The Women Going it Alone

A couple of weeks ago, I was doing research for a university assignment and I decided to look at solo female travellers. I was a bit worried to begin with, since I didn’t really know anyone who had done it. On the advice of my fiance, I decided to give Reddit a try. He told me that it was a really active community and that I’d probably find someone there who would be willing to give me at least a couple of sentences.

I couldn’t have imagined the response that I actually got. 

I received well over twenty replies to my plea for solo female travellers, and every single one was so eager to talk to me and gave me such good answers and stories about their travels. I’d like to take this time to say thank you so much to every single person. 

handwritten-thankyou

In the article, I wasn’t able to include everyone’s answers (word counts are annoying sometimes) but I still wanted to share what I was able to write. All of these women are inspirational to me, since I was always too afraid to travel alone. So they are my role models and heroes for this week – and it’s why it’s taken two weeks to get this post up.

Here’s the article, I hope that you like it, ladies!

“Wear as few petticoats as possible… Grey is the best colour, or heather mixture tweed, which does not show dust or mud stains, and yet cannot lose its colour under a hot sun.”

This was the advice given to women who were travelling in the 19th century by L.C. Davidson in her book “Hints to Lady Travellers”. Women of that time were treated like china dolls – too big a bump and they’ll break.

19th century female travellers visiting the Sphinx in Egypt.

19th century female travellers visiting the Sphinx in Egypt.

This is not the 19th century, and it’s becoming more common for women to choose to see the world alone. In a survey by booking.com, half of British women said they’re more likely to travel alone now than they were five years ago. However, women travelling solo get a hard time from those around them.

“I was initially worried about going. I had a panic attack at work after the millionth person said “Oh my god, I can’t believe you’re going by yourself!” It was really divided. Many people cheered me on, others told me I was brave. Then others told me I would be attacked and that it’s not safe. That really wears you down after hearing it for so long.”

Liana Penney is from New Zealand and travelled through South America on her own. Many women are put off travelling alone after having experiences like hers. There’s a stigma around solo female travel that makes it seem foolhardy and dangerous. In February 2013, Sarai Sierra – an American mother-of-two – was found murdered in Turkey, where she had been travelling alone. Solo travel for women was scrutinised by the media.

Sarai Sierra was murdered in Turkey, while working on her photography.

Sarai Sierra was murdered in Turkey, while working on her photography.

However, while researching Sierra’s murder, I began reading the comments left on NBC’s online coverage and it said more about perceptions of solo female travel than the story itself.

It’s not hard to understand why some women would be put off travelling alone when just talking about it raises concerns, not only about cultures abroad, but the culture we live in at home. Many solo female travel bloggers defended their community, such as Christine Gilbert from Almost Fearless  and Jodi Ettenberg for Legal Nomads. The problem a lot of people had with the comments made about this story is that the blame is fixed upon Sarai Sierra – not the people who killed her. It propagates the concept of rape culture and victim blaming that is prominent in western society. On the Rick Steves travel site, one of the pieces of advice given to women is

“Wear a real or fake wedding ring, and carry a picture of a real or fake husband. There’s no need to tell men

You shouldn't have to say that you're with a man to protect yourself.

You shouldn’t have to say that you’re with a man to protect yourself.

that you’re travelling alone, or whether you’re actually married or single. Lie unhesitatingly. You’re travelling with your husband. He’s waiting for you at the hotel. He’s a professional wrestler who retired from the sport for psychological reasons.”

One of the most concerning things about this is that women are treated as fair game unless they ‘belong’ to a man.

Lisa Eldridge is a professional travel blogger and enthusiastic solo traveller.  When I asked her about staying safe, she said

“Not all strangers are dangerous, and people that I have met on the bus have turned out to be great friends. Saying that you’re meeting your boyfriend can be just as effective as wearing a wedding ring, which doesn’t deter men in some countries anyway. The world isn’t as scary as what we’re led to believe and some countries can be more dangerous.”

Despite the view that travelling alone as a woman is too dangerous, it was extremely easy to find women who wanted to talk to me about their experiences. I received just under twenty responses and every single one had the same thing to say: travelling alone is definitely worthwhile, and they would recommend it to anyone. The first thing that Anita Bright from Portland, Oregon said to me was

“It always feels indulgent to get to speak about personal experiences, so I am grateful for the chance. Thanks for asking! Those around me are a bit worn out at listening to me tell story upon story, so this feels like a gift.”

The solo female travel community is proud and supportive, and deciding to travel despite the opinions of others. All of these women have impressive resumes in terms of countries they have visited. They have been to every corner of the globe and all of them want to keep going. Emily from the US is 24 and has only been travelling alone for three weeks but finished her interview with this

“I would definitely recommend it. I am already much more confident. The solitude gives me time to reflect. I am constantly forced out of my bubble of security. Most people I have met have been really interesting and fun. Anyway, in just a few weeks, it has definitely changed my life for the better.”

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