety devices.
First and foremost, of course, is a cell phone. Every day or two you read a newspaper article about someone who has alerted the police, rescue workers, or family members of their need for immediate help through the use of their cell phone. Cell phones are not foolproof by any means—there are areas where their signals fail, their batteries die, or the cell phone is out of your reach, but, in spite of these drawbacks, cell phones are one of the best traveling devices to help keep you safe.
Another gadget I never travel without these days is a door jam. This is a handy little rod in two parts that you wedge under the doorknob of your motel room to keep intruders from entering your room. It has several notches so the height can be adjusted to the height of the doorknob.
Another safety tool I recommend for women who travel alone is a whistle. Get one that makes a loud sound when you blow on it. A loud noise can scare an attacker off quickly as he doesn’t want any attention directed his way.
A visit to a security website can show you other tools such as small pepper spray canisters, ear-piercing whistles, etc. which can be ordered for a reasonable price. (See 1st and 2nd links below) Something like this might appeal to you if you plan to do a lot of traveling alone, but you need to take precautions to see that they don’t fall into the hands of young children.
4. Check out your lodging or campground carefully.
If you are camping, and haven’t made reservations ahead of time, carry a camping guide like Woodall’s (See 3rd link below) and look for campgrounds that are rated high. Avoid lonely, deserted looking camps. Ask for a space close to the office and restroom, and try to get settled in your camping area before dark, if possible. I usually try to be inside my vehicle, with the doors safely locked fairly early in the evening.
If you are using motels, a lot of the same advice applies. You may save a few dollars by choosing a lonely looking one with very few cars far from town, but you will probably be much safer if you choose a franchise motel that is moderately busy. Here, too, asking for a room near the office, and on the ground floor is a good idea. If any trouble begins in that area, the manager is more likely to spot it and do something to stop it than if you are stuck away at the end of a long hallway on the second or third floor.
Don’t mention to fellow travelers that you are traveling alone. If someone strikes up a conversation, you don’t have to lie in order to give the impression that your husband or traveling companion is back in your hotel room or is meeting you for lunch in a few minutes. Say something like, “I’ll ask my husband when I get back to my room.” Or “My sister and I plan to have lunch in a little while.” They don’t need to know that you will be asking your husband when you talk to him by phone 6 hours from now, or that your sister and you are having lunch two weeks from today.
Never, never open your motel door to anyone when you are traveling alone. When I was traveling alone in Kansas, a knock came at my door after 10 p.m. I asked who it was, and a man’s voice said, “John.” I told him, through the door, that John’s room was down the hall. (I had no idea who John was or where his room was.) The man returned and knocked again a few minutes later, but I didn’t answer that time, and he went away. I think he was just mistaken about what room John was in, but I wasn’t taking any chances. If he had persisted further, I would have called the manager.
Take a moment to look out your motel window before exiting when you are ready to leave, and glance around the parking lot to make sure no one is loitering there. Don’t be afraid to call the manager on your phone and have him or her walk you to your car if you see anyone that makes you suspicious.
When you leave a motel or campground parking lot, watch your rearview mirror to make sure no one is following you. If someone else leaves the area at the same time, make a few turns to be sure it was just a coincidence before you get out on the road where help might not be so easily available.
5. Finally, be careful, but not paranoid.
Nothing spoils a trip faster than being fearful and thinking you have to look over your shoulder the whole time, but, with a little practice, you will find that exercising caution will become a habit; a habit that becomes second nature to you.
Traveling alone can be a lot of fun if you take the time to plan ahead and to insure your safety on the road. Enjoy your trip!