When I asked some of my girlfriends the first thoughts that came into their head when they heard the words “travelling alone”, their responses varied from “lonely” to “selfie stick”, with “dangerous” being the most common. More often than not, the association was negative, with an emphasis on the risk factor. Despite solo travel increasing in popularity with women, a 59% increase in women travelling alone in the last ten years, it is still considered to be unsafe.
There are countless examples of awful situations women travelling alone can fall victim to. Even within the past year, terrible accounts have made the headlines. The kidnapping of and assaults against a Japanese student in India in December 2014 is just one example of a single woman being victimised when travelling. Two months earlier, the murders of two British students on the Thai island of Koh Tao sent shockwaves across the world. Before her death, it was also reported that Hannah Witheridge was raped. Although the Japanese student was travelling alone, the British girl was not; she was with a male companion at the time of the attack. This illustrates that although travelling alone may make you a more obvious target, travelling with a companion does not equal a trouble free trip. The unfortunate fact is that female travellers can face risks, whether they are travelling alone or with a companion.
These examples, coupled with having only just watched the blockbuster, Taken, for the first time a few months ago, meant that I found myself fearing travel as a woman. I’m fairly certain that no one I know has that very particular set of Liam Neeson skills ready to save the day if I were in a similar situation as his on-screen daughter. However, should this fear limit me to the confines of the British Isles? Absolutely not! Gender should not play a part in deciding against travel. That said planning to challenge preconceptions of women in countries you choose to visit is not a good idea. Instead of testing existing and country specific gender boundaries that are beyond our control, you should take into consideration the reality of where you’re going.
Although advice such as wearing a wedding ring to avoid harassment can be seen as just another way women have to rely on men for safety, it could really make a difference in how much you enjoy your trip. It’s important for women to be able to travel the world while encountering as few problems as possible. As the terrible cases in recent years caused India’s female tourism to fall by 35 percent, the empowered mentality of women travellers is decreasing. However, the more we can travel successfully and turn these examples into isolated incidents, the more women will feel comfortable to follow the lead. And with this, a new trend for female travellers will begin.
Nothing can be certain in life, no matter how careful you are. But if you do want to explore the world, don’t let gender get in the way. Trust your instincts, if something feels wrong, get out of the situation. Although the holiday mentality can be the best part of the trip, it can also be your biggest weakness. Being aware of the possible risks, and aware of how to avoid them, is the best way to look after yourself. If you’re planning a solo trip, or even one with your friends, then check here for country specific laws and customs along with general foreign travel advice, which should hopefully help prepare you for your travels.