Revisiting the solo female travel experience

Categories Long-Term Travel, Personal Musings
Sarai Sierra

Sarai Sierra

In late 2011, I wrote a post about the solo female travel experience, discussing some of the safety tips and lessons learned in several years of roaming the globe by myself.

In it, I reiterated that the worst experience I’ve had was actually in France, not somewhere exotic, and that while solo female travel is scary to those who have yet to embark on a journey alone, it’s been wonderful experience, allowing me to walk both sides of the cultural line in new countries.

The issue merits revisiting now, however, given the media portrayals and subsequent discussions about a female traveler who was recently murdered in Turkey. Many of the comments note that it isn’t “suitable” for a woman to travel alone. One commenter said he would never let his wife go out the door to travel to any country alone. There are also appallingly xenophobic statements against Muslim countries in the comments about how women might be able to travel alone but “certainly” not to Muslim countries. Focusing on the solo female travel question, or cloaking the issue in a thick layer of xenophobia avoids the bigger, more important concern.

Why are we talking about solo female travel, not violence against women?

While the easy thing is to blame the solo female traveler, the reality is that violence against women, not solo travel, is the issue. And it’s certainly not limited to far-flung places.  There are plenty of case studies of violence against women in the USA and Canada – is it “irresponsible” for someone to walk around alone there too? And let’s not forget about the violence inside our homes. In Canada, on average, every six days a woman is killed by her intimate partner. In 2009, 67 women  in Canada were murdered by a current or former spouse or boyfriend. [1] In the USA, an average of three women are killed by an intimate partner every day. Of all the women murdered in the States, about one-third were killed by an intimate partner.[2]

In contrast, the murder of Sarai Sierra – an awful event – stands out as an outlying situation, not the norm for a woman abroad. Yes, there have been other deaths – both male and female – overseas. (See this article about Australian deaths in Bali, mostly due to alcohol and drug use. Or this piece about deaths in Argentina). But blaming her death on the fact that she was traveling alone in a foreign place is not doing justice to the full situation. As Christine from Almost Fearless notes:

Tourists do die overseas. There are two big killers: drowning and car accidents. Still, those numbers are not abnormally higher than at home, it just goes to show that very few people are being killed overseas. The US Dept of State keeps statistics by country on death rates of Americans abroad. In Turkey, there were two deaths in 2011 (the last full year of statistics). One was a homicide, the other was a vehicle death. In the last 10 years there were just three murders. The woman killed in Turkey was a New Yorker and in 2011 alone NYC had 502 murders. She was statistically less likely to be killed in Turkey than she was if she stayed home in New York.

US citizens die at home and, less frequently, they die in foreign countries. Stating that Sarai was murdered because she was abroad, as many comments have done, detracts from the real concern: that of violence against women worldwide.

What about my last 4+ years of solo female travel?

How I feel travelling as a woman alone depends wholly on where I am geographically; the world is large and thus my view is necessarily nuanced as well. In a good part of the world, I still feel safer travelling than I do at home in North America. I’m going to note here, too, that my feeling safe in a foreign country does not detract from that country’s issues with violence against women. For example, I do feel very safe here in Vietnam, even walking at night. The same for my years in Thailand. However, the countries each do have a history (and a present) of endemic violence against women, as do many others in the region.

Ajloun, Jordan

Ajloun, Jordan

The difference is that crimes against women here are often limited to closed socioeconomic groups and not often committed against tourists. While devastating as a whole – just like the above case studies are devastating in the USA and Canada – as it relates to my mental wellbeing, I do feel safe. (This includes Turkey, by the way – I never felt unsafe there.)

The answer changes in some other parts of the world. I wrote about an issue in Marseille in my original solo female travel post, and I’ve had some heart-stopping moments in elsewhere too – being dragged by my scarf into a shop or the earrings yanked off my ears at a stall because I did not want to stop and talk to the shop-owner. Being called all sorts of awful names by a young man in Fes because I did not want a guide for the medina. The thing is: it wasn’t only when I was alone. Often, I was with men, but it did not make a difference. (See also the devastating recent rapes of 6 women from Spain at gunpoint at a resort in Mexico. They were not travelling solo – they were with men - the men were just tied up by the assailants.)

That is part of what irks me about this discussion: being “alone” is not the issue.  Travel abroad is not the issue. The issue is treatment of women. And we should be using this media spotlight to as a springboard to discussing how we can fix it.

