Always Be Aware
Updated: Sep 11, 2020
by KATY RANK LEV
Here in Pittsburgh, a few years ago now, we used to have a young, male mayor. Legend has it, he visited a film set where Sara Jessica Parker was shooting a movie. The mayor made small talk with the star, asking her how she was enjoying the city and then, thinking nothing of it, he asked, "So where are you staying?"
"Mr. Mayor! I can't tell you that!" She tried to play it cool, but any woman who's ever traveled for work knows what was going through her head. We can never tell strangers where we're staying. Not because we all want to avoid the paparazzi, but because that's just not safe. Or smart.
"My male colleagues just go out running while they travel. They just lace up their sneakers and go off for a jog." Jenn Layman, regional vice president for partnership for a national outdoors organization, is no slouch. She runs half marathons and trail races. She regularly wears a hardhat for work and yet she says she has never felt comfortable hitting the trails alone in an unfamiliar city. "It's such a nice way to see a new city. My friend travels around the world for work and always posts pictures of himself out running. He has no fear, and I marvel at that."
Sound familiar? It's a unanimous refrain from women business travelers. Personal safety is always, always present in your thoughts while you travel. Women in the Go Jane Go community are intentionally aware of our surroundings, reading the room, tuning in to our intuition. We scan parking lots and get a sense of the hotel lobby before we check in.
It might not even feel newsworthy that we’re so accustomed to being "on" in this way when we travel. Today, we want to highlight some safety philosophies and tips from the trade from our road warriors who've been there.
Location, location, location
RemoteForWorkBecause Jenn's business takes her to places like national forests and state parks, she is frequently literally off the grid. To plan for this, she tends to check out cell service maps online before she heads into the woods. If Jenn sees she's going someplace with spotty service, she always texts her husband where she'll be, when she should be back, and texts him again once she's got service again. "I don't even know if he reads these messages," she says, "but I just feel better knowing someone has an idea of my whereabouts."
Jenn says her organization has SOPs for members and clients, offering satellite phones to remote work sites, but she's never been given one. Recently, while out on a boardwalk above a marsh in rural Missouri, Jenn had a revelation: "I was totally alone and I realized I could just…never come back. Or hurt myself and be unable to get back to my car." She was supposed to make the hike with an intern, but plans changed and Jenn had to explore the site alone.
That experience reinforced some safety strategies for future business travel. "I talk to the people checking me in for hotels and rental cars. I tell them where I'm going, where I'm hiking, like a breadcrumb I guess in case I don't turn up again." She also checks in with staff for remote sites and asks if someone can accompany her if she's going out into the wilderness.
Snakes on a Plane
Caitlin Goldie (not her real name) is an IT consultant who travels every week to different cities around the country. Caitlin, who is in her 20s and personable by nature and profession, is also the frequent and unfortunate recipient of unwelcome attention from men while she's navigating unfamiliar spaces.
"Usually people are normal and really nice on flights," she says, "but this one man was visibly intoxicated and he kept trying to touch my leg. It's…invasive." Caitlin had to summon the flight attendant and speak quietly so as not to cause a scene on the short flight where she was just trying to mind her own business and travel to meet her clients.
"I was panicking," she says, even though there were 50 other people on the flight. The incident was just another reminder for her of a woman's constant need to be aware of her surroundings, especially in places she's not used to.
Caitlin recently upgraded her hotel level while traveling, which has been a welcome change because mid-range chains often meant staff members sliding their phone number under her room door or leaving notes. "I tend to visit the same hotels again and again, so I know the staff." This is a huge benefit for Caitlin when someone friendly greets her with a smile and some real conversation but can lead to discomfort when it means someone invading her privacy by putting notes under her door.
"I always put the privacy sign up on my door and keep it locked when I'm in the room," Caitlin says. She also feels no qualms about requesting a room change if her neighbors make her uncomfortable. Since she travels more than 50% of her time, she tries to make each space feel like home as much as possible, visiting the grocery store every Monday and working to find a nail salon she can visit after work. "I try to develop a lifestyle and a routine," she says, which includes dropping off dry cleaning and building opportunities for people to know her by name.
"It feels safer and more like a home if I know Bob is the doorman and Lisa checks me in every Monday."
Trust Your Gut
Carole Wilson Strickroth, who is a regional control manager in the financial services industry, worked in Manhattan for over 30 years. She supervises 1,000 financial advisors and another 400 client associates, traveling one week per month. A career's worth of experience has taught her she must always be conscious of who is around her.
WalkingInCity"To me, quite a bit of the safety factor is how I choose to dress," Carole says, mentioning that she flies with a small, cross-body purse with immediate essentials and keeps everything else locked securely in her carryon. She flies in slacks and a blazer, and projects a "do not mess with me" image to communicates she's just not interested in receiving phone numbers or leg pats from drunken seat mates.
Carole has learned to rely on her instinct, on her gut reading of a situation. "If I'm walking down the street and I feel uncomfortable, I turn around and find another route," she says, noting that she also assesses a hotel from the parking lot. "Recently, I just felt very uncomfortable, and then when I walked inside, something felt off about the number of people milling about in the lobby. I got back in my car and drove to another hotel that felt safer."
What helps her feel safe? Hotels situated amongst warehouse buildings don't feel inviting to her if she's arriving at night, but if Carole sees families out walking their dog or pushing babies in strollers near the hotel, she might even feel comfortable enough to exercise outdoors rather than use the hotel treadmill. Like Caitlin, Carole tends to visit the same places and, after a few stops to an area, she's able to assess the neighborhood, venture out for a walk, and find a nice restaurant.
"Each of us needs to listen to our gut," Carole says. "Don't be afraid to say no to something--anything--if you feel comfortable. Walk away as quickly as possible." Carole has on more than one occasion not gotten into an Uber because something felt fishy.
Time for Change
The Global Business Travel Association says that awareness of the risks faced by female travelers in general and female business travelers in particular has never be higher, but "only 18 percent of travel policies specifically address female safety." Carole's company has policy manuals regarding personal safety, and corporate travel calls her cell phone if she doesn’t check into the hotel where she's supposed to stay, but even that type of follow up won't protect Caitlin from hotel staff sliding notes under her door. So what's to be done?
Christie Johnson, GBTA president, says, “As an industry we need to do more to ensure the safety of our female road warriors, especially as women make up an ever-increasing amount of our business traveler population.” We couldn't agree more, Christie.
What do you say, Janes? What would make you feel safer on the road? Tell us @gojanegotravels or join our private Facebook group to join the conversation!
~Journey On, Janes