Solo Female Travel, Trust and the Art of Fitting In

Categories Indonesia, Jordan, Long-Term Travel, Myanmar (Burma), Personal Musings

The Frugal Traveler recently wrote a column on travel myths and revelations about travel and the gender gap. In it, he revealed that some female readers took issue with certain advice, specifically that recommendations of $4 a night places or accepting lunches with locals would not be wise counsel for women. As anyone who has read this site knows, I don’t agree. I tend to stay in cheaper hostels, and have found that the best and most lasting cross-cultural learning has resulted from an invite to a family’s house or business, or a wedding with locals. The article was subsequently posted to a travel blogger’s forum on Facebook, launching a discussion on what it means to be a woman who travels and whether tips fall on a specific side of the gender divide.

Is there such thing as a solo female travel tip?

I don’t tend to brand myself as a solo female traveler. Over the course of my travels, I’ve certainly offered up some tips and experiences, and my meta tags on this site belie the factual obviousness that I am, really, a female traveler traipsing around the world alone. A fair point made both in the Facebook thread and in other forums is that many female-specific tips aren’t specific at all. Instead, carrying a doorstop in your bag, bringing a mugger’s wallet with you or carrying a safety whistle are tips that apply to both genders. With the exception of the Diva Cup (something that cannot in any way be construed as dual-gendered), travel solo is travel solo as far as practicalities are concerned.

However, focusing on tips does a disservice to the reality that many women are afraid to travel alone. I get emails every single day from women who want to know how I do it. Am I scared? Have I been mugged? Was I ever assaulted or attacked? These are extremely personal questions, but very valid ones from people aching to travel but scared of what might happen if they go unaccompanied. Trepidation about rape and sexual harassment remains a checkmate argument as far as I’m concerned; while tips might apply across the board, rarely do men need to worry about safety the way we do. Their mental ‘worst case’ scenarios don’t usually dip into sexual assault.

Separating the tips from the experience of travel as a woman

Much of what we encounter as travelers transcends the pragmatic. So while the intricacies of gender can be debated, we can’t pretend we’re all the same. As the NYT column notes, differences exist within groups of women or men too; the way we each approach travel and the travel experience as a whole is extremely personal. Reading the article brought me back to a draft post about the ability as a Western woman to live both worlds, male and female, even when visiting traditionally conservative places.

While this can be catalyzed by some choice advice – a little research, some powers of observation – the take-away is the interaction itself. This is what I mean when I talk about the ‘solo female travel experience’. And this is what I allude to when I write these women back: yes, you might occasionally be scared. Yes, there might be a close call or two. But you’ll eventually learn to trust your gut and ultimately you will find that travel as a woman, even a woman alone, will bring you a wealth of wonderful memories.

Nomads in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia

While staying with nomads in Mongolia, I learned how to ferment mare’s milk from this grandmother

Walking the Line in Myanmar and Jordan

In Myanmar, I spent close to a week along the bustling shores of Inle Lake. With rotating markets at dawn, colourful Pa-O tribes and more Shan noodles and grilled fish than I could handle, it was a concentrated week of wonder. As I wrote in my photoessay from Inle Lake, one of the days involved a visit to my boat driver’s floating village and an invitation to his best friend’s wedding. As a woman, I was plunked into a giggling group of thanaka-covered kids as soon as I walked in, eyes bright with confusion about what I was doing in their midst. When we all walked upstairs, I was led to a sea of women, each with wide smiles and hands reaching out to me.  Soon thereafter, someone nudged me over the invisible line separating the room in two, and I was proffered cheroot cigars and whiskey, the men nodding in approval as I puffed away.

It was an incredible thing, this ability to experience both aspects of a traditional Burmese ceremony. Conversely, none of the male tourists were invited to the women’s side of the room – that would be extremely inappropriate in the local culture. But by being a strange amalgamation of male and female, feminine but independent (I was, after all, travelling alone), I was able to experience both.

Wedding in Inle Lake, Burma

Women’s side of the wedding in Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar)

Men's side of the wedding in Inle Lake

Men’s side of the wedding in Inle Lake, Burma (Myanmar)

A similar thing happened in Jordan. I joined a family in Rasun to cook dinner, apron-clad and in the kitchen while my guide and driver sat outside with the men. The hours of chopping and washing and giggling with the family’s children were great fun (the flower you see in my hair below was foisted on me by the youngest child). It was also a chance to as some of the questions I had about being a woman in Jordan without intervention from a male figure. At one point, my guide Ali walked toward the kitchen and one of the daughters fled to the back room. As he was not family, she did not want him to see her with face and head uncovered. Once dinner was made, I went outside to the patio and ate with Ali and our driver Rami, along with the male members of the family. We stayed quite late, talking with them about their lives and work, leaving long after dark. I remember getting into the car and feeling very lucky that I could see both sides of this world I barely knew.

solo female travel in jordan

Cooking in Rasun, Jordan with the women of the house.