What about other women who travel?

Some interesting posts have emerged from the negative media coverage of solo female travel. I’ve listed a few below. In addition, I reached out to a fellow female traveller, MaryAnne Oxendale. In her words:

I have been harassed a lot in my 38 years and two decades of travel, both in Canada and abroad. Some of the things that have happened to me make me cringe now that I look back on them from my current perspective. However, at least half of these occurrences happened when traveling with a male companion. It’s not about traveling alone as a woman. I have had a million positive experiences specifically because I was travelling as a solo woman – in Turkey, I was looked after, protected, cared for because of that status. The thing is, it isn’t even about travelling “as” a woman, solo or not. My friends back in Canada also face harassment and sexual violence and abuse from men they know and men they don’t know. This is not about civilized vs uncivilized countries, domestic vs foreign, us vs them. This is about a lack of respect, globally. It’s not about telling women to not leave their protective cocoons. Women have always had to be extra careful about their safety, not just when travelling, but sadly even in their homes.”

So what to do?

I’m uplifted by the many posts encouraging women to travel ((see herehere and here for a few of them), but I don’t want to pretend that there is no danger in solo female travel. The issues of sexual assault and violence against women are what I call checkmate arguments: they are undeniably rational things to fear when travelling alone.  There are, of course, dangers in travel for solo men too – just different ones. Of course, those checkmate worries are also worthy of fear at home.

As Frederike says in her post:

It’s not that Sarai was killed despite Istanbul being a safe city. I think we shouldn’t look at this from the Istanbul perspective, or compare Istanbul statistics to those of other places in the world. We should look at the world as a whole. It’s just not a safe place for women. Our physical strength is hardly ever enough to defend ourselves against men who want to harm us. So we get beaten up, we get raped, we get assaulted, we get murdered. That is the risk every woman on this planet lives with every day. Some places may have a higher risk of getting harmed, but being a woman is enough to be at risk always and everywhere.

Things – bad things, ugly things, evil things – often cannot be mitigated or planned.  I travelled for years and years and never got robbed like I did when I returned to New York for a visit, when when my laptop, hard drives and camera were stolen. I spent a good amount of time in the Middle East and North Africa and Malaysia and Indonesia, and yet the single ugliest act against me came from an afternoon in France.

I’ve long encouraged women to travel solo, and have been doing so myself for close to 5 years. I will continue to encourage women to travel solo. It’s a balance between thinking smart and trying to stay safe, and also not succumbing to the fear. I don’t want to pretend that there’s no basis for the fear – that would be irresponsible. But for me, at least, the fear is there at home and it’s there abroad. It has nothing to do with foreign travel and everything to do with existing as a woman in today’s world.

I don’t brand myself as a solo female traveler because that isn’t the focus of my site or my passions. I travel for the food, for the learning and for the people – but I do so in the body I have been given. That said, in times like these where the national focus seems to be on a red herring – a woman traveling alone – I did not want to stay silent. I understand that people are lashing out and allocating blame for a terrible event, but by structuring the public conversation around solo female travel (or about Muslim countries generally) we are detracting from the very real and valid issue of violence against women worldwide.

Ending with some practical suggestions

I wanted to end this post with the practical: some safety tips that might be useful for women and men looking to travel alone.

  • Carry a rubber doorstop (I’ve been doing this for years), to wedge from the inside of your room at night.
  • Carry a safety whistle (also keeps the monkeys at bay – trust me).
  • Pay a bit more to stay at a central hostel or guesthouse in a well-lit area of town, with a 24 hour front desk.
  • Watch your drink and certainly not getting drunk, especially if you’re alone.
  • Err on the side of dressing conservatively. I don’t want to get into a “but it’s an issue of men’s perceptions of women” debate because the reality remains that when you’re traveling, you do need to err on the side of dressing conservatively. I bought a longyi in Myanmar, I covered my head in parts of Indonesia, I wore long sleeves and long dresses and scarves throughout the Middle East and parts of Morocco. In the end, I still stood out, but in respecting the local dress, I definitely felt and saw a difference in the way I was treated.
  • Be vague about your hostel/guesthouse. Sometimes a casual conversation will lead to a question about what hostel you are at, or where you are headed next. It’s wise to stay purposefully vague, or have a (faux) backup hostel or guesthouse in mind for those situations. I’m always wary of giving too much information about my whereabouts when traveling alone. This applies, of course, to men as well.
  • Be aware that eye contact in some countries can invite aggressive behaviour. Again, it’s not the message I’d like to put out (as in, I wish this wasn’t something we had to worry about) but it can be the case. I am mindful of this fact, especially as a Montrealer – a city that has proudly declared its love of eye contact.
  • If you are travelling in a country for more than a few days, register with your local embassy. I’ve done so here for Canada in Vietnam, as have my American and Australian friends in town. Most consular services do include registration for citizens abroad, and it is very helpful in the event of emergency (or even natural disasters).

