The past few years have seen an impressive trend emerge within the travel industry; the rise of the wander women, otherwise known as the solo female traveller.
Travelling alone is by no means a new concept, but in recent years women have wholeheartedly embraced their #wanderlust and are setting off unfettered into the world in unprecedented numbers.
And there is no reason why we shouldn’t.
Growing up in a liberal country we’re lucky to be raised in a society where women are afforded if not the same, a near equal right, to the world.
But the fact remains that travelling as a female, either alone, or with a companion, is not without its dangers.
This was proved in February this year, when two female Argentinian backpackers, Maria Coni and Marina Menegazzo, were murdered in Ecuador after accepting an offer to stay with two men.
“The girls had run out of money and got in touch with a friend who, in turn, contacted another friend who lived alone and gave them lodging,” Ecuadorean state prosecutor Eduardo Gallardo Rodas told the Buenos Aires Herald.
As details of the horrific crime came to light the victim blaming raged.
People asked why the two women were travelling alone (read: without a man), and one prominent Argentine psychiatrist even asked “why the women took a risk.”
This sparked a global protest.
Shortly after the murders, Paraguayan student Guadalupe Acosta wrote a Facebook post from the perspective of the two murdered women that encapsulated the anger women were feeling.
Part of the translated post read:
“Yesterday I was killed … But worse than death, was the humiliation that followed. From the time they had my dead body nobody asked where the (person) that ended my dreams, my hopes and my life was.
“No, rather than that they started asking me useless questions. To me, can you imagine? A dead girl, who cannot speak, who cannot defend herself.
“What clothes did you wear?
“Why were you alone?
“Why would a woman travel alone?
“You got into a dangerous neighbourhood, what did you expect?
“They questioned my parents for giving me wings, let me be independent, like any human being. They told them we were on drugs and we surely asked for it. They told them they should have looked after us.
“And only when dead I realised that no, that for the rest of the world I was not like a man. That dying was my fault, and it will always be. While if the headline would have said ‘two young male travellers were killed’ people would be expressing their condolences and with their false and hypocritical double standard speech would demand higher penalty for murderers.
“But being a woman, it is minimised. It becomes less severe, because of course I asked for it …
“I ask you, on behalf of myself and every other woman ever hushed, silenced; I ask you on behalf of every woman whose life was crushed, to raise your voice. We will fight, I’ll be with you in spirit, and I promise that one day we’ll be so many that there won’t be enough bags in the world to shut up us all.”
In response to her powerful post the hashtag #viajosola (I travel alone) began trending on Twitter, and the movement is still strong today.
Why is there such a hullabaloo towards women who choose to travel solo?! A #freespirit is free to roam regardless of gender. #viajosolapic.twitter.com/vXjO5IvCxa
— Tammy Bennett (@tammybtweets) October 22, 2016
I’ve just learned about the #viajosola movement and I support it 100%. It’s safe to travel solo if you prepare & are aware pic.twitter.com/bHKLMta3u0
— Stephanie Ricca (@HNN_Steph) October 12, 2016
As someone who has been lucky enough to travel through Hawaii and parts of South America and Europe alone and unscathed, I’m a firm supporter of solo travel.
I’m often questioned by other young women if I’ve ever been scared. Of which the answer is yes. Looking back on it, there are instances where I’ve thought “shouldn’t have done that.”
Such as the time I let a hotel clerk drive me to a local snorkel spot in Hawaii on his day off. “Why not, I’m here to see the country, as if he’d harm a guest” I thought.
Don’t get me wrong – while he was a lovely guy and the snorkel spot was amazing, towards the end of the day he made an advance and as I sat in his car, on “the longer, scenic way back” in an unfamiliar country, I realised just how unsafe the situation I placed myself in was.
Luckily, a combination of instinct, quick thinking and luck have always come to save the day (in this instance it was an imaginary boyfriend who was back at the hotel with food poisoning).
So, without further ado, here are some of my practical, easy tips to help keep my fellow solo travellers safe:
1. Never reveal you’re travelling alone
“Are you travelling alone?” It’s a common question that crops up when you’re abroad. Unless it’s a trusted source asking, such as hotel reception who can keep track of your whereabouts, do NOT disclose you’re by yourself. Saying you have friends in the city, or that your partner is back at the hotel are safe go-tos.
2. Make sure you’re contactable
Look we get it, sorting out an international sim is a pain when all you want to do is sightsee, but ensuring that you’re contactable (and can contact others) at all times is worth the fleeting inconvenience should you run into trouble. And if nothing else, you don’t have to rely on unreliable Wi-Fi. On top of this, always keep a charger handy.
3. Check in regularly with someone back home
Inform others of your daily itinerary back home and check in at least once a day. That way, if anything does go wrong they’ll pick up on it fast and be across your movements.
4. On quiet, unfamiliar streets walk in the middle of the road
This one also works when home. Doing this reduces your chances of being pulled into dark alleys, doorways and cars. Just keep an ear out for traffic – which leads to the next point …
5. Remain alert, aka: don’t listen to music with both headphones in
When in an unfamiliar environment always remain alert. One of the best ways to do this is to listen to music with one headphone in. While having headphones in can deter unwanted attention, you don’t want to be so distracted you’re caught unaware in the instance of trouble. This method allows you to keep both your eyes and ears on your surroundings.
6. Stay sober
It’s a hard one to bear, but it’s better to forgo drinks when travelling alone. A woman drinking alone always invites some form of attention, and more importantly, remaining on guard and aware of your surroundings is nigh impossible when drunk. If you do choose to drink, your hotel bar is probably the safest bet. Also make sure you sit at the bar, befriend your bartender and promptly inform them if you start to feel unwell or have unwanted attention.
7. Snap license plates and record drivers’ details
This is a handy habit to get into, as it safeguards you against creepy drivers and makes tracking down lost items that much easier. If your driver becomes affronted and asks what you’re doing, you can diffuse the situation by saying you once lost your wallet and it’s something you always do now. After that, if he is still uncomfortable get out of the car and take your chances with another.
8. Don’t be afraid to say no
Politeness is usually ingrained in us so don’t be afraid to be firm when turning down unwanted gestures – especially if there are language barriers at play. Don’t rationalise, or apologise as that sends a conflicting message. Just say “No, I’m not interested.” Safety trumps rudeness every time!
9. Trust your gut!
Millions of years of evolution has resulted in a damn good fight or flight response. While it’s easy to write things off as paranoia as a female, your first instinct about a person, or situation, is usually always right. Listen to your gut and if something doesn’t feel safe, walk away.
Ladies remember, the world is your oyster – an oyster that at times can be fraught with peril so stay vigilant and adventure on.
Source: The New Zealand Herald