What’s the Big Deal About Solo Female Travel?

by Gray Cargill on February 9, 2013

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When the news was reported last week about the murder of Sarai Sierra, a young mother from New York who was traveling on vacation alone in Turkey, I immediately felt sadness for her and the family who lost her. What a tragic outcome for what should have been the trip of a lifetime. My second reaction was a bit more cynical: I knew in my gut that people were going to try to blame her death on the fact that she was a woman traveling alone. It’s just so typical of people to blame the victim—especially when the victim is a woman.

Every time a woman is raped, certain people crawl out from under their rocks to say that she brought it on herself by the way she was dressed, or the neighborhood she was in, or that she was flirting, or some other ridiculous thing. It’s a knee-jerk fear, a desperate need to find a reason “why that happened to her but won’t happen to me (or my daughter, sister, etc.)”. It is also, as Stephanie Yoder (Female Solo Travel is Not the Problem) and Jodi Ettenberg (Revisiting the Solo Female Travel Experience) have pointed out, a convenient way to deflect discussion away from the true problem: Violence against women. Sure enough, the backlash against solo female travel was swift. Just once I’d like to be wrong about these things.

Due to a very busy week at work, I didn’t have the energy to respond right away to the appallingly ignorant comments about how traveling alone as a woman—especially to Muslim countries– is “stupid” and “dangerous”. Thankfully, there were plenty of other solo female travelers (like Evelyn Hannon of Journeywoman and Beth Whitman of Wanderlust and Lipstick) who immediately took up the banner of the cause, writing thoughtful responses and even creating a Twitter hashtag (#wegosolo) to rally the troops to rebut the idea that women shouldn’t be traveling alone.

Christine Gilbert cited statistics (The Women Traveling Solo Question) showing that in fact, traveling alone as a woman is far safer than staying home as a woman. People often like to grab onto a single story, like the murder of Sarai Sierra, to affirm their belief that the world is a scary place, but the data doesn’t lie. Women are in more danger of being murdered by men they know than by total strangers.

The truth is, we don’t know who killed Sarai Sierra, or what that person’s motives were. We know very little about the circumstances of her death. It’s premature to be making any sorts of assumptions about why it happened. And when all is said and done, it might have been a random act of violence that could have happened to anyone (man or woman), anywhere. We just don’t know.


I got into a fascinating discussion on Twitter about this with some other travelers. They posed the argument that perhaps the question of whether it’s safe for women to travel alone wouldn’t arise if solo female travel bloggers didn’t make such a big deal about it. Their argument was that we actually make solo female travel seem more dangerous than it actually is by posting women’s travel safety tips (rather than travel safety tips that are applicable to men and women). I can see what they’re saying, up to a point. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to do that. We would just be traveling, as men do, without turning it into a gender issue. The fact that we’re women traveling solo would be no big deal.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. Women do have to worry about their safety in ways that men don’t–not just while traveling, but every single day of our lives. You can read a wonderful essay on this by Emily Heist Moss called “A Letter to the Guy Who Harrassed Me Outside the Bar”. Until all men all over the world start treating women with respect, we will continue to have to be vigilant.

But let’s get back to the question: Is solo female travel safe?

As a woman who travels alone, I say yes, it is as safe as anything else in life. Sure, bad things could happen to me on the road. But bad things could happen to me at home, too. Some may have to do with the fact that I’m a woman; some may not. I could choke to death on my dinner. I could fall down the stairs and break my neck. I could be hit and killed by a drunk driver on my way home from work. Life is full of risks and dangers. But traveling solo is no more risky than living your everyday life.

Look, I am not a brave person. Every time someone tells me how brave I am for traveling solo, I want to laugh. I am the biggest chicken you’ll ever meet. I don’t take chances that might cut my life even shorter than it already will be. If solo travel really were stupidly dangerous, you wouldn’t catch me doing it. Period. The fact that I am not only doing it but encouraging others to do it should tell you everything you need to know.

I also understand “fear of the unknown”. Most of us experience this fear at some point in our lives. I still experience it, even though my actual experiences have taught me again and again that the unknown is pretty tame in reality compared to what I’ve conjured up in my imagination. The bottom line is I’m not going to let fear stop me from living my life and getting as much out of it as I possibly can. Because there’s a much greater fear for me: Getting to the end of my life and regretting all of the things I didn’t do and the places I didn’t see. Travel brings me so much joy. Nothing compares to it. If I let fear stop me from traveling, my life wouldn’t be worth living.


Many of the people who claim that it’s dangerous have absolutely no experience traveling alone as a woman (read: they have no idea what the hell they’re talking about). On the other hand, you will find below a list of articles written by solo female travelers rebutting the idea that it’s dangerous for women to travel alone. We know from experience what it’s like and what it isn’t like. Who are you going to believe? Someone who has actually experienced solo female travel or someone who has made up their mind about it based solely on what they’ve heard or read in sensational news articles?