And eating the meal a little later, with our driver, guide and the men of the house.

And eating the meal a little later, with our driver, guide and the men of the house.

The art of fitting in

I’ve lived countless experiences like these, and reader emails from women often ask how it is that I’ve managed to find myself interacting with locals. My advice is the same as I would offer to anyone (male or female) who was looking to get under the skin of a new place: dress the part, watch everything and ask questions.

I recently shared some stories about Myanmar, some involving my decision to procure a longyiand then wear it for most of my travels.  This wasn’t a matter of kitsch or mimicry for the sake of tourism, but rather a genuine attempt to blend in a little more. Given the sensitivity to sexuality in many countries I’ve travelled, getting invited into someone’s home or becoming a part of a street cart’s daily routine is a lot more likely when you’re cognizant of the benchmarks for conservative dress and act accordingly. Wearing a bikini while wandering around a Muslim village in the Gili Islands isn’t the best idea (oh, but people do). Don’t go to the Middle East with a crotch-dusting dress, or wear hot pants to a Buddhist temple. When in Indonesia, I covered my arms and legs and when I was invited to a Balinese wedding, I went to the local market to get a kebaya out of respect for the bride and groom. Dressing the part isn’t obligatory but I’ve found it goes a long way toward breaking the ice with locals, and the local women were particularly pleased with my efforts.

Attending a wedding in Bali

Attending a wedding in Bali

Trust, travel and a leap of faith

Occasionally I have judged wrongly, or my gut said to leave but I convinced myself otherwise and regretted my choice. However, the worst situation I was ever in stemmed from a completely innocuous walk along a bustling street in downtown Marseille in 2001. It was the middle of the day in October and I was wearing a jacket and jeans. I was simply walking to the train station. Other than being elsewhere, there was nothing I could have done differently. I was harassed with increasing intensity by a group of men, who then followed up the street. Among other things, their taunts culminated with my head being cracked against a brick wall. Fortunately, two large Australians stopped – though I’d like to note that no one else did – just as I was being told I wouldn’t actually be heading home. Thus I’ve never dealt with any severe consequences, unlike some other brave women I’ve met. But that moment has most certainly stayed with me, replaying itself during the years. It was a lesson in the fragility of paths but also in a strength I didn’t realize I had: the next day I forced myself back to the same exact road to mirror my steps. If I didn’t go back then, I felt like they won.

I’m not telling this story for pity points- if that was my style I’d have written it long ago. Other women have shared much more horrifying stories and I’m certainly aware that I was extremely lucky. I’m writing it here to make a point: that despite the fears and very real potential issues, I took a leap of faith on this trip and traveled alone. And I’ve been rewarded for that choice, with all the crazy stories of karaoke with captains and being told I was brave in the Philippines and then getting told off by a cab driver for the same reason. In the shadow of a moment, I can now decide exactly what I’m going to do in a given situation.

Comparing feet with a nun in Burma (Myanmar)

Comparing feet with a nun in Burma (Myanmar)

Don’t forget the bottom line

We travel to experience the world, and I do so in the body I’ve been given. Semantics are irrelevant when you look at the macro picture, and the singular most satisfying aspect of my travels has been intense glimpses of what it’s like to live life in a wholly foreign place. (The food hasn’t been bad either.) The weddings, the weeks with street stalls, the times living in Palawan and fishing for breakfast with locals – each of these situations took a small leap of faith to trust that despite being a mini-sized solo female traveler, I would nonetheless reap great rewards from trying something new. With each experience, I’ve gained confidence to keep trying. The positives of traveling alone have far exceeded the negatives (among them: someone to watch my bag while I pee), and my curiosity has only grown. As the comments to the NYT article show, I’m not alone.


Jodi

99 comments to Solo Female Travel, Trust and the Art of Fitting In

  1. You are just fantastic. Well written :)

  2. Extremely well said, particularly your point on differentiating tips from experience. I don’t think I need to or do travel differently from a male traveling alone: I believe that common sense is the most important thing to bring along! One time, a girlfriend asked if I used a money bag when I traveled in Europe by myself. I was aghast: did I use a money bag when I went out by myself in San Francisco? Absolutely not. The world is not a big, bad scary place with lots of big, mean rapists out there: every city is someone’s hometown.

    • Thanks Christine. Common sense is very important, it’s true. And like you’ve I’ve never used my moneybelt in my travels. The world can be a wonderful place and a scary place, all at once. I’ve never spent a considerable amount of time in the Gulf States because I haven’t wanted to travel through them alone – while it won’t necessarily be unsafe, the region does come with a different moral code and a set of behavioural rules, some of which are very difficult for women (alone or otherwise). My experiences are based upon travel through much more welcoming areas, but as you’ve said there are bad people and good people everywhere.

