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A topic I constantly get confronted with whether I am at home surrounded by my family or in a foreign country surrounded by strangers is travelling all by myself as a young woman. There are many predjudices to fight against and it seems like I constantly have to explain myself.
Before leaving for my first bigger solo trip to Southest Asia as a young woman when I had just turned 20 years old I never even thought about this topic at all. For me it never even crossed my mind that I couldn’t travel around this planet just as any man out there. I only started thinking about it after people I me consistently told me how brave I was and repeatedly asked why I was travelling all by myself, locals as well as other travellers. To be honest, I didn’t quite have an answer to that question back then and I still don’t. Why shouldn’t I be able to explore the world just like any man around me?
Let’s be honest. A woman walking around all by herself through empty streets, probably even at night, is an easier target than a man. But isn’t it exactly the same way back home? I think it is easy to minimize the safety risks by following your instincts, common sense and certain rules, no matter whether you are currently exploring a foreign country or coming home from a bar where ever you have lived your whole live.
No matter where on this planet I travelled to, I always found it very helpful to read about the countries’ culture and history before going. This is maybe not the most exciting thing to do for a lot of young girls out there but it gives you a better understanding for a country, its values and especially its people.
Be able to adapt to another culture.
On one of my last trips I was travelling through Myanmar, a country that only openend its borders for tourism a few years ago. Also a country way more conservative than most others. For me it was completely obvious to swap my shorts for long dresses in order to blend in (as far as it goes having blond hair..) and also somehow as a sign of respect. As a western woman I am exotic in countries like this and people will be looking at me, this is something only time can change. People don’t mean to stare at you, they are probably just not used to seeing someone with your looks. Of course this can make you feel uncomfortable, I do for sure feel uncomfortable too sometimes, but just smile or say hello and everybody will smile back and greet you. In my experience the way you dress can make a big difference on how people see you and treat you.
Another big factor that influences your safety is alcohol. It is no secret that an intoxicated person takes more risks and makes more reckless decisions than a sober one. Especially in an area I don’t really know, I want to be able to control all my senses. If you go out, simply don’t go all by yourself and invest 1 or 2 dollars to get home safely by taxi instead of wandering down dark alleyways in the middle of the night. I generally take a taxi home when it’s dark and I know that not many People will be around anymore. The only times something almost happened to me were in Bali. Once driving home in the middle of the night where a man tried to push me and my scooter over and the other time walking through an alley to my hotel when a few guys showed up and tried to steal my bag (luckily some other people saw it and rushed over to help me).
PICTURE OF THE MEDIA IS NOT THE REALITY
We often have a certain picture of a country in our heads that simply doesn’t match the reality. Let’s take the way western media portrays Muslim countries for example. I for sure don’t want to say that what the media displays isn’t the truths. I just found myself having prejudices a lot of times which in the end absolutely didn’t match my experiences.
I haven’t been to India yet, but it is no secret that it has a bad reputation for solo female travellers. I probably wouldn’t go all by myself either just now however lots of my female friends have travelled there and were absolutely amazed.
BEING TREATED DIFFERENTLY
Ironically the only times I felt being treated in an unfair way because of my gender were when I was travelling with a male companion. Everyone was usually super helpful and friendly towards me when I had questions no matter where I was. When I was travelling with a male friend on the other hand men usually tended to just look at him only when answering (even when I asked the question) in certain countries. When ordering food in a restaurant or paying the bill my male friends usually always got asked.
The role of the woman is (still) a lot differently in other parts of the world than it is for us in central Europe, North America or Australia. Something we (at least for now) got to accept. Altough I believe that change is coming very fast for lots of countries. See Saudi Arabia for example where women are now allowed to drive cars, something unthinkable only a few years ago.
ALONE DOESN’T MEAN LONELY
This was actually something I was super concerned about when I first started travelling. A lot of my family members and school friends still pity me because I have “no one” to share my adventures with. In reality it’s actually quite the opposite. I have met most of my best friends while travelling and this is also exactly what I like most about exploring the world.
During your trip you meet so many incredibly interesting and inspiring people that you would have never met in your comfort zone or when travelling in a group. I never once felt lonely during all the years of travelling (sometimes I was even happy to have 10 minutes to myself or a completely empty hostel room). Meeting new poeple is not only great for entertainment, it also increases once safety. Even though most people are only around you for a couple of days, they become something like family. Everybody cares about everyone.
Everybody wants to experience something adventurous while travelling that you probably wouldn’t at home. Each activity you plan on doing involves a certain risk, no matter where you are. For women and for men. Some activities definetly more for women such as hitch hiking or coachsurfing.
Everybody should simply make up his own mind about the risks being involved while travelling. I for example would never do hitch hiking all by myself, no matter whether being in Germany or somewhere in a foreign country. Other girls I know swear on getting around like this on the other hand.
I am a big fan of coachsurfing though. When I am travelling around Europe I often check for places to stay on this platform and I have only had great experiences over several years. My stay was usually even better than expected.
Most other risks usually involve extreme sports but then again, the risk of surfing, skydiving or mountain biking are most likely the same completely independent of your location and definitely when it comes to your gender. What brings us to the actual dangers of travelling…
THE ACTUAL RISKS AND DANGERS
Can you already guess what’s coming now? The things you should be worried about most when travelling as a solo female are exactly the same as back home. The biggest danger for tourists in foreign countries is not rape or theft, it is traffic accidents. A risk everyone can at least minimize by simply following the rules.
I don’t know why but a lot of people on holiday seem to think that they are invincible. Especially in the south of Thailand or in Bali you will see lots and lots of people driving around on motorbikes wearing their swim outfits, flipflops, obviously no helmet because that’s not cool while probably being intoxicated and without a valid licence. Yeah, I wonder why so many accidents happen abroad…
Another danger is getting sick of food poisening. Egypt, Indonesia, Thailand, no matter where you travel to, the hygienic standarts are most likely not as high as in your home country. Of course it is basically impossible to completely avoid this danger (unless you enjoy eating Oreos and dry oats for weeks). Just follow your common sense. Are flies already hanging out on that piece of chicken? Maybe stick to the veggie option. Has this milk been standing in the sun all day already? Black coffee it is. Not that tricky, isn’t it?
During all the years I have travelled around the world I got confronted with being a solo female traveller a lot but I never actually had any trouble or problems just because of my gender.
As a woman I for sure am an easier target for crimes but that is fact absolutely regardless of my location. I feel just as safe when I am travelling as I do when I am at home. Of course being starred at because of being an “exotic” looking female in other parts if the world is not enjoyable. Being prepared, having knowledge about the country I am visiting and being aware of risks I might take constantly helps me to feel comfortable and safe though.
Keep in mind: Don’t act reckless, follow the rules just like you would at home and use your intuition and common sense.