5 ways to make sure you stay safe on your holiday.
Heartache and 5 star luxury.
Years ago I went on holiday with a friend of mine to Corfu. We were young and skint and got a last minute, allocation on arrival deal and by sheer fluke ended up staying in a luxury resort in a small place called Gouvia. If my memory serves me correctly both of us were nursing a bit of low level heartache and decided that some Greek sunshine would sort us out.
My friend and I, coincidentally also called Tara, were both gregarious and we easily made friends to swim with or go out with. Most notably were a group of young women and a couple of guys from Oxfordshire. Better still, there were a lot of very handsome Italian men to dance with at the bars and clubs and as it is when you're young, we were soon inseparable. One of my abiding memories of that holiday is how much dancing we did, how many times I got thrown into the pool and that there was a gorgeous beach one minute from the pool area of the resort. It felt like we'd hit the jackpot, here we had good food, good times and the only downside was that I discovered a life long hatred of ouzo. Needless to say we drank a lot, we danced a lot and had very little sleep but we were young and the hangovers from hell didn't stop us getting up bright and breezy and hitting the pool or the beach. For the most part our holiday was epic, however there was one incident that to this day I remember clearly and I occasionally dream about.
A night out.
As the week was drawing to a close Tara and I wanted to go out somewhere different than the usual places we'd been frequenting near our resort. We got talking to one of the rep's, looking back he was a total sleeze, but at the time he seemed so glamorous. He suggested an excursion to another town which included dinner and probably a free shot of booze so we booked on. When we spoke to the rest of our "gang" for whatever reason none of them could come. Some were skint, one had a hot date and some just didn't want to. It was towards the end of our week there and we understood, we were pretty tired ourselves but decided we'd go anyway. We wouldn't need to worry about being in a strange place on our own as we'd be part of the excursion. There was a bus to pick us up and take us back to the hotel and neither Tara nor I had any concerns.
Bizarrely I don't remember anything about that night itself except for the heat, however I do clearly remember the journey home. Faithfully at 1am our bus arrived and picked the entire party up but the rep stayed in the town we had visited. Again I had no qualms about this at all, at the time it seemed like such an insignificant detail. Tara and I got on and there were two bus "drivers" which we thought was a bit weird but again not too out of the ordinary. Without sounding like a total douche, Tara and I had become used to the number of propositions we'd get from guys. I suspect it was less to do with our stunning good looks and more to do with the scattershot approach, in that if you ask enough times you'll eventually get a hit. When the driver and his mate whistled and said something suggestive to us as we got on the bus we just laughed awkwardly and more or less ignored it. We felt it was a bit creepy but largely due to the fact that, to us, they were really old. I was in my early twenties and they seemed like pensioners but I realise they were probably the age I am now!
As we sat on the coach Tara and I chatted about our holiday so far, life plans and lots of other things. It's safe to say both of us were drunk but not falling down hammered. The evening was oppressively hot and our main concerns were whether or not we'd go for a swim when we got back to the resort which was interspersed with a little bit of career talk and affairs of the heart. Tara was a newly qualified pharmacist and I was a newly qualified midwife and we were excited about our future careers. Getting away had been a great idea, it had put things into perspective and we were having a huge amount of fun. After a while I realised the coach was getting empty and for whatever reason I started to feel a little anxious. I stopped talking to Tara so much and started to take notice of the road signs and where we were. The coach was stopping at different hotels and dropping off the guests and being late at night it was really dark. Neither Tara nor I had taken any notice of the roads used when we'd been picked up and neither did we have any idea of the route home.
The wrong way.
By the time there were only six guests left on the bus I had realised that we'd gone past the sign for Gouvia. Perhaps they'd made a mistake, perhaps they thought we were staying at a different resort. Suddenly I felt very sober. Tara and I were both tense so all conversation ceased. My priority now was identifying where we were. We continued to travel on dark roads that were leading us away from our hotel. Two more guests got dropped off and still we stayed on that bus! Now there were just four of us. I didn't recognise the other couple but I held out hope that they were staying at our resort and that the bus would turn around. As we pulled out onto the main road and into the darkness I said again to Tara, "We're going the wrong way" to which she replied "We can't be".
