How to Deal with Catcalls and Street Harassment When Traveling (Europe version)


There’s a lot of reasons to love solo female travel. Unwanted male attention is not one of them.

Unfortunately, moving through the world as a woman comes with its own set of problems. Even in places that are generally known as modern, progressive, and “developed,” such as Europe, women deal with street harassment and catcalls on an almost daily basis. Especially when you’re alone.

Catcalls and street harassment is something I’ll never completely get used to. And neither should we, because it should not be considered okay or normal. But while traveling alone as a woman, it is something I’ve learned to deal with through trial and error. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned when it comes to catcalling and street harassment in Europe:

  • Call them out, but be safe
  • Avoid too much eye contact and smiling to discourage attention
  • Perfect your “resting bitch face” and project confidence
  • Find some other badass solo female travelers to team up with
  • Don’t let it ruin your trip

Call them out!

Catcalling is annoying, and sometimes there’s nothing I want to do more than go off on the dude that yells “nice tits” as I cycle by.

And by all means, if someone says or does something inappropriate, call them on it. You have every right to occupy space, travel and walk wherever you want, without commentary from men. So, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. There is no single right way to respond to street harassment, it depends on the situation and what you feel comfortable with. If a guy tells you to stop or come over, a simple “no thank you” will do.

To a whistle or other noises I would just say “I’m not your dog”. If they get vulgar or touch you, tell them to stop, to f*ck off, curse and flip them off. Or ask them why they are bothering you and if they would talk to their mom like that. You can even use humor to throw them off. Here are a few examples of great comebacks.

Words like “stop” and “f**k you” work anywhere, but since not everyone is going to be proficient in English, you can learn a few phrases in the local language. Here are a few examples of ways to tell guys off in different European languages:

English French Italian Spanish German
No (thanks) Non (merci) No (grazie) No (gracias) Nein (danke)
Go away Partir Va via Vete Geh weg
Leave me alone Laisse-moi Lascia me Déjame Lass mich aleine
F**k you Putain Vaffanculo Jódete Fick dich
A**hole Cannard Cazzo/Stronzo Estúpido/Mierda Arschloch

 

Publicly shaming men might make them think twice about harassing another girl. But you have to pick your moments. While most men will leave you alone if you stand up for yourself, some could get nasty. An off-color remark can turn into real violence and danger, so consider if it’s worth it to engage.

Always put your safety first and weigh your options. If you’re walking around alone and pass a group of guys or if there aren’t any other people around, it’s probably best to ignore them. Follow your instincts, and if someone won’t leave you alone, find a safe spot to wait it out. Head somewhere crowded and public or ask other people for help.

In a lot of northern European countries, catcalling and street harassment are less prevalent, but it still happens. It’s even illegal in some places. Engaging is likely going to be more successful here as most men already know that we don’t appreciate it. But sometimes catcalling is just a poor attempt at flirting, especially in southern European countries such as Spain, Italy, and Greece.

The macho culture in those countries is a breeding ground for toxic masculine behavior such as street harassment. Foreign women, especially blondes, stand out here making them much more attractive to men. But as annoying and disturbing as the constant male attention can be, it is often harmless.

Their bark is much worse than their bite. Even though catcalling is never a compliment, they often think it is. In my experience, Italian men want show you how “charming” they are, let you know they think you’re pretty and have a fun chat.

Things are slowly getting better, but if you’re not interested, ignoring is usually the best thing to do. It’s what the local women do as well, and engaging encourages them. Always consider cultural differences when traveling, and while you should still feel free to stand up for yourself, know that you can’t change the whole culture.

Avoid too much eye contact and smiling

Although it’s impossible to avoid altogether, there are ways to try to reduce the amount of street harassment you have to endure. Prolonged eye contact and a polite smile can easily be mistaken for an invitation

If you’re feeling uncomfortable walking around alone, keep your eyes on your phone, wear headphone and ignore the men around you. They’ll quickly lose interest and leave you alone when they realize that you’re not paying attention to them.

If someone does approach you, calls to you, or tries to flirt with you, don’t feel like you need to be nice or polite. If you’re not interested in them, feel free to be direct, without worrying about being rude. It’s nice to be nice, but it’s not obligatory. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, assert yourself and tell them.

Project confidence (or fake it)

When I first traveled to Italy alone at 18, I was flattered by all the attention I received from men. Now, at 28, it mostly just annoys me. I don’t mind when men try to talk to me and flirt with me, but I no longer consider catcalling a compliment.

Luckily, I get much less of that unwanted attention now. I think the most significant difference between now and ten years ago is the attitude that I project. Instead of prancing around and smiling at everyone on the street, I project a “don’t even think about it” energy. I have perfected my resting bitch face and feel no qualm giving men a death stare if they try anything. You can tell from my demeanor that I’m not interested.

As a solo traveler, and especially a woman, you’re more vulnerable than in a group. Looking lost or insecure makes you a target for anyone with less than honorable intentions. Whether they’re trying to scam you or harm you, looking like a target makes you a target.

Men that harass women on the street do so because they think they can get away with it, that you’re an easy mark. Walking with purpose and projecting confidence immediately helps with that.

  • Even if you don’t know where you’re going, act like you do.
  • Stride past groups of men like you didn’t even notice them.
  • Give any man that catcalls you the stink eye and move on. You’re better than them, and you know it.
  • Find some other badass solo female travelers

You’ll always be more prone to catcalls when you’re alone, so if you’re tired of the unwanted male attention, make some friends. It’s one of the best things about solo travel anyway! There’s safety in numbers and being with a group of girls might make you feel more confident.

Meet up with other solo female travelers just as badass as you to share the burden. They’ll help you curse out that creep that told you to smile, flip off a group of whistling teenagers, and shield you from harassment. Stick together and ignore all those idiots on the street.

Don’t let it ruin your trip

The most important advice I can give you is to let it go. Ignoring harassment is a way of protecting both your physical and mental health. As satisfying as it can be to yell at a strange man on the street, engaging with chauvinists is rarely worth the energy. You’re not likely to make them change their ways or change a whole culture by yourself.

You have every right to be in the world, and constantly paying attention to the men around you will drain you. Don’t give them the satisfaction, instead, brush it off and don’t let some rude guy ruin your trip. There are much more important things to focus on while you’re traveling through Europe, like all the fantastic food, culture, landscapes, sights and art. Enjoy your travels!

And if you want to fix my translations and add other ideas, share them here.

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