For a lot of women today, traveling solo internationally isn’t something that sounds like that big of deal. We have had role models who’ve done it, written about it, and shared their ups and downs. So when the time comes to plan a short (or extended) itenerary, a lot of chicks don’t stress finding a travel partner. If they have one–fantastic! But if not, they book the ticket to Greece anyway, post on Facebook to see if anyone wants to come with, and if not, they’re in effing Greece.
For other women, it still seems like a big deal. From far away, the world can seem like a scary place. Society reinforces this idea that men can handle whatever comes their way, and women need to be protected. There ARE parts of the world where a woman travelling alone is in more danger than a man in the same situation. Or at the very least, treated differently.
So, for the girl who’s ready to take on the world by herself, it’s wise to read up and get the perspective of those who’ve gone out there before you. Not to change your plans, but to help you along your way. So I’ve rounded up some of my favorite posts about the scarrier side of solo female travel, hoping the wisdom of other travelers will both inspire and prepare you. Posts cover general safety, violence against women, dating on the road, and general shit-life-can-get-fucking-scary escapades.
But, for those women in your life who worry about you constantly, who want a daily text that you’re alive, these are not the posts to share with those women. For me, this is my mother, who never stands in my way, but she still wants me to let her know if the hotel I booked in Austria isn’t too dirty and who would have called the cops in Cyprus to tell them I was kidnapped when my phone died mid conversation if she could have figured out how to do it. (And no, I never told her about the time I thought I was being kidnapped in Ecuador but ended up being dropped off at a mall. A story for another time).
I read this post the other day, and it was part of the inpsiration for this post. It’s hard to share honestly what travelling alone as a woman is like sometimes. The conversation in my head goes something like this:
Oh solo female travel? I love it, sometimes it’s scary, the scary parts make it even better, look how independant I am now, wait, oh god, am I too independant now?, yikes, holy shit that guy who just catcalled me is an asshole, hmm the second guy catcalling me now is kinda cute, oh no am I enjoying being catcalled?, Am I abandoning femenism by enjoying this? Or does that make me more feminist? That I know what I want. That I do what I want? I am an effing goddess goddammit and no one will get in my way, is that cab driver going to kidnap me?
So, sometimes it’s complicated. And sometimes everything works out perfectly, and you’re not being kidnapped you just had some language issues, because really you just should have learned Spanish in elementary school like you were supposed to.
And that’s why I really enjoyed this piece. Shivya goes over incidents that were misunderstandings, things where she triumphed, and actual bad juju situations that could have ended up much worse. It made me think of some of the ways I’ve been brave, and some of the ways I’ve let the world scare me a little bit. And also made me really not want to go into the woods with an iffy guide in the Dominican Republic.
Read this whole piece. Seriously. Alana’s story is one that could happen to anyone who thinks dating is an important part of life on the road. But it’s also a good lesson, and her tips at the end are important. I know I’m going to be adding a few to my travel habits asap.
Some of these topics are common (fear of sexual harassment or assault) and some are things you don’t always think about beforehand: hygiene, different kinds of toilets, privacy issues, unwanted marriage proposals, and the different rules that women have to follow in different parts of the globe.
This post goes over different incidents and places that she’s been, but the really important take away for me in this piece was this line:
Until you’ve spent time scrutinizing your outfit in the mirror and wondering if the length of your skirt, the height of your heels, or the brightness of your red lipstick will result in you getting harassed on the street, no, you don’t know what it’s like.
The problem is that these men are making their observations through the context of travel when they should be looking through the context of life.
