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Recently, news broke that an American mother named Sarai Sierra had traveled to Turkey on her own, only to be tragically murdered on the day she was due to return home. It’s a terrible story, and you have to feel for her family who are grasping for answers about why this would happen to her. Unfortunately, many people commenting on these stories feel like they know the answer, the reason she met such an untimely end: the fact that she was a solo female traveler.
Many of my favourite female bloggers have already taken issue with this assumption, and I would like to add to that chorus. Solo female travel is not the issue here. It’s disappointing that we live in a society where that would be the immediate assumption. So many people believe that, as a woman on her own, she was taking irresponsible risks by traveling to a foreign country and gallivanting about on her own. But why paraphrase? Here are some of their unedited comments:
But for a woman to travel around alone, without a trustworthy local guide, is very reckless. It may be exciting to see unknown places and meet strangers, but it is unwise to assume that all places are safe and all persons friendly.
Never travel alone to countries like that. Especially if you are a white female. I was talking to a lady on an airplane the other day. She was white and blonde and was touring South America. In one day she was mugged, beaten, and then later almost kidnapped. Fortunately her son was there to save her from the kidnappers. That is why she was able to tell her story to me on the plane. Bring a partner, especially you young ladies. The movie “Taken”, its no joke. The only unrealistic thing about that movie, is that you won’t have an ex-commando come rescue you if you get sold into sex slavery.
Terrible end to this story……when you leave the US boarder [sic] know that your life losses [sic] half its value if not more……if your [sic] a woman in many of these countries your life is worth nothing. When you leave the US and are an American you are a TARGET.
I will agree that yes, there are problems that a female traveler faces, whether she is on her own or in a group.
If she goes to a club with friends, for what she sees as a harmless night of dancing, she could find herself cornered by a guy trying to take off her shirt, solely because he felt her dancing meant she wanted it. This happened to a friend in France.
If she stays in a mixed-gender hostel dorm room, she could end up sharing the room with guys that don’t necessarily have the same personal boundaries as she does. One of my friends was lucky enough to wake up and find that a dormmate had walked in, pulled down his pants, and was about to pee on another of my friends. This happened in Amsterdam.
If she walks down the street, she faces being the victim of petty crime — having all of her belongings stolen because she dared to step outside. This happened to a friend in Barcelona.
The interesting link in all of these stories? My friends took care of the situations on their own, without the help of a knight in shining armour galloping in. Screaming and yelling got my first two friends out of trouble, and the third was brave (silly?) enough to chase after the robber, pin him against a wall, and get her phone and wallet back. All of them kept traveling, not letting one isolated incident stop them from seeing the world.
And why would they need the knight in shining armour to take care of them just because they are abroad? As an American, I love my country, but I am not blind to its issues. I would much rather walk down the street late at night in Queenstown, New Zealand — where I traveled solo for the first time — than in Houston. I would rather face Porto’s Ribiera than walk alone in the area around my office in Brisbane’s West End, where two violent rapes have happened in the last few years.
Crime exists everywhere. Violence against women happens everywhere. It’s not something that is isolated to Muslim countries — which many commenters have identified Turkey as — or places that are not home. It’s a sad fact that the world has to live with, but should women stop living their dreams based on the actions of a depraved few? No. If they did, wouldn’t America end up like Saudi Arabia, where women are deprived of freedom because having it may cause a man to “lose control to his urges”?
I certainly haven’t hidden myself away because of something that might happen while traveling. I moved to a city where I knew absolutely no one that was almost exactly halfway around the world from everyone I knew and loved. I have traveled solo, hiking in the backcountry of New Zealand in the company of other trampers that I had only just met. All of these experiences helped me to find myself as a person and helped shape who I am today, and I strongly believe that solo travel an important experience for all women to have.
So all in all, what is my message to you as a fellow solo traveler? Be sensible and take necessary precautions, such as:
These will help you avoid unwanted situations, but they don’t guarantee that you won’t find yourself in one. But really, when in life can you guarantee that you will be perfectly safe? The risk is there when you are at home as well, so you might as well get out and live your dreams. So go forth and travel!
A few other posts on this subject that you should check out: