Something that I hear very often is that I’m brave for being a solo female traveller, often delivered with mixture of shock and awe in equal parts.
People ask how I’m not afraid that something bad will happen to me, or how I feel so comfortable backpacking alone as a woman.
The truth is though, I don’t see myself as brave for traversing this world as a woman.
My gender isn’t something I even considered back when I booked my first solo trip (Bali and Cambodia) back in 2016.
None of my friends were able to travel, and I certainly wasn’t going to wait until I found a partner that wanted to travel), so I saw no alternative but to just GO.
And guess what?
I’ve never looked back.
After 7 years, 30 countries, countless hostel jobs, and even a spot of diphtheria, I have no regrets.
Here’s the truth about backpacking alone as a woman.
The Truth About Backpacking Alone as a Woman
A ‘solo female traveller’ is never really how I identified – I definitely see myself as a solo traveller (which is awesome btw), because that is something that has a huge impact on my travels (more on that later), but as far as gender goes, 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 read this blog, 52% are men, so to solely write articles about being a ‘solo female traveller’ would be silly.
‘But Dani, you never shut up about women’s rights. You’re so passionate about equality for women!’
And 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.
Since I was 23 years old, the longest stretch of time I’ve spent in my home country has been 5 months, and that was during the initial lockdowns.
Over the years, I’ve spent about 18 months in Southeast Asia (including a year living in Cambodia), a year in Poland, 18 months in Spain, and tonnes of time in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
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 Khmer university students.
The problem that we should be addressing is not whether women are brave for travelling 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 backpacking alone as a woman differ from those of a man, but they also differ from people who travel in groups, LGBT+ travellers, disabled travellers, plus size travellers, and travellers of colour.
Some countries that would be incredibly safe for me to visit would be total no-go areas for my gay friends, and some places that a man would travel to without thinking twice are places where I would need to take extra precautions on account of my gender.
Everyone’s experiences of travel are different.
Now, I don’t mean to trivialise the very real issues that women backpacking alone 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, and I would be lying if I told you that I haven’t had a couple of scary experiences on the road that wouldn’t have happened to me if I’d been a man.
I will not let the fact that I am a woman prevent 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.
Backpacking alone as a woman as a feminist act
If I were to let my own gender limit me from doing something so simple as travel, what kind of feminist would I be?
Take a look at Malala Yousafzai – Malala stood up for the rights of girls to receive an education, was SHOT IN THE FACE BY THE TALIBAN, and still didn’t shut up.
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 – travelling in Morocco as a woman is fine).
That isn’t to say that we, as women, should flock to Saudi Arabia with a suitcase full of miniskirts and start dancing on the tables.
We obviously shouldn’t.
What it is to say, is that we shouldn’t refuse to go somewhere based on cultural or religious stereotypes, without actually bothering to research the reality of backpacking alone as a woman in such places.
A general rule of thumb when travelling solo as a woman
FOR THE MOST PART, 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, no matter whether you’re male, female, gay, straight, black, white, WHATEVER.
It is not victim blaming to encourage women to use their brains and behave accordingly.
It might not be fair, but the facts are that as women, we do have to exercise that bit more caution than men do.
Yes, mothers should be teaching their sons not to rape rather than teaching women not to get raped and all that jazz, but until every country on the planet is some crime-free Utopia, the best we can do is safeguard ourselves.
The world isn’t all bad
As discouraging as it may be to think about all of the places where women still have to cover up and travel with a male companion, please don’t let that prevent you from seeing all of the magic and colour that this world has to offer.
If my years of travel have taught me one thing, it’s that 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, guided me to the right buses, and told me what prices I should be paying at the local markets.
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.
When I was in Morocco recently, 3 fellow solo females and I had been to some sand dunes and were having trouble finding our way back to the car. We found a boy and his mother tending to their crops (turns out we were trespassing, oops), and they invited us into their home and served us mint tea, freshly-baked bread, and various spreads.
As for the negatives?
My friends and I had our drinks spiked in Thailand (we think), and I’ve had a couple of bad experiences with men in Italy.
Almost 10 years of backpacking alone as a woman and I’ve had less than 5 negative experiences (and been harmed precisely zero times).
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 will not be as dangerous as the city that you are from.
The challenges of solo travel
If you want me to be completely honest, 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, 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 gotten sick (really sick), broken my laptop (more than once), and I never have anyone to watch my luggage when I want to go and pee or swim in the sea.
As you can see, these ‘challenges’ have really not been major, and would better be described as inconveniences.
The Truth About Backpacking Alone as a Woman | Final Thoughts
So, to any women and girls who are reading this and freaking out 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.
The world is yours to explore.
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 travel buddies etc.).
That’s it for now, but as always, if you have any questions then please leave them in the comments section below and I will get back to you.
Until next time,
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