Solo Female Travel, Travel Stories

About this “solo female travel” thing.

 

When I first began planning my gap year of international travel I had never heard of the phrase “solo female travel.” I didn’t know it was a thing. A movement rather, of independent women like myself seeking adventure across the globe. In my naivety I hadn’t even hesitated to consider traveling the world alone. I’d traveled abroad in the past and felt confident in my ability to navigate the challenges long-term traveling would bring. I was optimistic and excited.

This optimism soon turned to anxiety when I began sharing my plans with others. Suddenly I received negative feedback from co-workers and friends who frequently showed me articles of women disappearing while traveling alone abroad and made jokes about me spending the rest of my life pooping in hole somewhere in the jungle. Their skepticism was thinly veiled by wary smiles of support and cautious enthusiasm. It felt as if I were breaking some unspoken rule, as if I were testing an invisible boundary tied to my gender and our beliefs about what women are and are not capable of doing on our own.
TheBarefootBeat
Kayaking in Greece, 2011

 I never planned on being a “solo female traveler.” I just knew I was living a life inconsistent with my values and beliefs and that I had to change. I was responding to an inner voice telling me to make a move, to take a leap of faith and step into the Unknown. Traveling has always brought cathartic change in my life and been my chosen method of therapy, so it only made sense that I would travel while realigning my priorities and seeking a more authentic lifestyle. Deciding to travel alone wasn’t a conscious decision I made, it was the only option since friends and family couldn’t afford to go with me.

I’ve been traveling alone for five months now and the more I read and write, the more I experience, the more I realize that what I am doing is not unique or particular. Women all over the world are traveling on their own seeking adventure and authentic lifestyles. They are breaking rules and charting their own path. 

In spite of this, there are so many negative and polarizing narratives about solo female travel, this “thing” that is picking up steam and drawing international attention. I recently read an article titled, “Dangers of Traveling While Female.” The article itself didn’t discuss any statistics about why traveling as a female was more dangerous than traveling as a male; there was no evidence for why gender made any difference in the safety of traveling alone. Instead, author Tara Isabella Burton lamented the lot of the female solo adventurer when compared to the freedom and openness of the male travel heroes she admired. “I wanted to be a fearless adventurer like my male heroes, but a voice kept warning me: Don’t get yourself raped,” she says.

I feel a lot of inner conflict each time I read an article or commentary like this. Tara continues her narrative with, “But deep down, I’ll know that such freedom is born of a privilege I do not have and perhaps should not want. It is a privilege that blinds those who have it to the fact that the world is not raw material, shifting, uncertain geography for us to shape and create anew in our words. It is not a moveable stage set upon which we can create visions of ourselves, invent ourselves as the adventurers we would like to be.”

Part of me understands her perspective and the limitations our gender forces us to live within. I can relate to her inner monologue of “Don’t get raped,” and I can’t deny that my vulnerability as a woman traveling alone affects certain decisions I make.
TheBarefootBeat
I almost said “no” to this solo jungle trek in Ecuador in 2012.

I have a hard time admitting this because I’m not sure that it should. As women we are conditioned to constantly worry. We’re told directly and indirectly that we are the weaker sex and are taught to depend upon our male counterparts for strength and security. We tell ourselves certain opportunities are not open to us because we are women, and this idea is reinforced by societies all over the world.

Tara goes on to say, “My approach must be a different one. I must watch; I must listen; I must look. I must sometimes remain silent and observe; I must avoid calling undue attention to myself. I must sacrifice the desire, born of too many readings of “A Time of Gifts,” to become the hero of my own story, the folk adventurer with the lace-up boots.”

Perhaps I don’t pay enough attention to the fact that I am a young female traveling alone. Perhaps I should take my father’s advice after this happened and “never walk anywhere alone,” an idea men everywhere would scoff at and never take seriously. Maybe I should listen to another globe trotter’s advice when she said, “I would never couch surf as a female traveling alone.”

