Fear and Traveling for Solo Women; My Thoughts

I want to share with you a personal story.

One day when I was in middle school, I came home and heard a sound I had never heard before which stopped me in my tracks. It was my mom and she was crying harder than I have ever seen another person cry in my life. It was one of those moments that you never forget, and it was a sound that I hope to never hear again as long as I live. What caused my mom so much pain that day? One of her dearest friends had died. Why am I telling you this? It wasn’t an ordinary death. My mom’s dear friend Susan was killed in Uganda while on a safari tour by Ugandan terrorists.

The reason I’m even talking about this at all (it’s actually painful to think about and consider how my mom is going to feel when reading this) is because of the recent buzz that this story has sparked. Maybe you haven’t heard, but a New York mother was killed recently while in Turkey and now the big debate is about the fact that she was traveling alone. People are coming out saying things like “A woman has no business traveling alone,” and “A single woman traveling alone is risky. In a foreign country, it is downright foolish,” which I find absolutely ridiculous. It is a sad story and terrible loss for the woman’s family and friends and should not be taken lightly, however to say that women should never travel alone because things like this could happen is just ludicrous. After the brutal rape and murder of the anonymous girl on the bus in India, should we now refrain from all forms of public transportation as well? What about violence in your hometown? Where does it end?

As for my mom’s friend, Susan wasn’t traveling alone. In fact, she was with her husband as well as an entire tour group. So now how do we explain that tragedy? I know many people who have visited countries throughout Africa who have had nothing but wonderful experiences so what is to be taken from that one horrible story? I’m not going to lie, I have reservations when it comes to visiting that area (Uganda specifically) and if and when I ever find myself there, it will always be in the back of my mind but I don’t know if I can let it stop me from my own curious desire to see the world.

I’m American. We’ve witnessed school shootings, serial snipers, bombings, etc. ravage our people. We are no stranger to violence and it is awful but it has become an unfortunate trait of our nation and society. I travel and I get asked by foreigners how many guns I own and if we all really do carry them everywhere. That’s how much of the world sees us. So what does that tell you about the way we see the rest of the world?

Traveling solo as a woman is not the problem. Violence and ill-intentioned people are the problem, but the sad fact is that they are everywhere. Staying in your bubble does not necessarily keep you safe from those who mean to do harm, no matter what your gender may be. If you have dreams and ambitions, don’t let a little fear stop you from seeing them through. Be smart, make informed decisions, but live your life. And most importantly, don’t let someone else tell you what you can or can’t do.

Rest In Peace Susan, Sarai, and all those who have lost their lives at home and abroad.

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27 responses to “Fear and Traveling for Solo Women; My Thoughts

  1. So very true. What I dislike most about the comment that women shouldn’t travel alone is the underlying notion that female solo travellers have actually brought it on themselves. Similar to saying “oh she was raped because of her short skirt”. Blaming the victim isn’t helping. AT ALL.

  2. You’re so damn right! I don’t understand why people are blaming women for travelling solo! And as for violence and crime, well it happens everywhere, which is sad like you said. Well said Arielle!

  3. I concur in my admiration for your well expressed feelings. You’re certainly right. LIFE is risky, and you never get anywhere without taking some on yourself. Be aware and make good decisions, but never let anyone dissuade you from realizing your life’s ambitions.
    [and now you have it on record from your Mom — just replay that one when she expresses any reservations about your travel planning and execution!] ILY Dad

  4. Thanks so much for this post. I really agree with you, and especially like this part: “Traveling solo as a woman is not the problem. Violence and ill-intentioned people are the problem, but the sad fact is that they are everywhere. ”

    I actually just got into a conversation with my partner this morning. He was reading the BBC which was reporting about a Spanish rape gang in Acapulco that was arrested after raping half a dozen women tourists. He was concerned because I had been expected to go to that area in Guerrero Mexico for work last year but didn’t. He asked if I would still go after hearing about this.

    I would certainly still go. I have traveled a lot, and sometimes by myself, but mostly with at least one other female companion, like to some pretty remote “dangerous” places in Latin America. Life is risky, and if a woman travels alone, because of all the ill-intentioned people in the world, sure she needs to be super smart and careful. —— But we cannot let scary stories like this stop us. —– Similar to what other people commented, just because a woman travels alone it does not mean she is “asking for it” – the exact same as blaming the rape on the skirt.

    That being said, we have to be real that we need to be extra cautious, and thoughtful of our surroundings and actions. Not saying that the tourists in Alcapulco were asking for it (at all) but one has to consider if they were intoxicated, and being loud, attracting a lot of attention. And depending on where you go, just physical appearance will make you stand out, no matter what you wear, what language you speak, or how you act. As a white, American woman, traveling on my own, I would not go to a Muslim country (or Latin American country) in super short shorts and a tank top walking around on the street. A lot of times safety is about respecting the local culture. I don’t think it’s “giving in” it’s just realizing you are in a different culture and by respecting it, you probably end up learning more anyways.

    Anyways, I feel like I could go on and on and on about this but I’ll stop here. Thanks again Little Mermaid for writing this post and starting this important discussion.

    yes, rest in peace to those who have lost their lives at home and abroad.

