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“I love the adventures that you do, but is it possible / safe for a lone female?”

 
It seems that every week I get an email from a woman, or a question at a talk, along the lines of,
“I love the adventures that you do, but is it possible / safe for a lone female?”
I’m not in a great position to answer that, so I asked the question to some female adventurers, and here are their thoughts. Feel free to contact them for more information – I’m sure they will be happy to help.
If you have any advice that you would like me to add to this blog post, please add it to the comments.
Also have a look at this site. And this. And this. And this.

Tegan Philips

Is it safe for women to adventure alone?

Nobody likes to feel vulnerable, and I know some ladies absolutely refuse to take their sex into consideration at all when thinking about things like safety. My mother is one of them. Last year, cycle-touring in Kenya, she was pushed off her bicycle by a guy with a big machete and she put up such a fight that in the end he was the one who ended up limping away, with no bicycle and minus one shoe. But there are some women (myself included) who feel inclined to think a bit longer about where to go adventuring and whether it will be safe to travel and camp alone, and I know it can often be extremely frustrating to feel like there are fewer/different options available to you just because you’re a woman. It seems though, with unfairness, that it is less useful to whinge about it and more useful to try and set an example that challenges the assumptions underlying that unfairness.
Risk-management
I’d say, in general, it is safe for solo women to do pretty much all of the things that solo men do. In countries/areas that are especially conservative in terms of how women are perceived, adventuring as a female alone might induce hostile reactions from a very small portion of local people, and there may be a risk of physical danger. That said, just because something is risky doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Furthermore, the risk is probably much lower than media/hype/worried family make it out to be, and (for cycle-tourists) infinitely lower than the risk of being hit by a car. If you google hard enough, you’ll probably even find lots of women have gone and done it already and been absolutely fine. As with all things adventure, it comes down to determining as accurately as possible what the all of the risks are, and weighing up whether it will be worth it to take them. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the answer will be yes – it’s worth it! But for the other one percent of the time, when your research is suggesting that the risks of anything happening are genuinely quite high, it is quite important to question what you’re really trying to get out of this adventure. There’s a difference between not letting your sex stop you from doing something amazing, and deliberately putting yourself in danger just to prove a point.
The Flipside
What’s more, the flipside of the safety issue is that being a solo female adventurer can sometimes have big practical advantages, because people are less likely to be weary of you (guys occasionally have this problem) and more likely to welcome you into their homes etc., even when you’re all dirty and sweaty. It’s a big generalisation, but I know a lot of the other female cycle-tourists I’ve met have experienced maximum hospitality when alone in comparison to when travelling with a partner or in a group. It seems that people are always willing to help a female on her own.
Practical advice:
  • Research – It’s always useful to do at least a tiny bit of research before you go on an adventure, and if you feel a bit uncertain about a place you’re thinking of going, do quite a lot of research. It’s best to get in touch with other adventurers (especially women) who have been to where you’re interested in and can speak from personal experience (rather than from what they’ve seen on TV). Look for blogs rather than news articles, which can be sensationalistic.
  • Interact – A great way to get in touch with other female adventurers is to participate in online forums (like the wonderful Facebook group – Bicycle Traveling Women), there are also a lot of great adventure publications just for women (such as Cooler Magazine, Misadventures Mag), where you can get inspired and get useful tips from incredible adventuring women.
  • Don’t get paranoid – Don’t let one freakish story alone scare you off from a place, bad stuff can and does happen to all types of people all over the world. If you think it should be fine, you’re probably right – resist unwarranted paranoia as best you can!
  • Gadgets – If you are nervous, there are things you can carry with you to feel a bit more secure. There’s an alarm device that makes a horrific noise when you pull out the pin (so will be set off if somebody grabs it out your hand). There’s also a torch that secretly doubles as a taser, which can also make a really impressive noise (useful for scaring away aggressive animals, too). If you feel like you would want to carry more than that on an adventure, maybe consider going some place where you feel a bit less threatened – it’s no fun going to sleep in fear every night, even if you have the means to protect yourself.
  • Be respectful – Learning local customs/values/norms and interacting with people in the most respectful, friendly way possible is a great way of not only making cool new friends but also making yourself less of an outsider, and so less vulnerable
  • Start small – If you feel a bit nervous to adventure as a woman alone, start off with a very small adventure just to get a little taste of what solo adventuring entails. Often, with adventure, I find that I’m especially scared of a particular thing (like cycling with elephants) because I have no practical experience of what the scary risk actually entails (do elephants often charge cyclists? only sometimes? hardly ever? only in certain conditions? what should/shouldn’t I do if I do get charged?), all I have is a picture in my head of what can go wrong if worst comes to worst (elephant tusk through my stomach), which is usually not a useful way to think about the risk at all. With practical experience, over time, you become comfortable with managing the risk and fear becomes less of a barrier. Chances are you’ll quickly see that the world is actually a much safer, nicer place than you ever imagined!