  3. Hi Jodi, all valid points and I also receive the same questions from the uninitiated females among us. Solo travel is liberating, enlightening, exciting and so much more. However, if someone, anyone is hesitant and asking the questions then they should really shy away from the more independent experiences until they tap their toe in the solo travel pool. Try a weekend in Miami before heading for a week in Myanmar…don’t you agree?

    • Thanks for the comment Lisa. I actually feel much safer in Myanmar than I do in Miami. Understandably, people have a hard time with statements like these. My dad was worried about my travels to Myanmar and was gobsmacked when I told him, upon my return, that I found it to be the safest I’ve ever felt (I say this as a tourist. Sadly the local women can’t say anything of the sort). As Seth’s article notes, the underlying assumption is that far-flung places are the scariest, and the converse is often true. Getting comfortable with the idea of newness is the best first step, and then you can go and do anything. As you’ve suggested, short independent jaunts are a good precursor to the longer, stranger trips.

  4. So happy you wrote this Jodi I agree with you 100%. So many people, even those well-traveled, want to know how I managed traveling alone in Latin America.

    If anything I think I may be a bit safer on my own, other people tend to look out for me, I’m less intimidating, and without others not speaking English so locals initiate conversation.

    99% of the world is really good, and for that 1% your gender doesn’t really matter.

    • Thanks Ayngelina. Like you, I’m definitely not intimidating and I agree that it lets me get away with more and jump into conversation with ease. Neither of us have spent very much time in Africa or the Middle East, however – I’d be curious to hear from readers who have lived or travelled in those regions, and how their experiences match up.

      • I found the Middle East to be more stressful as a solo traveler and a place where being female makes a difference, but Africa is another story. People genuinely care about you and look after you. I haven’t been to South America so I can’t compare it to that, but if you ignore transportation, traveling in Africa is really quite easy and the people are engaging!

  5. Love what you said here. 98% of the time when I’m traveling I’m grateful for being a woman. It colors my experiences and makes it easier to relate the local people (particularly in Asia). Still there’s always that 2% lingering in the back of my mind that always reminds me things could easily turn ugly.

    But that’s the case whether I’m at home or out traveling. Bad things can (and do) happen just about everywhere. It’s a frustrating truth.

    • Like you, I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had but there’s more to it, of course – I can’t change my gender (well, I can but it’d take quite a bit of money, time and surgery) and I have the option of either staying home in fear, or going out and doing whatever I can within the realm of the possible. The fact that things could very quickly change is never far from my thoughts. It’s occasionally frustrating that I have to think this way, but the alternative (giving into fear) isn’t something I’m currently wiling to entertain. Instead, like you, I’m thankful to have the ability to see the world the way I do, and to have been brought up in a place that even allows me to have this choice to make.

  6. Also, how great were the comments on that NYT piece? I was a little afraid to read them at first, but they were full of stories from real women who travel solo! I think it’s becoming more commonplace than I realized.

  7. I think you already know I applaud your travel style and your near-fearless attitude toward experiencing the world! But thank you for having the courage to put all of this out there in the face of arguments and mis-understandings about what it is to be a female traveler. What it is to travel at all. You’re a brave voice, as always. And an inspiring one Jodi!

  8. Nicely said, Jodi, I can relate to all of it. As a woman who travels alone in India, I often write on my blog about having faith and trust, wearing appropriate clothes and using your intuition. I’ve never had a really bad experience in 14 months of solo travel in India (twice I was inappropriately grabbed, but I didn’t feel unsafe).

    A great deal of travel experiences flow directly from the attitude you bring with you. If you trust yourself, and the world, enough, you will probably have a good time!

    Thanks for writing this. You have inspired me to write a similar post about being a solo female in India, and me my advice culturally specific.

    Mariellen

    • Thanks for the comment Mariellen. Looking forward to your version of this post, with India-specific undertones. Staying positive is something I try to work on, but I think it does make a difference. As you’ve said, attitude goes a long way to watching things fall into place. Safe travels and see you in Toronto!

  9. I just might have to print this out and force my father to read it before I embark on a year of solo travel next month.

    Thank you for sharing your stories, Jodi. I can’t get enough of them!

  10. Yes, very well written. Each person’s experiences depend a lot on who they are, and that’s regardless of gender. I’ve been traveling over 12 years solo, often by bike and hiking in remote mountains in Asia. I’ve never been robbed, attacked, assaulted. I’ve rarely felt I was in a dodgy situation. ON those rare occasions, I just got myself out. I think one huge fact that North Americans don’t realize is that the world is actually MUCH SAFER OUT THERE than it is in N. America- at least USA. Fear of the unknown, being uneducated and inexperienced. It’s great that women write to ask you about travel, so they can hopefully calm down and go out in the world. cheers, Lash

    • Thanks for the comment, Lash. I have been mugged at knifepoint and gunpoint and just generally mugged over the course of my travels, but as you’ve said these are things that can happen elsewhere or in North America or Europe, and certainly not limited to exotic locals. This is not a gender issue, however – many more men than women I meet have been mugged as they’ve traveled.

