Solo Female Travel

I’m in the early stages of planning a trip around Queensland, which I’ll most likely be taking on my own. On that token, I thought I’d share an article I wrote for WildJunket a while back on the topic of solo female travel, which remains just as relevant today as it was then.

Kenza in Dominican Republic

I spent 17 years in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, a bustling capital city in which crime, corruption, and poverty are visible on a daily basis. My brother, Eric, was allowed to go running on his own, walk to friends’ houses, and basically have free reign of the city; I, on the other hand, wasn’t allowed to leave the neighborhood without the company of Eric or one of my parents. It was the subject of several entries in my angst-ridden pre-teen diary – and it’s a topic that’s still worth talking about today.

My parents believed they were protecting their little girl, convinced that I was more likely to come to harm since I was female. However, in the seventeen years that I lived in the Dominican Republic, my father was mugged a total of four times (once at gunpoint), my brother was held up three times, and my mother and I were mugged only once. It also happens that when my mother and I were attacked, we were out for a run together, so neither of us was out alone (on a side note, the two men didn’t manage to steal anything from me because I outran them – which I’m still proud of).

The truth about solo female travel

In light of the devastating news of solo traveler Sarai Sierra’s death, many people have reacted with the opinion that women shouldn’t be traveling alone. Comments on the NBC article that reported 33-year-old Sierra’s murder include “A single woman traveling alone is risky. In a foreign country, it is downright foolish,” “Women should NOT be travelling alone in dangerous places,” and “Who travels alone as a married woman?”

The truth of the matter is that globally, 80% of homicide victims are male. The most common form of violence against women is in their own home, and the most common perpetrators of violence against women are people who know them personally. While a stranger-in-the-bushes scenario does happen once in a blue moon, women are far more likely to be victims of people who know them well, and men are more likely to be victims of strangers. What I’m trying to say here is that it’s NOT a matter of gender or an issue that comes with travelling.

Sarai Sierra’s death has been gaining media attention worldwide, as do most tragic and unexpected events – which is why we remember them. Our brains don’t work by remembering how often something occurs – they simply call to mind what is easiest to remember. Plane crashes make headlines; car crashes don’t. Murdered travelers make headlines; domestic violence doesn’t. Statistically, it’s safer to get into a plane than it is to get into a car. By that same token, women are more likely to be murdered by their neighbours than by strangers abroad.

And yet, thanks to a base rate fallacy, people are more likely to fear something that is less likely to happen to them. It’s time for us to start looking at real numbers and stop focusing on what makes headlines. Traveling alone is exhilarating and freeing, and no one – man or woman – should be told that they shouldn’t do so. Tragedies happen, at home and abroad. The only thing that makes an unexpected tragedy worse is blaming the victim, as we’ve seen from some in Sarai Sierra’s case, instead of putting the blame on the murderer, where it belongs.

That’s not to say there is no danger in traveling. There is, and it would be foolish to overlook that. But there are ways to minimize risks while abroad – not just for women, but for all travelers:

  • Do your research before you go, and respect the customs of the country you’re traveling in.
  • Listen to your instincts – your gut feeling can register that something is dangerous before your conscious has a chance to, and you’re better off safe than sorry.
  • Be careful with how much you drink – getting drunk is an easy way to topple your defences.
  • Avoid areas that are notorious for being dangerous, and don’t trust anyone completely.
  • Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.

After that? Have fun.

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