Elisa Coll

“YOU’RE GONNA GET RAPED!”

This one is always the number one. If you think about it, it’s a pretty harsh straight-forward statement, but it will come from family or friends, indistinctly. I personally feel sad about the fact that the first thing that comes to someone’s mind when thinking about a woman travelling alone is rape.

But, sad or not, this is also inexact. Because the facts are that most rapes are committed by someone who was already part of the victim’s environment. This means that you are way more likely to get raped in your home country than travelling. Plus, when you travel, you pay more attention at your surroundings and people’s behaviours because you’re on unknown ground, so there are many more possibilities that you’ll detect any danger than walking around your neighbourhood, which is something you’d do automatically, hence lowering your guard.

“YOU SHOULDN’T STAY AT MEN’S HOUSES”

Just like “Don’t dress like that” or “Don’t drink too much at a party“, this phrase comes from the idea that men are unable to control their instincts and that sexual assault becomes a possibility if you make it “easy” for them. So, following this reasoning, staying with men while travelling alone – or dressing “too provocatively” when you go out – could become the trigger for a sexual assault or rape. This, of course, implies that part of the responsibility of said aggression would be yours for provoking that man’s instincts, but that’s another subject.

And guess what? The people who say this are usually the same people who claim that feminists are man-hating women who consider all men to be rapists. Ironic, isn’t it?

Well, I stay at men’s houses precisely because I am a feminist. How so? Because feminism defends that men are rational human beings who can control their sexual urges and prioritise respect to women. That’s also why, when a man commits rape, he is fully responsible of it – because he’s not a beast,  but a complete, rational and emotional human being like me. And based on this idea, I will stay at your house if you let me unless I get signals that something sketchy is going on. Of course, I still have been trained in self-defense in case anything happens, because as a woman there’s always a risk – and that’s basic common sense. But I’m not going to avoid you based on the solely fact that you’re a man.

That’s your “man-hatred” over there – brought to you by feminism, thank you very much.

“DO YOU OWN PEPPER SPRAY?”

During my first solo trip I reluctantly took a pepper spray with me because a good friend insisted on giving it to me. However, the experience wasn’t so good. I’ve found myself more comfortable on being my own weapon, at least for now, by both learning self-defense techniques and being as cautious as I can (reading body language, asking the right questions, being aware of my surroundings).

However, last year I attended a Female Solo Travel workshop at the Amsterdam Nomads Gathering and many girls claimed to feel much safer by carrying a pepper spray with them – so it’s always a subjective matter. One way or another, it is always important to feel that you are prepared to react in case you find yourself in a dangerous situation – and, being a woman, this also means  specific threats inherent to our gender such as (you guessed it!) rape.

“YOU’RE NOT LIKE THE OTHER GIRLS”

As a girl who has sometimes tended to behave in a way that our society would classify as “masculine” (playing soccer at elementary school or rarely wearing make-up as a teenager), there was a time in my life, prior to discovering feminism, where I would take pride on saying that I was “different from the other girls”. Of course, I didn’t realise how harmful that was. By unlinking myself from something I actually felt identified with (being a girl), I was betraying a part of myself, as well as making the assumption that girls are naturally “less cool” than boys – and, furthermore, that girls and boys are this or that way because of their gender.

Travelling and feminism appeared in my life more or less at the same time and both taught me a really important lesson: That the more social standards you get rid of, the freer you are to know yourself. I’m not “different from other girls”, because every girl is different. By linking certain personality characteristics to gender, we unable people to explore themselves freely as individuals because we set standards on how they should behave based on the way they were born – not to mention the assumption that there are only two genders you can feel identified with.

“BUT THAT COUNTRY IS SO SEXIST!”

Well yes, and so is yours – no matter where you are from. Every country is sexist. Within the borders of my first world occidental country (Spain), I’ve experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexist comments and exhibitionism among others, not to mention other female friends’ experiences such as gender violence or rape. So let’s first be aware of this before we point at any other country for being sexist, because we could be slipping a bit into unintentional racism and at the same time ignoring the inequality that exists in our own ground.

