Walking alone during the day is one thing, but everything seems more menacing at night, especially for women. Many campuses offer self-defense classes, often free, and maybe even for a physical education credit. Investing your time in a course that will teach you how to defend yourself in case the unthinkable happens is one way to feel more prepared. The best thing you can do to stay safe is to walk home with a group of people, but there are steps you can follow to ensure your safety when walking alone.
Tell someone where you are and when to expect you home.
If you live with roommates or your parents, shoot them a text saying that you’re walking home through campus and will be there in however many minutes. If you live alone, text your best friends. Let them know when you make it home safely and make sure they have a plan of action to follow if they don’t hear from you.
Walk in well-lit areas on sidewalks that are commonly used and heavily trafficked.
The more likely you are to be seen, the less likely it is that someone will attack you. Skip the shortcut through the unlit park when you’re walking alone, and stay out of neighborhoods that are known to be dangerous. Main streets that are lit by streetlamps are typically going to be the safest. If you do ever feel unsafe, go into a shop, restaurant, fire station, or other public facility to alert someone to the threat and put yourself in a place of safety.
Don’t talk on the phone or listen to loud music when you’re walking.
Even if you know exactly where you’re going, chatting with your mom or listening to music or a podcast will make you less aware of your surroundings and distract you from suspicious activity. Similarly, try not to text too much, as it will keep your eyes on your phone instead of on your surroundings. While this rule is particularly important when you’re walking alone at night, you aren’t immune from distraction during the day either. If you’re busy focusing on your phone, you may not hear a car honk or a bicyclist ring their bell. Distracted walking can lead to injuries, accidents, or worse. Save the podcast for when you’re riding the bus, the music for when you’re folding your laundry, and texting for when you’re no longer in motion.
Don’t be afraid to change your route.
Trust your instincts. If you see something strange ahead of you, change direction. Don’t necessarily turn around and walk the opposite way (unless that is your only choice), since it might draw unwanted attention. Instead, take a left or a right to avoid walking into an uncomfortable situation. Be careful that you don’t walk yourself into unfamiliar territory, though. The last thing you want is to get lost while walking alone.
Call for a walking companion.
Some college campuses provide companion services for students who do not want to walk alone. The University of Texas at Austin, for example, has SURE Walk, an organization that provides two companions to any student who doesn’t want to walk home alone between 8:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. any night of the week. The University of Miami offers a Safety Escort Program which provides UM Police personnel to escort any community member from any location on campus. Check to see if your college campus offers a free companion service. Students may also be allowed to call campus security services if they feel unsafe and would like an escort.
Hold your head high.
Be confident; walk with your shoulders back and your head held high. Don’t look at the ground or look away from people when you pass them, but meet their eyes for a second and then continue on your way. If you are confronted, make noise and call attention to yourself. If you’re being followed, change your route so that you are walking through populated areas and then call for help.
If you’re drunk or on drugs, call a friend or a taxi.
Walking home alone after a party in which you participated in alcohol or drug use is a bad idea. Your reaction time, perception of distance, and judgement will all be affected by substance use, and you cannot guarantee your own safety. In 2017, 32% of pedestrians who were killed in traffic accidents had a blood alcohol content over 0.08, making them legally drunk. If you’ve been drinking, call a friend or a walking companion for help or call a taxi for a ride home. Do not try to walk by yourself.
Use an app.
There are a variety of apps that you can download to your phone that will allow you to notify friends or family that you are walking alone, show them where you are on your journey, and alert your emergency contacts or the police if you get into any trouble.
Call 9-1-1 in an emergency.
Do not wait. Do not call your mom. If there is an emergency happening, you need to call the police as fast as possible. Any situation in which your or someone else’s life or safety is in immediate danger qualifies.