In the past couple of weeks, I've received a handful of emails from women asking me all sorts of questions about traveling solo. I've also been interviewed for a couple articles about the “dangers” of traveling alone as a woman. I'm not sure why there's a sudden uptick in interest (or fear) surrounding solo female travel, but I figured that now would be as good a time as any to address the topic again on my blog. (Plus, International Women's Day is coming up on March 8!)
But, when “danger” is involved, I realize some people want even more reassurance.
I've been traveling solo for a few years now — not because I dislike people or anything like that, but usually because I don't want to wait around for someone to travel with me and because I kind of LIKE to be on my own and have the freedom to do what I want when I want.
It's a common misconception — latched onto by the media — that it's inherently dangerous to travel solo if you are a woman.
Traveling solo as a woman IS a different experience than traveling solo as a man — I won't deny that fact. As a woman, you DO have to be more careful and more vigilant in some cases. You have to be more aware of how you're dressed, who you trust, and how decisions you make could affect your safety.
However, this doesn't just apply to traveling. In a world where violence against women is a growing problem, being careful and vigilant is something women just DO. It's certainly not confined to traveling.
Which brings me to my point: Traveling solo as a woman is not automatically dangerous. It's no more or less dangerous than doing things alone as a woman in your home country or town.
People ask me (quite frequently these days) if I'm ever afraid to travel solo. And my answer is always no.
And here's why:
5 reasons why I'm not afraid to travel alone
1. The world is not as dangerous as the media makes it seem
One of the articles I was quoted in recently was a post about the “most dangerous” places for women to travel. But the article quoted crime/violence statistics for countries like India, Turkey, South Africa, and Mexico, and then tried to suggest that these same DOMESTIC violence numbers automatically made those destinations dangerous for women to travel to.
Which is just silly.
The United States has some of the highest violence rates in the world, and yet I wouldn't consider it a dangerous place in which to be a tourist.
We see so many movies and read so many sensationalized headlines that we've become conditioned to assume that the world “out there” is a scary, dangerous place. But guess what? It's really not.
2. I trust my instincts
As I mentioned earlier, you DO have to travel differently when you're a woman. But my rule of thumb is this: don't do anything abroad that you wouldn't do at home. Simple.
This means that I'm not going to go wandering in an unfamiliar place on my own at night, or take rides with complete strangers, or go off without telling someone where I went, or get drunk or do drugs or do anything else that would put me in danger no matter where I am.
I also have learned to be aware of my surroundings and to trust my gut. If I find myself in a situation where I feel uncomfortable, I do what I can to remove myself from it. When you travel solo, you are your own best defense.
3. I do my homework
You should do this no matter how you're traveling, but doing your homework about a new destination is especially useful when you're traveling solo. Before every trip, I do a little Googling and read up on things like cultural norms, common scams, and how I should dress as a tourist.
When traveling to more conservative countries, I make sure to pack more modest clothing. Not only does this make me feel more comfortable since I know I won't be offending anyone with what I'm wearing, but it also tends to cut down on the catcalls and other unwanted attention.
Reading up on common scams is also a must for me — it helps me pinpoint potential scammers before they have a chance to fool me, and it also makes me more confident when going somewhere new. For example, I read about the “bracelet scammers” that hang out near Sacre Coeur in Paris, and therefore knew to keep my wrists and arms out of reach whenever I walked by them.
Doing my homework helps me fit in to new cultures better, and also makes it easier to be vigilant without being paranoid.
4. Strangers are more likely to be helpful than threatening
Even though I wouldn't advise you to wander off alone with a complete stranger, people you meet on your travels ARE, for the most part, going to be helpful rather than threatening. As a solo female traveler, I've had countless experiences where I've actually had complete strangers looking out for me on trains and subways, helping me stow my bag or making sure I knew which stop I needed to get off at.
Just as the world isn't an inherently dangerous place, people are not inherently evil. I spent a lot of time being very suspicious of anyone who would strike up a conversation with me for about the first year I was traveling alone. Until I realized that those people were just trying to be friendly.
Yes, it's important to be careful and to always trust your gut. But there's no need to immediately look at every unknown face as a threat. Your travels will be enriched when you open yourself up to new conversations and meeting new people.
And, when you do, you'll learn that, at the end of the day, people are more similar than different, no matter where they live, what they look like, or what they believe in.
5. I know I can surround myself with people
Lastly, if I ever DO find myself in a destination where I don't feel completely comfortable on my own, I know that there are always ways to ensure that I'm NOT alone.
I often book small group tours in places that I don't feel confident about visiting solo. I go on day trips with other tourists. I stay in hostels or guest houses where it's easy to meet other travelers and join in on group activities.
There's no need for me to be afraid, because I've learned that traveling solo doesn't necessarily have to mean being alone all the time.
I realize that solo travel will always be one of those things with a mysterious, often-misrepresented air about it. But hopefully this has helped reassure you at least a little bit!
What's your take on solo female travel? What steps do you take to make yourself feel safe?