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Taking the fear out of solo travel for females!

Solo travel

One of my younger colleagues has been following my travel writing with interest. Although enjoying her two weeks in the sun each year with her boyfriend, she has an inkling to travel solo, being a little hesitant, she commented that my writing alleviated her fears. This made me realise that one of the reasons I enjoy writing, is to show other women that solo travel is not only possible, but enjoyable and transformative. For those of you who have read my previous blogs, you will notice I like to reveal a new or different side to a destination - so you won't get any descriptions of a visit to a tourist cafe in the main square. I'm not a 'typical' tourist who makes a bee line for the 'must see' sights, What excites me, is interacting with local people and learning about their unique lives and traditions. If you go more with the flow, you can take up exciting opportunities as they arise, as opposed to sticking to a planned itinerary.


River boat taxi's on the Mekong, Vietnam

The main concern about travelling alone for females seems to be around safety. Women often trawl the internet, to identify countries 'safe' to visit. As you set off, friends and family take their hats off, calling you 'brave', for stepping out into the world on your own. Whilst I wouldn't deliberately step into a war zone, realistically, I believe a woman can visit any country she desires, just like men. India is considered to be the most dangerous country in the world, for women to be born. Being a staunch patriarchal society, women are often considered the property of men. Although preference for male children appears to be diminishing in the cities, femicide and honour killings still occur in the more rural area but not unknown in urban locations. While the mere fact of being born female can be fatal for Indian women, foreigners flock to the country in abundance unaware of this deep rooted misogyny. Although when countries are deemed to be dangerous for women travelling alone, it means that danger comes from men.


Piper at dance competition in Nis, Serbia

I find that women mainly face 'annoyances', as opposed to 'dangers', when travelling. Men (and women and children) will constantly stare at you gape jawed, especially in cities and countries, off the beaten track. Yes, sleazy men approach you from time to time, that we'll discuss later. Foreigners in general, can often become frustrated, when they encounter different cultural responses, when trying to get their needs met abroad. Orderly queues are out the window, or you are in the middle of being served, when someone jumps in front of you and chats to the shopkeeper; in a language you can't understand. The service in restaurants is deathly slow, compared to what you are used to in New York or you find the waiter clueless. I once ordered a vegetable curry in Dharamasla, India, only to notice, about half an hour later, the 'waiter' returning with arms full of potatoes and spinach! Many get irritated, feeling they are target prey for relentless shop owners. We just need to get used to it and stop stressing, after all we must accept the 'bad' along with the good, whilst emerging ourselves in new, very different environments. However, don't be one of the people who consider it too dangerous to visit developing countries, because any gross misconceptions soon vanish once you are there.

Some countries get a huge thumbs down, to the extent that women are advised against lone travel, at all costs. Egypt stands out as a country high up on the 'no go' list. Women often report feeling intimidated, men, eyes brimming over with lust, are said to leer and hiss at foreign women. Having lived in Cairo as an English teacher, I regularly heard fellow teachers complain about Egyptian men's atrocious attitude to women. Of course, I witnessed and experienced the guys hanging round street corners, whistling and jousting for my attention. The best advice, ignore, don't make eye contact and keep walking. Appear confident at all costs, looking like you have purpose and know where you're going - even if you don't. Don't pull out a map in the middle of a busy street, find somewhere quieter and look there. Its always wise to conform to local etiquette especially in Islamic countries. Whilst you are not required to wear a hijab, burqa or chador, dressing conservatively not only shows respect for the local culture, it can divert unwanted attention. I believe the pornography industry has a lot of answer for in their depictions of foreign women. In the minds of many men, this translates into we are somehow 'loose' and always up for it. As a women I became friendly with in India put it "all the men love the blue movie".


Street scene Marrakesh

Every other day when when we open the newspaper, we read reports about rape and sexual assault. However, it doesn't mean won't leave the house, does it? No, we tend to be more careful at certain times of the day and take precautions. I believe it's the same when we travel, be savvy, be streetwise. If you feel threatened in any situation abroad, the best strategy is to approach a local women and seek help. It's just unfortunate the focus is on women to deter sexual violence, as opposed to drawing attention to the perpetrators. New Zealand and Australia are always up there at the top of 'safe' countries to visit. Even there however, lone female travelers have been murdered in both countries in recent years. In other words, safety cannot be predicted anywhere so unfortunately, we must navigate the same safety strategies we put in place at home.


