Female Solo Travel is NOT the Problem

Pass it along:

I wasn’t going to write this article because once I get started it’s hard for me to stop, and suddenly I have pages and pages of an angryfeminist travel manifesto. Which is not what I’m trying to do today, so I will restrain myself and just offer some opinions on what’s going on in the world today.

Lots of people are talking about the 33 year old American woman, Sarai Sierra, who was found murdered in Istanbul last week. It’s a very sad situation that’s currently being investigated by both the local authorities and the FBI. At this point it’s impossible to know what happened and why.

Perhaps because there are so few details, the media has zeroed in on the idea of a pretty woman traveling in a foreign country alone. So you see articles telling us women’s solo travel is under scrutiny that contain quotes like “A woman has no business traveling alone,” and “No way I would even let my beautiful wife out the door to travel to any country alone.”

Pause a moment while I try not to rage smash my computer.

I find this infuriating not just because there are human beings who actually think that way in 2013 (I mean, thank god I’m not that guy’s wife- am I right ladies?), but because it’s all totally misdirected. There are a lot of problems evident here, but ladies wandering around unsupervised isn’t one of them.

Xenophobia is the Problem

I get asked about safety for women travelers a lot, and it’s not surprising. Movies like Taken (if you don’t know why Taken is an absolutely ridiculous, impossible scenario, I don’t even have time to start to explain it to you), and the news media do a pretty good job of convincing us the world is a really scary place, particularly for women.

The thing is: the world isn’t a scary place. Time and time again, in places like Colombia, China and Bosnia, I’ve found that the hype about traveling abroad is far scarier than the act of actually doing it. If you have a good head on your shoulders, the world is a pretty safe place. There is nothing inherently dangerous about being outside the United States- something we often seem to forget. Because uh… women are raped and murdered here too- a LOT of them. Washington DC has a higher murder rate than Bogota, but nobody seems worried about me wandering around by myself here.

All alone in Cambodia

If this poor woman had been murdered in Chicago or New York City we probably would never have heard about it, because it doesn’t play on this fear of the unknown.

Double Standards Are the Problem

Who do you think are more likely to be murdered abroad, male travelers or female travelers? I can’t find a statistic, but I’ve asked a few travelers and the consensus seems to be that men are more likely to be killed. After all, men are far more likely than women to be the victims of homicide in general, and men are more prone to getting into fights or other unsafe situations (women are more used to being cautious while traveling.)

So why is nobody cautioning men on the dangers of traveling abroad, or alone? Why was that article above questioning female solo travel and not just solo travel in general?

Not that I’m not saying solo travel is unsafe- I think it can be perfectly safe as long as you are aware and don’t act dumb. And I don’t think the experiences of traveling alone for men and women are identical. I just think it’s incredibly unfair that only women get questioned for doing it.

Violence Against Women is the Problem

But the worst part of all, this debate about solo travel is a distraction from the real issue: a woman was murdered. Why was she murdered? Not just her, what about the four other Turkish women who were killed that same weekend?

When terrible things happen to seemingly innocent people, our minds do a funny thing. We don’t want to believe these things can happen to us, so we immediately try to figure out what that person did wrong. Were they walking alone late at night? Dressed provocatively? Traveling alone in a foreign country? Anything to convince ourselves that this horrid thing was their fault, and couldn’t happen to us.

Sierra may have been a woman traveling alone. But travel isn’t what killer her: a person did it. In the case of the other four women who were murdered: their husbands and boyfriends did it.

The fact is that more women are beaten, raped and killed in their own homes than traveling anywhere on earth, “According to the United Nations, men are more likely to be murdered in a public place, while women are more likely to be killed at home.”

So I take it back, sometimes the world IS a scary place. We do have a problem, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with travel.

What do you think?

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167 Responses to Female Solo Travel is NOT the Problem

  1. ILham Bint Sirin September 24, 2013 at 6:31 AM #

    Sierra went to Sarayburnu in Istanbul, the last palce any local would go to alone or in groups. It is a place where teh worst kind of drug addicts hang out, and no one else. If she got killed, a man would have got killed there, too, in the same situation. Maybe even faster.

  2. Tayllor September 25, 2013 at 5:50 PM #

    It’s good to see somebody talking about this! Being a college student and a girl, all I ever hear is how dangerous it would be to go travel on my own. That includes the United States. I understand that being on the younger end of the spectrum should be taken into consideration because of inexperience, but people automatically warn me about solo travel without knowing anything about my experience level. This is something that has been hammered into me for years and I refuse to believe that I’m somehow incapable of traveling by myself just because I’m a girl. Thanks for the great post, can’t wait to read more!

