Giselle Storm discusses the ins and outs of travelling alone as a woman…
The other day an article popped up on recommended readings on my Facebook feed. It was one of those articles that I had to check (twice) to make sure wasn’t satire. One of those articles you stare at in open mouthed outrage at. One of those articles you reread just so you can get a bit angrier. The article, maybe listicle would be more fitting, was entitled ‘50 Places Women Should Never Travel Alone’. That’s right, 50, including Central Park and New York more broadly, (for as we all know no sane woman would dream of living alone in one the world’s biggest cities), the Taj Mahal, Niagara Falls, The Pyramids and Morocco in its entirety.
Well ladies, I guess that’s it, push the suitcase back under the bed, throw away your Lonely Planets and burn the bucket list. The world is not for you, best to just stay in the safety of the kitchen and maybe make a sandwich for your bold male protector. Women of New York, evacuate immediately. I have made it a slight personal vendetta against this list to go to, or revisit, every single one of these destinations. Yes, dear list, for you I will even brave the perils of the Bahamas. Poor me.
I like to think I’m a fairly well travelled person, I spent two years (in my mum’s words) ‘dicking about’ the world, have made my merry way around six continents (Sorry Antarctica, I don’t do cold), and done all of this as a woman and a lot of it on my own. So, sod the listicle, bin the sandwich, here is my guide on how to travel alone as a woman:
Travelling Is Scary, Deal With It.
Man or woman, the thought of getting on a plane, on your own, and flying miles away to strange place where you don’t know anyone or how to ask for a coffee is bloody scary. And not just because the thought of not having coffee is scary. My new nemesis article reels of facts and statistics, crime rates, risks, dangers, feeding the fire of fear. Being a woman may make it seem an even scarier prospect. The night before I left for what turned into a year and a half I was seriously considering calling the whole thing off and spending my gap year sitting on the sofa eating baked beans. Baked beans are safe, I reasoned, I know baked beans. It takes courage to set out on your own, but it is worth it and if you want to do it, go there, see it, don’t let your gender, baked beans or listicles get in your way. Take a deep breath, and get on the goddamn plane.
Do Your Research.
Again, applicable to both men and women, you need to know at least a bit about the place you’re going to. I’m not talking about best bars or comfiest hostel beds. I mean the culture, what’s polite, how things are generally done. Don’t be that person that strolls arrogantly off the plane refusing to adapt to any cultural differences, demanding to know where the best fish and chips can be found. Firstly, it’s polite and respectful to adhere to cultural conventions; secondly it’s the reason you should be travelling, to learn and find out about other places; thirdly, it will make you a target quicker than you can down a Stella. From pickpocketing to harassment to assault, if you want to swagger around Morocco in your Topshop short shorts and bralet you’ve essentially got a large flashing sign above your head saying ‘tourist, please mug me’. I’m not saying appropriate cultural dress; just because you’re in India does not mean you can put on a saari and bindi and hope to blend. Just be respectful, understand how things are done, and act as you think appropriately. For example, do not show the bottom of your feet to people in Cambodia, it’s really rude. I found that one out the hard way.
Listen to the Locals.
If someone tells you not to go somewhere, do not go there. The locals know, they live there. You don’t live there. I repeat, they live there. I don’t care how great that waterfall sounds and how you heard that someone else went there once and they were fine, because you will end up with a man named Pachu holding a knife in your face and he will take all your money, and you will have no one to blame but yourself. You were warned.
Don’t Assume That Just Because You’re With Other People It’s Fine
On the subject of Pachu-gate the listicle seems to make the assumption that us poor feeble women will be safer if we are with a man. Maybe to an extent this is true, not the man bit. If you’re out, you’re drunk, you want to get back to wherever it is you are staying, it is generally better to try and embark on that journey with other people. Staggering around a strange city on your own and drunk is not the best way to be. However, do not assume that just because you are with other people you will be safer. The knife incident occurred while in the company of two huge Israeli guys who’d just spent three years in the army. The presence of penises (peni?) don’t mean shit when there’s a knife in your face #feminism.
Let Some Things Slide.
You are going to get ripped off, you will probably get pickpocketed, if you’re really lucky you’ll lose all your access to money on day 3 and spend a month Western Unioning cash to yourself. Shit happens, you learn to deal with things, you learn to be more resourceful. Don’t let your trip be ruined, it’s simply another anecdote to bore your friends with, although (and I don’t care what they say) ‘that time I was thrown into Filipino illegal immigrant holding’ is always a classic.
It Can Be Dangerous.
This is a fact, and it’s a fact which holds from Kent to Kentucky. In some places the stakes may be higher, but no matter where you are in the world there is always some risk. The only thing that you can do is use your common sense, and this is true everywhere. Should you walk down that dark alley on your own? Probably not. Is it safe to get on the back of this random man’s motorbike? No, because he will not let you off until you are about 3 miles from where you would prefer to be and are physically hitting him. Like I said, common sense. Oddly I think that being a woman better prepares you for this, we have spent our lives being warned about doing certain things and going to certain places. We have been raised on risk and have a strong awareness of the potential danger of situations we are placing ourselves in. As shit as this may be, it’s something that will always serve you well when travelling, thank you patriarchy for this small nugget of use you’ve given.
A Little Risk is Fine Though…
I mean, no point travelling halfway round the world to only walk on well lit streets and not-ride motorbikes. You get me?
I think essentially it boils down to common sense, easily summed up in a four word gospel; ‘don’t be a dick’. Whether or not you actually have a dick seems to me to be pretty irrelevant. Things can get a bit hairy no matter your gender, there will be some moments when you wonder what on earth you’re doing with your life and why you ever left your baked beans. Of course, there are some places which it is probably best to avoid at the moment, retrospectively Venezuela may not have been the brightest idea, nor was sitting 10km from the Syrian border in Lebanon listening to the echoes of gunfire. But beyond this never let your gender stop you from doing what you want. Be aware of the risks, be sensible, and be bold.
In the meantime, I’m going to work out how on earth I’m going to afford to travel to 50 places.
Follow Giselle on instagram: @gisellestorms
Illustration: Miki Lowe