I was robbed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
It wasn’t at gunpoint in a dark alley by a menacing figure in a mask. I was robbed by a guy I had spent three lovely hours on a date with; a guy I met Tinder.
As a seasoned online dater and someone who is extremely intuitive, I take pride in being discerning. Yet, there were several red flags I ignored, and many cautionary measures I failed to take, because of the deep connection I felt.
Don’t let this happen to you.
Against my better judgement, I allowed my date to pick me up from my hostel. It was dark, my hostel was situated in an isolated alley, and the thought of walking to a main road to figure out an alternative mode of transportation didn’t appeal to me.
Throughout the night, my date seemed particularly concerned with the location of my hostel, echoing my feelings that the neighborhood wasn’t the safest for a woman traveling alone. He suggested I find somewhere else to stay and offered to pay for a room for me for the night.
I assumed he was just trying to have sex, so I firmly, but politely, declined. But as the night went on and we developed a deeper connection, his offer seemed more and more reasonable. He assured me that he would not stay with me at the hotel; his only concern was my safety. Eventually, I agreed.
Not wanting to end the night, we grabbed a bottle of wine and went to a hotel that was in a much better area (according to him). He never once pressured me for sex, which made me feel even safer with him.
Eventually he left, saying that he had to work in the morning. We decided he would come pick me up on his lunch break, get my things from my hostel, and then I could decide what I wanted to do next.
I went to sleep.
I woke up around 4 am, compulsively checked my phone, and discovered that he had unmatched me on Tinder. This meant that I could no longer see his messages or his profile. Our entire interaction had vanished. I unsuccessfully tried to reach him on WhatsApp.
I started to panic. I was in a hotel room in a foreign country, and the person who was supposed to pick me up had deleted himself from my life. An initial inventory of my belongings calmed me down a bit. My passport, my debit card, and the cash I had in my purse were all accounted for.
I sent a message to a friend of a friend who was in Kuala Lumpur, explaining my situation. Once I dropped him a pin of where I was, he let me know I was not in a safe location and suggested I leave immediately.
As I tried to make sense of what had happened and figure out my next move, I remembered the “hidden” money in my backpack. I had it with me because the lock I bought for the locker in my hostel was broken. I thought it was safer to bring it with me than to leave it in the room, unguarded. Because my debit cards weren’t working in Malaysia, I was relying on the cash I had on hand to get me through my next month of travel.
I wasn’t sure when this man had taken my things, but it didn’t matter. All of the money was gone.
I went to the front desk and learned the real name of my date, different than what he had used on Tinder. I also learned that the hotel operated on hourly rates. My date had only paid for two.
Staying through the night would cost me pretty much all I had left in my purse. My friend called a GrabTaxi (the Malaysian version of Uber) and I made it back to my original hostel, shaken, but unhurt.
Afterwards, I was so ashamed by what had happened. I told myself that I should have known better, I shouldn’t have put myself in such a dangerous situation. I was mostly embarrassed to admit that I had been robbed in a pay-by-the hour hotel by a stranger who, for the better part of the evening, made me remember what romance feels like.
But I was also lucky. I had incredible support from friends, my family, and members of my travel community who made sure I was safe as I left the country. They assured me that this wasn’t my fault. And it wasn’t.
I reported the man who had robbed me to Tinder, who agreed to investigate, but told me there wasn’t much they could do because he used a fake name and Facebook profile. I left the country before I could file an official report with the police.
Don’t let this happen to you.
After this experience, I put multiple fallbacks in place to ensure nothing like this ever happens to me again. By talking about this, we can only make dating safer for other women travelers.
5 Precautionary Measures for Staying Safe While Dating Abroad:
1. Connect with at least one other person in the country you’re visiting.
Travel groups and communities are excellent for connecting with people all over the world. It’s always a good idea to reach out to others who are familiar with the country you’re visiting prior to your trip, and maintain contact throughout.
You never know when you might need directions, insider information, assistance, or emotional support.
2. Know who you’re dating.
The information required to set up online dating sites and apps can quickly and easily be fabricated. People can construct a new identity in a matter of minutes. Get as much demographic information as possible before the date. Google and Google Reverse Image Search are your friends.
Screenshot several pictures of your potential date and send them with their name, email, and/or phone number to a friend, or at the very least to yourself.
3. Let others know where you’re going.
This can be a bit of a pain, especially if the date goes well and you’re moving from location to location. However, it’s important to let others know where you are going. You can do this by dropping a pin on your phone or checking in on social media to leave bread crumbs should someone need to find you.
4. Meet your date there.
The anxiety I felt the next day was so high. I knew that my date knew where I was staying. I kept imagining situations in which he would find out that I had reported him and come to seek revenge.
It may be difficult to figure out how to get around safely at night in another country, but being able to get to and from the date independently gives you more control over the experience.
5. Have multiple ways to access funds.
Even though I had informed my bank of my travels and had been using my cards without problems in Thailand for eight months, I wasn’t able to access my funds in Malaysia. I had to be creative with how I accessed my money, handling way more than I was comfortable with, which left me financially vulnerable.
It’s always a good idea to spread your money out over various accounts, call your banks in advance, and hide your cash in several different places.
I will forever be an advocate for taking risks in the pursuit of love and adventure, but still encourage you all to be safe while dating at home and abroad.
What other suggestions would you make for staying safe on a date while traveling? Share in the comments.