How to Stay Safe on Public Transport

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by Rachel Lauren

If you don’t have a car, you learn to rely on things like the city bus or your local subway system. You may have heard some horror stories about using these offerings, so here are some tips about how to be prepared and safe on public transport.

Uber and Lyft are nice options if it’s just a once-in-a-while thing, but those prices rack up if you use them all the time. So more often than not, I walk. However, sometimes, it’s too far or the weather is too bad for me to enjoy the stroll to wherever my destination is, so the bus it is.

In my city all of the busses are free right now, they just take a little longer. I work from home, so when I go out it’s usually for about 3 hours at a time. I like knowing I have everything I would need if I had to either walk for a substantial amount of time or be away from home for longer than I intended.

What should you have with you to be safe on public transport?

Here are some things you SHOULD keep in your purse

  1. Coins. I like to keep about 4 dollars in coins or cash with me at all times. Sometimes people will come up to you at bus stations asking for money, and if you feel so inclined you can give them a quarter or so, but say you need the rest for your fare. This lets them know you are on the same level.
  2. A compact backpack or reusable tote in your bag. I love having these on me. If you keep your purchases in a closed container nary a nosy Nelly can peek in and see what you’ve just picked up.
  3. A LifeStraw. These things are awesome. Every time I am in a store I’ll see the cold and refreshing-looking waters and be so tempted to get one. Especially after walking for the past hour and having the sun beating down on me. And they’re right there, for just a dollar. Then I remember a bottle of water costs the same amount as a bag of flour which I can use for so many meals. So I take my reusable water bottle and my Lifestraw and go over to the water fountain, fill it up, and it’s even more refreshing. If you can afford the splurge, Lifestraw makes these water bottles that are more discreet for filling up and don’t scream “water filter.”
  4. Portable charger. I always make sure my phone is fully charged before leaving, but if I need to use it for directions, it’ll die a lot sooner. I like to have my portable charger with me because the last thing I want is for it to die when I might need it for navigation or to call for help.
  5. Non-perishable snacks. And, no, I don’t mean a can of Spaghettios. Some small things like individually wrapped cheese & crackers, granola bars, or a package of trail mix will help you avoid all the temptations at the checkout counter.
  6. Any medications you take on a regular basis. I avoid bringing prescriptions unless they’re absolutely essential, as they can look like a high-value target for thieves. I bring Benadryl, a few tums, some seasonal allergy pills, and ibuprofen. I will stick them all into the same bottle because I can tell the difference between all the pills, and add a cotton ball to avoid any rattling sounds.
  7. A small first aid kit. You can make one using things you probably already have like a makeup bag or pencil case, a variety pack of bandaids, alcohol wipes, antibiotic ointment cream, butterfly closures, a tensor bandage, and superglue. Alternatively, you can buy one like this. It’s more for boo-boos, not for major wounds.
  8. An activity of some kind. It can be a pen and a journal, a book, crossword puzzles, headphones to listen to music or a podcast, and you can even make a mini portable paint set. This is my preferred activity of late, and definitely helps to kill time on the bus!

These things will make you more comfortable and prepared to be safe on public transit.

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What you should NOT have with you to be safe on public transport?

In addition to this list, here are some things you should NEVER keep in your purse or backpack while out walking or using public transport.

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Old receipts. There are more reasons than you think not to carry old receipts.

  • Hypothetically speaking, if someone were to steal your purse for the credit and debit cards, and saw several receipts from the stores you frequent, that gives them the exact location and the budget. Maybe you do a lot of shopping at Target or Wal-Mart and you spend around 40 dollars each time, this shows the person an amount they can spend, and exactly where to go for their little shopping spree.  When they stick to those places, they’re much less likely to be caught. As well as if you were to call the police or your card company and say, “Hey some person stole my purse, and spent the same total I normally would, at the exact store I usually go to,” how do you think they would respond?
  • The receipts can also cover the view of the contents of your bag and add clutter. The last thing you want when you’re on the bus or in the store is to have to empty the entirety of your purse to what you need. This shows potential thieves what you’ve got going on in there.
  • Finally, these folks will have your ID, and with that, your home address. If you have receipts for expensive things, they know exactly where to go to steal them.

Gift cards. I also very seldom carry gift cards or gift certificates, because those can’t be replaced nor can they be put on hold like a credit card or debit card. You also don’t need any ID or a signature to confirm it’s really yours. When I get one, I will either download it on the store’s app or only bring the gift card with me if I plan on visiting that retailer.

Identifying items. In these days of dissent, the last thing you want is something that draws attention to your political beliefs and personal philosophies. People have been attacked, or at the very least harrassed, for t-shirts and baseball caps. So keep the buttons, stickers, and logos out of view to be safe on public transport. Being “gray” is more important than ever to stay safe.

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Anything that makes you look wealthy. I know what you’re thinking. If you’re wealthy, why are you riding the city bus? Nonetheless, leave the expensive name-brand purses and flashy jewelry at home if you don’t want to look like a beneficial target.

How to be safe on public transport

These tips will help you be safer on the bus or subway.

  1. Have something for self-defense. Check the local rules and regulations for your area, because the last thing you want is to get in more trouble for maintaining your safety than the person who is causing you harm. My go-to used to be a small knife. BUT with further research, I’ve found that they can stop and even arrest you because you have the intent to inflict harm on others while carrying one if they find it. As well, firearms aren’t allowed on public transportation in many cities. So now what I bring is a more discreet knife, a mini stun gun, and a dyed pepper gel so police can identify the potential attacker. You are worth defending.
  2. Choose your seat wisely. Often it’s safer to sit near the driver. As well, you can sometimes choose to sit with a person who seems non-threatening, like a mom with a child. That way you’re not left with an empty seat beside you that just anyone can sit in and potentially harass you.
  3. Know where the exits are. Always check to see where the different doors and emergency exits are in the event of an accident or violence.
  4. Pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t be so engrossed in your phone that you don’t see what’s going around you. Situational awareness is important.
  5. Listen to your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable with a fellow bus rider, chances are you feel that way for a reason. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries or even cause a scene. Don’t let your fear of “over-reacting” allow you to silence your instincts.

What are your tips to be safe on public transport?

Are you a regular public transport user? Is there anything you always keep in your purse or backpack when using public transit or traveling on foot? Can you think of anything to not bring with you either? Let’s talk about it in the comments.


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