Travelling alone as a female student has its share of anxieties…and stigma. Emily Stamp, our On the Road Editor, shares her experiences and opinions on the matter.
Very little annoys me more than when I am excitedly telling people of my travel plans and I hear “But who are you going with?” or “Isn’t it dangerous, you know… as a girl, to go there alone?” This annoyance isn’t because I am a super formidable person; (at 5’2 (and a half) and with little self-defence training I am hardly intimidating) it is more because I have chatted with male friends who have never been faced with such questions themselves. Is this because they are somehow more qualified than I am? The simple answer is no, it is because there it still some inherent sexism surrounding females travelling alone.
I will agree that it is not always easy travelling alone as a female. There is a nastier side I don’t often talk about, mainly because the good far outweighs the bad, but personal experiences have included being stalked and harassed through two tube stations (an unfortunate true story), having to pretend to be engaged, being generally cat called, and occasionally just being intimidated for very little reason at all. Yet there is no reason for males not to feel this either. I met a 6’2 blonde guy in China who definitely drew more stares and attention than I did, and felt intimidated even when he physically outmatched people.
Travelling to a new place is always going to be slightly scary, it is not home and it is not what you are used to, so feeling out of your depth is perfectly normal. Yet anyone can feel excited about travel and have a passion for it, and we can all feel daunted or scared regardless of our appearance. When women can be CEO’s and men can be stay-at-home dads and we are generally working towards a more neutral, less gender stereotyped society, why can females not travel alone?
In the past year I have spent a total of almost nine weeks travelling alone, yet telling people of new plans still has them asking if I am okay and I just wish that people’s first comment was about their excitement, opposed to fear, for me. The first time I travelled alone was when I was sixteen and I ended up getting the contraceptive implant before I went, just in case date rape drugs somehow worked their way into my system. It wasn’t because I didn’t trust the people I was about to meet, or that I was scared as a female travelling alone; it was more of a preparation and protection against the possible outcome. Nothing of that sort has ever happened, I was perfectly safe, and getting the implant didn’t make me worried at all about my future travels. Instead I treated it as any vaccination, best to get it even if I didn’t actually ‘need’ it.
Strangers are also nicer than you think. On the whole people are nice, so while being cautious is best, treating everyone as if they are out to hurt you isn’t- how else are you meant to make friends? I travel in hostels and most people there are solo travellers or in small groups and they all get it. You would be hard pressed to find more solidarity in a group of strangers than in a room of 6 girls all half way across the world from home on their own, all sharing ridiculous conversations they have had with people about staying safe or their weirdest moments as a female solo traveller. And I can guarantee if you need a sanitary product it doesn’t matter where in the world you walk into a bathroom, someone will probably offer you one.
Also travelling on your own makes you less intimidating. Approaching a group of four or five tourists may be strange but I have had people want to practice English with me when I am sat in a coffee shop (or just approach because they want to know why I am in their city), spent the day in Disney with a girl from my hostel who wanted someone to go with, and had plenty of elderly people point me in the right direction without speaking a word of English (or pull over a security guard to help).
At the end of the day, regardless of gender, travel is as exciting as it can be scary but others shouldn’t try and put you off because they would be scared or because they feel you may be in danger because of your gender. There are simple ways to keep you safe and statistically anything bad is unlikely to happen. So go forth, travel solo because you want to and you can and have a wonderful time doing so.