By now I was sweating. Not just because of the night time heat but from the anxiety I was feeling. I sat up straight with my head on a constant swivel between the darkness of the road outside and the two men at the front. Every now and then the driver's mate would turn around and smile lecherously at us. I never reciprocated. I was starting to feel scared. It dawned on us that no one on the coach now or earlier knew who we were or where we were staying. The rep had abandoned us. Our friends were back at the resort doing whatever the hell they fancied and knew we were out tonight. This was in the days before mobile phones and internet everywhere. I felt very small and very alone. As we pulled up to the final hotel the last couple got off. Tara and I were frozen, we just stayed on the bus. Looking back this is the moment we should have taken to get out of there. This was our last opportunity to get off when there were other people around us. Yet we didn't. I can only think it's because I had no frame of reference for this, nothing like it had ever happened to me before and I didn't really know what to do. So we stayed on that bus and things got worse before they got better.
By this time the atmosphere was brittle. Gone were the chirpy, carefree twenty somethings of a few hours earlier. I was stuck to my seat, alert but immobile, almost like those horrible dreams when you are awake but can't move. The bus headed off into the night and turned off the main road and my heart started to beat faster. Where the hell were we going? Was this a shortcut to Gouvia? In the darkness I looked at Tara and I could see she had started to softly cry. I put my arm round her and told her a lie. "Don't worry, we're going to be alright." She didn't reply, she knew I couldn't possibly know that, I'm a glass half full person and even I knew this was not a good situation. We drove for another 20 minutes or so and occasionally during this time the drivers mate would turn, smile again and say something to the driver. They'd laugh and on we would go. I found this unbelievably disturbing, not least because I didn't speak Greek but because at no point had Tara or I smiled back at him or "led him on". By now it was gone 2am and we realised we were totally and utterly lost, we had no clue where we were. No longer on main roads there was little in the way of buildings and subsequently few lights. There were no cars on the road and it was so deserted for all we knew we could have been on the moon.
Suddenly in the distance I could see a light and for whatever reason this gave me some hope. Perhaps this was a back road and they just got a bit lost. At no point did I want to go and confront either man, I knew they could speak and understand some English however I was scared to approach them. Tara and I had remained in our seats near the back of the bus for the entire journey. Getting up and moving to the front seemed like a mammoth task and I was fearful of what might happen if I did. Through the dark we kept driving towards the light and as we got closer I could see it was a taverna. There were a few cars in the car park which gave me some confidence and after we pulled up outside the driver got up out of his seat and said "drinks girls?" - I tried to say no but my throat was so dry I just shook my head vehemently. Tara did the same. The driver's mate said to us "Come on, why not? Just one." I cleared my throat and thankfully found my voice "No. Take us back to Gouvia." It wasn't as emphatic as I'd have liked but now they were no longer smiling. We stayed at the back of the coach and the driver started walking back towards us and before he could do or say anything else I shouted at him "We are tired, take us back to the hotel. Now." He stopped half way to us and tried one more time, "We get you drinks and you won't be tired. We can dance." By now I was trembling and I could feel Tara was too but she found her voice "Take us back to our hotel." she roared. The driver frowned, shook his head and walked back to his seat. He said something to his mate who looked back at us with disdain. The engine started and the coach moved on into the darkness. By this point we weren't sure if this was a good or a bad thing.
