Even the streets we walk every day can feel unfamiliar and scary at night.
The shops are closed, the sidewalks are empty, and every shadow feels like a potential threat. As a result, late-night walks can leave many of us feeling a little uneasy. In fact, 37 percent of Americans report not feeling safe when walking at night, which includes 45 percent of women and 27 percent of men.
But most of us have been in that situation many times. It could be a common occurrence for those of you who work unsociable hours. While for others it might have been unplanned, and due to missing the last bus or your car breaking down.
To make sure you're prepared for the next time you find yourself solo on a dark street, here's how to stay safe when walking alone at night.
You might be on edge and unsure of your surroundings. But walking in the dark with purpose makes you appear calm, confident and like you know where you're headed.
Keep your head up, face forward and walk at a steady pace. Dawdling can make you look lost and vulnerable. And walking too fast or half-running makes you look panicked and nervous.
Planning your route before you leave makes it easier to walk with purpose. If you do end up getting lost, find a busy street where you can stop and check a map on your phone. If that's not an option, go to a gas station or 24-hour convenience store to ask for directions.
Even if you're out walking at night while traveling overseas or in an unfamiliar area, avoid following directions on your phone as you walk.
Having your phone in your hand makes you more of a target for thieves, which could result in a violent attack.
But also, staring down at your phone is distracting and means you're not paying attention to your surroundings. As a result, you're more likely to trip up on uneven surfaces, and you're also more vulnerable to surprise attacks.
Likewise, avoid talking on your phone or pretending to as a way to ward off potential attackers. Many people use this tactic but it's unwise. Using your phone at all is distracting, so keep your phone in your pocket or bag at all times.
And, never walk at night with headphones. Listening to music reduces your awareness and means you won't hear if someone approaches you from behind.
Although you shouldn't be on your phone while you walk at night, it's a good idea to get in touch with a friend or relative before you leave to set your mind at rest. Let them know where you are and where you're headed, your route and your expected arrival time.
Alternatively, you can download the free Companion app. Although it was designed for college students, it's useful for anyone who often walks at night.
The app allows you to live share your departure time, route, current location and safe arrival with one or more of your contacts. And, they don't have to have the app to receive this information as it's sent to their phone via text.
If you regularly walk at night, it pays to be prepared with the right clothes, shoes and safety equipment.
For example, if you work a late shift, pack a reflective vest in your bag and put it on over your clothes on the way home. This will make it easier for drivers and cyclists to spot you when crossing over or walking in areas without a sidewalk.
Comfortable footwear is also a must at night. If you work in an office and have to walk in the dark to get home, make sure to pack a pair of sneakers in your bag. Wearing sneakers is more comfortable and means you can walk quicker. Plus, if you need to escape an attacker, it's easier to run in sneakers.
You'll also feel safer on a dark street with a few deterrents in your bag. A whistle or lipstick alarm will let others know that you're in danger, and the loud noise may scare off a potential attacker.
A pepper spray is a compact but very useful deterrent to have with you. When used correctly it can stop an attacker in their tracks and buy you enough time to escape and seek help.
And, if you want to protect yourself when traveling abroad, there are many self-defense weapons you can take in your checked luggage.
The route you take also makes a huge difference to the potential danger you face when walking at night.
Always stick to main streets, even if it means taking a longer route. Main streets are more likely to be busy, which decreases your chances of being alone when you walk at night. They're also more likely to be well-lit, making it more difficult for potential attackers to hide and surprise you.
Along the same lines, avoid dark side streets, alleyways, and deserted corners. And never ever take a shortcut through a park or a parking lot, no matter how much time it will save you.
As you walk, stay alert and ready to react if you detect something suspicious.
If you see someone suspicious coming towards you, change your route or cross the road where possible. Alternatively, head to a busy area or duck into the nearest bar, fast-food restaurant, or convenience store.
The same goes if you feel like someone is following you. Rushing to your home or car could leave you cornered and vulnerable. Instead, head for an area with lots of people and seek help if necessary.
Most of the time, walking alone at night is perfectly safe.
But there will always be people who use the darkness to their advantage, targeting those who have the misfortune to cross their path at night. This is why it pays to follow this advice to ensure you get home safely.
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