Should women travel alone?

IMG_2952

I drove the 10+ hours to reach this gorgeous place for a conference — alone.

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Seems like a bizarre question — since many of us have to do so for work, and many of us like to do it for pleasure.

But this sobering New York Times piece raises some questions as well:

 

In December, the bodies of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, of Denmark and Maren Ueland, 28, of Norway, were found with knife wounds in their necks in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Danish officials called the murders an act of terror. That same month, the Briton Grace Millane disappeared in Auckland, New Zealand, on the night before her 22nd birthday; she was found slain days later. In 2015, a 19-year-old British backpacker was gang-raped by bikers in Thailand. In March, an Australian man was convicted of kidnapping and raping a Belgian traveler seeking work after keeping her locked up in his pig shed for two days.

There’s no question that women face unique risks when traveling solo, experts say.

“We have evidence that shows that women face risks that men don’t face in public spaces, at home, wherever they may be,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, an organization that promotes female equality. Increasingly, “wherever they may be” includes alone in foreign countries.

 

 

I’ve traveled alone, most recently in the fall of 2018, driving alone for hours through upstate New York on my way to Canada. For many hours, I was out of cellphone range (although comforted by a system in our car that tracks it and had a way to communicate) and far from ready access to police or a hospital.

I drove only in daylight, as is my habit when going solo, whenever possible.

Was I scared? No.

I’ve also traveled alone in rural Sicily, Istanbul, rural Portugal, Thailand, Mexico and other places where bad things can happen and where “decent” women are generally accompanied by one of three people — their mother/father, their husband or their child(ren) and thus left unhassled.

Yet the worst things that have happened to me have always happened at home — in Toronto, Montreal and suburban small-town New York.

All were robberies, none assault or worse.

 

IMG_2879

Also alone, albeit in my hometown, a place filled with friends

 

I plan to spend some time alone again this summer, albeit in the cities of a Western European country, more worried about an act of terrorism now than personal attack.

I really love being outdoors and wish I could just go camping alone, but I don’t. I hate that I’m afraid of others, but I think it’s prudent. Last time I did it was about four years ago in a crowded campground at the Grand Canyon.

My mother traveled solo for years, an attractive woman in places where women don’t really go out alone, and was fine. She also taught me how put a chair beneath the door handle of my hotel room to prevent someone opening it and to dress modestly and remain hyper-aware of my surroundings and culture.

I’ve only gotten drunk once while traveling alone (in San Francisco, a few blocks from my hotel) and I don’t take drugs nor dress provocatively. I don’t walk around wearing headphones or staring into a phone or wearing expensive jewelry.

I try to be extremely aware of local customs and dress and behave accordingly.

I think it’s one of the best things a woman can do — to travel alone and know how to trust her instincts. It has, so far, given me tremendous self-confidence and brought me new friendships.

 

L1000877 (1)

Venice — alone, July 2017

 

But one of the challenges of solo female travel is knowing that we’re often being closely observed and — yes — sometimes considered vulnerable prey by the wicked. That’s frightening and I know of no very practical solution for it.

Here’s part of a wise comment (722 of them!) on the Times story by a woman in Montana:

solo travel teaches intense situational awareness, reliance on gut instincts, and a willingness to run rather than trying not to offend, as women often do to our detriment.

 

Do you travel alone as a woman?

 

Have you ever felt unsafe?

15 thoughts on “Should women travel alone?

  1. Pingback: Should women travel alone? — Broadside – kumar's bogg

  2. For obvious reasons, I have never travelled alone as a woman. I have, however, felt unsafe more than once. This issue is not a matter of principle, that’s not why these things happen.
    Here in North Carolina pedestrians in crosswalks have the right of way but you can bet your bottom dollar I look both ways every time. The rule of law or the standards of appropriate behavior will not raise me back up out of my grave. This may seem like I’m angling toward blaming the victim. I’ll leave that for you to decide.
    You have traveled alone overseas much more than I have so I’m sure you’ll agree that you need to be prepared. That doesn’t only apply to protecting yourself from criminal activity. I have a friend who lost his wife a couple years ago. She went hiking alone and fell into a ravine. It was over a year before her remains were found. There were no signs of foul play, it was all her, sad as it is to say.
    You take your life in your hands every day and any expectations you may have of doing it again tomorrow require a certain degree of shepherding. Muggers, rapists, sharks in the surf or a slippery spot on the trail don’t care what you expect.

    1. Very true.

      I have taken some risks over the years, although none have wreaked havoc, thankfully. My stupidest move while camping at the Grand Canyon was (!!!!) stepping barefoot on a metal tent peg and needed to get a tetanus shot — and they have a medical clinic onsite.

