I’m a twenty-something woman who loves to travel solo. Up until a few weeks ago that garnered me titles such as “brave”, “confident” or “independent”. Now apparently I’m ”reckless” or “unwise”.
So what’s happened?
In December a 23-year-old medical student was gang raped in New Delhi, India and died two weeks later. That event alone sparked heavy discussions about the safety of women travelling alone in India. On Saturday, the body of a New York mother of two, Sarai Sierra, was found in Istanbul. The 33-year-old had spent two weeks travelling in Turkey. Alone.
NBC News America posted an article about Sarai’s murder online. These are some of the comments it received:
“It’s just not safe to travel alone these days.”
“Travelling alone was not a wise idea.”
“Makes no sense to me why a woman…would go to a middle eastern country knowing…the conditions women & young children are treated”
“For a woman to travel around alone, without a trustworthy local guide, is very reckless.”
“Why on earth would ANYONE travel to Turkey alone? Especially a woman?”
“Never travel alone to countries like that. Especially if you are a white female.”
“stupid people get what htey deserve, a woman does no tgo traveling alone in the middle east, unless she isnt very smart, and turkey?”(sic)
“I will say this Stupid is as Stupid does.”
And my personal favourite:
“Gee I wonder what that women was doing there???? Well can you spell CIA? Something is not right about this.”
Suddenly solo female travellers felt they had to defend their actions. Tonight my Twitter feed was dominated by the #WeGoSolo hashtag. The new hashtag “promotes and encourages women to travel alone, and safely”.
Now there are so many things I would like to discuss about the reaction to the incidents in India and Turkey, not least the manner in which these countries have quickly been flagged as ”dangerous” destinations for young travellers. If a tourist getting killed was a reason to avoid a country Australia would have been backpacker free since Ivan Milat killed seven of them and buried them in the bush in the 1990s.
A male British backpacker was shot in Thailand on New Year’s Eve, but no one’s saying he was “reckless” for partying in Asia with his mates.
I’m not even going to delve into the astonishing ignorance on display here – yes Miss “Something is not right about this”, I’m talking to you. And the guy who quoted Forrest Gump.
But I am going to discuss how I feel comfortable being one of these so-called “reckless” females that travels alone.
I have been called brave, but I am not. I’m just smart. I try not to do stupid things, either at home or when I travel. There are so many ways I would be more likely to be killed or seriously hurt and all of them could happen at home.
I could drive drunk, speed and not wear my seatbelt.
I could be driving sober and be hit by the drunk, speeding loser coming the other way.
I’m pale-skinned and skin cancer runs in my family so allowing myself to get sunburnt frequently is basically a death sentence.
I could drunkenly decide to go home with some guy I just met in a bar and not tell anyone where I was going.
I could take drugs. If you don’t think this is a serious concern, read Anna’s Story.
But I don’t do the above things because I’m not a freakin idiot.
I’m even more cautious when I travel. If I’m CouchSurfing, which has its risks, someone always knows the name, address and contact details of my host. My parents have a copy of my travel itinerary with hostel details. If I go hiking alone, I tell someone where I’m going, what track I’m taking and what time I’ll be back. I’m extra cautious at night. I very, very rarely drink. I’m careful about the situations I put myself in.
Because I’m not a freakin idiot.
I’ve heard the “friend of a friend of mine” stories of people being mugged, attacked and so on while travelling. Sometimes they have been alone. Sometimes with another person. Sometimes it’s a male. Sometimes it’s a woman.
Bad things happen. At home and around the world. As a journalist I interviewed parents who lost children in car accidents. Sometimes their child was drunk or speeding or just tired. Sometimes they were victim of another driver’s stupidty. It wasn’t an easy part of the job and it made me extremely aware that we have no control over such things.
Travelling solo can be dangerous. But so is tanning, speeding and drinking too much, and I bet I’ll struggle to find a reader that hasn’t done or doesn’t still do one or all of those things. At least with travel, the reward is worth the risk.