Also, when people call a country “sexist”, I’ve found they usually don’t know what they’re talking about. Not long ago, somebody told me not to go to Albania because “it’s such a dangerous country for women“. So I asked: “Why?” and the response was something like: “Well… there are mafias… and a lot of prostitution… uhh…” No. Get informed and then we can talk. Your un-informed statements only discourage women from having what could be an amazing experience. Of course, every country holds different risks for us, on different levels – which is why you should be informed about them before making any statements (if you’re talking to a female traveller) or deciding to skip/visit that certain country (if you are a female traveller).

“AREN’T YOU AFRAID?”

Of course I am afraid. How wouldn’t I? Being a feminist doesn’t mean you’re suddenly holding power and control over all the dangers in the world (wouldn’t that be wonderful?), but now I feel more prepared because I hold a better knowledge on how to detect and deal with many of them. If you are thinking about travelling alone, you will be afraid – a lot, from lots of things. But it’s not a reason not to do what you want. It always helps to read blogs or interviews of other people who are already doing it, because they always talk about how they were terrified before they plunged into it. Just as I was – and still am, before every big trip.

Bonus piece of advice!

It may be a cliché, but love yourself. You are going to get a lot of crap for daring to go out there on your own and you’ll have to be strong to face the insecurities caused by words from people who love you and want to protect you. But you’ll soon find out that you don’t need anyone’s approval. Solo travels usually give you this feeling anyway, but feminism adds the gender perspective and helps you feeding it once you’re back home. You may be travelling alone, but you’ll never be alone.

See you on the road.

Maria Bazzi

I’ve been travelling alone since I am 17 years old, sometimes difficult parts of the World like the Amazon, the Middle East, the desert in Egypt, and recently Afghanistan. People, both men and women ask me the question so many times: Are you travelling alone? Are you not scared? Do you feel secure? Why?… For me it is such a natural way of travelling but I guess not for most of women or societies. When I reflect on my travels I realise that actually I am never alone when I am alone. There is always people around. And that is the beauty of travelling alone there is always so much more interaction with locals and other travellers, so much freedom. I love the freedom of planing and changing plans as I please. Free to change destination, route, vehicle, etc… The more spontaneous and less predicted the more adventurous. There are also advantages of travelling with someone else, and I had amazing experiences too but in another level.
 
Travelling alone and being a woman… We cannot deny, there are some differences specially because of the “status” or “role” of women in other cultures and other parts of the world. Feels like we are more “vulnerable”? Well, actually, I found in my travels that this conception of “vulnerability of women” to be and work positively in my favour and people, locals in general, wanting to protect, help, give, “take care” and BE with me more and easier than if I was a man. The insight on the foreign culture that I am invited to have as a woman is a great advantage.

Advice/Caution

  1. This is so recurring in so many parts of the World: “Are you married?” To this question I reply ‘yes’ to men most of the times because who wants to interact with you in another level will never ask that question. In Iran, I even met girls using rings pretending to be engaged/married. They felt their relationship with men was easier and more free of “that”  (at)tension. 
  2. Trust your instincts. Even if sometimes you get it wrong by thinking “bad” about that guy/person that was looking/talking at/to you in “that” manner… To my opinion, it is better to “overreact” than to risk a negative outcome. 
When I just arrive to a new town and I feel I am or will get lost… I try to find any hotel, they are always open and they are the best source of most up-to-date information, not just for directions but for places to avoid (and they usually can provide maps too).

Catherine Edsell

Leads expeditions for Biosphere Expeditions
Absolutely! I have been travelling and leading expeditions for the last 25 years, and some of my most rewarding experiences were precisely BECAUSE I was on my own. Think of yourself as an individual – don’t get too hung up on gender. Focus on your strengths as they are the things that will carry you through, and help you out if the situation gets tricky. If you always travel with a man people will defer to him, if you always travel with other women, or in a mixed group, you will lose the beauty of isolation and the ability to truly observe and be quiet. Use your common sense – dress appropriately, use your intuition and insight, be single-minded and firm, don’t be led astray by that attractive, well versed man with the very white teeth who offers to show you his exclusive hotel/ the pyramids on his camel/ his puppies! Seek help from women, travel on women’s carriages on trains, experience the solidarity of women worldwide – it is a truly amazing phenomenon. You will have many more opportunities to experience ‘real’ life if you travel alone as you are more approachable and can be welcomed into whatever fold you find yourself in more easily – go to all the weddings you are invited to, join in with family meals, visit uncharted territory.  If you are very remote, make contact with the head man of the tribe or village, and settle yourself with him and his family for a day or so – that way the community will have a chance to check you out, and you will be in a safe place that holds some authority. You will also be able to check him/them out and know if it is really where you want to be. I can honestly say I have never had a single problem, and I have travelled alone through India, South East Asia, Africa etc, and now I travel with my kids in equally remote areas – and that’s even easier, as everyone loves children!