But then I wouldn’t have met Fred, who invited me to stay with his family after couch surfing with him in Biarritz. I wouldn’t have shared a picnic in a field of wildflowers next to the Normandy beach with two boys I barely knew. I wouldn’t have met Guillermo or enjoyed a bonfire on the beach in Mexico. If I had based my decision solely on my gender, I never would’ve seen the virgin Amazon jungle and I never would’ve captured this beautiful sunset as I set off to walk along the coast alone.
TheBarefootBeat
I spent a night guerrilla camping along this shoreline in Hendaye, France.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t have moments where I wished I was a man traveling alone instead of a woman. I recently attended a ferria in France where I spent an entire sleepless night being woken up by strangers unzipping my tent and peering in at me. I cried angry, hot tears of frustration that night and thanked God I didn’t have a knife with me because I would’ve used it. Being constantly on your guard and fending off unwanted attention takes an emotional and mental toll that somehow leads to even more vulnerability.

It’s a Catch-22 I still don’t quite understand- being told the only thing to protect you from the unsolicited advances of men is to surround yourself with more men.
TheBarefootBeat
Spending time with new and old friends in San Sebastien, Spain 2013

I honestly wish “solo female travel” wasn’t a thing. I wish it were an outdated and irrelevant narrative. I wish we could spend less time talking about gender and more time sharing human stories that have nothing to do with our sex. I wish the undertone of fear and concerns for safety didn’t permeate our dialogue.

As for me, I continue to believe that I can and will reinvent myself as I travel the globe. The world is shifting and changing, new opportunities for adventure do exist. I will continue taking calculated risks and saying yes to jungle walks and ferrias, even if it means going alone. I will keep smiling at strangers and accepting kindness, even if it’s being offered by the hand of a man. I will be careful. I will listen to my instincts and choose to keep trusting in spite of the fear mongering around and within me.

Maybe I will get raped in an alleyway. Perhaps I’ll die of malaria in Africa. It’s possible I’ll be murdered and thrown oversea to never return home. I live with these unknowns and I accept them. I hope to live a long life where none of these things happen to me. But I want to live, to really live and not let the worse case scenario playing out in my head to stop me from experiencing the life I love.

Unlike Tara, I refuse to sacrifice the desire to become the hero of my own story, a story where I hope the fact that I am a solo female traveler is not the only thing people remember.
TheBarefootBeat
Meeting members of the Waorani tribe in rural Ecuador 2012

What are your thoughts on solo female travel? Do you think it’s a necessary and relevant topic? How does gender define the way you travel?

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30 Comments

  • Reply ale October 23, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    Hi Mariah, thank you so much for sharing your valuable experience with us! I’ve traveled mostly solo throughout muy life in almost every continent and every time im getting ready for a new trip i encounter the same anxiety and internal (and external) voices.. This time Im heading to Mexico for two months and i am wondering if you have any tips, on things i should pay attention to, and special recommendations. I am planning to travel to San Guanajuato province, San Luis de Potosi and then to the beaches of Qintana Roo…
    Thank you so much!!!

    • Reply Mariah October 24, 2016 at 12:21 pm

      Hi Ale,
      Thank you so much for your kind words of feedback! I love the city of Guanajuato, some of my favorite colors and scenery in Mexico. The Callejon de besos is a fun touristic spot to visit and they have a walking tour you can take as well. Tulum is a must in my opinion if you will be in that area of the coast. It is breathtaking! I didn’t love Cozumel because it is hard to get around the island without a car or some type of transport. Otherwise, enjoy your experiences!

  • Reply Tess March 25, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    Yes! I am being the hero of my own story too! Here’s to a world of adventurers forging our own paths and supporting each other along the way ☺
    Tess recently posted…Nature MeditationMy Profile

  • Reply Kim Nguyen Hoang March 12, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Hi Mariah, I’m Kim from Vietnam, I just quit my job also and plan to travel alone via workaway. You have a great blog and article which make me confidence a lot with my plan. Thank you for your sharing 🙂

    • Reply Mariah March 22, 2016 at 11:20 am

      Hi Kim, Thank you! Where are you traveling to? Let me know if there’s any way I can help or if you have any questions. Best of luck!