  11. This just made me want to travel even more. It sounds like I would totally be against that NYTimes post as well. However there really are a few times when I just wished I had someone to watch my bag while I peed too! haha
    I also travel by just trusting my gut and if something scary happens I figure it was meant to happen and I can only learn from it and become a better traveler. :)

    • Having someone to watch your bag when you pee is KEY. Though I will say I’ve mastered the art of a squat toilet WITH a pack on my back. It’s an excellent skill to have ;) As you’ve said, learning from your mistakes is the healthiest way to keep doing what you do and become a better traveler. Great to have seen you in Montreal!

  12. Well written!

    Sometimes after relating a travel tale to a woman, she will say something like “You’re lucky you can travel alone like that because you’re a guy”. I always respond with “I don’t see why you can’t do it too!”

    I’ll admit that the experience might be different sometimes (oh how I wish local girls would yell dirty things at me while walking down the street!), but I don’t think that should stop you.

    Rather than let fear hold you back, pick up a pocket sized can of pepper spray (awesome stuff) to plan for a worst-case senario, practice common sense, then relax and go explore our world! :)

    • A man’s perspective! Welcome. I have been envious of the male travelers I’ve met who have been able to walk up to anyone and engage them in conversation, find out about their history and their lives. It’s especially noticeable in places that are more traditional. And there are plenty of places I wanted to visit or things wanted to do that I haven’t, because (as Katie says) it was too risky. These negative aspects do build up and they occasionally spill over into real frustration and anger. But I try to remind myself that there’s nothing I can do – I am who I am. Instead, within the confines of what’s reasonable, I try to push my limits and learn as much as I can in the process.

  13. i’ve definitely felt female on some of my international experiences, especially in cultures where gender roles are different from what i grew up with.

    that said, i agree – start as you mean to go on – exploring the world!

  14. Great post! It’s definitely important to differentiate between travel tips and experiences. As others have pointed out, safety tips generally apply across the board, male or female – and mostly, it’s about using common sense. Not to mention, as I wrote a post about a couple months ago, being abroad isn’t necessarily any more dangerous than being at home.

    That being said, I do feel I have had experiences or missed out on potential experiences because I was female. I booked a day trip in Egypt solo and I think my male guide went much further out of his way to how me stuff than he would’ve done for a male client – but then by the end of the day I also felt fairly certain that he was hitting on me and I got quite uncomfortable.

    Similarly, I would’ve loved to have camped in the Western Desert in Egypt, but my guide and cook would’ve been male and I just wasn’t comfortable going into the desert solo with 2 Egyptian men, even if they were affiliated with a reputable tour company. Likewise, I have reservations about booking multi-day hiking trips with a guide during my current year-long trip because the guide would likely be male and I feel like it could lead to an uncomfortable situation. Male travelers don’t have such worries.

    (sorry for such a long comment!!)

    • Thanks Katie. Don’t apologize for the long comment – I’m glad you added your perspective! Like you, I’ve felt like I’m sometimes missing out, both in terms of camaraderie (as being friendly can be misinterpreted) and with places I would have loved to see but felt that it was unwise. At least we’re still out there and doing what we can, right?

  15. Thanks Jodi,

    I completely agree! I’ve traveled through Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa alone and have never had any problems. (I don’t use a money belt either-much too hot and lumpy under your clothes)!

    I’ve noticed along the way that more men than women seem to be victims of pickpockets or thieves. As a woman, you do sometimes encounter lecherous men, some of which might be your fellow Western travelers!

    Like other readers, I think that a positive attitude, listening to your intuition, and using the same street smarts you’d employ at home go a long way.

    • Yes to the hot-and-lumpy problem with the moneybelt. I find it far too obtrusive even when wearing loose clothes, and it’s not like people mugging you don’t know they’re there. I don’t see how they’re more useful than merely separating your money out and keeping it in pockets of your bags. Thanks for the comment and glad you’ve also had some great experiences on the road.

  16. Very well written! I’m a guy and I’m still afraid to travel alone. It’s good to see you so sure of yourself though!

  17. I loved this post. As a woman who traveled alone to a ski village in Kashmir (Gulmarg), I could never have had the amazing experience I had if I were not a woman. The locals were blown away that a woman would travel alone to a remote place in Kashmir. They repeatedly told me I was brave, and they went out of their way to ensure my safety and fun. It was definitely far and away my most rewarding travel experience.

    • Thank you for your comment, Lynn. I’ve yet to visit India, in part because I want to allocate at least a few months to exploring. Your comment, as well as the stories from Mariellen about her time in India, just make me that much more excited to get there. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  18. This is a great article Jodi, particularly where you touch on the ability of a solo female traveler to be able to literally sit with either local men or local women, which I’ve experienced myself in my travels in Asia and the Middle East.

    Would just like to add that my scariest and most intimidating experiences as a solo female traveler were also in the western world and also in France – not in the Middle East or in South America (so far) as many might expect.

