The Solo Female Traveller Debate: Asking the Right Questions

If you are familiar with my blog, you will notice I tend to stay away from controversial topics.  I share my experiences to inspire others, not to provoke them or to create a heated debate.  This is partly because I find it sometimes invites those with extreme views to verbally attack others without the capability of engaging in a rational discussion – and that just drains me.

But every now and then I come across an event, a situation or a topic that I feel strong enough about to add my voice to.

The recent murder of Sarai Sierra, a 33 year old solo female traveller in Turkey has provoked a strong backlash against the concept of females travelling alone.  Above and beyond anything else, this young lady has lost her life and her family have lost a mother and wife – and my heart goes out to them all.

Sarai Sierra

But the disturbing issue of violence against women has been overshadowed with suggestions that whilst it’s sad, she “should have known better” and irresponsibly behaved in a way that sealed her own fate.  The question “why has someone attacked and killed another human being” has been replaced with “why was she travelling alone?”

 

I am a solo female traveller – and I feel outraged by the comments being made, the questions being asked and most of all, the focus of blame being placed on the victim’s behaviour instead of the culprit. 

 

I recently came across a post by travel blogger BreatheDreamGo and realised I was not alone.

As BreatheDreamGo points out, our generation has not invented the solo female traveller.  Women have been travelling and exploring the world alone for generations and whilst the world we live in has changed, our reasons for travelling alone (or for travelling in general) have not.

As the world grows smaller through technological advances and travel becomes more accessible, solo travel has increased in popularity.  Women (and men) of all ages and backgrounds are choosing to travel alone through necessity, desire or both.

 

But we aren’t naive.  We know the world is not a safe place.  We are aware that there is element of risk in travelling alone.  We appreciate other countries have different beliefs, customs and behaviours than our own. 

 

But we also understand and crave the benefits of travel.  Some of us have a thirst for adventure whilst others yearn to learn more about the world we live in.  Many of us strive to live life instead of simply existing whilst others travel as an opportunity to take a break from a stressful daily routine.  Travel teaches us about other cultures, about each other and about ourselves.  Travel helps us cloud our ‘black and white’ beliefs with a shade of grey.  Travel helps us dig beneath stereotypes and prejudice and helps us learn to coexist on a planet we share with people from all walks of life.

Those of us who travel alone choose to do so for different reasons.  I love the freedom it gives me, the ability to adapt to my surroundings with a flexible itinerary and mindset, and the opportunity to follow my own path both spiritually and geographically.  I have found it easier to meet other travellers, befriend locals, develop an independence and confidence that helps me in daily life back home and have enjoyed a liberating journey of self-discovery.

 

The question we should be asking is not “should we travel alone?”  The question is “how can we travel safely and responsibly?”

 

And this is why BreatheDreamGo has created the hashtag #WeGoSolo.

The idea of #WeGoSolo is to promote and encourage women to travel safely and to shine a spotlight on the real problem: world-wide domestic violence against women.  20 hours after it was launched, #WeGoSolo generated 4.4 million tweet impressions and reached 861,000 people via 1,086 tweets from 474 people.  With overwhelming support on Twitter, travel bloggers have penned blogs and posted links and resources to help women travel safely.

I’ve travelled on seven continents, to over fifty countries, lived, worked or volunteered in six countries and have done most of this as a solo traveller.  I’ve learned many lessons along the way and my contribution to the #WeGoSolo initiative is to share these six simple tips.

 

1. Don’t just research – research in the right place

Researching a destination before you go is essential to making the most of your experience and to do it safely.  But tailor your research to the type of place you are going, the travel style you will follow and your own travel personality.  Let’s face it, if we only listened to news reports we wouldn’t leave our homes.

What  I do:

I start with the ‘big picture’ view from a good guidebook (I prefer Lonely Planet) to help me understand the basics.  LP has a great section in all of their books outlining key health, crime & safety and specifically ‘women traveller’ considerations.  I then reach out to friends or colleagues who have been to the same destination before searching the internet for bloggers (or travel forums) who adopt a similar travel style to me.  Entering “independent travel in …” or “solo female traveller in …” in a search engine almost always gets me updated and accurate information to help my planning.  Bloggers are always keen to connect with like-minded travellers and will helpfully share information or answer your questions.  I also check the Australian and UK government websites before I leave for their most updated safety advice.

2. Crawl before you walk – let your travel personality evolve

We all have different travel personalities, they evolve over time and there are no rules.  Whilst travelling is a great opportunity to step outside your comfort zone, don’t step so far out that you are putting yourself at risk or are so uncomfortable you can’t enjoy the experience.  If you have never travelled by yourself before and the thought terrifies you, start with a city break in your own country.  Pre-book your first couple of nights in a foreign country and arrange an airport pickup.  Get familiar with the culture of a destination on a group tour before exploring it afterwards on your own.

What I do:

I started a 15 month career break in 2009 with a language school and volunteering stint in Bolivia.  I was picked up from the airport, taken to a host family’s home and given a tour of the town by the Spanish school the next day.  It didn’t take long for me to meet other students and volunteers and being ‘shown the ropes’ upon my initial arrival gave me the confidence to do it by myself the next time.  It doesn’t take long to get into the swing of solo travel, but take as long as you need – baby steps are ok!

3. Common sense – don’t take chances

Life is too short not to get out there and live it.  It is also too short to throw it away on a moment of stupidity or carelessness.  Leave room in your backpack for some common sense and don’t take chances that you wouldn’t take at home.

What I do:

I tend to do more during the days when I travel on my own.  It’s no secret that I like to party but I don’t risk it when I’m on my own in an unfamiliar place.  I like to challenge myself without taking unnecessary chances.

4. Befriend hotel/hostel staff

I like meeting local people, so chatting with the staff at the places I stay is no real chore.  It’s also a great way to ask about the local area, to learn of any safety issues and to make yourself known to someone who may notice if you don’t return as expected.

What I do:

Before I head out for the day, I’ll mention my plans to the guesthouse owners, concierge at the hotel or the employee on the front desk at the hostel.  I usually throw it into a casual conversation such as “I’m heading to the temples today, have you been?  Is it worth the trip?’  Someone is aware of where you’ll be without you announcing your itinerary to the world.  I also often use local guide or tours recommended by the place I am staying if there is no real price difference with others on offer.

5. Disconnect to reconnect – but stay connected

Does that even make sense?!  When I travel I love to turn my phone off, ignore my emails and disconnect from the cyber world.  It helps me reconnect with the real world, make the most of the moment I am and re-energise me.  But mitigate the risk of travelling alone by communicating your plans and location to someone.

What I do:

I always email myself and my parents a list of useful information such as flight and hotel details, copy of my passport, insurance details and emergency numbers for bank cards.  I’ll also register online with the Australian Embassy if I plan to be in a country for an extended period of time.

 

The Final Word

Don’t let fear prevent you following your dreams.  Don’t let other’s reactions to a tragic event cloud your own judgement.  Don’t let the possibility of a bad experience override the probability of a great one.

 

Are you a solo female traveller?  Do you have any tips to share?  Are you considering solo traveller but have questions?  Ask them here.

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. Great and helpful post!

  2. Thanks so much for this…

  3. thanks for such a helpfull post!

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