Traveling as a solo female can be a rich and rewarding experience. It’s a time when you can experiment with the limits of your comfort zone, jumping into the fray, welcoming chaos and uncertainty.
Safety is a concern for everyone
Shannon O”Donnell, a National Geographic Traveler of the Year (circa 2014), has traveled extensively and safely as a solo female. Shannon wrote a fantastic post on her website about safety and solo female travel in which she shares a couple of experiences.
“…I have been aggressively groped three times in my life. Each time I was disappointed and mad more than anything, and none were to the point that I feared it would go further. And each time it reminded me that the way society sees women has a long way to go in a lot of places in the world, my own country included. Once was in broad daylight during a festival in India and another in Jordan, also during the day. The third was at a bar in Los Angeles and of the three it was the most aggressive, invasive, and left me feeling the worst—and it was in a crowded bar with my friends nearby.
I have never mentioned these incidences on the site not out of fear, shame, or covering anything up, but rather because they did not define my travel experiences in either of those two countries, nor in LA. And I wasn’t solo for any of them. In fact, in all three instances I had men and friends nearby and it didn’t stop the harassment. Three continents, three entirely different cultures, and yet similar attitudes toward women created that shared experience … more a statement on the way women are treated the world over rather than on travel specifically.” Shannon O’Donnell, A Little Adrift
It’s not a travel issue, it’s a women’s issue
“That is part of what irks me about this discussion: being “alone” is not the issue. Travel abroad is not the issue. The issue is treatment of women. And we should be using this media spotlight as a springboard to discussing how we can fix it.” Jodi Ettenburg, Legal Nomads
If you have never traveled as a solo female, it can be a scary decision to make. Does that mean you should avoid it? Absolutely not. Do not let your fear of the unknown keep you from experiencing the world around you.
Listen to your inner voice
When planning a visa run from Thailand to Sri Lanka a few years ago I booked a guesthouse for a couple nights based on online recommendations. When I arrived I discovered I was the only guest, the was one local man, and no women, anywhere. I thought I could do it, but after a scary encounter with a local at a nearby beach (where I was stalked for a few blocks) I packed up my things and went to a name brand hotel for the night. The next day I checked into a large locally owned hotel, and the rest of my stay was lovely.
Of course there may be times when switching hotels is not an option as it may be the middle of the night, or other hotels don’t have room. For this reason many female travelers carry a rubber doorstop which they can wedge under the door to prevent unwanted people from coming into their room at night.
The power of vulnerability
During my Mongol Rally attempt my teammate and I (a female photographer from New York) drove through Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. Three countries that many thought would be too dangerous for female travelers. They weren’t.
Upon crossing into Azerbaijan it became very apparent that road signs were now a thing of the past, too spread out to be useful. Relying on a map, and the flow of truck traffic, we slowly made out way towards Baku, which sits along the Caspian Sea. During our drive we remarked on the lack of women. It was something we had noticed in Georgia as well. Men were everywhere, but it was rare to see a woman outside. It was weird. Despite my killer navigational skills, we got lost, a few times, and we did what we would have done at home, we pulled over and tried to ask local men for directions.
We didn’t speak the language, they didn’t speak English. They would try to understand us, and then give up. Then they did something neither of us were expecting. Every single time we had to pull over and ask for help a local man would get in his car, motion for us to follow, drive us to the road we needed and pointed us in the direction we needed to go. Every. Single. Time.
Yes, an argument can be made that there was two of us, but were still vulnerable and ripe for the picking.
As a solo female traveler you are less of a threat, you’re more open, more vulnerable, and in some ways that can be a good thing. You can be a strong independent woman and be vulnerable, without being a victim.
In 2010 Brené gave a brilliant TED talk about the power of vulnerability, and while it’s not focused on travel, many of her points can be used in the solo female travel space.
“I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.” Brené Brown, The Power of Vulnerability, TEDx Houston
And you’ll be like every other traveler, whether they are solo, traveling as a couple or as a family.
The best advice I can give solo female travelers is to be open and not let fear control your decisions. Challenge yourself, make a point of giving the locals the benefit of the doubt. If you feel unsafe, change your situation, and most importantly, never stop being yourself.
Read more about solo travel:
- 20 Indispensible Resources for Solo Travelers
- The Girl’s Guide to Traveling Solo in Muslim Countries
- Top Solo Travel Tips from Those Who Have Done It
- 7 Reasons Why Everyone Should Travel Solo At Least Once
- Solo Travel for Non-Solo Travelers