The appeal of solo traveling for many women is the freedom of finally saying “yes” to a world where we are told “no.” And yet, despite this, we still find reasons not to get our passports stamped.
The New York Times published an article last week with the salacious headline ” Adventureous, Alone and Attacked” that listed a number of reasons. The article describes violent attacks on women traveling alone, including Hannah Gavios, who had to relearn how to walk after a spell in Thailand, and Carla Stefaniak, who was brutally murdered in Costa Rica.
It is important to tell their stories. The article has a familiar message for women like me who are frequent travelers. It reminds us of an email a parent would send to a daughter on a trip. This is an implicit “I told You So” and a warning for you to be on your guard, even if it’s not completely still.
For my podcast, I spoke with over 300 women who are seeking adventure. Many of the women that I have talked to have traveled alone or would like it. When I read articles about the dangers of women traveling alone, I’m struck by how we often talk about them in binary terms. The media portrays it as dangerous or safe too often. I wondered if people would focus on the words “alone,” “attacked,” or “alone.” These dangers are scary and real. Are the risks that women face when traveling alone any different than the ones they encounter every day in their own homes?
How can we go forward with a sense of adventure, hope, and preparedness? I spoke with four experienced solo female travelers to find out what they learned from reading about dangerous solo travel. They also shared why they would never stop traveling alone and why women should continue to travel solo.
If I waited for a travel partner to do everything I wanted to, I wouldn’t do it.”
Georgina Miranda began traveling alone out of necessity. “If I had waited for a travel partner, partner, spouse or boyfriend to go and do all the things that I wanted to, I wouldn’t have done them. Life is too short. I don’t like to wait at home.” She is now on a solo mission to become the fifth American woman, and one of only a few Latinas, to complete the Explorer Grand Slam. This adventure quest aims to reach the North Pole and South Pole and the highest mountain in each continent.
She believes that sharing stories of women who traveled alone and were in danger can help raise awareness around the globe about gender-based violence. In her travels, it is important to plan for safety on every trip. She does extensive research on a country before planning to travel and has even decided not to go to certain places because the risks outweigh the benefits.
Miranda compares her outdoor learning to the concept of “beta.” In climbing, beta refers to information such as a climb’s level of difficulty, required equipment, and other life-saving details. Climbers pass it on over time. Miranda also shares her travel tips with women she meets while on the road.
“Taking [solo] travel away from women, is inherently misogynist.”
Ali Wunderman, a writer from New York City, took her first solo backpacking trip in British Columbia at age 13 with Adventures Cross Country. This kind of travel, over the years, has given her a strong sense of self that she can only maintain with continued travel. She told me with confidence that solo travel was the best way for women to gain autonomy. Travel is a challenge that you must overcome to survive and continue. You become stronger when you’re in a position where you can actively practice this kind of autonomy and survivalist skill.
Wunderman has written a Belize guidebook with advice specifically for women. The updated version of a 2011 book written by a man included advice like who to contact if you are assaulted and what hotels to book if the hotel owner has a bad reputation for harassing guests. Wunderman thinks that guidebooks should come from people who actually use them, and she advocates for more to be written by women and marginalized groups. She told me, “Don’t allow other people’s fear to lead you into your own fears.”
We have many misconceptions about different people, depending on where they come from.
Marinel de Jesus believes solo travel should not be romanticized, and more information should be available on its dangers. She admits that the New York Times article, which contains anecdotes about solo travel, would make her frightened if she weren’t a traveler. “You read it and if you haven’t traveled before — forget it. You’re never going do it.”
De Jesus says that, in general, solo travel is safe for women. However, there aren’t many reliable sources of information, so stories about dangers can be a deterrent to women who want to go alone. She believes that “we have many misconceptions about people based on where they come from.” Broad generalizations made in the media can be misleading. She says that women should do their research and be sensitive to cultural differences, as well as connect with other women who have recently traveled to the country.
“I’m always looking for the least-risky way to take risks.”
Julie Hotz, on her own, has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail for 1,000 miles, biked from Los Angeles up to Glacier National Park, and hitchhiked through Italy. She wants other women to feel the same way. Hotz believes that both solo travel and risk are part of a very flexible spectrum. She minimizes the risks she takes wherever she goes: “Even if I think the best of everyone, I try to find the least risky path in the risk taking that I do.” Hotz describes solo travel as “whatever is at the edge [of your] comfort zone.” This could be camping 15 miles away from home, going alone to the movies, or booking tickets to Thailand. Hotz believes that all of these are worthy pursuits.