Staying safe at night is a priority for me. Working at 4:30a and leaving the house at 3:30a means I have to be vigilant in the morning. Working until 2:30 or 1:30a sometimes means I have to be vigilant late at night. The following are my tried and true tricks for staying safe in the big city late at night and early in the morning, whatever takes you outside.
Mom: Please note, none of these things have happened to me — most likely because I’m so overprepared.
1. Have a whistle
You might think I’m being ridiculous, and sometimes mainstream media make fun of the idea of a “rape whistle.” The backpack I wear when I’m traveling early in the morning or really late at night has a whistle attached to the strap. It’s a wilderness backpack. But in an emergency, I would be more than happy to have the whistle there.
Honestly, it just makes sense.
2. Make sure your hair isn’t easy to grab
A lot of people don’t think about this when they’re out walking. If your hair is in a ponytail, and you’re distracted, its really easy for someone to grab a hold of it and you would be struggling trying to get out. When I’m out in the morning, I wear my hair down with a hood up, or I wear it in a loose bun that is going to come out if anyone tries to grab me from behind.
3. Wear bright coloured clothes and/or reflective gear
You might think this is a counterproductive strategy. If you’re trying to stay low-key and not draw attention to yourself, then why wear brightly coloured clothes? Contrary to popular belief the biggest danger to women who are walking alone at night is cars. The mysterious stranger rapist is not the only threat that is out there. If cars can’t see you then they are not going to stop. And at a time in the day when some cars run red lights because they think “hey, who is out this early?” — being bright could easily save your life. Also, in bad weather, rain or fog can make it difficult for drivers to see. Being reflective will let them know something is there and allow them to get out of your way. Finally, if you are in the unfortunate situation of being engaged in an argument or being attacked by a passerby, being bright and being noisy is going to let help find you faster. My bike jacket is waterproof and reflective and my best night time defense.
4. Always have someone know where you are or where you are going.
Manfriend and I have a whiteboard on our fridge. In the morning when I leave I write my route on it. “Going to pick up car at Prince Albert and 49th. Walking down Chester, then up 49th to car location. I will text you when I get to work.” I don’t expect Manfriend to be awake at 2 or 3 am to drive me places (sometimes, bless his heart, he does it anyways). This way, if I don’t text him when I get to work then he knows the route I took to tell emergency personnel.
If I’m picking a coworker up, I text her when I leave the house and when I get to the car. If I’m leaving job two with another coworker, we each text each other when we get home. Safety in numbers people. Safety in numbers.
5. Emergency numbers = memorize them
Have you ever misplaced your phone and had that heart attack feeling? There are seven numbers I am able to call with or without my cell phone. I can call my parents, Manfriend, my landlord, the non-emergency police line for Vancouver police, work one, work two, a cab company and obviously 911. Knowing numbers is going to help you in a situation where you lose your phone or it is stolen.
6. Know where your “safe stops” are
Whether its going to work one or coming home from work two I know where there are safe stops for me to run to if the need ever arose. On the way to job one there is a 24/7 bakery across the street from my house. This is also my last safe stop for coming home from job 2. I’ve used it many times getting off the bus and feeling unsafe with the people who are getting off with me. I stop, have some water and maybe a pastry. There is a phone and other people there. There is also a 24 hour McDonalds across the street from Job 1. If I get there early and before my co-worker and feel unsafe, I wait in the McDonalds. This has happened many times.
Coming home from work 2 there are other stops I can make. On the way to the train, there are 3 buildings with 24 hour managers and/or security personnel by the window. If my personal safety was at risk I could easily bang on the door.
Going to the bus stop there are two hotels on the way. Running into the front lobby is never out of the question.
Finally on my way to the carpark if I am picking up one of the smart cars to drive, there is the car park attendant and a number of bars/restaurants/hostels that are open late. There are usually one or two bouncers outside. Also, at 12:01a every day a tow truck frenzy begins on one of these streets. There are so many people outside that its impossible to not be safe.
7. Fake it
Walk proud, walk tall and walk like you know where the hell you are going, even if you don’t. You are a bigger target when you act like you do not know what is going on. I’ve been lost before and just kept walking confidently. Looking unsure makes you a bigger target.
My best strategy is to yell out someone’s name. Last night is a prime example of this. I was pretty sure some guy was following me after I had refused him money. I was close to the bus stop and yelled “Tyler, hey, Tyler!” Everyone at the bus stop looked over, I jogged up and stood next to a man pretending to talk to him. Pretty sure I just picked a random and said “that guy is following me, can you pretend to be Tyler?” Pretend Tyler was pretty nice. This can backfire if there is only one person at the bus stop and they are a not-so-nice person, but there were 10 – 20 of them, and chances are one of them could even be named Tyler.
My other fake it strategy is to walk at the same pace beside someone who looks like they are in a hurry as well. It makes you look like you’re not alone.
You can always board a bus. I once jumped on a bus and said, “I’m sorry I don’t have fare but that man is following me, can you drive me one stop?” If the bus driver says “no” then they are a total jerk face and you could technically keep refusing to get off until they call the police, which would help you anyways. Also, try to keep fare on you at all times in case of this situation arising.
8. Be vigilant
Talking on your phone or listening to music is a bad idea. It doesn’t let you take a good look at your surroundings and it becomes evident to passerbys that you are not paying attention. Not only does it not allow you to avoid cars, but it makes you a pretty big target.
I used to be on the phone when I would walk home late from University (now I can’t believe I was scared of that city when I walk alone in a big city at night). But realistically, what is the person on the other end of the phone going to do? Unless you’re recounting your steps, they’re not going to be able to help, and your phone will be occupied with the call so dialling 9-1-1 quickly is going to be impossible.
9. Never take the same route
One thing I am sure to do is to leave at different times. It helps that my work schedule is varied, but even if I have the same shift a few days in a row, I will leave from different doors, I will take different methods of transportation, and if I feel like I’m getting too routine, I will call a cab.
10. Don’t be afraid to take a cab
When in doubt, pay the extra money to take a cab.
Remember, I’m not a professional or anything, but after two years of leaving really early to go to work and coming back really late I’ve got my strategies down. These are what work for me. You can take or leave my advice. I also don’t carry most of my id or cards, just what I need, and I have some cash on hand in case someone mugs me. Nothing I really care about is with me and I carry my phone in a different pocket than everything else and don’t have it out while I walk.
When it comes down to it, trust your gut. Your instincts will usually be right.