    Best wishes in your travels! So happy for you that you are embracing such an adventure 🙂

    • The 6 women raped in Acapulco were in a rented house on the beach with their husbands. The masked gang broke in and tied up all the men and raped the women. There was also a Mexican housekeeper in the house that was not touched. So, you see they were in a private home on a holiday. This was a well planned out attack. Never assume someone was doing something to draw attention to themselves for a heinous act to occur.

    • Thanks for your kind words and comments! I could go on forever on the topic as well as it’s one I happen to be passionate about (along with most women’s issues). I blame it on well informed and progressive parents who did their best to make sure I KNEW I could do anything I wanted as long as I made it happen. It breaks my heart when these kinds of tragedies happen but I hate it even more because I know the way people can twist and turn stories to fit ridiculous arguments that set us back. It’s extremely important to recognize a culture’s customs and culture, especially regarding dress and furthermore to educate yourself on what regions may not be safe, but like I said, as long as you do the research, there is no reason you can’t do your best to ensure your safety in a given situation.

      Check out AdventurousKate.com for some great information and tips for female travelers if you’re interested in regards to your future travel plans (and to assuage your partner’s fears).

      Thanks again and safe travels!

  5. I am a female who works for the National Security Agency in DC. On behalf of victims of violent crimes, please change your wording “I’ve lived through shootings, etc.” – unless you DIRECTLY were threatened…you did not. But I understand the context…just pls be mindful. Now, I do agree…don’t let fear control your life. But to compare violence/ threats that exist in the USA compared to other countries is ignorant. They are not even on the same scale. Sadly, Sarai Sierra thought like you. With all do respect..you are not as “worldly” as you think. In fact, most foreigners will say that americans don’t know what evil is. They are right.

    • Thanks for your comment, I appreciate any criticism although I hope you know that my intent was not to offend or belittle those who have had first hand experience with horrendous acts of violence, and I have changed the wording. However, I did have to follow the safety precautions during the DC sniper shootings as I am from the DMV and shootings were within a few miles of my home (just for a bit of context). I am not saying that is in any way comparable to some of the larger scale domestic attacks that have unfortunately taken place in our nation.

      On the other hand, I never claimed to be “worldly”, I simply wanted to argue that as long as you make informed and smart decisions you should be able to feel safe, regardless of your gender. I also never claimed that traveling to any destination is safe, or even that other countries are immune to violence and terror. In fact, as a military brat and one who has grown up with many friends and family in the service, I am well aware of the evil that exists in our world. I agree with you completely that we in the US are considerably lucky when it comes to the freedom and safety with which we are mostly accustomed, but that is not to say that there aren’t places in the US which you would make a point to avoid. In fact, I would say that in every country there is at least one place with which you would want to steer clear, if not many.

      Thanks again for sharing your points and for taking the time to read what I have written. This post was a big leap for me as I usually try to keep my writing lighthearted but I thought it was too important an issue not to address. I hope you can understand my point of view (however worldly or not it is) and that I meant for it to be an innocent expression of my thoughts on the matter.

      • Wow, I’m actually really impressed with your response. I apologize, it was presumptous of me to respond in the way I did. When I reread what I wrote..I didn’t realize how bitchy it was. I am sorry. Thank you for changing the wording. I’m very passionate about safety in other countries, and I just cringe when I hear about woman traveling alone to foreign countries. It’s not that they can’t or shouldn’t. Sadly, it’s just so horrifying how many cultures/religions view woman and how dangerous it is. In my line of work I’ve seen so many young fatalities because they were “young, hopeful and naive.” I’m sorry I jumped on you & thought that of you. Thank you for your thoughtful response. Take care.

  6. Amazing post, it is totally unfair to blame it on the woman, If a terrorist wants to kill a tourist they will not discriminate about weather you are a man or a woman…because they are a terrorist! I love Christina’s comment it is very true.

    • Thank you and I agree. For some reason, when men travel it’s simply called “traveling” but when women do it, we make it this big to-do and call it “solo female travel”. There’s always some kind of distinction, but the importance is making the smartest decisions you can based on what your situation is.

      • So true, I also have to say that I have gone traveling with both my ex and a male friend before and they have both got into more trouble than me…one was so silly as to try and wear a designer watch and get his ipad out downtown in a Mexican city creating a lot of unwanted attention, and my ex may as well of walked around with a sign on his head saying “mug me off” he was to timid and always agreed to anything a local said “the temple is closed today get in my tuk tuk and come and buy a suit” … “ok”.

        I sound like i’m ranting but it isn’t fair i’m a female and I honestly think that if I had not been with them these male travelers could have got themselves into serious trouble…and no one would have said ohh well a man traveling alone that’s risky!

  7. Wonderful post! I just want to add that having spent the majority of my childhood growing up in south east Asia, that I am “worldly” and that I think that all of the traveling that you have accumulated thus far definitely qualifies you as someone who is well on her way to becoming “worldly” too 🙂 As far as safety concerns, I felt much safer in India, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia than I do here in the US. Gun violence is a very real an prevalent
    threat here and could happen anytime and anyplace.

  8. Pingback: Going Out and About » Another point of view·

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