  19. You are definitely not alone dear! What an eloquently written letter. I hope a lot of female readers read it. I’m so sorry that you had that horrible experience, but I’m delighted that you chose to move on from it and to continue to travel!!!

    • Thank you Andi. The experiences are what they are – many of us have had things we’ve needed to get past, be it on our travels or otherwise. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to build a life for myself that includes the things I love, and that’s what stands out in the end. Thanks for reading!

  20. I absolutely loved this post. I’m a woman traveller, but I’ve always travelled as a couple. I haven’t travelled in a couple of years, my last trip being in Indonesia. My question is the following: What do you tell people when they ask you where’s your husband or your kids? Do you pretend to have any of the two or do you try to explain to the best of your ability that Western women are free to get married or not… Only to have them completely surprised and speechless by such bizarre information…

    • Hi Sophie. Thanks for the comment. It’s terrible, but I tended to joke around a bit after a few months in the Philippines (when you get the “Where is your husband!?” question 20x a day, you start getting creative). I’d answer “Oh no! I must have left him somewhere.” or something quite silly, but then tell them that I was only kidding and I wasn’t, in fact, married. Which led to their total confusion and, in the case of my overnight ferry ride from Cebu, two nuns vowing to find me a husband on that very boat. It was a very funny few months in the country, and while I think some women looked on my with pity (they assumed I didn’t have a husband because I couldn’t find one), I had more than one man take me aside to say “you are SO LUCKY – I wish I didn’t have to get married.”

      I found that trying to explain how in Western society it’s not abnormal to be unmarried in your late twenties just made things more confused or complicated. Instead, I’d laugh along with them and joke about how I had no husband but that meant I could do what I wanted. No one ever argued with that!

  21. Wonderful post. I’ve never really traveled alone, except for a few days here and there. Honestly, I don’t like it, though I wish (for the sake of my ego) that I could say I did. The reality is, I get lonely and I’m not really good at talking to strangers. I much prefer to travel with someone to be able to share the experience. But my hat is off to you brave girl!

    • You know, I wasn’t always this way. In my WDS speech I talked about how I won most easily embarrassed in high school, and how I didn’t wear red until I was in my late twenties because I was tired of people telling me I was the color of my shirt. But the more I put myself out there, the more I met people and was positively reinforced, so I kept doing what I was doing. It’s gotten to the point where now, even when home in Montreal or in New York, I make new friends as I wander because I’m still in that same mindset, open to meeting new people. I’ve found myself lonely at times – wishing I had a close friend or family member to share a particularly great sunset with – but overall I do really love solo travel.

  22. I wonder what the rate of sexual assault is in the countries you mention. I would guess that it’s lower than in the US and other societies that are less bound by old-fashioned village shaming.

    But a great point nonetheless that most of the precautions solo travelers should take apply to both genders.

    • Hi Jacob. I’d actually venture that the sexual assault rates are considerably higher in many of those countries, especially with respect to hilltribes and minorities. In editing reports for NGOs in the region, there are appallingly high rape rates for younger women and human trafficking and resulting sexual assault is a serious, pervasive issue. Oftentimes women won’t speak up in their villages because there will rarely be corresponding recourse and conversely they will lose honour in doing so. There’s been a concerted effort to raise awareness of trafficking and rape, but it’s far less culturally discussed than here.

  23. Fantastic article, Jodi! You’re so right that most of the travel tips apply to either (or both) gender.

    I’m often asked how I can travel alone and whether it’s safe. The interesting thing is that I typically feel every bit, if not more, safe while traveling than I do at home. People are always amazed to hear that.

    I find that most people are kind, helpful and generous – regardless of what part of the world they’re in.

    • Thank you Peggy. People remain amazed when I say the same, and somehow every time I come back home for a visit, they ask again as though I’ll have changed my response. Glad you’ve enjoyed your solo travels and had great experiences with people helping you along the way. Thanks for reading!

  24. You seem to want to have it both ways – “Oh, no, there’s no difference for a man traveling along or a woman traveling alone. But, then again, there IS a difference.” What?? I’m in my 40s and I’m a former NYC litigator and I don’t bend to anyone. Having said that, I had 2 incidences of men attacking me in Zanzibar. Fortunately, in one of those instances, I yelled for help to the local men who got me out of the situation and in the other situation, I used my “balls” to stare down and yell at the man who grabbed me (who then moved on). In either of those situations, things could have been much worse. It IS different for women traveling alone. I won’t stop traveling alone but please make up your mind about what you’re trying to say.

    • Hi Danielle. Thanks for the comment and for reading. Yes, of course it’s different between both genders. How could it not be? My point about similarities referred to tips about safe travel and how it’s important not to conflate those tips with the overall experience. I said as much early in the article and then went on to discuss the overarching experience itself, culled from my years of travel. I admire you for having the tenacity to stare down those who were attacking you, but the same cannot be said for everyone. Ultimately, we each act differently when confronted with situations like these, and luckily you were able to get yourself out of yours.