Anna Williams

This is based on my main experience of a solo female doing something adventurous: the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, 2700 miles from Banff in Canada to the Mexican border following dirt roads down the Rockies. To address the ‘it is possible?’ part of the question first: yes, it is. In fact, I’d say many women who are motivated to do something like this would be more likely to actually make it happen as most of us seem to be lacking the ‘kit gene’ so dominant on the Y chromosome. Gross generalisation here but from what I’ve seen, many women are more likely to go on their selected adventure once they’ve decided what it is they want to do, having made sure they’ve got kit that will keep them safe without obsessing about the weight of their gear. I’ve heard stories of blokes taking 2 years to prepare for something that doesn’t need more than a month or two lead time, but the endless research to make sure they’re carrying the right ‘stuff’ delays their departure by a considerable length of time! Both the more apt and PC answer to the question is yes, it’s possible because the success of most adventures is down to attitude and determination rather than physical strength and the playing field is level when it comes to those important criteria. Onto ‘is it safe?’. Like most things, an adventure is as safe as you make it and some gender stereotypes work to a woman’s advantage when it comes to safety. So firstly, control what you can control to keep safe – most of which is related to the ability to keep dry and warm in adverse weather: that’s more likely to be your enemy than a fellow human being! But if you want to carry something with you to help make you feel safer and provide emotional reassurance then go for it, even if you know that the chances of you needing it are extremely remote. Once I was out of bear country and at no risk of an encounter with a Grizzly, I continued to carry my bear spray just because I already had it and thought ‘well I do have one line of defence IF humans, not bears, become my assailant’. I would never have felt the need to go out and proactively buy a form of physical protection from strangers but I kept it with me rather than throwing it away. I don’t think it meant that I was implying every stranger is a danger and I should feel judged because of it – it was just a mini form of emotional protection if you’re scared by something which is mostly what’s needed if safety concerns are a deterrent to an adventure. It’d be rare that you actually needed a form of physical protection. Re. gender stereotypes, whilst a curse in many ways they can be a positive as I found the milk of human kindness flowed much more readily for me than some of the male bikers I met doing the same route and I largely put that down to the fact I was female. After the longer stretches with no opportunity to re-supply for a few days, the blokes arrived at the next shop or service station as a dry, empty husk of their former self desperate for food and water. I arrived having had locals add to my food stash with their own precious rations, handed cold drinks out windows as people drove past and was the recipient of many motivating ‘you go girl!’ shouts of encouragement. Not that the guys never had those sorts of experiences as they did, just notably less regularly. I think people can be quicker to look out for solo female travellers and their own fear factor is probably lower when approaching a strange woman than man (you’re a stranger too!) so they’re more likely to come and say hi or do something nice. Whilst some may see this as an insinuation that women need more help and the hidden implication is that you’re somehow weaker, I don’t think it’s meant that way at all and even if it is, I, for one, don’t really care – might as well exploit some gender stereotypes to one’s advantage if you can!

Anna McNuff

My two penneth (and a couple of questions asked to other ladies)
You’d be a fool to not acknowledge that the experience as a solo female traveller can different to that of a man, but exactly how different depends on where you want to go, and how you’d like to travel. In most journeys the differences are no greater than they would be between any two individuals, regardless of their sex. The physicality of adventuring is no less safe or possible for a woman than it is for a man. The ability to take on adventures big or small simply comes down to the choice to get out there and do it – whether you are in possession of a set of boobies or not doesn’t change that.
The only thing I would consider as a female is the culture I am about to enter in to. That’s not to say that countries where you’ll need to adjust to the culture are any less safe, but it makes for a more enjoyable experience if you’re prepared for the kind of reaction you might receive as a lone female. Yes it can be irritating to be repeatedly asked if you have a husband or where your children are, but I have always found these questions more of a curiosity than an attack. And if I were them, I’d probably ask the same thing.
Personally I love that I am treated differently on the road/trail – because 99.9% of the time it works in my favour. Those that you meet will trip over themselves to look after you, feed you and to offer you shelter.
However or wherever you choose to adventure it’s important to separate the fears of others from your own. There have been a number of times before a big trip that I’ve been repeating fears in my head (like ‘you can’t go into the desert alone, you’ll get shot/murdered/raped) only to realise that these are not my fears. I’m not frightened by these things, it’s other people (mostly the ones who watch too much news) who are fearful on my behalf.
Susie Pike on cycling 5,000km across Aus alone: 
 “And yes, I was scared, but I always throw myself in headfirst into things and in the end I’m always alright. Even though maybe I panic more than most, but I knew I had to challenge myself. I don’t know why but I just wanted to push myself and see how strong I was mentally and physically and I thought it would be quite a good way to do it!”

