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