      Your concluding sentiment echoes mine: talk about tips (and many of those tips are gender neutral) aside, you can’t pretend us women don’t have more to worry about as we roam…but that’s sure as hell not going to make me stop travelling. Safe onward journey to you.

  25. What a lovely piece – intelligent and well-written. I’ve spent a number of years encouraging women to travel solo but the reason I started was because when I was on the road, I needed woman-specific advice and couldn’t find it.

    We DO travel differently, and safety is at the heart of it. In some countries, I’ve had to alter my living schedule to fit in with security considerations – eating a single meal at 3pm rather than separate lunch and dinner simply to avoid going out at night on my own when there was danger around.

    I laughed at the longgyi – it was the first thing I bought in Burma. I remember choosing a length of cloth and explaining I needed a tailor to sew it for me – only to be gently chided for having chosen a men’s design rather than one for women.

    Women DO have it rougher than men on the road. By being women, we often attract the kind of attention men would not, and are also seen – often wrongly – as weaker and possibly better victims. The flip side is that as women, in many (unexpected) parts of the world, we are respected as mothers and sisters and travel can actually be safer.

    I love this blog so I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed and will be featuring your stories in my ezine and facebook page regularly.

    • Hi Leyla, thank you for stopping by and sharing your stories as well. The longyi still comes with me on my travels – it’s versatile and I can use it for hostels or beaches alike. As you’ve said, we do have it rougher, and that remains a fact in the world we live in. But in acknowledging this fact and remaining mindful of it, we can still have meaningful and intensely joyful experiences as we travel. Thank you for subscribing and feel free to reach out if you have any destination specific questions or want to do a Q&A.

  26. On September 10, 2011 at 3:36 pm Nima Heydarian said:

    Great post Jodi.

  27. OMG! I feel like you’re me. About 8 months ago I started Go! Girl Guides, a company that is publishing the first-ever line of travel guidebooks made just for women. Are books are framed exactly as this post–that travel is wonderful and empowering, but that there are specific concerns we women have. We just released our first book to Thailand, and we talk about blending in, finding safe, affordable places to stay while on a budget, and free volunteer opportunities. I’d love to give you a free copy! Email me! Kelly@gogirlguides.com — oh, and GREAT POST!

  28. Hi Jodi, I really enjoyed this article, thanks for sharing! I have only traveled solo a few times, once in Rome and a few times in Bali. I must say I get to see a lot more when I travel solo and no compromise needed!

    I’m an Indonesian and about to do some solo-travels around the country (I have lived and travelled overseas but yet to see my own backyard!) and I must say, while being the local one would expect I’d feel safer, the truth is, I do get worried going to remote places of Indonesia alone as a female -other than perhaps Bali. Having said that, my takeout from your article for my trip would be : dress as local (ie cover up) and use common sense.

    Again, a well written post. Really enjoy that one. Happy travelling.

  29. Thanks for this, Jodi. I nearly shot my bolt reading the thread that prompted this post — and it’s good to have confirmation that travel for women is different from travel for men. I’ve been sexually assaulted on a number of occasions, never with severe consequences, and I’ve also experienced the joys of access to women’s only spaces. It’s good to have a rational perspective.

    • Thank you for your comment, Theodora. I didn’t want to delve into the Facebook thread in full in my post but I saw your comment there and appreciated you being so honest. I’m glad that none of your experiences resulted in severe consequences, and that you’ve used them to make you stronger and have continued on your travels.

  30. Great article! I have worked and travelled alone in Latin America, Europe and Africa and I do think there is a difference between solo male and female travelers. The difference comes from the locals’ approaches and eyes but the rules of thumb are the same for both sexes – be safe, respectful, use your common sense and instinct. Some countries are of course harsher than other on solo female travelers. It is intertwined with the status of women in-country. However, as a foreign woman, we are sometimes able to enjoy the best of both worlds – being a foreigner and… a woman. We can go where men don’t. You must of course avoid crossing forbidden boundaries but in certain circumtances foreign women are allowed to cross this thin line – for bening resons – and it can slowly change mentalities for the better. I do know that back in the African villages a white young lady who had studied, was an attorney, had strong opinions and was driving a big car was quite impressive… I had very interesting discussions on hot topics with both men and women about the status of women in society or homosexuality to name a few. Most of the time, people are curious and want to know how it is in your country. You must remain respectful at all times in terms of attitude and clothing but you have nothing to lose in exchanging ideas and opinions. You can always ask questions to avoid doing a faux pas. Someone wrote that the proportion of women victims of sexual crimes was higher. I agree. We should keep in mind however that in some cultures small banditry will target men rather than women who are seen as the weak sex (some police forces are hiring more women because the average man will think twice before hitting a policewoman, such as in Mexico…) – there are advantages on both sides…

  31. Wonderful and heartfelt. Blogging isn’t equivalent to writing books, but you are one blogger who could definitely write a good one.