That final journey back to our hotel took around 40 minutes. To this day I have no idea where we had been taken. I do remember the feeling I had as I started to notice that we were seeing signs for Gouvia and as we got to places I recognised. I felt an emotion something akin to euphoria. However it wasn't until we got off the bus, running past the men at full pelt so they couldn't grab us that I really understood how scared I had been. Tara and I ran into the darkness of the hotel grounds that looked deceptively beautiful with the dim lights and the tropical flowers. We ran as fast as we could to the Reception area, not looking back to see if they were chasing us, we just wanted to get away. There had been no discussion about this we both ran towards a place we thought there would be other people. Once there on shaky legs, sweating and breathing hard, we hugged each other tight. The reception staff looked at us as if we were insane but we didn't care. We asked them if they'd walk us to our complex on the resort to which they agreed, but other than that they were utterly uninterested in us.
Originally when I planned writing this blog post I was going to list the mistakes we made, however I think it's already pretty clear there were quite a lot! Hindsight is a wonderful thing. What I thought would be more useful is to give you a list of 5 ways you can make your holiday safer. I also want to be clear here, I'm not aiming this at anyone in particular. It just so happened that Tara and I were young but youth doesn't always mean you get carried away with the good time holiday vibe. It can happen to anyone at any age. Plus more and more people are travelling alone these days and that puts a slightly different slant on what you can do to make yourself safe. Bottom line this is my top 5 ways to stay safe based on my life experience so I would be more than happy to hear from you if you have any other hints and tips.
5 ways to be safer on holiday.
1) Risk Assess what you are doing.
Yeah, I know it doesn't sound very sexy does it but it is an important part of making sure you get back home to your loved ones with a tan and fond memories. Fancy a late night walk on the beach? Make sure you go with someone else and that the area is not known for crime. Better still go with a group of people you trust and make an evening of it. You cannot avoid all risk but you can ameliorate it. Assessing risk isn't just related to crime either, if you've got the opportunity to go diving or bungee jumping or eating some lush local cuisine from a food cart, take a quick moment and notice the people who are offering you their services. Do they look like a professional outfit? Do they seem like they care? Are there obvious things around them that demonstrate their commitment to your safety? Last but not least, trust your intuition. If you get a funny feeling in your gut pay attention to it. In his fantastic book called "The Gift of Fear" Gavin De Becker debunks the whole idea that logic supersedes intuition and instinct. If you think that is garbage here's a stat for you, your subconscious brain is invariably processing around 20 million bits of information at any one time. The conscious brain between 8-12. Most often that funny feeling we have about something is based on data we can't yet interpret, so don't ignore it.
2) If you're going out for the night make sure you always have a plan B for getting home.
I've lost count of the nights I've been out with a group of friends or family and we either had no idea what was going to happen or the plan went awry following arguments or illness etc. This part is especially important if you are drinking whilst away, and let's face it usually this is a big part of our annual trip abroad. Invariably you will have a rough idea of what you want to do, and yes those of you who don't like planning everything down to the minutest of details will rail against this however I cannot emphasise how important it is. First and foremost stick with your friends and family. Make sure if you get separated you are all clear on the place you will meet up. Make sure you've got emergency cash for an unplanned taxi home but also make sure you have your mobile on you and that it's charged. Back in 2001 I went on holiday to Ibiza with friends and our villa was in a remote little pueblo. We loved it, it was exactly what we wanted. Except hardly any of the taxi's would take us there, I'm assuming as there would be no return fares. Those that did insisted on seeing our cash before we got in. No cash meant no taxi, which would have meant a long walk home at an unholy hour for us. Ever since then I've always factored extra cash into my holidays. I know most places these days will accept cards so make sure you have one that will work and always make sure your phone is charged.
3) Know where you're going, with whom and what time you expect to be home. Then make sure you tell someone.