When my mothers asks me about certain situations, like safety dating abroad, I think to myself “how are those men scarrier than the men where I live?” My ex-husband was mugged on our street. I’m just as likely to be harassed in Philadelphia as in Belize. So yes, there are parts of the world that have different rules for women. But a lot of the concern about solo female travel is really just concern about what it’s like living as a woman, and that’s not relegated to vacation. And the second piece of that is, that the safety nets we have in our hometowns can protect us from the world. But they can’t protect us. I might appear more vulnerable in certain places, but I am also more aware in those places. Violence against women can happen in any city in the world. If I want to eliminate risk from my life, I need to lock up the doors and never leave the house.
yTravel is a great blog, but because they focus on family travel and couple travel so much, I don’t think of it as a place to go for advice on traveling solo. But of course, that’s silly of me. Anyone who travels full time will travel in lots of different combinations over time. In the past three months, I’ve traveled alone, traveled with family, traveled with friends, traveled for work, visited friends, and I almost always have my dog with me.
They key takeaway in this piece for me was this:
Always walk assertively and confidently. If you do this potential scam artists and attackers will leave you alone.
They only prey on those who are vulnerable. Walk with your head held high, and confidently greet people and look them in the eye. I have done this many times when I have felt afraid, and it instantly made me feel very strong and brave.
I think this is key. Travel will give you confidence. But you use that confidence to get access to new places and experiences. You might stick out like a sore thumb, but your attitude and demeaner should exude a quiet sense of purpose and belonging that can’t be taken away from you. For example, right now I’m in a coffee shop in Nicosia, surrounded by about twenty men playing Tavli (Greek Backgammon) kind of agressively. The first time I came in here, I saw that there weren’t women by themselves and got a little nervous. But you can’t let it show. It’s a safe spot to chill with some wifi and a good ice latte. Now I come here almost every day, and I’ve started chatting with some of the regulars.
This piece goes over situations Jessie has been in and how they worked out. Most of these stories aren’t specific to being a female travelling. A lot of times, it’s just that society thinks men will have more awareness, or more common sense, and be able to handle themselves better. But being aware of street scams and common sense trael rules applies to everyone. These tales are good to learn from, and most involve being aware of your surroundings and following common sense.
A great overview of the status of the safefty of women and how that fits into the context of travel:
Focusing on the solo female travel question, or cloaking the issue in a thick layer of xenophobia avoids the bigger, more important concern.
Why are we talking about solo female travel, not violence against women?
While the easy thing is to blame the solo female traveler, the reality is that violence against women, not solo travel, is the issue. And it’s certainly not limited to far-flung places.
Jodie also goes over travel incidents that happen when women and men are travelling together (hint: the world does not become a magical place just because your dude friend is by your side) and some good tips I had not considered before (registering with the US Embassy). Per usual, Jodie’s overviews are thorough and thought-provoking and always worth the read.
Melissa shares her scariest experience as a solo female traveler, the one she doesn’t always share when someone asks her if traveling as a woman alone is scary.
This post is a good one to read about what fear can do do a trip. Sometimes going to a specific place ends up being fine, but we can go out on a limb about what we can handle and the stress has the potential to be the problem iteself:
But this whole experience has taught me that traveling solo to an off the path destination isn’t worth it if you spend more time being worried than happy. A little worrying is fine – especially if it’s your first solo trip, but if you can’t enjoy your trip because of it, then it’s not worth it. You should either pick another destination or bring a friend.
Here’s a great post on somethign that’s totally acceptable and wanted behavior for some, and completel unwanted harrasment to others. I’ve never couchsurfed (excepts at friends), so I’ve never seen this personally. But a girl should be aware that this is a thing. For women and men that want to spend their couchsurfing time together like this, more power to ya. But for those that aren’t into it, be aware that this is a thing and you need to consider your safety and communications with your hosts accordingly.
Not every Couchsurfing situation runs afoul because of sexual harassment, there are lots of ways it can go wrong. Alex shares her terrible first experiences and some really helpful tips for navigating the site that offers both free travel and amazing friendships but comes with major risks for the unprepared.
There are serious upsides to travelling alone, and those don’t go away just because you’re a chick. But between the real dangers and those foisted upon us by others, there’s extra work you have to put into it. Hopefully, these posts both help you prepare while keeping you inspired. Happy travels!
Do you have any tips or stories you think would benefit others? Share below!