  32. Jodi — Thank you for this article. I really appreciated it, as I recently started a solo RTW trip. Your writing is really compelling – I’ll be keeping up with it! Thanks, Sarah

  33. I’m planning a solo trip to Myanmar, and just wanted to say thanks for writing this piece.
    I’ve had the opportunity to travel a lot in the past, either as part of a couple and for my work. Unfortuantely my only negative travel experinces (all 3 of them) happened on a solo trip to Ecuador.
    Kinda put me of solo travel for a while, but now its a case of go alone, or don’t go at all….
    This definitely gave me some needed reassurance. Thank you.

    • Hi Claudine, I’m glad that this post reassured you somewhat. There’s no question that good and bad experiences can happen to everyone but I have really enjoyed my time solo and as I’ve done more of it, become more comfortable. Happy to answer any questions you might have about Myanmar as well. Safe travels!

  34. I think women’s comments about fear as a solo traveler are just another manifestation of fear that people use to prevent them from really living and having adventures. It’s not based in reality. Awful things happen to women everywhere, including all over the US. I’ve had a half dozen friends (that I know of) get raped in the US. I’ve been stalked in the US. In travel to over 40 countries, I’ve been fine other than a few “minor” (grabbing) sexual harassment experiences.

    Travel. Don’t use excuses. You’ll be just fine. And if you’re one of the small number of people who has a problem, remember that you also face safely risks at home.

    Also, when traveling and when at home, learn to listen to your gut and intuition and to act on it even at the expense of making others uncomfortable. It will help keep you safe.

  35. Hello Jodi,
    Your blog posts and pictures are so beautiful and wonderful. I am a student from Myanmar who is currently attending college in North Carolina, and I came across your blog while googling Burmese food in a bout of home-sickness. Thank you for your insights and stories during your travels in Myanmar. I have been to many of these places, or at least, grew up knowing the places you talked about. I am glad that you had such a positive experience, and hope that you would return to my homeland to enjoy it even more.
    Again, thank you.

    • Hi May, thank you for the kind words. I’m very glad to hear that these posts from your home country brought back memories. It was a wonderful, intense trip for me and I’m happy that some of that came through in the photos and prose. Best of luck to you in your studies!

  36. Thanks for the reassuring post. Do you think the experience is different for a (white or obviously nonlocal) Western woman vs. an Asian (/local-looking) woman? I’m ethnic Chinese and, when travelling in South-East Asia, frequently get mistaken for local – along with all the baggage and expectations that brings. It’s often not until I open my mouth and very loudly make it clear that I am not ‘one of the locals’ that people treat me any differently.

    That said, I’ve travelled solo in North and South America and Europe and never run into any problems…

  37. Beautifully and eloquently written! I just traveled to Yangon alone and also felt inclined to buy a longyi to “dress the part”. It made me feel much more comfortable especially when visiting the Schwedgaon Pagoda. I love your blog, many thanks for your insightful thoughts!

  38. I admire you much – a solo traveler worldwide. Just by chance (searching “Inle Lake”)I find your website blogging your daily journey. Surprisingly, you haven’t been to Vietnam though you passed many Asia countries :).

    • Thank you for the kind words. Vietnam is high on my list for winter 2012 as I wanted to spent as much time as possible in the country in order to explore (and eat!). Glad that the search engines sent you this way and hope you keep enjoying the blog.

  39. On February 4, 2012 at 8:40 pm Randy Johnson said:

    New reader here, great stuff. So much to take away but my overall sense of your interpersonal relationship strategies is that the same ones that serve you well in exotic locales were also part of your success in NYC. I’m a male and obviously it would be naive to believe there are no gender based safety issues-sheer brute force in a crisis the most obvious. But my experience is that there is no certainty. I could be mugged leaving my home in the states to go to work. I could slip and fall and die in the shower. We can live in fear or live in faith. I’m the father of 2 daughters so will be bookmarking this for future reference.

    • Hi Randy, you’ve captured the essence of what I was trying to convey here. Yes, there are certainly concerns that are purely rooted in gender (and often tied to specific geographic regions) but overall the sentiment – and potential dangers – remain similar for men and women. Safe travels to you and your family!

  40. Wow! This is so lovely! I love how you truly get immersed into a culture with such an open heart when you travel!

    Keep it up! :)
    Molly

  41. Great post Jodi! :)
    I’ve never travelled solo before and am nervous about travelling by myself to Europe. I am learning krav maga for self defence but I don’t think I can take on more than 2 guys at once, especially since they’ll all be bigger than me (I’m Singaporean Chinese).
    You read stories of racist attacks in Europe all the time. Do you think Asian women have it worse?

    P.S.: Come to Singapore! we have great food :)

    • My brother is taking krav classes too and he’s said it’s great! The same tips for Europe apply for anywhere and if you feel less comfortable than not, daytime wanderings are best. Feeling and appearing at ease is important too, because people can sense that nervousness. I’ve not heard of racist attacks against Asians in Europe, actually. Many of my friends are Asian or Asian-Canadian and have travelled solo there with no issues.

