Solo female travel: why it’s a label I support

February 6, 2013 in Life,Philosophy,Travel

When I was in college, my undergraduate theme was women’s studies: I took classes in women’s health, women’s literature, the media’s portrayal of women, and the intersection of work and family in women’s lives. It was honestly one of the most valuable educational experiences that I’ve had: I learned more about my body and how it works. I was able to delve into the history of women writers, examine how women’s looks are scrutinized on TV and in magazines, discuss the very real issues of balancing a desire for both a career and motherhood in today’s “equal” workplace.

Christine Amorose in Interlaken, Switzerland in 2009

One of the lessons that resonated the most was how singular our experiences are: I am a woman. I am also white, a third-generation American of European descent, born into the upper middle class and in possession of a college degree. There is literally no way I can fully understand the experience of a man, of a black person, of a person born into a different socioeconomic situation. I can sympathize, I can empathize–but my experience is purely mine, influenced by my experiences, interactions, prejudices.

Solo female travel is suddenly back in the news, after a 33-year-old woman was murdered while traveling alone in Turkey. News coverage prompted an outpouring of comments that seem out of time, out of place in the warm embrace of the “solo female travel” blogging community: that a woman has no business traveling alone, that it’s crazy to travel anywhere in the U.S. or outside of the world for fear of being shot, that a woman’s life loses its value as soon as it leaves this country.

I’m very supportive of solo female travel, both the act and the label. It’s come under discussion (attack?) in the travel blogging community for rallying behind our gender as the sole aspect of our identity worth promoting. But I still think there are many more women than men who are afraid to travel alone, who feel like they need a boyfriend, a friend, a group. Heck, there are still countries that I wouldn’t feel comfortable traveling alone or even with another female–namely, the Middle East and Northern Africa. I don’t think men worry as much about dressing appropriately, not drinking, staying in safe areas of town nearly as much as women do. I don’t think they come under the same level of scrutiny for choosing to go by themselves, instead of waiting for a partner. Being a “solo female traveler” is a label as much as a being a “budget traveler,” a “luxury traveler,” a “couples travel”: it’s a way to identify, to find similar minds, to bond and learn from and examine that shared experience.

When people say that “anyone can travel,” I’m always a little hesitant. I can travel: I’m from a country that allows recreational travel to most countries, a Western power that can grant work visas and study visas and travel visas. Even on minimum wage, I can earn more money in a day than many educated people in third-world countries can in a week. I am eligible for credit cards, for airline miles, for a passport. $50 a day is a reasonable sum for me to save and to spend on travel: it’s an impossible number to a majority of the world’s population.

Lucky pennies on the ground in NYC

I suppose this is really just a post to say that I’m grateful. I recognize the luck I’ve had, the opportunities that have been granted to me by no real work on my part. I’ve had the chance to travel, to work and live abroad. Merit scholarships and the financial support of my parents enabled me to graduate college with no debt. If it all comes down to the flip of a coin in the lottery of the world, I’ve been lucky.

But more than that, I’ve been given this incredible confidence: this belief that the world is good and worth exploring. The knowledge that it’s just as much of a risk outside my door as it is outside my country’s borders. That even though I’m a woman, with the experience and emotions and exhilaration of being a woman, I can do this crazy thing called “solo female travel” without feeling as though it’s something to be discounted. Even though I don’t travel as much as I used to and even though I travel with other people more and more: I’m proud of that label, that belief and that courage, and all that it stands for.

  • http://christineinspain.com Christine

    AMEN.

  • http://www.thepaperplanesblog.com/ Alana – Paper Planes

    I wonder what angle the news coverage – and comments – would be taking if it was a single man…a student…a gay man…an old lady… Too many stereotypes.

  • http://rinuslifereel.wordpress.com/ Rinu

    Thank you!!! I’m off to Cuba in a couple of months and this news (along with the tourists getting raped in Mexico) has driven my parents crazy. Danger happens everywhere and most of people’s fear with regards to travel are the result of ignorance.

  • http://www.danielle-abroad.com/ Danielle E. Alvarez

    Fantastic post, Christine. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Megan C. Stroup

    Great post! I agree that it’s sad, but not everyone really can travel. I’m grateful that I’m in the category where I can. :)

  • Alicia C

    I hope I can travel someday to even 1/10th the places you’ve been. My fingers are crossed my finances will support it soon. But for now, I am in the category that I can’t even stay at a local hotel over a weekend just for the pool. Glad to hear you are so thankful for what you’ve done and have! :)

  • http://twitter.com/Pointsandtravel Pointsandtravel

    agreed!

  • http://twitter.com/20sTravel Stephanie

    Oh man, I am so happy I did not see that Will Peach article before and so cranky now that I have. There are so many women out there who have no idea that solo travel is even a real valid option available to them. SO MANY. Anything that encourages women to get out and see the world is admirable in my eyes.

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  • Adrienne @omandaway

    Any good solo-female travelers will tell you they do not travel without a thought of the dangers that await them where ever they go whether it’s around the world or to a questionable part of their own hometown Dangerous situations can arise everywhere and anywhere, but if you plan properly, question where you should or should not go when in a strange place and always be mindful of your surroundings, you can mitigate any chances you will be a victim.
    I have travelled the world by myself and always pay attention to my inner “Spidey-senses”.

  • http://olivesroom.com/ Jodi Henderson

    What a beautiful post! I’ve traveled to Europe twice as a solo traveler and haven’t felt the least bit troubled by the fact that I was alone. The key, for me, is to keep to areas with lots of people (easy to do in a place like Paris) and to not go out at night. I’m also with Adrienne on the “spidey sense”; just stay aware of what’s going on around you and you should be fine.

