Solo travel: a new form of female liberation

Image: Maria Kalinowska

THE CONVERSATION about women travelling alone seems so worn out now. Yet, as a female solo traveller I still can’t talk about my experiences without at least one person asking “weren’t you scared though?” or exclaiming “you’re so brave!” What is even more distressing is that a lot of women that I speak to often add, “I wouldn’t be able to do that.” Yes, there are aspects of solo travel that perhaps are not for everyone, no matter their gender, but it would appear that women in particular see travelling alone as something that is very ‘out there’.

The simple fact is that it appears a lot more farfetched for a woman to travel alone than for a man. Worried friends and family members asking “but can you not take [insert male friend/relative here] with you?” is far more common that I would ever like to admit. I have always travelled on my own. But last year, for the first time ever, I decided to travel with a friend, who yes so happened to be male, and my family members could have not been any happier to hear that I am going to a place like Greece with a man. I mean, Greece. Really?! Frankly, I knew much more about travelling safely than he did as he had never travelled before, so this sense of safety for me was completely unjustified. The point stands. It doesn’t even matter which place in the world, a female solo traveller is considered to be in danger. Technically that is true, but any traveller is in some danger in one way or another, in some places more than others.

The wonderful thing about travelling is that any given situation is completely subjective to the circumstances and one person’s experience can and will not be recreated by another. The most important thing is to keep your mind open to new settings and situations, as well as meeting other travellers along the way. Safety tips when travelling should also not be disregarded; always make sure you have some technology in case of emergencies. So why are female solo travellers clumped together as a group that is seen to be fragile and needs the most protecting? The answer ‘sexism’ is unfortunately and glaringly obvious, but that is not what I want to talk about, before one of you disregards this, rolling your eyes.

Instead, what I wish to talk about is the fact that a woman travelling on her own is one of the most fearsome, smart and cautious people you can encounter: because she has to be. That is what the travelling experience will require of her, whether she is a naturally confident person or whether those qualities build during her experience. She is not a damsel in distress that will need saving.

As controversial as the book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ has been, it has done two things for female travellers: inspired them while also giving the clichéd reputation that they desperately need to ‘find themselves’. This idea undermines the experiences that any woman encounters  when travelling alone because people can nicely fit it into those words. It would seem that women are also discouraged from travelling not just because it is dangerous, but also because they then fit into the stereotype of a woman not knowing what she wants and seeking answers through travelling. The idea that a female solo traveller is just trying to pass the time before she finally decides to settle down and/or finds the man of her dreams is a rather distressing one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy that Elizabeth Gilbert found the love of her life at the end of her great self-discovery journey (which seems ironic, doesn’t it), but it should not be viewed as the end goal for all female travellers.

The campaign #ITravelAlone (although they claim it is not a campaign or a movement: it’s a revolution) has been set up by Worldpackers, which is a website which helps you find accommodation in exchange for your skills. The campaign even provides an ‘I Travel Alone’ guide which is downloadable as a PDF, which not only covers safety while travelling but also practical tips and concerns that female travellers may have before, during and after their travel experience. Its purpose is to liberate women and make them realise that solo travel is not out of their reach and dangerous and not just as a way for them to fill the days until they get in a relationship.

To join the network of more than 251 000 women from 93 countries, find out more information about travelling alone and download your free I Travel Alone guide visit www.travel.worldpackers.com/itravelalone/

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