Travel is synonymous with adventure, excitement and is a unique eye-opening experience. These days more and more women have the means and mind to travel around the world solo. While most end up with an enriching and life-affirming experience, an unlucky few encounter a different fate, sometimes coming face to face with culture of violence instead. There’s no point in being naïve about the situation, therefore, what are some measures one can take to protect oneself?
Traveling is invaluable; it is an opportunity to gain insight into the world at large and a chance to increase self-awareness, meet new people, and see other cultures. The benefits of traveling alone can be compounded because of the intense focus you are able to bestow upon the moment and extra time to reflect on those thoughts.
Women Traveling Alone – a Rising Trend
An evolving culture with better jobs, higher wages, change in attitude, and shift towards autonomy have more women traveling alone than ever before. It is essentially a rite of passage and growth process for women because it develops independence, self-reliance, and a whole host of other skills – interpersonal and etiquette wise. Also fueling the the travel bug is that we live in the age of social media with frenzy to shoot photos for Instagram photos and Facebook to gain followers.
Data suggests that the trend of women solo travelers is rising and will continue to do so. Hostelworld, an online hostel-booking platform, recently reported a 45 percent increase in women traveling alone from 2015 to 2017. Single holidays are becoming more popular as partner-less people who want to vacation, go it alone.
Even in the modern age of developed societies, women are still subjected to cultural bias, prejudice, stereotyping and domestic abuse, and, is even more so in other parts of the world; violence against female tourists doesn’t just happen in second or third world countries and can happen in rich western nations as well.
People who live in other countries are accustomed to seeing travelers come and go, but, not all of those countries share cultural norms with the west; it is important to be aware that there are places with incredibly hostile attitudes towards women. The reality boils down to while women might be ready to travel the world, not all of the world is ready to greet women with open arms.
Violence Against Lone Women Travelers
Recently in the news there was the story about a woman, Ms. Stefaniak, who decided to take a trip to Costa Rica to celebrate her 36th birthday. She booked her accommodations through Airbnb and carefully selected a property with good recommendations, a gate, and security guard.
Ms Stefaniak did everything right: she kept in touch with people back home, she was aware of her surroundings, she made sure to return to the apartment before dark. Unfortunately, she disappeared the night before her flight home and was never heard from her again. Her body was found a week afterwards and it was later determined that she had been killed by the security guard on the property.
Another disturbing story from 2017 was the British woman, Vasilisa Komarova, who was motorcycle touring the world solo. Ms. Komarova seemed travel-hardy and seasoned enough to avoid classic and potential pitfalls. During her travels, she stopped for a night of camping in a remote area of Bolivia. She was forcefully taken from her tent and raped by three men armed with machetes. They beat her and left her lying in agony for dead.
This past December, two Norwegian female travelers in their twenties, traveling tandem through the high Atlas Mountains of Morocco, were found dead from knife attacks to the neck. Danish officials are calling it an act of terror and demonstrates that even traveling with a buddy doesn’t always guarantee safe passage – emphasizing the threats out there for women travelers.
Ideas on How to Stay Safe
The prevailing attitude is that women need to take every precaution and not do certain things in order to prevent peril. Yet, the women mentioned above were not engaged in behavior that courted disaster. Let’s face it, men are not really told not to attack women. Something like that needs to start with public dialogue, education and awareness to create the necessary change in attitudes.
Traveling in tandem with another female friend is no sure-fire way to prevent dangerous encounters, especially in a situation where there are multiple assailants. But it might discourage someone who is acts alone from attacking you. It’s a good idea to travel in groups whenever possible. There are plenty of companies out there you can link up with once you’re on the ground: adventure travel companies such as G Adventures or Intrepid Travel offer small group tours of all sorts that are sure to please. I have travelled numerous times with Intrepid for this very reason and highly recommend them.
Try to blend in with your surroundings; camouflage yourself in all ways: befriend locals, read up on customs and habits. Take advantage of low-cost tickets sold by airlines that allow for only one carry bag – view it as an opportunity to travel light and with the money you save, buy a few articles of clothing wherever you are. In the natural world, predatory attacks are not really chance; lions single out the young, sick, weak, old, or those animals that fail to blend in. Standing out in the crowd will increase chances of an opportunistic attack. You can always donate your clothing back to the community when you leave the country.
Other suggestions to stay safe include: staying at hotels with 24-hour security or at Airbnbs with Superhost status, riding in Ubers to track your location while in transit, packing a rubber doorstop which makes prevents someone from opening your door, preparing your body and mind with training and self-defense classes, using local sim cards to ensure mobile connectivity, and tipping hotel employees for better service.
The world is a dynamic place and one must keep abreast of political events and climates when traveling; warning and travel advisories can be checked on the state department website. There are also a plethora of travel apps available to such as Redzone, Tourlina, Smart Traveler, Chirpey, MayDay, TripWhistle or Noonlight, and, consider investing in a GPS global tracking device.
Spend time planning the details of your trip in advance; spontaneity is certainly a zestful piece of life, but not at the expense of your life and safety. Study maps of the area in order to orient yourself: learn the routes you will take, either by foot, bus, taxi, or metro so that you’re not caught off guard if something unexpected happens. A period of panic can impair the ability to think critically and clearly. Basically … get a plan women, this is life training!
Above all, learn to trust your instincts; if something seems amiss, don’t be afraid to act erratically to deter an attacker, even if you’re in public – cry, scream, and find help fast.
The majority of women traveling solo will fly home with nothing but cherished memories, amazing travel photography collections, and will make posts soaked in the magic of wanderlust that cause the rest of us envy. Being cognizant of the dark side of companionless travel shouldn’t scare off those who want to do so, it is simply a call to action to be a smart traveler.
You shouldn’t have to pay the price of violence because of your love of travel. No matter who you are, it is always a double edged blade that couples risk with the return of enlightenment. Hopeful that the attitude towards women will continually improve with time, the interim means that the responsibility lies with us, as individuals, to prepare and take appropriate action. And with a little luck that happenstance we will not have to confront a perilous situation.