Holy man in Mysore, India

As females we are socialised to care for others, be kind and avoid conflict. So as a woman, what do you do if a man approaches you and asks a seemingly innocuous question, 'What country are you from?' Do you stop, smile and respond? Quite often, if this is your reaction, you will get locked into a conversation and find it difficult to disengage. If you completely ignore the person, avoid eye-contact and keep walking, they will go. So you see, it might feel rude or uncomfortable taking this approach, but it avoids becoming embroiled in problematic situations. Another tip, if you like to read travel guides such as Lonely Planet or Rough Guide to plan or familiarise yourself before you go; don't concentrate too much on the 'dangers and annoyances' section. These books breed fearful travellers, many become so pre-occupied worrying with getting 'ripped off', robbed or scammed, it affects their overall experience. I've seen people clutching their 'travel bible' close to their chests, while arguing tooth and nail with rickshaw drivers in Vietnam, over 20p! Relax, there is a good chance it might not happen!


In the park - Karachi, Pakistan

For those who are really itching to travel alone, I would suggest booking a flight to a destination closer to home. For starters. At the tender age of 19, I took a flight to Amsterdam and checked into the Vondelpark youth hostel. You realise, very quickly, that you are not alone, when you meet other solo travelers from all over the globe. So any fears around being lonely or not meeting fellow travellers, soon vanish. Although the memory is quite distant, I remember sitting in the common room of the hostel and began chatting to Denise, a Black South African woman. This was the first year Black South African's could apply for a travel visa, and she was taking full advantage. One thing led to another, she visited me in Scotland and I travelled to South Africa the following year. Not only did I visit her home town Johannesburg, but also had the opportunity to spend time in Soweto and Cape Town. I quickly realised that if with friends, I wouldn't have struck up this conversation and there'd have been no trip to South Africa. On the occasions I've travelled with friends, there's not the same inclination to interact with those you meet along the way. So you do miss the benefits, such as invites to other countries and an insight into people's very different lives


My coffee pals in Mysore, India

As the years passed, I began to outgrow the hostel scene. Wanting a bit more privacy, I decided to try airbnb and have become addicted to this homestay experience ever since. On my recent trip to Mysore, I lived like a queen with a local family. For £7 a night, I had a daily freshly made breakfast and my own little apartment in a sun trap, above the main house. But its more than that, you get a real insight into cities, as well as learning about the local customs and traditions through interactions with your hosts. In fact, you don't need 'Trip Adviser' the family become your very own guide to what's happening in the local and surrounding areas. Overall, airbnb has always given me a good solid base, with people who care about their guests wellbeing and go who go that extra mile. However, I understand that younger travelers, as I did myself, often prefer the hostel scene, and all the frolics that go along with it. Therefore, I just wanted to make people aware of the benefits of homestays, as well as highlighting the low costs and the boost to local economies. I loved the ethics of this sharing economy so much, I became an airbnb host in my hometown of Glasgow. I have met the most interesting people from all over the world and feels like I'm travelling, even when I'm not!


With my airbnb host in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Another fantastic way to travel is to become an English Teacher. I completed the Trinity ESOL certificate in 2003 and was jetting off to Taiwan shortly afterwards. Being based in Taiwan, meant that countries closer to 'home' shifted from Europe to Asia. Taiwan itself has a hugely unique natural beauty. The subtropical volcanic island is more than 70% towering, jagged mountains that in some places rise nearly straight out of the Pacific Ocean. Weekends were great times to visit the natural beauty of Taroko Gorge and other wonders. When based in Taipei, I spent a week in Henan Province, China, to visit a friend I had worked with in Scotland. This was during the incredible Chinese New Year festivities. Knowing I was only across the Taiwan Strait, she invited me to celebrate the authentic year of the monkey with her family. I also nipped over to Hong Kong and Thailand and visiting Bangkok, Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan. Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam, was my next stop for teaching. From there, I traveled north to visit other cities in this diverse and vibrant country. During school holidays, I crossed the border into Cambodia twice, falling in love with the people and culture. There are also lots of other travel crazy teachers so you will find a friend to travel with, if you don't fancy going it alone.


