Hanging out, drinking on a boat under the London Bridge in 2007.
Post #metoo and with rape culture all over the news, I would’ve been told that hooking up while I was abroad in London in 2007 was straight up mental. I would’ve been told that it can’t be done safely. I’m here to tell you that can have a safe hookup abroad.
The year 2007 was a different time, the only social media was MySpace, and I was a different, slightly more trusting, person. I hadn’t seen nearly as many horror movies or read nearly as many articles on the incel movement, so I was less worried about the risk of sexual assault as a solo female traveler.
Whether or not to hook up abroad as a solo female traveler is a question that I think is on a lot of my fellow solo female traveler’s minds nowadays. Way more than in the past. Who hasn’t seen one (or one hundred) episodes of Law and Order: SVU? And who hasn’t heard a horror story? (Thanks to the New York Times for publishing that very comforting article a few months back about all the horrible things solo female travelers have experienced.)
With the documentation of everything, good AND bad, we’ve seen with our own eyes just how scary things can get. But I’m here to tell you that you can still experience all the world has to offer, mainly in terms of international hookups, safely. If you’re smart.
I had a couple of goals during my study abroad semester and one of them was “make out with as many foreign boys as possible,” and oh boy, did I achieve my goal.
In my twenty-one-year old brain, this was going to count as part of my immersion into another culture.
If I were to ever show you my scrapbook from the summer of 2007, you would see not one, not two, not even three, but probably 10 photos of me making out with British (or possibly French or Irish) boys. Why did I feel the need to document these occurrences? Blame it on being twenty-one and intoxicated and abroad for the first time.
But before you go assuming that I slept with all of these gentlemen (whose names I do not remember, so don’t ask, and this was before everyone was allowed to have a Facebook profile), let me stop you to say that I did no such thing. I slept with only one. About a week and a half into my study abroad, I found myself on a date with a member of the Calvary, aka the Queen’s Guard. I think he was in the Blues’ division.
But let’s backtrack to about 4 days before the aforementioned date.
My friends and I were giddy and in London and somehow one of us discovered that there was a bar in South Kensington called Kavanaugh’s Irish Bar, a short 10-minute walk from our dorms. I found a link on Yelp and it says the spot has closed, which is sad because where do members of the Queen’s Guard go to meet eager expats now? Anyways, it was one of the only bars that was opened past midnight and we were explicitly told that this is where to go to meet members of the Queen’s Guard.
We were sold. The Queen’s Guard? We’d literally just arrived in London and this was practically like meeting royalty, right?!
As a reminder, these are members of the Queen’s Guard:
So, off we went. It was probably the Thursday night of our first week there since all smart study abroad students know that class on Friday is 100% optional. Around 9 or 10pm, we found the dimly lit doorway, had our IDs checked, and went inside.
We were excited, to say the least.
I remember this night about as clearly as this beautiful photo.
I wish I could remember the experience more vividly but it was twelve years ago and it’s safe to say that we pre-gamed in our dorms. I remember meeting my soldier pretty quickly. We’ll call him S. He was with a load of his friends, er, sorry, ‘mates,’ all of whom were also in the Queen’s Guard. I don’t remember what we talked about, and he probably bought me a drink or two, but pretty quickly after meeting we were making out. I’m pretty sure my friends were taking photos of us because it was a running joke that I would most likely kiss a new guy while we were out. You could say I went for it and I went for it hard.
But that’s all that happened that night. Some hours later, our friends pried us apart and we went home. But I had given S my mobile number (this was before the days of international data plans, so I had a shitty Nokia phone) and he texted me, more or less, right after I exited the bar.
I was excited. A member of the Queen’s Guard liked me?! This spoke to a college-aged sense of insecurity I had harbored since breaking up with my high school boyfriend at the end of my freshman year of college. I knew it had been the right thing to do, but dating in New York City had proven to be harder than I thought, and it has left me a little exhausted trying to figure out how I could make myself attractive to the opposite sex. Here it was easy: I had an accent!
Back in London, fast forward to two days later and S and I were having dinner at Pizza Express in Kensington (super classy, I know). I learned that he was from Birmingham and was somewhat new to the Guard. I remember I asked him what the Queen kept in the purse that she carried with her all the time, and he said usually just tissues. I also learned that he and his mates were leaving the following week for ‘camp.’ I’m pretty sure it was some sort of army training camp they were required to go to every summer to learn how to … protect the Queen? Look pretty on a horse?
I remember thinking, “That’s sad,” and then, “Welp, I better make out with him tonight then.”
As if he could read my mind, he asked if I wanted to meet his horse and see the barracks. DID I WANT TO? Of course! This would be the best study abroad story to bring home EVER. (Besides, of course, you know, bagging an actual prince.)
I remember it started to rain on our walk from the restaurant to the barracks and he took this as his cue to kiss me then. I guess he’d seen enough American RomComs and figured I might like it. He guessed right.
Shortly after, we arrived at the Hyde Park Barracks in Knightsbridge, where he signed me in, and proceeded to give me a tour.
He showed me where his armor was kept (so cool!), took me to the stables and introduced me to his horse whose name I sadly do not remember, before taking me back to his room. He had two roommates whom he introduced me to. They both seemed nice enough. If I were in this situation now, with everything I’ve read about and luckily not experienced first hand, two thoughts would have run through my head: a) Oh, he couldn’t possibly assault me with two people in the room. Great, I’m safe! And b) Oh. I might actually get gang raped. I should go.
Then we left the barracks and hit up a local pub for a pint, and with the liquid courage coursing through our veins, made our way back to the barracks and back to his room.
I don’t remember feeling scared, or nervous, or anything. This was just a young 20-something guy who seemed nice enough, who was probably just looking for the same thing as me: a fun night with a cute member of the opposite sex and a good story to tell their friends.
His room was dark, and his roommates were asleep. We crawled into his bed and had average-at-best sex. It wasn’t really good, or really bad, it didn’t last that long, and I’ve pretty much forgotten the details (which I guess means I could also call it “forgettable” sex!) Does that mean I regret it? Nope, not for a second! I’d gotten my study abroad story.
He walked me back to my dorm after and I tip-toed into my room, making sure not to wake my roommate. We spent the rest of the summer texting (I had to top up my phone SO many times) but unfortunately, we never saw each other again. I think we’re still Facebook friends now but we don’t keep up with one another.
The sex was average-at-best, but you could say I figured out how to nab the best free insider tour of the barracks in Knightsbridge. But never once do I remember feeling unsafe. I trusted my instincts that told me that I was in a British military building and I was most likely safe. I think I assumed I was safer than I normally would be because I was in an army barracks with lots of people around and not some stranger’s flat with concrete walls separating neighbors.
If you want to have a safe hookup while you’re abroad, here are some quick tips:
- Meet him/her in a public place
- Make sure your friends know where you’re going and the person’s name (basically send them all of the details you have on this person because you never know)
- Look for red flags on the date. Is this person less than agreeable? Are they being pushy? Asking inappropriate questions that make you uncomfortable?
- Know your limits with alcohol if you drink. If you’re going on a date in a new city, make sure you’re not getting drunk.
- Use protection (this is a no-brainer!)
My biggest tip would be to trust your intuition. Listen to your gut. If the person feels unsafe, don’t go home with them. But if they do, why not have fun? This is your time to learn about other cultures, right? I can’t think of a better way to start.