Travellers sometimes buy jewels and bury them in their flesh. They make a gash, put the jewels in, and allow the flesh to grow over them as it would over a bullet. The operation is more to succeed if the jewels are put in a silver tube with rounded ends, for silver does not irritate. If the jewels are buried without the tube, they must have no sharp edges. The best place for burying them is in the left arm, at the spot chosen for vaccination. A traveller who was thus provided would always have a small capital to fall back upon, though robbed of everything he wore
—Francis Galton, Art of Travel (1872)
No woman needs go to such extremes today.
Las Vegas, winter. As usual, I was writing late at night while Peter dreamed; he writes in the morning while I sleep. The hotel was at the end of the strip, almost out of town—an adequate low-cost place. Outside the room, I sat in the corridor rewriting the notes I took during the day.
My bones were cold, sitting in the unheated hall. I kept my long purple wool coat on, a black angora beret on my head, and thick socks under my thin leather boots. With a drink from the bar, I was lost in my thoughts.
Security guards periodically walked back and forth, squawking on their walkie-talkies. This was Las Vegas—house security was in evidence even far from the famous casinos. I tried not to let them intrude on my work, but it was difficult, their radios were noisy.
“A woman,” one of them said.
I continued to write.
Soon there were two security men huddled down the hallway.
“Send a female,” I couldn’t help but hear one of them request over his radio. Now I was a little interested in what trouble they were experiencing. A rowdy perhaps, down the hall, on the casino floor? I began to write down what was developing around me for some future story.
Suddenly the two guards and a woman surrounded me, hovering over me. The woman looked menacing and her voice was demanding.
“What are you doing here?”
“Writing,” I said, looking now to see if they carry guns. “Why? What’s wrong? What’s going on here?”
“That’s what we want to know,” she barked back at me. “Are you a guest here?”
I said yes and began searching in my coat pocket for the key-card—just a strip of plastic with holes in it and no identifying hotel name or room number.
“What room are you in?” asked the demanding woman in a threatening voice. She, too, was in a hotel security guard’s uniform.
“It’s around the corner. I don’t know the number.”
“Don’t move,” she said. “What’s your name?” The three of them stood over me like the guards they were.
“Sheila Swan,” I said. “Sheila Swan Laufer. Look, whatever is wrong here, we can clear right up. I’ll just go over to the room. My husband is in there.”
“Don’t move,” was her response. One of the men was talking back and forth into his radio, saying my name. Irritation was combining with my surprise and initial confusion.
“I’m a guest in this hotel,” I said. “Whatever is going on here is ridiculous…”
“We’ll decide about that,” the pushy woman interrupted me. “Stay put.”
The guard talking on the radio looked up at the woman and reported, “No Lanfer here, no Swan.”
“No, it’s L-A-U-F like Frank E-R,” I said. “Peter and Sheila. Just go around the corner, first door on the left. He will be asleep, but he will answer. Please.” I’m not sure if it was the cold or the encounter, but I realized I was shivering, shaking.
“We don’t disturb our guests.”
“I’m a guest,” I insisted. “Just go over there.”
I sat there thinking and watching them. What if the computer failed? No Laufer would come up on their screen. Would I be jailed for vagrancy or trespassing, or just thrown out of the hotel? At least if I were just thrown out I could call Peter from a pay phone. For the first time in my adult life I felt completely trapped.
Now years later, as Peter and I finish this safety and security guide for women travelers, that Las Vegas encounter came back to me vividly, as a reminder that—especially for women—trouble on the road can come in the most unexpected places and from those strangers you tend not to regard with suspicion. In these pages we deal with all sorts of threats women face on the road: from foreign customs and prejudices, to potential rapists and robbers, from specific health and hygiene needs to the vagaries of dating fellow travelers. And while awareness of risk is important, equally important is the attitude you bring to it, and your own honest assessment of yourself as a traveler—strengths and weaknesses, nightmares and desires, past experiences, and dreams for the future. Safety and security are affected by real outside circumstances, but they can also be powerfully affected by your state of mind.
We hope this book will help women travelers find an important delicate balance: enough consciousness about safety and security to help you get home healthy and happy without raising your anxiety level so that the journey becomes an exercise in paranoia and avoidance of those things that make travel so rewarding, the unexpected, the new, the serendipitous.
The Las Vegas guard’s walkie-talkie squawked again with the message, “Yes. Laufer. Room 1221.”
“Oh. Are you Mrs. Laufer?” asked my captor. “Can you please show us your key? We’ll take you to your room.”
“I don’t need an escort.” I was angry.
Nonetheless the three of them followed me as I walked to the room and pushed the strip of plastic into the door.
“You understand, Mrs. Laufer, it is for your security that we make sure everything is safe here in our hotel.”
I shut the door, hard.
On the other hand, they were just doing their jobs, no malice intended; all the more reason for the experience to serve as a reminder to me of the tenuous nature of safety and security on the road.
A Bell Telephone System advertisement from the early 1950s quotes from a Reader’s Digeststory, “I was driving along a country road with four other women as my guests when a tire went flat. My heart sank with it, for my tire-changing experience was nil and the road was empty of aid. Pulling to the side, I hunted out the tools, remarking as I did so, ‘Not a man in sight, of course. What we need is an angel from heaven!’ Imagine our astonishment when a cheery voice from above our heads said, ‘I’ll be down in a minute, lady.’ Unknowingly, I had stopped beside a telephone pole at the top of which sat our angel—a line repairman.”
Of course even in the liberated twenty-first century most of us would still enjoy help with a flat tire, even if we’re tattooed with Rosie the Riveter and “We Can Do It” on our biceps. Why not? But the world awaits us with and without help, and plenty of us enjoy traveling alone. This book is designed to help make your trips, as one of my best friends and I say to each other, filled with days of smooth sailing.
The advice in these pages offers specific and tested tactics and techniques to help you travel safely and securely. In all aspects of travel there is an element of danger and the information in this book will help you assess and reduce the risks to your own personal comfort level. However, there is no substitute—and never will be—for your own awareness and instinct supported by on-the-spot observation and information gleaned from locals.