This is tied in somewhat with 1 and 2 but I wanted to reinforce this. Again those who hate planning will want to resist this but the theory behind it is sound. Even spontaneous nights out need to start somewhere. You may not know where you're going for the entire night but generally you know where you're heading, even if it's just the town or area of a town. In the 21st Century we have the luxury of mobile phones and if you have an iPhone I would recommend turning on your "find my friends" app so you can share it with your friends and family. I'm sure Android have something similar. Obviously if you say you're going to be home at midnight and you're not, do the right thing and call your loved ones. Even if it's late. I'm sure they'd rather a late night phone call to say that you've missed the bus or you're waiting for a taxi than to be left worrying. Similarly if your loved one isn't home at the appointed hour, call them to find out. This isn't controlling, this is just to make sure they're safe. (We'll talk about identifying dangerous controlling behaviour in another blog post.) Of course the single most important thing here is make sure your phone is charged and ready to use. Lastly make sure the people you are away with are those that will look out for you if things go wrong. My first holiday abroad with friends was a Club 18-30 - yes I am that old! Four 19 year old girls giddy about life and the fact that we'd conned our parents into letting us go abroad! We had a lot of fun and we drank a lot but one night my friend "D" got so drunk she was nearly hospitalised. Me and another friend stayed with her despite the fact that it was a bit of a bummer for us. Our other friend went off with people we'd met because she wanted to party. We were all good friends before going on holiday but that week in the sun changed our friendships forever because I learnt I couldn't trust two of them when it counted. If your friends or family won't care if you're not back when you say you will be ask yourself why you're going on holiday with them. Ultimately none of the things I'm suggesting will impact upon the fun you have, it's just a moment or two to plan your day and is as easy or difficult as you make it.
4) Know how predators operate.
I need to be clear here, most people are lovely. I don't think that every person has an agenda and wishes to do you harm, however it's also unrealistic to think that everyone has the same values as you do. There are a minority of people who don't care about hurting others and see you as a resource. Understanding what type of predator you are dealing will help. For the most part with the tips I've given I've been talking about those that want to rob you or physically assault you. These types of predators need an environment that is conducive to that, dark and isolated areas can be a hunting ground for them. Particularly when tourists are in plentiful supply as they are intoxicated with the good vibes of their holiday and maybe some local tipple too. Conversely you have different types of predators that are looking for "trouble" and you'll find these in bars and crowded places. An example is the man who sees you accidentally spilling his pint as a good excuse to punch you. By understanding why violence occurs and how predators operate you can begin to predict the places and people to avoid.
5) Learn some self-defence.
I have always said to people who ask me about self-defence that it's very much like insurance. You don't really know how good your cover is until you need to make a claim, or if you don't have any insurance you don't know how much you needed it until it's too late. As I said previously I think humans are amazing and I am blessed in my life that I am surrounded by so many wonderful people who enrich my life. I know that thinking people are inherently good is one of my bias's, yet I refuse to allow that to blind me to the small chance that someone out there could wish me harm and act upon it. This is why I train krav maga and teach it. In the classes we teach at Focus Krav Maga we learn techniques but we also explore the principles of krav maga and the psychological aspects of self-defence. Rory Miller always says that self-defence is an open system and thus we need to be mindful of this. A fixed mindset is a liability.
Obviously the best way to defend yourself is to identify when or where a problem will occur and then remove yourself from that situation before anything starts. Sometimes though this isn't possible and krav maga prepares you for the worst case scenario. There's an old Chinese proverb - "Better to be a warrior in a garden, than a gardener in a war."
Tara and I were lucky with our holiday experience, we had a fabulous time and though I occasionally dream about being on that bus and how helpless I felt it hasn't had a long term effect on me. We made a lot of mistakes that night and we got away with it. Those guys probably had no idea of how terrified we were, and I genuinely believe that good men struggle to understand why women can feel intimidated at times. That is because they are good men and they don't have any intention of doing any harm. Unfortunately the scumbags either don't care or enjoy the fear they cause. I know I've already said this but it deserves another mention. Don't forget to trust your instincts, if something doesn't feel right don't do it.
If you think learning self-defence could help you, get in touch with me on 07506710102 or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'd be happy to chat. Enjoy your holiday!