Monks at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Unfortunately, I don't have any digital photo's from my earlier travels. This was back in the day when you put your spool into the chemist and waited excitedly for a week to pick up your photo's! However, I have shown a wee selection of photo's, some of the very lovely men I met on my intrepid travels. Be clear, it is the minority of men who cause a nuisance to women when visiting developing countries. You will meet friendly and engaging men, only they won't approach you in the street. You meet them in a range of social situations, including homestays.

If you are a female or even a male who is a little reluctant to travel on your own, tell me why. What is your main concern, is it around your personal safety? Are you afraid to eat on your own in a restaurant? Is it the fear of being alone? Do you plan an itinerary packed with activities to do every waking hour? Are you afraid of being with yourself?

Finally, you realise you have skills, perhaps previously unknown to you. You can navigate your way around cities, communicate with people even if there is a language barrier, you plan, your book, you multi-task and make decisions multiple times a day. You realise exactly just how independent you are! There are plenty women who are living proof that it can be done and it can transform your life! Exciting opportunities arise, you make new friends who can change your life, you just don't know yet what amazing things are in store for you!


Entering the Sinai desert

Happy travels!

Posted by katieshevlin62 02:41

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Although I don't travel solo (I mostly travel with my husband, and from time to time with Virtual Tourist friends) I found this a very interesting read and loved your photos!

by ToonSarah

News tend to focus on the bad so they give slightly unilateral view of things, wars and natural catastrophes aside, rapes and robberys unfortunately happen anywhere, even where you are living. But still world is not as dangerous place as some might think, good and nice people live also everywhere :)

Even if I am not your "target" audience writing this (I mostly travel with my boyfriend or siblings) I still wanted to comment! I like your writings and agree with you! I tend to be more open-minded of us when we are deciding an next destination to go. You probably can imagine how many times I have heard "Isn't there dangerous" or "That's not safe place to go", and those are only for more touristy places...:)
I am aiming more "out of the beaten path", hopely in not so far future! :)

by hennaonthetrek

Thanks a lot Sarah, and glad you liked the photo's, as you know I'm also an admirer of your pictures. Henna thanks also for your comments. Yes travelling alone is not for everyone, I've also travelled with friends and boyfriends in the past but since I'm increasingly interested in learning about the world, I think this is better done on my own. You should defo try it sometime.
This blog post is not very reassuring about future travel! If the link doesn't work, just go to Above the Skies. xx

by katieshevlin62

Link didn't but old good copy-paste did the trick! ;)
Yeah, for sure the normal is going to be somewhat different in the future than what we are use to but hopefully world start to little by little open up again!

by hennaonthetrek

I have seen all sorts of predictions about travel post-pandemic, from the pessimistic like this one through to the (I think too) optimistic, and all shades in between!

by ToonSarah

I think that article could be quite accurate, many things I hadn't considered. I'd like to read a more optimistic one.

by katieshevlin62

I must say that I have high regards for you traveling abroad. Although I am addicted to traveling, I myself rather like to travel in group, but when in Europe, I have no problem at all traveling solo ... maybe when reading this I should risk it an get out of my comfort zone, something to think about ... that's for sure!

by Ils1976

Thanks for reading it Ils. Is your name Ils? Yes I would recommend it. As you read I always stay with local people and from they tell you the secret places to visit. Tours aren't for me, being herded around. But I guess its a good way to go, if you want to see specific places or things. You seem really friendly and upbeat, if you've got the confidence I would definately try it. I've not had many issues.

by katieshevlin62

Yep, that's my name ... Ils. Most people just say Ilse, because they are more used to it, but my parents wanted to be inventive and let out the e at the end.

By the way, love to read your blogs, so when I have a bit more time, I will certainly have a go at it. I really love your view on traveling since it is a bit different than mine ... I like it very much.

by Ils1976

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