The train to the Rome airport is hot and sweaty. It smells of scents you don’t even want to know. The cobalt blue seats stick to legs just as the gum on the trash can next to me clings to the metal casing. As I wait for the train to depart, I am pleased to have a cabin all to myself. The train is far from full. Then, a foreign man pops his head in and asks in broken English, “Is free?”. I smile and nod, indicating that he can sit in one of the five open seats. Suddenly he multiplies into 5 people, bringing with him his entire clan. The even sweatier men pile in, smelling of lack of shower and deodorant. Good thing this is just a 30-minute ride.
As I prop my legs up on my suitcase for there is no room, wondering why these men felt the need to cram into my compartment when several were available, the man seated across from me asks, “Are you Italian or tourist?”. I respond “neither”, not knowing what I am technically, and he begins a conversation. As little exchanges take place, he whips out his business card, inviting me to come to Bangladesh and join his brothers seated around me, ogling at me I can see out of the corner of my eye.
I know that this ride is only 30 minutes so if these men have other intentions, they don’t have long to harm me in some way. It is also broad daylight, making me feel less uneasy. At the same time, I consider their conversation and manners a cultural misunderstanding. The talker of the pack tells me people in Bangladesh are more emotional than Americans, sharing and living together, side by side. I begin to understand why he decided to pile into my compartment. At the same time, they speak in their native tongue, laughing occasionally and no doubt discussing what I say and how I look, incredibly uncomfortable. These men had to have known it would be intimidating to pile into a train compartment, trapping a single woman in the corner. That, or it didn’t cross their minds.
The biggest challenge for me as a solo female traveler is discerning who is being genuine with me and who has other intentions. Daily in Italy a man tries to talk to me, wanting to engage in some sort of exchange. When I first came to Italy alone at 18 years old, I thought these men to be harmless, but I quickly heard horror stories to the contrary. Despite how far women have come in today’s world, I still can’t shake that uneasiness as a woman traveling alone around foreign men. I never know if someone just genuinely wants to have a pleasant conversation or is trying for a date later. I once had a great conversation with an Italian man, harmless and innocent, and then hit a brick wall when he asked me to go to Sardinia with him on a whim.
There are obviously indicators to tell of a person’s quality of character. Solo female travelers should always trust their instincts. They are usually dead on, especially after first meeting a person. I’m not saying all men are out to get you, but as a woman, you partially do have to go in with that mindset. If you are naïve, thinking that Italian man whisking you off to Sardinia sounds like a dream after meeting you for five minutes, you could wind up in a dangerous situation. Even men have to be leery of being taken advantage of, perhaps not as physically as women do, but in some shape or form. Then again, it frustrates me that women still can’t do many things due to safety that men can while traveling.
As I battle this war, my character to not trust anyone easily, I wonder if I am handicapping my experience here in Italy. Perhaps I should take that man and his gaggle of brothers on the train as just nice people, inviting me to Bangladesh whenever I want.
How do you know if someone is being genuine as a solo female traveler?