  • Reply Mariah June 16, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Wow, Leah! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I love Valladolid and Mexico so much. I hope you follow your dreams and have enough confidence to explore the world. Don’t let anyone discourage you! My little sister backpacked through Central America for three months on her own when she was just 20…I featured her on a blog titled, “Pathfinders.” If she can do it, I know you can too! Good luck, buen viaje 🙂

  • Reply Chris Boothman March 18, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    I have nothing but the utmost respect for solo female travelers. Kudos to you and all of your fellow females out there for having the guts and tenacity to head out into the big wide world all alone and conquer any fears you may have.

    I know that whenever you head out there, you will always meet up with new folks and similar people but it does take a lot of courage to make that initial stride I am sure!

    • Reply Mariah March 19, 2014 at 10:34 am

      Thanks for the encouraging words, Chris! It does take guts, but the pay-off is totally worth it! Wishing you safe and happy travels wherever you may be 🙂

  • Reply Kate March 13, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    I’m a solo female traveller and have joined groups or totally backpacked from place to place on my own. I think as long as you’re careful, it will be ok. That goes for solo and in a group. Gut instinct is good to go with most of the time.
    Kate recently posted…I Fell In Love With Newcastle & GatesheadMy Profile

    • Reply Mariah March 16, 2014 at 1:22 pm

      Hi Kate! I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for leaving a comment, I appreciate it 🙂

  • Reply Elena (http://gonewiththebackpack.blogspot.com/ ) March 12, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    I’m a solo female traveller but i’m never alone! And I never feel in danger..I hitch hike, I couchsurf, I go to places by myself and that helps me meet more people and be accepted and invited everywhere. The truth is that being a girl and travelling by myself opens so many doors and opportiunities…

    • Reply Mariah March 12, 2014 at 6:13 pm

      Hi Elena! I couldn’t agree more! I think traveling alone can actually open more opportunities than traveling with friends or a boyfriend. People tend to look out for you and take care of you more. Works for me!

  • Reply Bianca Malata (@ItsAllBee) March 12, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Awesome pictures. I am glad you didnt listen to the naysayers. I hope you continue to have a journey full of awesome adventures.

    • Reply Mariah March 12, 2014 at 6:11 pm

      Thanks so much Bianca! Happy and safe travels to you as well 🙂

  • Reply Jessica Poitevien March 12, 2014 at 11:37 am

    This was an excellent and thought-provoking read. I haven’t travelled alone yet, but will probably be taking my first solo trip next month. i absolutely agree with what you said about being careful and taking calculated risks. That’s what it’s all about! We don’t have to travel recklessly but we also don’t have to be afraid at every moment. It really bothers me when people, especially other women, try to limit women in what we can do solely based on our sex. I don’t live in Candyland and I recognize that the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows and perfect equality for everyone. There are some things that we as female travelers have to think about a little more than our male counterparts, but that should never stop us in really living and traveling the way we want to.

    Keep it up, girl! 🙂

    • Reply Mariah March 12, 2014 at 6:11 pm

      Hi Jessica, I agree whole heartedly! Women are especially hard on other women and I think this sometimes comes from a place of envy or insecurity. We have to be careful, but also realize the world is a beautiful place waiting for us to discover!

  • Reply Gabor Kovacs March 12, 2014 at 3:01 am

    Very nice read, I really enjoyed your original style and mind-awakening content. I can assure you that this article is interesting also for man readers like me, not only female travelers. Really loved this, I will follow your stories more regularly!
    Gabor Kovacs recently posted…A very special Carnival in SitgesMy Profile

    • Reply Mariah March 12, 2014 at 5:34 am

      Thanks Gabor! I’m glad to know that men can also appreciate an article like this! There are so many kind human beings around the planet, I think it’s unfortunate our gender can divide instead of unite us. Cheers!