Hopefully the posts above (and this one) can help reframe the discussion to one of violence against women generally, not about the pitfalls of solo female travel. I acknowledge that there are risks, but I will continue to travel the world alone and encourage others to the same. It’s been one of the more rewarding things I have ever done.

-Jodi

68 comments to Revisiting the solo female travel experience

  1. Great piece. This story has dominated the blogging world over the past few days, mine included. Predominately among female writers and all of the same opinion for the most part.

    A tragic story indeed but one that has united female travelers in one voice.

  2. Well written Jodi, forwarding this to the few women who have emailed me about safety on the road.

    When things like this happen I am reminded of how much I hate the media. They know just how to turn any event into scarring more of the population to staying home and fearing the outside world. It’s sad how many people think women shouldn’t travel alone. The truth is world is way safer than the media leads us to believe and unless you have ventured out you won’t realize that.

    Glad all of you solo female travelers are being vocal about this and showing the world it’s oka to travel the world alone. At the end of the day we all know bad things happen to good people and an event like this could easily happen at home, but this makes great headlines.

  3. Great post with fantastic advice, Jodi. Thank you!

  4. Thanks for this great piece.

    I really appreciate your emphasis on people’s actions to harm women rather than the women’s choices.

    The other day I saw a quote from Golda Meir that was new to me but awesome: in response to calls for a curfew for women because of an uptick in assaults, Meir said, “Men are committing the rapes. Let them be put under curfew.”

    I have nothing to add to the substance of your post, but rather amplification via anecdote. I too am a lover of solo travel and a woman, and I have never felt as threatened as I did in the south of France. I didn’t believe I was in physical danger, but it is very chilling to understand the metaphorical notion of someone undressing you with their eyes as though it was literal. It was about 5AM so at least day, and a train station cafe, and it felt like the 20 or so guys in said cafe were actually peeling my clothes off my skin.

    But I am so irritated at the presumption that if you’re with another person (whether a woman or man), you’re a safer traveler who is obviously more prudent.

    I believe I’ve been much safer when I have traveled by myself! First, I am 100% responsible for my safety, so there’s none of that bubble mentality that can happen when you’re with someone else and you happily, and sometimes unfortunately, ignore everything else around you. (And observers certainly note this obliviousness.) Second, when I’m traveling alone I’m not happily chatting in American-accented English with a companion and thus am better able to blend in. I am rarely mistaken for someone local, but people often have thought I was from a neighboring country and were shocked when I said I was American.

    I was chatting with a foreign correspondent friend who thought women had it much easier traveling in some parts of the world: in many areas, a man traveling by himself is presumed to be a threat and thus courts a lot more attention. Unless you’re in the most backpacker-overrun touristy areas, a single man traveling alone has to worry that everyone thinks he’s CIA or part of some paramilitary outfit. He said that a woman dressed modestly would have been able to be much less conspicuous than he was.

    Thanks for your blog in general, and this post in particular.

  5. You said what I was thinking – I am safer traveling than I ever was living in Los Angeles, where I’m from. I would NEVER walk alone at night there, yet in Asia, I was fine to. Now in Australia, it’s no issue at all. Yet, people back home are shocked that I decided to go alone. They ask if it’s safe, responsible, or if I’m scared. I’m scared to visit certain parts of LA in the DAYTIME! Not that I want to slander my home – I don’t. I just don’t want this article about this unfortunate circumstance to kill the dreams of would-be solo female travelers.

  6. I’ve traveled alone for years, and never felt uncomfortable. The recent incident in Istanbul, and those in New Delhi have made me more uncomfortable than I’d like to admit. I’m presently in Delhi, and in broad daylight, found myself suspicious of a very well-meaning gentleman who merely wanted to be sure that I knew my way through the Metro construction, and the best place to cross the street.

