Travelling is an amazing adventure however at the same time is surrounded by many anxieties and dangers especially for women and female solo travellers. Here are some stories by female travellers who have shared their experiences and views about travelling the world as females to celebrate #InternationalWomensDay2020 with The Boar.
The media and society more generally often tells women that it’s not safe for them to travel alone to different countries. While I definitely think that it is important to be aware that, sadly, some countries and cities are safer for women to travel to alone to – as a whole I think a lot of the stigma surrounding solo female travel must be challenged.
A day after my 18th birthday, I went on a 10-day solo trip around Tuscany and faced a lot of criticism for my decision to go. Though probably just concerned, lots of people were quite disapproving of me going. There is definitely a generational gap as people my age tended to think it was quite cool and fairly normal.
It’s important for me to say that I wasn’t quite completely alone as I went on a coach tour through Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. A lot of the other travellers on this tour were quite elderly and again found it concerning that I was travelling on my own. I found the whole experience incredibly safe and would say that these countries in general are quite safe for solo female travellers.
I must, of course, acknowledge the certain privilege that I have as a white heterosexual woman travelling to these areas. I cannot account for the experiences of all women, but I can say what I experienced and how I felt.
People always have things to say about decisions we make in life and you honestly cannot let stigma surrounding travelling as a woman alone affect your travels
The most obvious difference that I encountered while travelling through Italy as a solo female traveller was the comments made by our Italian tour guides, waiters and sometimes random men in the street which were a little disconcerting and shocking to me at the beginning but this was something that I became more aware of. I never felt unsafe as such travelling on my own though.
I would definitely encourage other female travellers to go solo and there are lots of great youtube videos and blog accounts of solo female travellers that provide first-hand discussions of what their experiences in particular areas were like. I would advise any solo female traveller (or any traveller in general) to do a lot of research about which cities and countries are the safest. The most vital thing I would say is – forget what everyone thinks. People always have things to say about decisions we make in life and you honestly cannot let stigma surrounding travelling as a woman alone affect your travels.
Travelling to new countries and experiencing different cultures can be incredibly empowering. Women should feel free to explore the world without fearing its dangers, but the truth is that we are still very vulnerable.
I was on an expedition in Madagascar with an all-female group and we had just arrived at our campsite where we would stay the night. We were 17 at the time. The campsite was fairly isolated; just the one man came to greet us. He seemed harmless enough, and we had met so many wonderful people in Madagascar up until this point. Later into the evening, as it was getting darker and we had set up our tents, the man started chatting to a few of the girls. He made sexual comments and offered to climb into their tent. As far as I know, nothing more serious happened that night and I am so thankful for that. But I did feel very vulnerable that night.
There is nothing quite like that feeling of empowerment when you visit a new country and experience a different culture for the first time
Madagascar is known for being fairly dangerous, but it is also an incredible place and I met some of the loveliest, most positive people on that trip. In reality, I have had worse experiences on nights out in Leamington Spa. We need to remember to be careful, and it’s always safer in larger groups if possible, but we also can’t let stories about the dangers of travelling put us off exploring the world. There is nothing quite like that feeling of empowerment when you visit a new country and experience a different culture for the first time.
My trip to Cambodia with an educational charity allowed me to experience a completely different culture and really get out of my comfort zone.
Although I’d travelled to Spain by myself for exchange trips before, the distance and the fact I didn’t know anyone I’d be staying with made me terrified to go. I met a girl in the group who was a year younger than me and as the only girls, we decided to share a room. How scared she was and how much she missed home made me realise how independent and supportive I could be. I had never been in that situation either, but looking after her and having a job to do with the charity gave me something to focus on.
Gradually we both came out of our shells and gained confidence, helping the group to provide educational materials and interacting and teaching children at schools across the country, something I never thought I could do when I had been so nervous before. It’s still one of the most challenging but rewarding things I’ve ever done, helping me to realise I could make an actual impact on the lives of others by getting out of my daily routine. This once in a lifetime experience increased my expectations and understanding of myself, as cliche as it sounds.
So I guess I really might do that solo trip soon and to anyone reading this and doubting their desires of solo travelling or travelling as a woman, maybe you should too
I went backpacking by myself for 16 weeks but, like every solo-backpacker I rarely found myself alone. You arrive at a hostel and find people relaxing either in the bar, common area or maybe a person in your dorm. Normally what follows is that you end up sticking with them for the duration of your stay in that place. The beauty of being by yourself is that your time is entirely yours and you itinerary completely flexible- if you particularly get on with a person or group of people you can travel with them on to the next place. For me, the most surprising thing truth of solo travel is you spend a large portion of time finding other people to hang out with.
As a female travelling alone I was lucky in that I had very few problems or times where I felt unsafe just because of my gender. However, one of the more difficult things was dealing with taxi drivers who, although were friendly, were frequently surprised that I was alone and liked to list all the reasons their own daughters could not travel solo. Occasionally there were cat callings and I was careful not to wonder alone at night in unfamiliar cities in Asia. This really isn’t difficult given the big cities that backpackers want to visit will have lots of other backpackers in them!
Most people, backpackers included, do not like being isolated for long periods of time. This is why it is instinctive to find other people. So sure, you are solo because nobody from home is there. What I can say for sure though is solo travel is not travel alone.
I have never had the privilege of travelling solo despite wishing to do so for many years now, and this unfortunately comes down to the issues solo travellers, especially female solo travellers face while abroad. However, I have travelled with female friends in small groups and am thankful to say that I have never found myself to be in a dangerous situation.
Around two years ago I went to Mallorca to visit a friend who lives there, and we spent 10 days travelling across the island together. My somewhat knowledge of the Spanish language and the fact that she was from Mallorca made me feel extremely at ease throughout the time.
I think we just have to go out there and make female travellers the many not the few so that the world has no choice but to change according to our views
At one particular moment of our trip however we found ourselves in quite an isolated road going up Serra de Tramuntana. This was probably the only time during our trip when I became increasingly aware of the many vehicles with men staring at us on the side of the road as well as the few cars that slowed down near us- one particular man in a car even encircled us. This was when we walked into a nearby hotel and asked the staff about taxi services to get us to a destination.
My other trip to Dublin in summer last year was much more relaxed. In a group of three girls, we never encountered any unnerving situations and were pleasantly surprised by the help and kindness we received from many locals along the way.
There is no doubt that travelling can be an anxious and dangerous experience for solo travellers, and female travellers but I don’t think the solution to that is to stay at home and hope the world changes one day. I think we just have to go out there and make female travellers the many not the few so that the world has no choice but to change according to our views. So I guess I really might do that solo trip soon and to anyone reading this and doubting their desires of solo travelling or travelling as a woman, maybe you should too.
Happy International Women’s Day