On Women Traveling Alone, or why every other article about this topic is TERRIBLE.

Women Travelers Temple Paestum Italy
Women, traveling, alone! Alert the media! Start fear-mongering!

I’ve touched on this subject before, but I feel compelled to write about it again, because it drives me INSANE the way “women” travelers (always “women” travelers, never just travelers) are discussed in the American media, even by reputable sources that I like.

Context: I’m a subscriber to National Geographic and therefore get eleventy-billion emails from them. Recently I got an email about their Intelligent Travel blog, which I have read a lot and generally like, but one of the headlines highlighted in the email was “For Women who (want to) Travel Alone,” an article from 2013 (I’m not going to link to it because I think it’s terrible and don’t want more people to read it). Written by a veteran traveller, it begins with the story of her being robbed and includes mention of how “we’ve all heard” about women being abducted, raped, and murdered while traveling alone. While it provides straightforward suggestions on how to start traveling by yourself–that would apply to men as well as women–by beginning with a tale of having her possessions stolen and including those oft-cited but never specified tales of abduction, rape, and murder the article perpetuates the fear-mongering that characterizes nearly all articles of this type. They tell women: go travel, but be wary! Remember that some women, somewhere have had bad things happen to them! Keep safety the number one priority! When, oh WHEN I ask you was a man counseled to keep safety the number one priority in a travel article?

Just once I would like to read an article about women traveling alone that doesn’t allude to dangers or the rare (extremely rare) instances where terrible things have happened. Because, let’s face it, terrible things can happen when traveling alone, or they can happen in your own home, on your college campus, in your neighborhood, or at work. They can and do happen anywhere, but there aren’t articles about how women shouldn’t go to college by themselves, or shouldn’t go to work by themselves. But over and over articles about women traveling alone are couched in terms of how dangerous it can be. Let’s all decide this is bullshit and knock it off. Let’s celebrate the wonderfulness of solo travel for individuals of any gender or sex. Let’s stop thinking about how women traveling alone are “women” travelers and thus have special womanly needs and instead start thinking of them as simply travelers without any modifiers related to their biology. Let’s stop the fear and the fear-mongering. Because honestly the same travel advice applies to everyone regardless of their genitalia: Be smart about your person and possessions, make decisions you’re comfortable with, and make sure you have photocopies of your passport and financial info stowed in multiple bags so if you lose one or it’s stolen you still have that info somewhere. Basta, enough. That’s all the advice you need to travel alone.

* And just for reference: I have traveled alone to multiple countries. I will travel alone in the future (including in about a month when I start another Italy trip by myself). I have experienced moments of uncomfortableness in a few places, but I have experienced the same uncomfortableness walking around in cities in the US, in my small Kansas hometown, and while in school. True facts: bad shit can happen anywhere, so the options are: never go anywhere (boooo) or go anyway. I vote for go anyway every. single. time.


23 thoughts on “On Women Traveling Alone, or why every other article about this topic is TERRIBLE.

    1. I think you’re probably right, but it’s the propagation of the idea that everything is dangerous that is really, really damaging. Danger is relative, travel is amazing. That should be enough. Buona Domenica anche a te!

  1. YES! Thank you! You are so right!
    I have had some very uncomfortable times in countries like India and Indonesia, but at the same time I have had plenty of very uncomfortable times at home or in other countries here in Europe. Those moments shouldn’t stop you from traveling, because, well, traveling is the best thing in the world, and the chance that something bad happens is just as big at home.

    1. It’s a sad state of affairs that uncomfortable experiences happen everywhere–particularly on US university campuses–but the notion that solo travel is dangerous for women is so overblown it’s maddening. I hope your next journey (and day, week, life) is uncomfortable-moment free, and that your adventures continue to be amazing!

      1. Absolutely agree. By the way, my uncomfortable moments maybe are like 1% compared to the totally amazing experiences I have had on my travels πŸ˜€ So it doesn’t happen that often! I remember my friend’s parents telling her that they would never allow her to travel to India because it is too dangerous and that they couldn’t believe my parents were okay with it. I was so angry at her parents for their narrow-mindedness! Thankfully my family is super supportive!

  2. The web is full of good information but tends to the side of sensational “do nots” which will protect one from all bad stuff and if followed to the logical extreme amounts to being dead while still maintaining normal bp, temperature, respirations and pulse, but if this is safety, what is the point of living?

  3. Such great points! The saddest part is that the fear-mongering doesn’t just stop at articles. Loved ones with great intentions often scare females out of traveling. Like you said, there are things to fear everywhere. Living is risky. I think the best way to combat the hype is to share more and more realistic stories of solo-travel. Keep sharing!

  4. Excellent rant! I totally agree. Just remember – fear sells and fear gets clicks to articles. Fear motivates people. I’m not saying it’s good, but it’s a sad reality. I came the conclusion awhile back – it’s not my job to save everyone from fear, or correct everyone. It’s my job to live my life – which usually means screw what everyone who lives a life of fear says or does – they are just trying to justify their own fear by trying to make others choose the same things as them. I refuse to that.

  5. Thanks for this. I travel alone a lot (currently in Brussels), and I’d recommend it to anyone, but when women ask me whether it’s safe, my stock answer is “I’ve never had any problems, but then I’m a 6’2″ guy, and I might be a bit oblivious to some dangers.” I entirely agree with the idea that both genders need to take appropriate care and pay attention to their surroundings, but the rewards for getting out there and experiencing the word far outweigh the dangers that media reports focus on. Sadly, “Millions of Travellers Enjoy Safe, Enlightening Holidays Every Year” is a headline that won’t attract many advertisers.

  6. I heard recently “if you hear about something in the news, you DONT have to worry about it”. The reason these things make the news is because they’re just that, NEWS, and not the norm. All the bad things we hear about women solo travels or travel in general on the news is the 1%. So don’t be a dummy and go see some cool stuff. Alone. And meet some of the coolest people you’ll ever meet!
    I’ve been in many situations (like being the only guest at a hostel in the middle of nowhere India with 10 male Indians) where I thought to myself “this could go one of two ways right now….” And it has always gone the more desirable way. And usually 10 times better than I ever imagined.

  7. I think you’re right except in cases where you might be traveling to a country where the government and culture sees women as possessions. My 19 year old daughter pointed out that such articles can be encouraging to women who are afraid to travel solo.

  8. I absolutely agree with you. I’ve traveled alone off and on for much of my life — and I LOVE doing it. I want to encourage more women to get out there are try it. And of course one has to be careful — but that goes for anyone traveling.

  9. Hmmmm as someone who travels, sometimes alone and sometimes not, and lives in the GCC, I do think more people should be aware of their safety. I’ve been on press trips where I’ve had to look after people as they’re acting like children, and to be honest, I totally resent it! Or the people who are so naive about their possessions and personal safety, they put others in danger. The media does scaremonger occasionally, but lot’s of people lack common sense.

    1. You’re totally right– awareness and commonsense are good and important. What the (American at least) media tends to do is promote fear and wariness– neither of which lead to a spirit of openness and adventure. And in lots and lots and lots of cases the levels of crime in American cities is vastly higher than those in the “dangerous” places that people travel. It’s all a matter of perspective. And I think, particularly right now when extremism is making people increasingly fearful, openness and adventure are even more important.

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