    This doesn’t mean I’ll stop traveling alone, nor does it mean that I won’t accept well-meant assistance when it’s appropriate. It does mean that I’ll be a bit more on my guard.

    The issue is not one of solo travel. It is, as you so accurately point out, one of violence against women. As solo travelers, we need to be aware of the reality of this situation, the cultural issues involved, and that systemic change is necessary.

  7. Great overview Jodifer. I think it’s important to note that most of the harm women around the world come to, also happens to men just as much. People are vulnerable, full-stop, and you have to look out for yourself when you are alone, home or away. In some situations it’s safer to be a woman, whereas being a man means there is less taboo for someone to pick a fight with you.

    Anyhow, despite all the negative media hype, I think there are plenty of experienced voices out here for potential travellers to listen to, if they are ready to hear it.

    • Just a small note: it is true that homicide rates for men are generally higher worldwide (Christine’s post highlights that too), but I wouldn’t say that most of the harm happens to men ‘just as much.’ It’s hard to equate the two, mostly because men are rarely under a threat of sexual violence or sexual assault. While it sounds like a technically, it really isn’t, because it skews the way you view almost every situation as a traveler. That’s not to say one (homicide vs. sexual assault) is more worthy than the other of discussion – they’re both just very different. As a result, the fear and need for self-awareness from each gender is quite different due to how these crimes are manifested.

  8. Its truly frustrating to see the immediate reaction be one of blaming a victim. Its heartening to see that the overall response of the travel blogging community has greatly expanded the conversation and brought some wonderful insights. I would like, however, to encourage responders and readers alike to find out more about the context of this particular incident before making any assumptions OR defenses. I say this as an experienced solo traveler as well as someone who has lived in the Middle East for over a decade. Context must always be considered and local perspective must always be sought out.

    Here in Egypt we are experiencing the exact opposite type of media coverage. Even though there has been a tremendous increase in violence against tourists over the past two years since the “revolution”, the incidents are being downplayed or often even ignored in the hopes that travelers will still consider the country as a valid destination choice.

    So a traveler, solo or not, truly needs to investigate a location thoroughly before concluding that the security situation is as the tourism industry and/or media is presenting it. And it would do us all well to learn more about Sarai’s specific experience.

    • Hi Amy
      I am considering a trip to Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Turkey next month… I have done some solo traveling and am [usually] not concerned when people say – “oh you don’t want to go there now!” But of course I try to be cautious and safe with my decisions…I know ‘unrest’ can break at any time. But would you advise against Egypt at this time?
      I have a friend staying in Israel for a couple months, so I really want to go visit that area. Egypt and Jordan have been high on my list for a while!
      Thanks for any insight.

      • Hi Kendra!

        Well, I wish I could recommend it without hesitation like I had been for years. But I just can’t. Egypt should not be crossed off of anyone’s list, but it should be approached with greater awareness and caution. The way in which the situation is being portrayed in the media (international and local) is quite simplistic. Incidents with tourists are happening regularly. Daily life for residents has changed dramatically. We haven’t reached the level of Lybia or Syria by any means. And travelers are still arriving and enjoying their experiences. But I get quite concerned when I see articles boldly encouraging people to take advantage of the short lines and low prices, as if these are the most important factors to consider. In my opinion denying the safety issues makes travel even more dangerous.

        I would suggest doing some additional research on the itinerary, seek out other expats who are living in the destinations you’ll be visiting, read online forums to learn about up-to-date experiences of other travelers. Don’t give up on your adventure. But do approach it as aware as possible.

  9. Thank you thank you thank you so much for this post!

    As a woman who loves solo travel, I find I waste so much time explaining that statistically speaking, I’m safer traveling than I am at home. Than I am in a romantic relationship. It’s like dying in a plane crash vs dying in a car crash. We hear about women murdered or harmed while traveling alone because it’s unusual and news-worthy. While we rarely hear about the many, many more women being harmed in their own homes.

  10. I’m 49. I’ve been traveling solo since I was 17. I still travel solo from time to time, and last year, I did some solo time prior to joining a group trip in Nairobi, Kenya. While sometimes I wish for the company of my mate, traveling alone is my favorite way to go. The world is ours too, fellow solo female travelers, and we are in it, goddammit, to stay.

    This blame the victim bullshit has got to stop.

    Solidarity.