Anna: I have a lot of conversations with people who say that they are scared about wild camping or being on their own – to which my answer is “You just get used to it” but from what I understood you started off alone, but actually you didn’t like it that much, so you just sought out other people? 

Susie: Yes, I love people! I have learnt a lot about myself as I was alone during the cycling part for me I really wanted to meet people and so I stayed with people and that was a happy compromise. I was alone during the day and then I had people at night. I wouldn’t change it at all – I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Emma Frampton on hiking in Slovenia alone

Anna: So you went from being a planner to finding out that once you were on the trip you could just roll with it? 

Emma: Definitely, and that was probably the biggest bonus of being on your own. And one of the luxuries that I hadn’t explored before. When you’re on your own you can change the plan. You’ve only got yourself to answer for and organise – it’s so much easier! Being able to call ahead for accommodation is so much easier when there’s only one of you to squeeze in rather than a group of 5.

Elise Downing

I have mixed feelings about the question of lone female travellers.  On the one hand, it frustrates me that it even gets asked – when do you ever hear a man being asked what it’s like to travel as a lone male?  On the other hand, there are definitely certain fears that I know I’ve felt myself and if talking about it more alleviates those and gets other woman out there exploring, then that can only be a good thing.
 
There are risks and dangers everywhere and I don’t think they are any more significant when adventuring than they are in ordinary life at home and that is the key thing to bear in mind.  It obviously depends what type of adventure we are talking about but I know that I actually feel much safer alone on a deserted cliff path or up a mountain than I do walking home from the tube late at night on my own in London.  
 
I also feel like I take a lot more care about my safety in an unfamiliar environment than I do in a familiar one.  For instance, as above, I wouldn’t think twice about walking back to my flat in the dark in London but when I went to India, I wouldn’t have considered walking around Delhi late at night on my own.  When I’m adventuring I also check in with my parents at around 7pm each evening to let them know I’m safe (a GPS tracker is great for this in areas where phone signal isn’t great) and they know to start to worry if I haven’t done so.  ‘
 
With regards to wild camping, I think it’s about differentiating between real and perceived risks.  Being alone in your tent might feel a bit spooky but really there’s very little chance of anybody else being around.  Just be careful about it though, e.g. if I’m ducking off the road or trail to go and find a camp spot, I do so when I know nobody else can see me, rather than when a car is going past.  I also don’t have a live tracking map and try not to be too specific about my location online (until I’ve left the place).  Remember that you don’t HAVE to wild camp either.  If you feel so uncomfortable doing so that it would prevent you taking the trip altogether, then work around it.  I stayed in a great hostel in Scotland last night where you can get a free bed and breakfast in exchange for a couple of help around the hostel.  There’s always scope for a little haggling!  Warm Showers is a great free accommodation resource for cyclists too, plus schemes like WOOF.  Camping is great but it isn’t a mandatory part of budget travel.  If you’re going somewhere so remote that there really is no option but to camp, then the chances are there’s nobody around to hurt you anyway. 
 
In summary: don’t be an idiot.  Tell somebody where you’re going, back away if a situation feels dodgy and remember that being a lone female on an adventure is probably no more dangerous than being a lone female at home, it’s just a fear of the unfamiliar.

Emer Martin

Firstly, here is a link to a blog post I wrote about being an adventurous child and then having it silenced in by confused attempts to be more of a “woman” in adolescence and my 20s. Mainstream culture is so destructive. I’m 32 now and I think I am finally at peace!

