Debunking the Stereotypes of Travelling Solo as a Woman

Gemma Ashworth

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Read Time: 5 minutes

I moved to the UAE in August 2020 as a 22-year old single woman. When discussing the opportunity and explaining my previous solo experiences to new friends, I realised that female solo travel seemed to be somewhat of a shock. Between the gasping responses and questions about my well-being, the perception of female solo travel included fear, loneliness and bravery. Despite my explanations and attempted convincing, responses contain an overwhelming sense of hesitancy as those I speak to fear of vulnerability and safety. 

To the people who responded with these quotes, I want to empower you and like-minded others to consider solo travel as an achievable, enlightening experience, as it’ll be the best thing you ever do.

“You’re so brave”

I was naive to question why being a lone traveller would ever require bravery. Brave? A woman is able to be self-proficient, self-protected and self-confident in 2021, surely? Unfortunately, I’m not naive to say it doesn’t require bravery. In a society where as women, you’re taught not to walk down alleyways, to hide your valuables or avoid getting a taxi alone, it’s poignant that we feel that women have to be  ‘brave’ enough to take the risk of travelling alone. 

Being alone is the scariest concept in society, paired with vulnerability and conflict. However, the bravery experienced by solo traveling is coupled with freedom. Freedom to make decisions, plan where you want to go, when you want to go, and freedom to meet new people. Jumping into unknown territories seems risky, but researching culture, experiences and hearing first hand from other travellers helps develop an outlook you may never have expected.

“Is that a safe place to go on your own?”

Each country, city and suburb have different risks to the next, but it’s the cultural perception of tourists or in this case, women, that affects the safety of each environment. In my experience, cultural and physical differences exacerbate the polarisation of tourists to locals and so blending in helps avoid unwanted attention. Whether that being the colour of your skin, the clothes on your back or where you’ve been found to stand out, drawing attention to being perfectly lost and alone is part of the risk of travel. Every area has it’s safe and not-so-safe areas, so ensure you research the suburb you plan to stay in before you book.

“Doesn’t it get lonely?”

Humans are meant to be social, and in my experience ‘loneliness’ of solo travel exposes you to like minded ‘lonely’ people. It’s easier to meet lone wolves than confront a pack of them. Travelling solo gave me the opportunity to meet more people than when I travelled in a group. With that, I became more globally aware of the backgrounds, attitudes and opinions from other travellers and learnt about their upbringings, life and travel experiences. Experiencing different corners of my journey with different people made each adventure unique. I could re-visit any destination and have a completely different experience because of the new people I’d meet. The beauty of travelling alone is that if you decide to travel alone, you can. Without any ties to the annoying snorer in the dorm or an obnoxious snob, you can choose who you want to spend your time with, if anyone.

“I could never do that!”

I said the same when I first started travelling alone at 20 years old and so I am empathetic towards this question. But do you know what my parents said? If you don’t enjoy it, get on a plane and come home. The world is so connected that you can call a friend, reach out on a social media group or just leave if something was to go wrong. Nevertheless, it’s easy to say ‘it’s easy’ once you’ve had experience. When calculating a risk, your mind initially weighs up what could go wrong, rather than all the things that will go right. For any one issue you stumble upon, you’ll unconsciously have achieved and overcome so many more. Why would others take the adventure if they thought it was unsafe or scary? 

On the contrary, social media sells destinations as postcards, showing only the positive ‘Instagrammable’ content. We fail to show ourselves getting stuck on an overnight train, sleeping in a 16-man hostel with mosquitoes or losing cash we tried so hard to keep in our bum bag. To me, that’s the scariest part; expecting everything is going to be an Instagram post or a fantastic vlog and not hearing real life experiences from like minded people. It might not always be smooth sailing, but you have to take the risk to reap the reward.

Here are my top tips for solo female travel:

Before you book a flight, work out how to get from the airport to your first residence and the rest will fall into place. Avoiding the initial panic of “I don’t know where I am or where to go” will ease the transition into your first adventure. 

Look up the cultural expectations of women in the area you plan to go. Be yourself, but if there are ways you can avoid offence or unwanted attention, then they may be worth doing.

Invest in the local sim card. Usually found at the airport, it will give you the peace of mind to be able to call someone should you want to.

Find blogs or articles from other people that travelled in this area to give you an insight into what to expect, things to bring and places to look out for.

Travelling solo is the best thing I ever did and you will have unbelievable experiences and meet incredible people. Breathe, smile and enjoy.

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