So what’s the big deal about solo female travel? It’s a great way to see the world while building self-confidence and self-reliance. If you’re a woman who wants to travel alone, don’t listen to the naysayers. Do practice solo travel safety. Do your research about your destination. And go have the time of your life. Then come home and tell everyone you know about your experience. Because the only thing that is going to create a shift in the way people think about women traveling alone is for it to become so commonplace that it’s no longer remarkable.


A Dangerous Business – Dear Dad: Please Don’t Worry (A Treatise on Solo Female Travel)
Adventurous Kate –The Truth About Solo Female Travel and Safety
Ali’s Adventures – Why I Will Continue to Encourage Solo Travel
Almost Fearless – The Women Traveling Solo Question
Breathe Dream Go – Ode to the lady traveller: Why we need the #WeGoSolo movement
C’est Christine – Solo female travel: why it’s a label I support
Grrrltraveler – Is Solo Travel Still Safe for Women? …6 Safety Tips That Make It So
Journalist in Turkey – With your head up high
Katie Going Global – No, It’s Not Stupid to Travel Solo
Legal Nomads – Revisiting the Solo Female Travel Experience
Mo Travels – Traveling Alone and Safety
My Destination Unknown – The Solo Female Traveller Debate: Asking the Right Questions
My Indian Adventure – Violence Against Women: A Global Problem
Nerd’s Eye View – Once, I Traveled Alone
Our Oyster – Is Solo Female Travel Safe?
Pegs on the Line – Travelling solo: I’m not brave. Just smart.
Runaway Jane – Should Women Travel Solo?
Solitary Wanderer – Reflections on Solo Travel
Solo Traveler – Am I The Polyanna of Solo Travel?
Spunky Girl Monologues – 7 Reasons Why Solo Travel is Awesome
Stars on the Ceiling – 3 Words That Shouldn’t Scare You: Solo Female Travel
The Grown Up Gap Year – Why I support the #WeGoSolo movement
The Suitcase Scholar – To Travel Solo: My Flawed Words
The Wayfarer Diaries – Solo Female Travel: Don’t Be Afraid to Go It Alone
Travel Yourself – Yes, It is Safe to Travel Solo as a Female
Twenty-Something Travel – Female Solo Travel is Not the Problem
WAVEJourney – Travel Tips: Female Solo Travel Safety

Rachel Rannow December 18, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Excellent post; informative, well-rounded, and extremely helpful! Thanks for all the great links!

Gray Cargill December 18, 2013 at 7:43 pm

You’re welcome, Rachel.

Sally December 12, 2013 at 2:09 am

This is an incredible list, well done.

Gray Cargill December 13, 2013 at 9:15 pm

I’m glad it was helpful, Sally.

Pamela August 17, 2013 at 2:23 am

I stumble across your post and I totally agree with you. I am also one big chicken myself, i fear the unknown but I like the idea of overcome the fear and enjoy myself in the process. I have heard many who have no experience in solo travelling telling me how unsafe it is to travel alone. It frustrates me because it’s like what do they know about the solo travelling? They make me feels like they do not trust me enough to take care of myself, unfortunately my parents are also part of this group but they are not too vocal enough to stop me (thank goodness).

Gray Cargill August 17, 2013 at 9:29 am

Exactly, Pamela. The people who say solo travel isn’t safe are the people who have never done it themselves. Glad to hear you’re not letting them stop you!

Kirstin February 22, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Don’t you think we have an entire network of great women right here? if the ‘you know what’ hits the fan then these days help isn’t too far away.

Gray February 22, 2013 at 11:29 pm

Depends on where you are, I suppose, when you say “help isn’t too far away.” (If you’re being literal.) But yes, lots of great women and we can all learn from and help each other–and should be.

Erin February 15, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Elisa Lam, a 21-year old student from Vancouver has been missing in Los Angeles since January 31, 2013. LAPD suspect foul play. The story is getting a lot of media coverage in Canada and even though there are very few details available, people are also quick to blame her disappearance on the fact she is a female, travelling alone.

Gray February 16, 2013 at 10:24 am

That’s unfortunate, Erin, and I’m sorry to hear it. I hope they find her alive and well.

Gray February 22, 2013 at 11:27 pm

And, sadly, they didn’t. Another tragic outcome. 🙁

Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com February 14, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Thanks for including me in your list. There are so many wonderful posts about solo travel! It’s sad we did this only when something happened to one of us. Still, I hope that with our blogs and our campaign on Twitter, we can counter the dissenters’ voices about solo travel.