  3. Kellie @ The Fundamental Alchemist October 13, 2013 at 9:28 AM #

    Here here! Although I can’t say I wouldn’t have some reservations about visiting certain places, usually I am sensible of the fact that ANYTHING can happy ANYWHERE, including in the ‘safety’ of your own home. I’ve walked alone in England in an area that made the back of my neck prickle but where nothing ultimately happened. And I’ve strode confidently in my current home of Japan, one of the so-called Safest Countries in The World, and been grabbed/groped by a stranger (I shook him off so all was well). My thoughts are the same as they were before: we should be mindful, not fearful; man or woman.

  4. Chris October 26, 2013 at 1:05 AM #

    Thank you for sharing this insider information. We should take care of ourselves no matter where we are. Be careful!

  5. Dan November 18, 2013 at 9:32 AM #

    This article misses the point. Disregard the media sensationalism and look at it on its face. Women are more likely to be the targets of predatory males. They cannot defend themselves as well as a male and are the focus of a sex crime if one is going to occur. To say the problem is not solo female travel but instead violence against women is as absurd as a drunk driver saying, “the problem is not drunk driving, the problem is other people on the road.” Obviously violence against women is the problem, so in response solo female travel becomes a problem. That includes venturing off in your own country as well. Central Park in NYC is less safe if you’re a solo park-goer just the same. You only defend it because you couldn’t find people who wanted to travel with you and you get sad when people tell you it’s less safe to be alone. Well it is, too bad. I’ve travelled alone before and it was because none of my friends were able to accompany me at the time. But don’t kid yourself, it is always more fun and safe to travel with others especially if you’re a female. Just common sense. Sorry.

    • Steph November 18, 2013 at 10:31 AM #

      I actually think you have your analogy backwards. Saying women traveling is the problem, not violent people, is equivalent to saying people on the road are the problem, not the drunk driving. In both cases it takes the responsibility away from the offenders (murderers/drunk drivers) and puts it on innocent bystanders (unless you actually think women are asking for it by traveling alone, in which case you are a lost cause). If we’re every going to decrease these crimes the focus has to be on preventing these attitudes of violence (drunk driving), not getting people off the road. When someone gets killed by a drunk driver, nobody says “well what did they expect? Roads are dangerous!”

      And I’m actually married now and I still choose to travel alone sometimes. You might not like it but plenty of people find it fun and rewarding.

  6. mandy December 15, 2013 at 2:48 PM #

    I am so glad I stumbled upon this post. I have had the very Reaction of ‘you are so brave’ when I tell people I am solo backpacking next year and travelling the world. I know I am not stupid and I trust my instincts and it frustrates me that people (both who know and don’t know me) think I’m doing something so scary. It is almost offensive. After reading this though I will happily direct them to this blog post. Travelling is not the scary thing, people are, and scary people are unavoidable where ever you go!

  7. The Roaming Coconuts January 4, 2014 at 11:15 AM #

    You summed up my feelings on the safety of solo female travelers perfectly! I’m so tired of justifying what I’m doing to people who have NEVER left the country. I think I’ll just forward them this post from now on :)

  8. Marcus January 6, 2014 at 12:32 AM #

    Great post. A big problem is that many people just want to hear or read what they assume to read or hear about something…

  9. Nicole January 10, 2014 at 2:39 PM #

    I posted something similar to my own blog, but didn’t articulate nearly as well. Thank you– I’m reblogging this to my Tumblr!

  10. Sarah February 12, 2014 at 2:03 AM #

    Great insights here Steph! I’ve been questioning lately about travelling to India as I’ve heard very mixed reports on females travelling solo. It’s always been so high on the bucket list but all the negative press that’s flying around is turning me off!

    Have you been?


    • Steph February 12, 2014 at 10:14 AM #

      I haven’t been to India myself but I know quite a few female travelers who have. Check out and

  11. Joanna Kalafatis March 27, 2014 at 4:46 AM #

    Amazing article, thank you so much for writing this! A lot of these points are the same things I talk to my parents and friends about over and over again when they try to warn me against traveling alone. Or when more traditionally-minded members of my family think I should have a boyfriend with me at home and abroad for protection.

    I’ve noticed that a lot of people that get really concerned about me traveling abroad alone have never really traveled much outside their own country, or have only ventured to a couple of urban centers of the Western world. I can understand why people would be afraid of experiences they haven’t gone through, but I’ve been traveling from a young age, I know how to take basic safety precautions, and have generally found nothing but warm and welcoming people in every corner of the world I have been lucky enough to visit. Like you said, the problem is not traveling alone; the problem is a mixture of ignorance about other countries’ situations, and a trend of blaming people, especially women, for any bad thing that happens to them.

  12. Lucy April 18, 2014 at 10:48 AM #

    This is an excellent and needed post, so many of the reactions I hear to plans to travel somewhere alone are “but won’t you worry?” No more than I worry about walking through a town here, really; often less.


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