  11. Some excellent points made.
    However let’s keep things in perspective as far as
    Sarai’s murder is concerned.Simply put, she wasn’t exercising extreme caution, (not even reasonable one) and hooked up with the wrong people who she hardly knew.
    Women tend to be too trusting and gullible in general.

    • Hi Benesse – we really don’t know the circumstances of her death or who she met. I often meet people as I travel and end up spending time with them, be it where I am then or travelling to new destinations together. We cannot point fingers at her or whether she exercised caution as we do not know all the facts. Blaming the victim is not the answer either way. Again, it is the wider issue of violence against women by people they know, or do not know, that we ought to be discussing.

      • With all due respect, we may not know everything, but we know enough from her email records to draw some preliminary conclusions. (I live in NYC, so perhaps the local coverage is a bit more thorough here.)
        Just like I exercise common sense and caution here, I do the same when I travel. Never had an incident anywhere. Could have easily, but didn’t because I was hyper vigilant.
        That’s all I’m saying.

        • Thank you for the follow up comment. The coverage is quite thorough online, so I believe we have read the same pieces. In writing this post, my point was to draw the attention toward the greater issue and not on the specifics of her case. Of course vigilance and common sense is essential for both genders, definitely.

  12. all of those above are sound advices. i would add 1 thing:
    learn jujitsu. this martial art allow you to take down a much bigger opponent, perfect for self defense.

  13. I’ve read a few posts that have come out now on solo travel and women. Best one I’ve read yet. Very practical, good advice for women. Thanks for putting this in perspective, sharing your experiences, and sharing examples from around the world.

  14. Thanks for this post, Jodi.

    It’s really important to voice these issues & dispel myths about female traveling. Sharing!

  15. I hope this article removes any fears some woman might feel about traveling solo.

    My experiences traveling alone have been wonderful. It always makes both me and those around me more open to interaction.

    The only scary experience I ever had was in Rome where I was NOT traveling solo.

  16. Thank you for writing this, Jodi. It makes me angry that women have to be afraid to live their lives these days – whether it be walking around in your hometown at night or being solo abroad. As much as I want to not be scared, sometimes I do feel fear when out and about alone that I know my male counterparts never have to worry about.

  17. Totally agree that the larger–and largely unreported–story in this tragedy in Turkey is about violence against women, not the pros and cons of solo female travel. As always, the most important thing to pack is your common sense. Male or female.

  18. Well i can only add to your excellent advice that you really should trust your instincts.
    İ lived very happily and safely in Turkey for 21 years with only a few minor hassles.
    İ feel far less safe back here in the UK because i do not know the ‘rules’ anymore-despite this being my native country!
    The worst thing that ever happened to me was indeed in England when i was attacked at the age of 13 by a total stranger..

  19. On February 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm Willow Martin said:

    Thank you so much for posting this. It was forwarded to me by Jamie of Breakaway Backer. I contacted him because I was freaking out about Sarai being killed. I’m leaving next year on my RTW trip and safety has been a huge concern of mine.

    While I’ve read various posts concerning her murder, this is really the only one that has addressed my concerns. You’re the first blogger I’ve read that has admitted honestly and openly that the vast majority of women are at a physical disadvantage in the world. We don’t have the physical strength to protect ourselves against men. Because of this we are more likely to be targets of attack, rape, and murder. And we can be as careful as possible, using as much common sense as possible, and still have awful things happen to us. That shouldn’t keep us from living the fullest life possible but it is something to be cognizant of.

    I understand what the other bloggers were trying to say but in not acknowledging the very real dangers every woman faces, in the US and in traveling, they came across as being in denial. In addition, some countries, because of their culture, are more of a threat to women than others. That’s a reality. Again, we shouldn’t let that stop us from living life to the fullest but we need to be cognizant of the fact. Walking around with blinders on, ignoring the fact that 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, is just as ignorant as saying women shouldn’t travel. Both are pushing the extreme and aren’t based in reality.

    I think there needs to be honest discussion about this issue. Women are more likely to be targets of attacks, and worse, than men (excluding bar fights, etc). Women alone are more likely to be attacked than women traveling with men. That’s just fact. The question is – what steps can we take to minimize our risks? What can we do to maximize our safety? From what I can tell, Sarai didn’t do anything other women traveling alone don’t do. She used a tour guide for part of her stay. She met up with a local for part of her stay. Her body was found in a common tourist area. And yet she was still murdered. It breaks my heart but that is the risk we take every day as women and as travelers. That risk needs to be acknowledged, accepted, and dealt with. That’s something I’m coming to terms with and it has me researching how other women stay safe while traveling. Do I think it’s going to keep me 100% safe? No. But it increases my chances and it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

    Thanks again for an “eyes wide open” perspective.

