Before I start, I will apologize for the click-bait title; thats not usually my style. But, since you are here, the topic obviously interests you. So stick around because from one female traveller to another (or to the friends/family of a female traveller), we’ve got some things to discuss.
Women and travel has always been one of those topics that people love to argue over. Should women travel to certain places? Should women travel alone? Should women travel without a man? Without wearing a wedding ring? At all?
The other week I read (yet another) of these fear mongering type articles. For those wondering, this particular article listed Turkey as the most dangerous place for women. Why? Two reasons: the first being terrorism, the second being harassment. Which leaves me more than a little bit confused because I’m pretty sure terrorist attacks tend to be equal risk to both men and women. And, as a woman, I get harassed everywhere. Do I like it? No. Does it make me uncomfortable? Yes. But, I learned to perfect my RBF in an effort to deter unwanted attention long before I ever got on a plane. And I don’t live in one of these so-called ‘dangerous’ countries. I live in Canada.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe it is incredibly important to stay informed about news and events happening around the world. I’m constantly checking for travel warnings and keeping my eye on developing stories about risks and threats in various countries. But, I do so not because I am a woman, but because I am a traveller.
Sure, as a woman, some events and stories will stick out more for me than they would for a man. As a woman, I may be more inclined to pay attention to different things. As a woman, I do understand that travelling does come with more risks. But, ask any woman, and we will all tell you that these risks that we are so often warned about when travelling abroad, also exist at home. Using them as an excuse to not see the world, to avoid adventure, or to miss out on incredible experiences? Well, that’s just dumb.
So knowing that travel (ahem, life) does come with more risks for women, what are the most dangerous places for female travellers? As an avid solo female traveller, here is my take on the subject.
Anywhere You Don’t Follow Cultural Regulations and Traditions
Women are not treated equally everywhere in the world. It doesn’t matter how much you disagree with this attitude; it is a fact. Many countries around the world have regulations on places where women can and can’t go, what they should wear, how they should behave in public, etc. As a visitor, it is your job to recognize and follow these rules, and if you can’t abide by them? Well, you probably shouldn’t go in the first place.
While Muslim countries are considered to be the strictest and the subject of the majority of warnings, it’s important to realize that every nation has regulations and traditions that you should be aware of. Even the so-called ‘safe’ ones. For example, in many places in Europe, it’s common to sunbathe topless or nude. However, if you do that on a beach somewhere in North America, you will find people have a very different attitude towards it. It may not be illegal, but unless you are on a (small list) of specific beaches where this type of activity is normal, you will get plenty of unwanted attention and probably end up with photos of your naked body posted all over the internet.
Cultural norms differentiate around the world and even throughout a country. It’s part of why we travel; to experience something new. But, it is your job as a traveller to be aware and abide by the customs and norms. If you don’t, you will stand out and locals will consider you to be disrespectful. Improper looks, comments, and harassment may follow which will, no doubt, leave you feeling unsafe.
Anywhere You Don’t Research Ahead of Time
There is a lot to be said for ‘going with the flow’ when you travel, but researching a new destination, especially as a woman, is key. Not only do you need to be aware of cultural traditions, but you also need to be aware of your surroundings.
Sketchy neighbourhoods, local scams, poor business practices, and transportation options are a few basic things that you should look into ahead of time. For example, in many cities, such as Budapest, travellers are warned against grabbing a taxi off the streets. Other places, such as Kuala Lumpur, have trains with separate compartments for women only.
There is a reason for this; it is done in an effort to protect and make travellers (and locals) feel safer. These are practices you should be following, even more so if the locals follow these routines as well. Taking advantage of these safety measures won’t make you any less adventurous. There is nothing wrong with being cautious. Knowing what to look out for in advance will not only make you feel more comfortable and confident in your new surroundings, but it will also reduce your chances of falling victim to any of the perceived risks.
Anywhere You Behave Like a Fool
One of the easiest ways to get into trouble abroad is by behaving like a fool. Why some people feel the need to get black out drunk, try drugs, or participate in unsafe experiences in a foreign country when it’s not something they would do at home, is completely beyond me. Want to stay safe? Be smart. Practice restraint. In a nutshell: don’t do anything abroad that you wouldn’t do at home. Especially if you are travelling alone.
Anywhere You Don’t Feel Comfortable
You can know anything and everything there is to know about a place, be ready to follow all local customs and traditions, and still feel uncomfortable about going to a certain destination. It happens to everyone, and my biggest advice for when this happens; just don’t go. Save it for another time when you have some friends, can join a tour, or perhaps consider another destination all together. I absolutely believe in stepping out of your comfort zone, but starting off a new adventure scared and expecting to be victimized will not make for an enjoyable experience.
If you are already traveling somewhere and you feel uncomfortable, there is no shame in leaving early. Experiences are individual; just because someone else felt safe or had a great time doesn’t mean you will. If your fears and discomfort are based on you being alone, consider finding a group you can join; fellow travellers or even an official tour. But, if you are unhappy and find yourself unwilling to engage or explore, just get out. Travel is supposed to be eye opening in a good way, and there is nothing wrong with leaving an uncomfortable situation. Forcing yourself to stick with it will only tarnish your experience and likely become something you regret. And, I think we can all agree, travel should never be an experience you regret.
Is travel riskier for men than women? Yes. But that’s not an excuse to prevent women from travelling. Want to help protect us? Quit with the fear tactics and instead let’s start focusing on promoting smart safety measures instead.