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International Subway Safety -- 20 Tips for Women Travelers


Evelyn Hannon

It was a cold winter’s night in London, England as I found myself on the subway travelling back to my Bed and Breakfast in an outlying neighbourhood. I was feeling a bit uneasy. It was later than I usually stayed out when I travelled solo. There were plenty of people on the train when we left the entertainment district but as we moved further out, the car emptied quickly. To soon, I found myself alone except for one other passenger, a middle-aged, slightly inebriated leering lout who realized the potential of the situation. He began by calling out to me and trying to establish eye contact. I didn’t bite. He tried again and again, each time just a little louder. I retaliated by pulling my woollen cap down so that my eyes were almost covered. I hunched my shoulders, took a bag of potato chips from my backpack and began stuffing my mouth and chewing loudly. Crumbs spewed on to my coat and into my lap as I began to mutter to myself in French. He stopped calling out and stared in amazement at my gross behaviour. I continued muttering. I swear that he looked relieved when he got off at his station.

I’m an avid fan of subway travel. Taxis are generally far too insular for me and they make too much of a dent in my pocketbook. Riding the subway I'm quickly immersed in the city I'm visiting and it provides me with the purest form of people watching. I find a great sense of satisfaction in being able to get from Point A to Point B without getting lost. At their best, subways whisk you to your destination quickly, economically and efficiently. At their worst, they are stifling hot, smelly and potentially dangerous for a woman traveller. Here are some of the strategies I've developed to differentiate between the two and to help me ride the underground easily and safely.


Do your homework well before you travel. Log on to female travel forums (Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree is excellent) to see what others are saying, contact Tourist Boards and transit commissions, refer to the latest guidebooks and chat with local women who have travelled before you. These sources offer reams of information designed to familiarize the user with rates, routes, and specific safety information. Download the online subway maps you'll need. You’ll feel a lot more confident at your destination.


Once you arrive at your destination, your best source of information will be the local women. Inquire about the area you want to subway to. Is the neighbourhood safe to walk in or is it smarter to take a taxi? Is it wise to use the subway at night? Many hotels now have a female concierge at their front desk. Ask what their subway experiences have been. Find out if there are any safety measures in place especially for the women traveller. This can give you the added confidence you might need to use or not use the underground in that city.


Avoid peak travel hours. Why be caught in a crush when you can travel a bit later and a lot more leisurely? In London, England, late morning travellers are offered an incentive to postpone their day’s start. You can buy a money saving ‘Off Peak Pass’ providing you begin your journey after 9:30 AM. In Tokyo, crowds are so dense during rush hours that special employees wearing white gloves have been hired to help squeeze as many people as possible on to the trains and to help shut the doors after them.


Avoid travel after dark if you are not familiar with the areas where you get on and off the subway. Deserted stations and long walks to your hotel make no sense at all.


Whether you’re travelling by plane or train, the fastest, cheapest, most convenient way to get to and from your travel terminus will generally be the subway. Many cities like Paris, France have excellent subway systems that transport passengers directly to the airport at reasonable rates. In order to take advantage of these savings, remember to pack lightly. Having more than one suitcase makes it almost impossible to negotiate the stairs, escalators and lifts that might be involved. Besides, if you don't have at least one free hand to ward off pickpockets, you are a perfect target.


Jetlagged and taking the subway after an all-night flight? Never take your eyes off your baggage. Experienced thieves wait for these kinds of opportunities and can be out the subway door, your suitcase in hand, in minutes.


Think pink. In Brazil special subway cars have now been set aside for women only. During weekday rush hours in Rio de Janeiro women commuters are invited to ride in female-only, pink-striped subway cars. This is an attempt to avert groping and other unwanted sexual advances from men behaving in an antisocial way. Rio joins Tokyo and Mexico City as major cities who already have female-only train cars.


As you travel around the world, it’s wise to keep the following cautions in mind. Always have your fare ready when entering the subway. This way potential thieves never see where you keep your wallet.


Remain alert. When waiting on the platform, stand far back from the subway tracks.





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