  20. Great article on a topic that for some is controversial, but at the end of the day, living in fear is not my lifestyle choice, at home or abroad.

  21. Thanks so much for this post, Jodi. Coming across your link on FB was actually the first I’d heard of this incident, somehow, and I’m saddened to hear that it happened and that the media and many others have taken it as an opportunity to slam solo female travel.

    I, too, have traveled extensively alone, and although it has at times affected my choice of destination, accommodations, and the like, and I’ve had some uncomfortable situations, on the whole it’s been an amazing experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. As you said so eloquently in this post, the issue isn’t women traveling solo, it’s the violence against women all over the world.

  22. Thanks for this travel advice. I would’t feel comfortable wearing a wedding ring and carrying a photo of a beefy man to show to strangers who enquire about where my ‘husband’ is. I am a terrible lier!

    I think that travelling abroad is no different to travelling in your own country, as long as you use common sense still!

    I’m about to embark on my big trip and I actually bought an alarmed door stop, pacsafe mesh and pacsafe handbag. It’s better to prepare to give peace of mind!

  23. Thank you for addressing this issue. I am thrilled to see that you looked at the issue of violence against women, since that never goes away…And thank you for the tips. I honestly hadn’t thought of the rubber door stop, but I won’t travel without one now! If one bit of good can come of this woman’s tragic death, I hope it’s that women will be better equipped with knowledge (like your tips) to stay safe no matter where they are.

  24. Excellent post, Jodi! I appreciate you stressing the fact that it’s not just about traveling solo as a woman, and it’s more than a travel issue.

    CNN did an article on the subject too and the title struck a chord with me. It was, “Women: travel safely, but keep traveling.”

  25. Thanks, Jodi, for yet another encouraging post for us, readers, who regardless of doing so in the past second-guess travelling alone again. I have travelled solo since 17, visited 3 continents, a lot of times venturing to remote places and not knowing a local language. Yet the only time something terrible happened to me was while vacationing in South of France! Since then I couldn’t ever feel safe being alone even in my own house, let alone in a foreign country.
    If not for encouraging words written by many solo female travel bloggers, and your advices, Jodi, in particular, I would have never done it again. I am just back from a 3-month trip around South East Asia, and thankful to you for giving me courage to let go of that choking fear of ever present danger to a single female traveller. Once again I immensely enjoyed my journey, but this time, not without a door stop and a whistle! (Seriously)

  26. I live in Philadelphia which has earned the unfortunate moniker of “Killadelphia” although other large cities actually have higher murder rates. I would take the same precautions here in my home town as I would/do on the road. #1. Don’t be oblivious of your surroundings. #1(a) This means never being so intoxicated that you don’t know what’s going on. #2. Educate yourself about where you can go and where you shouldn’t go in any particular place. (My husband and I traveled independently and comfortably in central Mexico and in Mexico City last year. But, we flew over the border region. #3. Be respectful of the local culture and customs.
    #4. Hope that nothing happens, but understand that despite adhering to all the above, bad stuff can still happen — anywhere. Ask the parents of the slaughtered children in Newtown, Connecticut.

  27. Thank you for this piece Jodi. It’s been years since I was a solo traveller. I have three kids now. Much of the advice you give here can be applied to families with kids. Especially moms travelling alone with kids which i plan to do with my five year old from time to time.. I especially found the part about dressing appropriately and modestly when necessary.. important. I plan to cover up my daughter when we travel to certain middle east countries something i think a lot of westerners don’t understand or don’t even know to do..

  28. It makes me SOOOOO mad to see how judgemental people are of woman traveling alone – despite her tragedy.

    I solo travel a lot and have never had any real issues (other than the usual stuff I get at home.)

  29. Wonderful piece–I can’t even believe “should women travel solo?” is a question people are asking in 2013.

    As a dedicated female solo traveler, I’ve absolutely loved my trips around the world, and took the negative (thankfully not dangerous so far) experiences in stride.

    The most harmful situation I’ve found myself in so far? Getting mugged while walking back to the Washington DC apartment I’d lived in for five years. You and all these other amazing bloggers are totally correct–”women traveling solo” isn’t the issue we should be addressing.