      Because I NEVER miss a story idea — as I was leaving it I noticed a large clipboard with the area’s most common injury on it. NOT sprained ankles — squirrel bites. despite many LARGE and multi-lingual signs warning against going near the squirrels as many nasty vaccinations ensue.

      So sorry about your friend’s wife. How horrible.

  3. Tent peg OOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWW!!
    Signs: Read ’em and heed ’em. Transylvania (No kidding) county, NC has a veritable human avalanche every summer of people who ignore the signs that say “keep back from the edge of the waterfall”. Sheesh.

    1. Poor Jose got a very garbled voicemail from me that day.

      I think people have no idea how to behave in nature. They think it’s some abstraction with all dangers removed…..people fall to their deaths in the Grand Canyon and also die of heatstroke. I totally get why because I hiked in years ago starting too late (8 am) and by noon was wayyyy too hot and alone in a place w/o shade. Very instructive.

  4. i have traveled alone, yet not stayed alone, other than one night here or there, in between places. when traveling, i generally try to stay alert to my surroundings and the people within them. interesting that i apply these same ‘safety’ rules when online dating.

    1. So true.

      I don’t use Air B & B, which I know a lot of people enjoy. I want a hotel with a manager and some sort of (one hopes) decent security system. I always get a room far from the elevators.

      1. Room far from elevators, Roger that. 2AM: DING!
        ksbeth: Online dating, welcome to the jungle. I wouldn’t even know where to get started. Heads up!

  5. I read this with great interest because it just pisses me off that women even have to consider whether to go somewhere all by themselves. Your mom did you a great favor teaching you how to travel alone, how to be aware of what’s around you and figure out ways to be as safe as possible. To shift the conversation slightly, there are some treks that perhaps no one should make alone regardless of gender, such as hiking in the wilderness for more than a few miles because one little misstep could mean disaster. These sorts of trips have nothing to do with fearing fellow humans as much as they do with respecting the reality of the environment. But back to your original topic. Yes, I’ve traveled alone – most recently to fly to England from my home in Minnesota to support a friend who had a book release in Newcastle. There are opportunities in traveling alone – being able to do what you want, striking up conversations with all kinds of people, not having to make any excuse when you need to just stop for a minute. And it’s not difficult to take appropriate precautions as needed and it’s wise to remember that criminal activity is not the norm. It’s the exception that makes the newspapers. There is risk in everything, so the thought that I would stay home rather than venture out alone is not a consideration unless there is a clear danger that cannot be ignored.

    1. Indeed!

      I also know for sure that traveling alone in Western Europe is going to be very different than cultures with different attitudes towards women. I don’t paint with a broad brush but I am also not naive.

  6. I’ve travelled alone a lot, including to South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Lesotho during apartheid. I felt uncomfortable only once, and it was somewhat minor. I was recently out of the military where I had served in a war zone, and I was a bit cocky for sure, even though I knew well how to protect myself. I was in good shape and was trained in hand-to-hand combat.
    I think it’s important for women to travel alone with reasonable caution. We can’t live in a bubble.There are so many ways people can be hurt or injured, whether travelling or not. In the end though, I guess it depends on your comfort level and how you want to life your life.

    1. Very true.

      I have never trained in self-defense. I try to avoid any situation where I might need it. I ma a strong woman but have no desire to get into a physical altercation with someone determined to do me harm.

  7. I read the same New York Times article, was quite horrified by some of the stories, and had the same reaction as you to write a blog post about it. So I will do so. My thoughts and opinions mirror yours: I never stay in an AirBnB alone, I dress modestly and low-key, I’m hyper-aware of my surroundings and culture; and I’ve only gotten drunk once while travelling alone (hilarious story, I was in a Key West bar, my throat parched after driving in from Miami under a blazing sun, and the Key lime coladas were so good I guzzled quite a few of them. After falling off my bar stool into a bush, I eventually managed to make my way back to the hotel where I promptly passed out on the bed.) It was daytime; could have been risky had it been night.

    1. Love the Key West story!

      OK, mine….was flown NY to San Francisco (once and only) for a job interview at what was then THE hot sports website, Quokka. Too many interviews…go to a bar and have two (!??) martinis on an empty stomach. Oh dear., Barely made it back to my hotel room, passed out — had MORE interviews the next day brutally hung over. UGH. Did not get (or want) the job.

  8. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Thursday links | A Bit More Detail

Leave a Reply to ksbeth Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s