Lisa Lansing

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Travelling alone as a woman.

I am halfway through this 6-month Euro trip. I’m so glad that I only have three more months to go. I’ve learned so much during this trip and feel like I’m a completely different person now than when I started. I’ve grown tremendously because of all the new situations I’ve faced.

I’ve lived and travelled alone for most of my adult years, but this trip has been more difficult because I don’t have anyone around to comfort me in person when times get rough. Even when I moved around and travelled before, I had friends or family in every location, or I’d stay in a location for long enough to make new friendships. Now as I travel through Europe, I don’t have anyone by my side. (I am grateful that my boyfriend visits me every few weeks and fortunate that I’ve made a few friends along the way.)

With the exception of Poland, I’ve visited all locations on my own. Travelling alone as a woman has been challenging. All women are susceptible to catcalls, harassment, and leering anytime they are out in public. I’ve been subjected to this no matter where I lived in the States, and this trip has been no different.

Some examples of what I’ve dealt with since leaving Scotland: men making kissing noises at me from their cars as I walk by, men sitting next to me on a park bench (when there are plenty of other places to sit) and starting to chat with me as I’m wearing headphones eating lunch. The same men offering to walk with me through the city. Men leering at me and every other woman on the metro. Men straight up gawking at women sunbathing topless on the beach. It doesn’t matter if this unwanted attention is directed at me or at other women. It makes me sick every time I notice it.

I don’t immediately assume that a man is a creep just because he wants to talk to me in public, but 9/10 times this is the case. The worst case was in Barcelona. In general, Barcelona was bad because I wouldn’t be outside for more than 5 minutes before a man would catcall me. I’m serious, this isn’t an exaggeration. I was eating watermelon on a bench, minding my own business, and an older man sat on the same bench and commented on the watermelon (in Spanish). I figured he was just being friendly so I engaged in conversation. I was excited to have a full-blown conversation in Spanish with someone other than my flatmates.

We had fairly mundane chit-chat about watermelon until he asked me if I had a boyfriend. I explained that yes, I do have a boyfriend and that we are madly in love. Then he started bringing up how ridiculous it is for me to be in Barcelona, without my boyfriend, when there are so many other men available there. And that I should be worried that my boyfriend isn’t in Barcelona with me because he probably has another girlfriend by now.

I tried to convince him that none of this worries me and that I definitely am not interested in other men EVER, hoping he would just leave me alone with my watermelon. Then he started commenting on my tattoos and my body. Telling me how much he liked my tattoos and that I was very fit, all the while eyeing me up and down as I tried to eat my watermelon.

Eventually, he seemed to get the hint that I definitely wasn’t interested in flirting with him, so he started to leave but then asked me for a kiss. I said no, but he insisted that it’s customary in Spanish culture. I told him no. He asked for a kiss on the cheek and on the lips, and I said no. He asked me several times before he set off. He asked me if I’d be in the same place in the following days so he can see me.

I felt pressured to just keep ‘being nice’ even though I felt terribly uncomfortable. We were in a public place so I’m not sure if making a scene would have helped the situation. Now I realise I should have just left, but at the time I didn’t consider that. I was there first, and I didn’t want to assume he had any bad intentions.

This is what happens when I assume men just want to ‘chat’ about something like watermelon.

I don’t know why this is so hard for some men to understand, but if you see a woman alone in public, perhaps she’s wearing headphones, completely absorbed in her phone or food, do NOT speak to her. She doesn’t want to talk to you, or anyone. Leave her alone. If you see a woman sitting alone on a park bench, and there are plenty of other places to sit, do NOT sit next to her and start a chat. Sit anywhere else. Women are allowed to exist alone in public. They don’t need a man to entertain them.

All the big cities I visited were worse than the smaller ones when it comes to street harassment. I guess this makes sense because more people = more creeps (maybe?). In Paris, I got to the point where I was being bothered by men every time I walked through the city so I had no desire to go outside and explore. I couldn’t even go to the shop down the street without a man bothering me.

Once, one started walking side by side with me, saying hello to me multiple times as he walked next to me. I completely ignored him but he kept saying hello, then eventually got fed up, muttered something to me in French, and sped up. Men stared me up and down as I passed them on the street, then they’d turn around on the bench so they could continue watching me. I’d notice men sitting on benches, commenting and critiquing every woman that walked in front of them. I’d even adjust my course if I saw men sitting on a park bench and walk behind them, yet they would turn around to watch me.

While it’s true that anyone with functioning eyeballs can look at anyone else in public, the point is NO ONE should stare like that. If I notice someone attractive, I don’t stare at them and undress them with my eyes, especially if they notice me looking at them! Noticing men leering at me makes me feel gross. Not that dressing a certain way justifies leering eyes, but I don’t dress in revealing clothing at all. I could wear a burlap sack and still get harassed on the street.

If you’re a woman reading this, you know how often stuff like this happens. If you’re a man who doesn’t catcall women, you probably had no idea how prevalent this is. It doesn’t matter what you wear, where you are, or how obviously uninterested you are in the rest of the world at that time. You will get whistled at, leered at, followed, or talked to by some creep.

People have told me: Well, what do you expect? You’re a woman travelling alone. That’s the way it is. That doesn’t make me feel better about the situation! What else can I do…? Does this mean I shouldn’t travel alone, ever?

Some days I don’t want to go outside, or I want to completely cover myself (as if this would prevent creeps from leering). Dealing with this on a daily basis stresses me out. I feel bad about myself because I’m powerless to stop them. There’s nothing I can do to prevent it, short of never leaving the flat. I can’t yell at them or combat them in the street because this won’t change their behaviour and they are looking to get a rise out of me anyway. In my experience, the only way to avoid street harassment as a woman is to have another man by your side.

Some have suggested that catcalling is a cultural thing and that I should have expected it in Spain. Not only is that prejudiced, but it’s completely untrue because catcalling happens EVERYWHERE. I would hope respecting women would be a universal truth, but sadly we will never get to that point. The best we can do is share our stories with other women to sympathise with them, and with other men to let them know how terrible men can be. Women experience this world differently than men, and it is anything from desirable.

So far, I’ve only had one issue with men as I travelled in the Balkan region. In Ljubljana, a man sat RIGHT NEXT to me at a bus stop (when there were plenty of other empty seats there) and stared directly at my chest. It wasn’t a quick glance, he continued to stare even though I watched him do this. I immediately got up and moved to another seat, far away, so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.

I didn’t have any issues in Rijeka and none in Zagreb (so far), so things are looking up. I hope the rest of my time in Croatia goes smoothly. Even though the first half of the trip was troublesome because I had to deal with annoying creeps on a daily basis, this isn’t enough to deter me from travelling alone in the future. Women should be able to travel alone and we shouldn’t have to change what we want because men are creeps.

I have no desire to return to Berlin, Barcelona, or Paris ever again, at least on my own because the harassment was too much for me. That being said, once I return to Scotland in December, I won’t ever need to travel alone because my boyfriend will be with me 24/7. I am definitely looking forward to that!

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