Gray February 14, 2013 at 9:55 pm

You’re right, Aleah, it is a shame it took something like this to get everyone writing about solo travel again. I think we were all starting to take it for granted.

GRRRLTRAVELER | Christine February 12, 2013 at 9:25 pm

I was wondering too if with all the female blogging blasts on safety, if we’re not being redundant and making a big deal out of it also. Safety safety safety. But with media coverage being so widespread in its ability to generate fear and take away options vs. finding safe alternates,… the blogging blasts help some to recover their means of making travel dreams happen.

Good post!

Apparently you’re not as chicken as you think. =)

Gray February 12, 2013 at 9:57 pm

Well, you know, even the chicken managed to cross the road, Christine. 😉 Yeah, people just need reassurance, that’s all. It’s really not hard for us to give them that.

GRRRLTRAVELER | Christine February 12, 2013 at 10:46 pm

I guess that chicken was luckier than Frogger. 😉

Karen February 12, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Wow, Gray. What a powerful post. Thank you to you and all the other female solo travelers for speaking up. At age 57, I’ve just recently become a solo female traveler, arriving in Panama from the US the day after Sarai was reported missing in the media. Being brand new to traveling solo in a country where I don’t speak the language, it gave me pause, but I know that living from fear will not keep you safe. Much love to you all – safe travels!

Gray February 12, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Thank you, Karen, and congratulations on becoming a solo female traveler! Panama is on my list, too!

Britany February 12, 2013 at 10:46 am

Agreeing with everything you’re saying here. Yes its safe for women to travel solo — and we should!! Its a wonderful experience. But traveling solo as a female is different than traveling solo as a man and its not a conversation we can avoid. Women do have to take some extra precautions and consider unfortunate risks that men might not. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t travel on our own — it just means we have to keep up the conversation about how to do it safely and responsibly!

Gray February 12, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Thanks, Britany, and well said.

Zorica February 11, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Fantastic post, I’ve enjoyed reading it!

Gray February 12, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Thanks, Zorica!

Ali February 11, 2013 at 9:30 am

Thanks for including me on such a great list! I really hope people continue traveling solo and don’t let the media scare them off. Solo travel is such an amazing thing, and I’m a big chicken too. If I can do it, so can anyone else, and it’s not a scary, dangerous world out there. I wish we didn’t live in a world where, in many places, women are still not treated with the respect we deserve, but that doesn’t mean we should stay home and let the fear take over. Traveling is the best thing you can do to crush that fear.

Gray February 11, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I’m glad you wrote about it, Ali. The more of us who tell our stories, the better.

Clare February 10, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Thank you so much for including me in your list Gray, I really enjoyed reading your great post. You’re right, as long as a normal amount of caution is taken there is no reason for women not to go solo and have the time of their lives. I agree as well that a lot of the fear mongers have never been anywhere on their own in their entire lives!

Gray February 10, 2013 at 5:37 pm

You’re welcome Clare. Thanks for speaking out about your own solo travel experiences!

Harvin February 10, 2013 at 10:20 am

I have found that the loudest voice against my solo travel is my parents’ cries that it’s never safe. But I recently realized: while I respect my parents’ concerns, they’ve never traveled. Ever. So, in their minds, unfamiliar cities are filled to the brim with muggers, rapists, conniving cab drivers and harmful hoteliers. But the reality is that if you use the rules you undoubtedly use in your every day life–respect others, be mindful of your situation (location, crowd, time), plan as best as possible for emergencies (back-up credit, transportation failure, bad weather, etc)–you’ll be prepared for a fun, safe travel experience.

Gray February 10, 2013 at 10:45 am

Precisely, Harvin. And of course, parents are ALWAYS going to be worried about our safety, no matter what. It’s hardwired into their DNA. 🙂

Alouise February 10, 2013 at 2:35 am

Fantastic post. I’m glad fellow travel bloggers are getting out there to let people know that a woman traveling alone in another country isn’t any more dangerous as she would be staying at home. There’s a lot of misinformation and fear, and it’s great to see people sending out the message that a woman can travel alone, and if she follows some safety advice and precautions she’ll come home fine. Thanks for the list of articles. I read a few of them, but I’ll be reading the others as well.

Gray February 10, 2013 at 10:50 am

Thank you very much, Alouise. I’ll keep adding to the list of articles as I see new ones.

Gray February 9, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Thanks, Megan, and I see you’ve written on the topic too. I’ll add you to the list!

Megan February 9, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Well said Gray. I agree that the media attention is misdirected here. The issue at hand is the fact that this happened…not who it happened to and what her situation was at the time.
I’m a chicken too, so would never travel alone if I thought I was putting myself in unnecessary danger.

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