    Sharing this with my friends. Thanks for the great article!

  30. Thank you for this honest piece about being a your experience as a woman travelling in the world as well as highlighting the actual risks women face. I’ve felt much less safe in Liverpool when I lived there than other parts of the globe. I’ve been travelling solo since college and though most travel is with my partner these days, I still love exploring on my own. Great common sense tips (a door stop is next on my travel shopping list). Ultimately, the best thing any traveller can do is to trust their gut instincts and pay attention to their surroundings.

  31. Very well written post. I’ve travelled the world solo and absolutely love it. Yes, there are many dangers, but, like you say there are dangers for women everywhere. I use the same safety precautions as I do when I travel as when I’m at home, and as a woman you do always have to take measures to keep yourself safe.

  32. On February 8, 2013 at 10:40 am David Tornabene said:

    Thank you! Great post. Hopefully many will read it and it will open up a wider discussion and some action. Take care

  33. Thank you, Jodi, for reframing this terrible tragedy in the appropriate context. Traveling alone is not the issue and not dangerous in itself, nor is traveling in different cultures. Everyone, men, women, solo or in pairs needs to use common sense when traveling AND at home. Your tips were great as well. Thank you!

  34. On February 9, 2013 at 5:34 pm Randy Johnson said:

    Yes. On point. But the misogynists and xenophobes will always be around. I have 2 daughters and encourage them to live with courage. You and your peers inspire me. Unfortunately, as another commenter pointed out, we are all vulnerable. Be alert but not paranoid. Peace.

  35. after all is said; Learn how to defend(as best you can) yourself whether male or female. PERIOD

  36. Great piece. Logical, concise and full of great advice. As a guy there’s a lot I can take for granted that women cannot, however I completely agree that overall, common sense measures that you’d take at home will out you in good stead.

  37. Hey this was a great read- thanks:) I’ve travelled solo around many countries now and absolutely love it. I’ve only ever met the warmest friendliest of people but of course it’s important to be aware of who you spend time with. As long as you’re smart about your decisions and aware of your surroundings, nothing should stop you on your adventures!

  38. Well written and I totally agree with you. I am an older woman who usually travels by my self. When the local radio first announced about Sarai missing…the radio guy said ” Some countries woman should just not be going to on their own.” I about threw a book at the radio!

  39. A well-written piece. In wake of this tragic event, I’ve had several people mention that I was lucky to have been safe during my solo travels through North Africa, Europe and India. (I’m married now, but look back upon those adventures as being very special times of my life.) Your post reminds readers that bad things can happen anywhere in the world. I appreciate that you closed with practical tips. When I was in Morocco, I found that dressing more conservatively allowed for more quality interactions and acceptance.

  40. Great, well-written piece. I was in Istanbul recently and did spend time alone as a female solo traveler. I got back the same day the news broke that Sarai Sierra was missing, so a lot of my friends and family were really worried. How the media presented Turkey and Istanbul was unfortunately not surprising; they placed the blame on her being a woman in a Muslim country.

    I like your tip about using a doorstop; I hadn’t heard that one before and will definitely be using it in the future.

  41. Totally agree Jodi! Thanks for this so well-written piece.

    Solo female travelling (especially in Muslim countries) is considered by many people as being dumb and naive, with constant echoes of “Just don’t do it” or “It’s your fault if something happens”. I get annoyed when I read comments such as “I would never let my wife go there alone”… ummm, when did your wife become your property?

    I don’t want to see myself as a solo female traveller. I’m a solo traveller, and that’s it! But it’s difficult sometimes when I’m out on the road. In the guidebooks, I have my own chapter. However, instead of giving me useful information (like exactly where to find tampons), it only tells me to dress modestly; advice I’ve been given for every country I’ve visited… including France.

    In our society, we say that the victim shall never be blamed. But as Sarai’s case shows us, it’s easily done. With comments like “Why did she go there?”, the blame is directed at Sarai, not the murderer. Like you say Jodi, it’s not the solo female travelling that is the problem. It’s very acutely the violence against women.

