Even our familiar, neighborhood streets can feel scary and strange at night; in fact, 37% of Americans say they don’t feel safe walking at night, and that includes both men and women.

Some of us may need to walk home regularly from a nighttime job. Others may need to walk at night if they miss a bus or their car breaks down. Whatever the case, make sure you’re prepared the next time you need to walk alone on a dark street.

Walk with Confidence and Purpose

You might feel uneasy, but you don’t want to look like a victim. Walking with a sense of purpose makes you appear confident and calm, as if you know where you’re going and what you’re doing. Keep your head up, and do not look at your cellphone! In fact, having your cellphone out will make you more of a target. Simply walk at a steady pace, but don’t run. Walking too fast makes you appeared scared and vulnerable.

Plan your route before you go. If you do get lost, find a busy street to check the map on your cellphone, or go to a convenience store or a gas station to ask for directions.

Situational Awareness

Having your cellphone out not only makes you a target for thieves, but it’s also distracting. You need to be aware of your situation and surroundings at all times. As a result, you could trip on a cracked sidewalk, or worse yet, be more vulnerable to a surprise attack.

Some people pretend to talk on their phones as a way to discourage a potential attack, but this tactic is unwise. Likewise, never walk at night listening to music with your headphones. This will only reduce your situational awareness, meaning you won’t hear if someone sneaks up behind you.

Stay on the Main Streets

Always stay on the main streets, even if that means it will take longer. This is because the main streets are busy, decreasing your chance of being totally alone while walking at night. Likewise, the main streets are well-lit, which makes surprise attacks less likely. Finally, absolutely do not take a shortcut through a parking lot or a park.

Let Someone Know

Before you leave let a friend or family member know where you are and where you are going. Let them know when you expect to arrive home.

Be Ready for an Attack

Wear comfortable shoes you can run in, if you have to. Escaping an attacker in high-heels is a losing proposition.

If someone suspicious is coming towards you, cross the street if possible, or go into a nearby business that’s open, such as a convenience store or even a bar. If someone is following you, go to an area with a lot of people and call for help if you need to. Running home could simply leave you vulnerable and cornered.

You may also feel safer walking at night with a few non-lethal self-defense weapons. These include:

  • A whistle or a personal alarm
  • Pepper spray or mace
  • A stun gun

However, you need to check with local regulations; unfortunately, in some jurisdictions, some self-defense weapons are illegal, even if they are non-lethal. For example, in some European countries such as Germany, pepper spray is highly regulated or illegal, and stun guns are illegal in some states, such as Hawaii.

Most of the time, it’s perfectly safe to walk alone at night. But remember, there are bad people who will use the cover of night to their advantage. Avoid becoming a target and stay safe.