This isn't easy for me to write because women can, and do, travel solo all over the world with no problems. I backpacked Southeast Asia companionless with no serious incident and I don’t think that it’s any easier for men to travel alone than women. In fact, I thought we had it plain sailing with female only dorms and I found that strangers mothered me when I was alone; they looked out for me on long bus rides. I was more approachable without a man sitting next to me and students would often approach me to practise their English. However, sometimes events happen that wouldn’t have if I were male or had a male companion.
And that thoroughly sucks.
In South America I spent 90% of my time with Jack at my side. While I never felt unsafe in any of the South American countries we visited, I did notice that whenever I ventured out alone there was occasional catcalling and whistling, most of which I didn’t understand anyway. Although to be honest, I experienced greater verbal harassment while living in Sydney when men (boys) shouted “whore!” and a number of other verbal slaps from the safety of their cars.
The most perverse encounter I experienced in South America was during a breakfast run to the local bakery in Ecuador. An elderly man hobbling by with a walking stick stopped in his tracks to stare and groan at me as I passed. Nothing he could have said would have sickened me more than just grunting at me. I ignored it. He wouldn’t have understood me anyway.
In Malaysia I was cautioned to cover up. My guidebook recommended wearing shorts to the knees and covered shoulders - not far off what I wore most days. Although perhaps it was the fitting of my clothes because men would still stare at me for the whole subway ride without pause. They would make kissing noises at me and take my photograph. It occurred to me later that I should have photographed them back – it would have made for an interesting collection of candid pictures.
Then there is this little gem:
“Hello, how are you?” A man approached me in a Thai train station and took a seat opposite. He introduced himself in understandable English as Nepalese and began a light hearted conversation about where I was from and if I was enjoying Thailand. It was an exchange I’d had over and again with backpackers so I was accustomed to talking with strangers. I thought nothing of it.
“Will you sex me?”
“What?” Surely I misheard.
He repeats himself.
“No!” I assert with disgust. Where did that come from?
Suddenly he is furious and he begins to shout.
“You are nothing! You are nobody!”
People stared as I walked away to sit by the security guards. I was livid and watched with fury as he tried his luck with other women. A stupid as it sounds I came away feeling like I had done something to invite him over to me, that it was somehow my fault.
Any of these incidents could have happened at home and I was at no point concerned for my safety. My biggest worries have been in traffic when it’s common for taxis to lack backseat seatbelts and the drivers hurtle between lanes with barely a glance in the rare view mirror. There has also been many a hairy bus journey along cliffs with the driver pulling a 16 hour overnight stint. Plus I’ve come close to being smoked twice while attempting to cross Vietnamese streets while someone on a scooter drives the wrong way in the gutter.
I also think men take more liberties with their safety than women typically would. They don’t worry about walking around alone at night or watching their alcohol consumption for fear that they might be taken advantage of and so they find themselves in more dangerous situations. Maybe it’s a macho ‘she’ll be right’ attitude because those I met who had succumbed to misfortune in the big bad South America were almost exclusively male. Not saying that they were asking for it but walking around at night asking people for cocaine is an easy way to get head butted and mugged.
My advice? Don’t let fear stop you from doing what you want. Travel the world as a solo female and chances are you’ll be fine. The media blows stories out of proportion and anyone who watches the news each evening would think that the world is a very dangerous place. It's not. Of course there can be small regions within a country or city that would be unwise to visit, just like there are suburbs of London or New York that you really shouldn't venture into, that doesn't mean the entire country is unsafe. Just take the same precautions that you would to stay safe in your own country, avoid places with civil unrest and have a healthy sense of scepticism. You’ll be okay.