      I’ve been to Singapore and it is delicious :)

    • I’m Asian-American and mostly travel solo. It’s a big deal, one that I find a lot of people don’t discuss. In Europe and America, and probably Australia/NZ (I haven’t been) you can blend in. In parts of Africa, Middle East, and Central/South America–forget blondes, people are far more intrigued by Asian travelers (despite resident Asians in their communities) and the staring can be pretty intense.

      And then there’s traveling in Asia! Semi-blending in means–”hey, why are you traveling alone rather than being at home with your (assume to be local) family?” I’ve even gotten stuff as blunt as “you’re Asian, I’m Asian…so let’s have sex, OK?” It can be weird but it can also be part of the fun…certainly starts some conversations.

      • Hi Nancy. This is something I obviously don’t have experience with, and it’s great to have your perspective. Like you, I get the intense staring from many in S. America or China, but obviously none of the treatment you’ve described in Asia. I can only imagine those stories! Safe travels to you and thank you for the comment.

  42. So well written! Thanks for all the great reads.

    Stay safe.

  43. Jodi, thank you for your honestly in this piece. It’s so interesting to hear your perspective as a “solo female traveler”, with deeply considered thoughts instead of a top 10 list that reduces your experience to easily digestible tips. This is inspiring on several levels (as a traveler and a blogger) :)

  44. Hi Jodi…not sure if I have made a comment before but I enjoy checking into your site every few months. I spend a a few months a year solo traveling. I love the freedom of choice that goes with it. I am an older women in my 60s and I do think it is much easier as you get older as the high testosterone types are not taking any notice of me. No problem getting pinched in Egypt etc that the younger prettier women would be getting.

    I do not agree with you about money belts though…..I absolutely always wear them. they will not stop a hard core mugger but they prevent the clever pickpockets in Rome or the local thief at the hostel. I also like the fact that I have all the essentials on me if there is any travel problem….jumping ship etc. I have also known many examples of people forgetting important stuff in taxis and trains because there minds are elsewhere with all the new things going on.

    • Thank you Stella! We can agree to disagree on the money belts – I don’t wear clothing that would make them comfortable either; I find they are quite bulky and frustrating and would prefer to store my belongings elsewhere. Agreed that you need to keep track of all your belongings as it is quite easy to lose things; it’s a wonder I haven’t already :) Safe trip!

  45. “Yes, you might occasionally be scared. Yes, there might be a close call or two. But you’ll eventually learn to trust your gut and ultimately you will find that travel as a woman, even a woman alone, will bring you a wealth of wonderful memories.” Amen to that! I completed my first solo trip abroad this summer and, despite some truly nerve-wracking moments, I am so glad I traveled by myself. Traveling alone, male or female, truly heightens one’s awareness and tests one’s problem solving skills and ability to plan ahead. It was an extremely positive experience for me, and I attribute this to my constant vigilance in keeping my wits about me in every city I visited. Though I was completely exhausted by the end of my trip, it was completely worth it. Thank you for sharing your experiences–it is so heartening to read about successful travel stories of others.

  46. I’ve been traveling solo for over twenty five years (I’m 52). I’ve loved every minute, though I have had some close calls. Looking back, now that I’m older, a lot of this was just my lack of experience. Thankfully, I’m still alive. I will say that traveling as a solo female gets so much easier as one gets older. Let’s just say, I’m still OK looking, but my at my age, I don’t have to hassle so much with men, which leaves me so much more relaxed compared with being in my 20s, 30s even 40s. All this is to say…..women, if you have that niggling feeling, I understand the anxiety, but JUST DO IT! Start small and work your way up if that helps. I life half lived is not a life.

  47. I’m so glad you wrote this wonderful post and shared your experiences. Solo travel is a great thing, and I hate to think of anyone being scared off from giving it a try because of the media. I’m loving all the positive, encouraging posts that are pouring out of this tragic situation.

  48. Oops, I had two of your posts open and commented on the wrong one! That last comment was supposed to be on your current post, Revisiting the solo female travel experience! I’m doing too many things at once.

    Still, I’m always happy to see people encouraging solo travel. I wouldn’t be the same person if I had never gone out there and tried it for myself.

  49. Wow, I can’t believe you experienced all that whilst simply walking down the street.

    Sometimes I feel like I am too young and naive for going travelling alone for 6 months, but I really think this solo trip will strengthen me. I just need to be on my guard and have common sense, and remember that I won’t be in Sweden anymore.

  50. What a great post that truly shares the amazing experience of traveling alone as a female. I travel internationally in the developing world for work and just got back from three weeks in Asia, including a stop in Myanmar. I was a bit nervous to visit by myself but found the people, food, and landscape amazing. I am inspired to continue to strive to visit Asia personally by your posts, and thanks for being such a great resource for the solo female travelers out there!

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