  • Reply Jules and Christine March 11, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    We hope you live a long life of adventure as well! As you’ve said, you can’t let fear restrict your life. A great article, and a great way to remember to live life to the fullest. Happy blogging and safe travels!
    Jules and Christine recently posted…The 7 Best Beaches of Latin AmericaMy Profile

    • Reply Mariah March 12, 2014 at 5:35 am

      Thanks to you both! Thanks for stopping by and sending you warm wishes from Paris 🙂

  • Reply Samantha @mytanfeet March 11, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Great article! It’s sad that women still have to be cautious and get judged when we want to go on a solo trip. Bad things can happen to both genders but that shouldn’t hold us back from exploring at our free will. I’m glad you were able to travel solo and experience the amazing adventures you did. I haven’t done my own big solo trip (just small ones here and there) but I can imagine that it opens your eyes to so many new things and you learn a lot about yourself.
    Samantha @mytanfeet recently posted…Seabird Sailing Excursions – First Time Cruising Under the Costa Rican SkyMy Profile

    • Reply Mariah March 12, 2014 at 5:37 am

      Thanks for the comment Samantha! It’s true, women are often more vulnerable than men, but I think this vulnerability is overstated. We are also stronger in some ways too, and this should be celebrated! Happy and safe travels 🙂

  • Reply Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy March 11, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Love this post! I’m currently in preparation for my first long term solo trip. I’m a bit nervous but more excited than anything else!
    Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy recently posted…Prepping for Long Term Travel : Savings Breakdown for Second QuarterMy Profile

    • Reply Mariah March 12, 2014 at 5:37 am

      Good luck Ashley! Wishing you the absolute best. Let me know if you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer any concerns. Happy planning and happy traveling 🙂

  • Reply Anneka Nicholls December 5, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    This post really touched on my views about travelling alone as a woman. I have my worries but , like you, I really want to live my life and not hold back through fear. I can only hope that i am as brave and strong as you when I come to travelling internationally.

    • Reply Mariah December 6, 2013 at 3:29 am

      Thank you for your kind words Anneka! I do not feel very brave, I just feel very blessed to have encountered so many wonderful and kind strangers during my travels. I’m happy to consider many of them friends, and I hope women like you will continue pursuing whatever gives you joy in life!

  • Reply Samantha November 9, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    I really enjoyed your article! I currently have a 2-week trip planned abroad as a solo female traveler, and everyone has told me things ranging from “You’re going to get kidnapped and sold into prostitution” to “You’ll disappear and we’ll never find you”. They actually scared me to the point where I considered canceling my trip, but reading posts like this inspire me to keep moving forward with my plans. 🙂

    • Reply Mariah November 10, 2013 at 2:25 am

      That’s awesome Samantha! Where are you headed? I’m glad you are brave and courageous enough to chart your own path and not let the fears of others hold you back. Happy and safe travels!

  • Reply Letitia -The Fashion Editor September 2, 2013 at 9:19 am

    What an absolutely beautiful article. New fan to the blog and definitely had to comment. I’m going to be bookmarking and reading everything you written! Hope you can check out my blog too because I’m experiencing the same thing …was actually wondering why the solo female traveling is getting so much attention and actually it is just making us more afraid to seek out aventures. Keep up the great work. Looking forward to reading more of your stories!
    Letitia -The Fashion Editor recently posted…2 week countdown until I travel around the world indefinitelyMy Profile

    • Reply Mariah September 2, 2013 at 11:25 am

      Thanks Letitia! I will be keeping up with your stories as well, looks like you’re about to start a great adventure! All of the workaways you’ve booked sound really cool, can’t wait to hear more about them! And yes, perpetuating fear and focusing only on our gender isn’t a helpful narrative, it only keeps more people from pursuing their dreams!

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