  • http://www.GQtrippin.com/ Kieu – GQ trippin

    And this is why I like you.. beautifully written. I wish people knew more solo female travelers like you and the many others we know who inspire me to get out there more on my own. :)

  • http://twitter.com/AndiPerullo Andi Perullo, L.Ac.

    I am heartbroken for that women’s death, but just because one woman dies on a solo trip doesn’t mean the millions before her and the millions after her did or will. I hate how the news sensationalizes stories. They should do pieces now on all of the other female solo travelers whose lives have changed because of their adventures alone. It’s all about following your intuition and using common sense. Having said that, sometimes people no matter if they are male or female are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • www.thetraveluster.com

    You are spot-on about there being just as many dangers right outside our doors as there are out in the “foreign” world. I’ve been a solo woman traveler for 15-ish years, and I’ve definitely encountered more of the “evils” of the world in my own neighborhood than abroad. It boils down to being smart and sensible as a person (regardless of gender). That said, there are some things that will just happen to you, no matter how diligent you are. I am a huge supporter of solo female travel. I’ve never considered myself a feminist, but I still just don’t understand why women are often fearful, and society often frowns upon, females traveling alone. It can be the most rewarding, freeing experience. I’m actually now inspired, writing this comment and thinking back on all the momentous adventures and many mishaps (I have some funny stories!), to add a series or category to my blog on solo female travel! Thanks for the inspiration!! xoxo, Lindsay

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  • http://twitter.com/CanSoupLover JulieWevers

    SO moving and inspiring! Thank you for that. Really.
    I’m a solo female traveler and love it that way.

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  • Embla

    Hi Christine, if you’re nervous about the Middle East, start with the UAE and Oman. Bahrain/Jordan/Lebanon were fine too, Qatar was for the most part okay, but if you go to Kuwait I’d suggest covering up well. I’ve felt much safer traveling around the Middle East as a solo female traveler than a lot of other places. Hope you don’t stay away from the Middle East and North Africa :)

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  • http://www.grrrltraveler.com GRRRL TRAVELER

    Very beautiful post, Christine. I think it takes tremendous courage for women to make the decision to travel solo and I resent that the media has been trying to take it away. Of course, it’s all for shock and more readers, but I think the American public is more vulnerable and prone to believing what they watch on tv. Way to stand up for it.

    ps. I linked this article in my recent post.

  • camorose

    Thanks lady :)

  • camorose

    Great point.

  • camorose

    So true–you’ve got to be careful, but you can’t stop living your life.

  • camorose

    Thanks lady!

  • camorose

    Exactly :)

  • camorose

    Thank you for all of your support and kind comments–much, much appreciated.

  • camorose

    :)

  • camorose

    Yeah, when I first read it, I was super annoyed but couldn’t figure out how to respond without sounding like a bitch who couldn’t take a joke. Meh. Super grateful for women like you who have proven that it’s totally possible!

  • camorose

    It’s all about having common sense, no matter where you are in the world.

  • camorose

    Common sense is the most important thing to pack, no matter where you’re going!

  • camorose

    Aww, thanks lady! Too kind.

  • camorose

    Exactly–there’s danger everywhere. And such a shame how the news chooses to only focus on the negative!!!

  • camorose

    Exactly! I’m honestly more worried about coming home at night in NYC than I ever was in SE Asia or Australia–particularly because it’s “home” and thus I’m more apt to let my guard down. Common sense is key, whether you’re a man or a woman.

  • camorose

    So glad you enjoyed it :)

  • camorose

    I think it’s just a fear of the unknown–I felt the same way about SE Asia, but as soon as I got there, I realized what was appropriate and what to expect and had a lovely time. Good to know about the UAE and Oman–will look into visiting there first :)

  • camorose

    Thank you! So glad you enjoyed the post.

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  • Ann

    agree – don’t skip the Middle East. i did Jordan & Lebanon solo in Fall 2011 with no issues

  • http://www.KatarzynaTolwinska.com/ kASIA jalan jalan

    Hello Christine. Thank you for that article! Especially for the last two paragraphs. It’s not so common to meet someone conscious of how lucky we are being able to live the life we want.

    I’m a “solo female traveler” myself and could not express better how lucky I feel to be able to do what I’m doing.

    I though I will add my personal testimony to the subject, by saying that I’ve been constantly on the road for the last four years and some of the roads I’ve traveled went via Middle East. Giving an example of Iran, where I started my trip, I can only say that people are more than wonderful and caring in that and other parts of the world. Frankly, I’m under impression than partly because they see a woman alone. I’ve had nothing but great experiences on the way, with a few exceptions having nothing to do with my gender.

    I wish for woman that would like to travel and get stopped by fear to believe in what you’ve said “The knowledge that it’s just as much of a risk outside my door as it is outside my country’s borders”

    Wishing you safe travels,

    Kasia

    P.S. Off topic, but for those who can’t earn (surely anybody can spend:)) 50 dollars/day, I’ve been traveling for 10 USD/day (Middle East and Asia). It might be slightly extreme, but the point I’m trying to make is that possibilities are endless. All you need to do is just go for it.

  • camorose

    Thank you for this kind response–I’m going to be visiting the Middle East for the first time in a couple of weeks and that totally puts my mind at ease!

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  • Alexa

    Loved this post. Very interesting thoughts. Thank you!

  • camorose

    Glad you enjoyed it!

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