    But let’s continue to travel solo girls and remain unfazed. Let’s continue to discover the world, despite the dangers we share. If something should occur, let’s not ask, “Why did she go there?” or “Told her so”. Let us instead say what we would if it occurred back home. “That bloody bastard!” :-)

  42. Excellent article and very well written.

    I agree that many tourist crimes overseas are not just against solo female travellers. I have travelled for years both solo and with company and the most scary experience I encountered was in Montevideo, Uruguay with my male partner. I was mugged and dragged down the street by my purse strap by a gang of 4 young thugs who rendered him helpless.(Btw, I regretted buying a travel purse designed with such a strong “theft resistant” strap. I would have avoided further injury being dragged on the rough pavement,I wish it would have broken easily, just let them have the darn purse and leave!)

    Unfortunately, as older Americans we are perceived as being wealthy as well as vulnerable even though we dress simply and do not flaunt our affluence.

    I also had many unpleasant encounters travelling alone in centre city Madrid even though I am a middle aged woman and was dressed modestly.

    You are so right that it can happen anywhere.

    It’s not going to stop me from seeing the world.

  43. A very well put together post. As a male who often travels solo, many of the potential problems are just as big a threat for me. I even experienced the exact same hassle in Fes in refusing an unofficial guide through the Medina. I got followed and shouted at.

  44. That was a brilliant article, Legal Nomad. I wish more females could think like that, and be so much sorted. I wish some of them could be allowed that thought.
    It is indeed ironic that the mishap had to happen in New York, and not in any exotic destination as Middle East or North Africa.
    The practical tips are indeed clever, especially the rubber doorstop and safety whistle thing.
    I hope I can share your article or extracts from it with my female friends on social media; of course, with all due credit.

  45. Wonderful post!

  46. Whenever I get hassled I just start shouting at them, this usually draws enough attention to get them to piss off. Speaking to (or shouting at) them in their own language is even better as they less likely to think of you as a vulnerable tourist. I totally agree with what you’re saying though, the issue is violence against women and that is what this should be about, not condoning that women abstain from solo travel and it is definitely not a platform express racist views about Muslim countries. People should open their eyes to what is happening in their own country, even on their own street. Remaining blind to the true issue here makes criminals of us all.

  47. I have to say this is a pretty phenomenal post. I had a conversation with my Mom because, as New Yorkers, we both heard of the story on our local news channel and, as a solo female traveller, she used the story to raise her concerns about my safety. I tried to explain to her that the reality of being a woman not just today but throughout the history of the world has always been grim. Thank you so much for mentioning the demon by its name — violence against women. We will never cure our diseases if we only treat their symptoms.

  48. It’s pretty ridiculous that people who have never visited a country look at one or two incidents and decide it must be horrifically dangerous there, all the while neglecting to peruse the crime statistics and realize that the USA is one of the worst places to be a woman in the modern world, and our crime rate is stupidly higher than most industrialized countries. Care about your kids? Move to Belgium!

  49. On April 7, 2013 at 12:55 am Justin Mingus said:

    As a solo male American traveler and I have never had a problem (yet). However, it can be extremely difficult to balance adventure-seeking with caution. I once had an in-depth conversation about this very idea with a fellow traveler in Thailand. We want to be open to new and exciting experiences, as well as being open with our hearts to the people that we meet along our journeys, but this can come with a price – a compromising of our safety. The woman in Thailand (in Koh Chiang, she was originally from Slovakia) was telling me about how she went clubbing with some guy that picked her up on his motorcycle (off the street after just meeting her), in Ibiza I believe. And I basically said that that was crazy. Solo female, unknown male, speeding you off to who knows where? Thankfully nothing happened to her, but I still had problems with it. Not because she was a woman, but because you are putting yourself into a compromising position with an unknown outcome.

    So to Jodi and my fellow travelers, how do we balance risk-taking/adventure-seeking, with safety and caution? Perhaps jumping on the back of the motorcycle could be life changing, but for the better or the worse is sort of up in the air. I don’t want neutral or boring traveling experiences, i.e, overcautious/paranoia, I want the “real deal,” so does my traveling really come down to cost/benefit analyses day in and day out?

    To sum up: vigilance comes with a price, but so does ignorance/naivete when traveling. So I suppose the best road, as usual, is the middle one.

  50. Great post – thank you! People are obsessed with talking about the dangers out there for solo female travellers – as if this is some kind of women-only phenomena and not scare-mongering media hype! This is exactly the kind of thing that makes women feel as though they can’t or shouldn’t travel alone. I’M SO GLAD I STOPPED LISTENING AND BOUGHT THAT ONE-WAY TICKET, and would recommend it to anyone.

    :-)

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