Something that I hear very often from people when I’m not travelling is that I’m brave for being a solo female traveller, often with a mixture of shock and awe in their voices in equal parts.
I was even asked about the challenges of solo female travel travel on a podcast that I was on recently. The host, Logan, a traveller himself, was impressed that I’d travelled for so long as a woman, and even more impressed that I didn’t see myself as particularly daring or brave by doing so.
And the truth is, I don’t see myself as brave for traversing this world as a woman.
Sure, this blog may have ‘solo female travel’ in the tags and description, but if I’m totally honest, that’s never how I saw myself – I definitely see myself as a ‘solo’ traveller, because that is something that has a huge impact on my time spent travelling the world (more on that later), but insofar as being ‘female,’ the state of being female has always just been what I am physically as opposed to how I experience the world. As for Travelling Jezebel, most of my social media followers are male and of the people that actually read this blog, 45% are men, so to only write articles aimed at ‘solo female travellers’ would be silly.
‘But Dani, you never shut up about women’s rights. You’re so passionate about equality for women!’
And yes, I am. However, just because I am cognizant of the fact that women often get a really raw deal doesn’t mean that I feel as though I have had one whilst travelling.
Of the last 4 years, I have spent less than 12 months in my home country. I was in Southeast Asia for 18 months (living in Cambodia for about a year of that time), Poland for almost a year, and I have spent the remainder of my time in the Balkans (oh, and just under a month in Morocco if we’re being really nitpicky).
Some of the countries that I have called home are shockingly dismal in their treatment of women. Cambodia has a huge gang rape problem, and countries such as Montenegro and Albania have rates of domestic violence that make me want to cry.
However, as depressing as these statistics are, they do not, for the most part, affect travellers. Victims of gender-based violence in Albania are Albanian women, victimised by their husbands. Victims of bauk, or gang rape, in Cambodia are Khmer sex workers, victimised by university students.
The problem that we should be addressing is not whether women such as myself are brave for travelling this world in our own bodies, but the treatment of women in this world generally.
I’ll give you an example.
Think of one of the worst places in the world to be a woman – Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has an extremely repressive regime that forbids women from leaving their homes or undergoing certain medical procedures without the permission of a male guardian.
However, isn’t it ironic that Saudi Arabia, with its incredibly low crime rates, is among the safest countries for women to travel to?
Without a doubt, my experiences as a solo female traveller differ from those of male travellers, but they also differ from people who travel in groups, LGBT travellers, disabled travellers and travellers of colour. Some countries that would be incredibly safe for me to travel to would not be possible for my LGBT friends to visit, and some countries that a man would travel to without thinking twice are just not safe for me to traverse alone in this body.
Everyone’s experiences of travel are different.
Now, I don’t mean to trivialise the real issues that solo female travellers often face, and I am DEFINITELY not telling you that the world is not a dangerous place for women. Almost every woman I know has been sexually assaulted in some way, shape or form, and I would be doing a disservice to my own gender if I told you that I haven’t had scary experiences on the road that have occurred on account of my gender.
I will not let the fact that I am a woman stop me from seeing all of the beauty that this world has to offer with all of the excitement, enthusiasm and tenacity as my male counterparts. If I let my own gender limit me, then do I really have the right to call myself a feminist?
I mean, take a look at Malala – Malala stood up for the rights of girls to receive an education, was shot in the face, and still didn’t shut up about her cause.
What kind of champion of women’s rights would I be if I said ‘I can’t go to Morocco, I might get catcalled.’
(Sidenote – my friend Meg travelled through Morocco alone and experienced a lot of annoying men walking ‘with’ her and striking up conversation. Glaring at them and telling them that she was on her period made them legitimately terrified and they ran away as though she’d just told them she had leprosy.)
FOR THE MOST PART (read: not always), common sense and cultural awareness will go a long way.
Dress conservatively in countries where the women dress conservatively. Don’t go out alone and get blackout wasted in a country where you don’t know anyone. Don’t flirt with men in countries where even a lingering glance would result in an honour killing. In other words, exercise vigilance and do not put yourself in risky situations (and this goes to men, women, STARGENDERS and whatever – we all have a responsibility to keep ourselves as safe as humanly possible).
It is not victim blaming to encourage women to use their brains and behave accordingly. It isn’t fair, but there are some places where, as a woman, you will have to exercise that bit more caution than a man would. However, don’t let that prevent you from seeing all of the magic and colour that this world has to offer.
In general, people are good.
I have had SO many positive experiences with locals on my travels. People have given me directions, lifts, and helped me when I couldn’t work out how to use a ticket machine for the metro. People have helped me to carry my luggage, put me on the right buses, and told me what prices I should be paying at the local flea market. People have given me gifts, introduced me to their families, and invited me to eat at their restaurants for free. People have taken me on trips, cooked for me and gone above and beyond to make me feel as welcome as possible in their home countries.
As for the negatives? Well, of course there have been negatives. My friends and I had our drinks spiked in Thailand, I was the victim of a minor sexual assault in Croatia and I had a couple of bad experiences with men in Italy (one of which was actually very scary).
I am not minimising these experiences. However, in over 3 years of almost full time travel, those are the only bad things that have happened to me on account of my being a woman, and none of them resulted in me actually being harmed (in fact, my male friend was spiked in Thailand as well).
In fact, the scariest thing that happened to me was in Manchester.
Not Cambodia. Not Serbia. Manchester.
If you’re reading this, chances are you are from the USA or the UK. I can almost guarantee that the places that you will choose to travel to (assuming you are sticking to a typical backpacker trail such as Southeast Asia for example) will not be as dangerous as the city that you are from.
If you want me to be completely real with you, my experiences as a solo traveller have been infinitely more challenging than my experiences as a female traveller.
While travelling solo I’ve dealt with the stresses of lost luggage, missed flights (not my fault!), and being totally lost with no Google Maps or understanding of the local language (this has happened more times than I care to count). I’ve had to find fun in unsociable hostels where nobody wanted to be my friend, and I’ve had to miss out on swimming in the sea because I had nobody to watch my bag (and don’t get me started on having to take all of my luggage to the toilets in airports because there is no one to look after it!).
As you can see, these ‘difficulties’ have really not been major, and would better be described as inconveniences.
So, to any girls out there reading this who are nervous about taking their first ever solo trip, stop worrying and just take the leap. The world is not as big or as scary as you think. Of course, it can be dangerous sometimes, and there are some situations and places that we, as ladies, should take exercise caution when visiting – you will not find me travelling through India or Pakistan alone, for example.
However, please do not think that the entire world is off limits to you. A lot of the countries that you THINK are dangerous are actually a lot safer than your home country, and as for those countries that are a little riskier, there are often ways to minimise that risk (such as travelling as part of a tour, with a male partner etc.).
And finally, what do you think? I am aware that this post may prove controversial and I am definitely up for a respectful discussion about where our opinions may differ so I invite you to leave your thoughts in the comments section below! To recap – I am NOT trying to trivialise the genuine difficulties that solo female travellers face, and I am NOT saying that the world is not a dangerous place for women. The world is a horrible place if you’re a woman in many countries and I am not denying that. I just think that we Westerners can be very guilty of assuming that other countries are dangerous and backward, when actually they are much safer than our home countries!
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