How to be adventurous: Copy your older brother and don’t stop  | Emer Did It

https://emerdidit.com/2016/03/13/why-are-there-not-more-women-in-adventure/

But to answer the question more directly:

“There is an incredible confidence that comes from owning a plan and executing it. Going on an adventure alone is about planning, decision making, learning your limits and where and when you want to stretch them. These are the choices we, as adventurers, take, and they are as important for men as they are for women.
“The important thing for me is setting a challenge in which I am operating in an adventure and not danger or disaster-prone zone.
“So I search for places or challenges where I am in exploring mode, where I have choices in the adventure, where there are plan Bs.
“As my confidence increases in my own ability my adventures have become more “wild” but the processes are the same, whether I am in Wales camping on my own for a night in a campsite or (as I am now) planning on taking my trainers and a tent to the Dolomites for 3 weeks to run any trail I can find.
You know, as a woman who loves being physically active, is curious, and grew up competing with my older brother, I kind of struggled with how to communicate my desire to travel alone and explore.
When I realised I could be An Adventurer, it was like everything changed. I have a job, I live in London, but I don’t want to go to bars and shop and straighten my hair. I’m not good at it. It doesn’t make me happy. Running, exploring, meeting new people does. When you travel alone into a new place. Whether that is Delhi or Devon, you need to be prepared and engaged in the adventure. But with Google and a brain, girls, we are fine! Get out there.”

Kristina Paltén

During September and October 2015, I ran, as a single woman, through Iran. For eight days, an Iranian photographer followed me, for the other 50 days I was alone. I completed a run through the country, a distance of 1840 kilometres (1144 miles), on my way from the border to Turkey to the border to Turkmenistan.

The main reason for my run was that I was tired of fears,  fear for the one who is different from me. I  want a world of trust, curiosity and openness. Running through a muslim country with sharia laws was my way to show trust in an unknown culture and  unknown people, that I had several prejudices about. I was terribly afraid before I left that I would be raped, beaten, put in prison. That men – and even women – would not like what I was doing. But stronger than my fear was my faith. My faith was that most actions between persons are good, no matter where I am.

So – is it safe for a female to do this kind of adventure?

First – an adventure is never safe. There has to be a challenge, an uncertainty – otherwise it is not an adventure.

Secondly – cold rain, burning sun or barking dogs do not care if I am a woman or a man. The only time where it matters if I am a woman or a man is when I meet other people, and possibly, from a physical point of view. As women and men, we are different strong in different muscles. Men are usually better at doing chins while women usually have stronger back muscles. As a woman I have more fat, which is good when it is cold and as energy resource. I know that when it comes to world records in sports, men usually have 10-12% better results than women, but that does not mean that every man is stronger than every women. There are lots of women who are stronger than a whole lot of men.

In Iran, I was welcomed into 34 different families homes. I never purchased fruit, cars were stopping all the time to give me plenty. Families fed me or restaurant owners were treating me. A policeman tried to give me his reflector west when it was foggy. I had eight punctures on the babyjogger as I was pushing in front of me, filled with my gear. A man always helped me to fix them. As a woman I was considered not dangerous, and also as someone who needed protection. Everyone took care of me. The rumour about my run spread, I was met in several cities by people who wanted to celebrate me and my courage. 7 women made a painting for me, to thank me for showing the strength of a woman. I went to Iran with 25 kilos of luggage, I had 40 when coming home. I received so many gifts. The friendliness was never ending.

I experience that people are more friendly to me, because I am a woman. And yes – most actions between people are good – even for a single woman in a muslim country with sharia laws.

The assumed vulnerability of a woman is the base of inequality and is also used as argument by racists in Sweden -”We need to protect our women (from the foreigners who is going to rape them, or make our women fall in love with them and produce children of a different culture than our and then take over our society) ”. The same argument is used by extremists all over the world.

The assumed vulnerability has many faces. The positive side is that I am treated well during an adventure, just because I am a woman. I guess I am treated well also because of pure politeness and friendliness. As long as we have inequality, I think I am pretty safe as a female adventurer. And by doing my adventures, I hope to contribute to more equality in the world.

Sarah Stead

“You’re so brave.” Those are normally the words I hear whenever I tell people I’m going away on my own. Or, “Aren’t you worried something will happen to you?” Honestly, two thoughts then occur to me: “Like what?” and “Obviously not.”

I’m aware things could happen to me; when I’m waiting outside a pub on my own for a taxi, something ‘might happen’ to me. But whether you’re on your home street where surroundings are familiar, or in the middle of the countryside exploring fresh territory, the same problems can occur (in fact, I might argue they’re less likely, but I’ll come to that) – so worrying about them has always seemed like a pointless exercise.

The main thing I find useful when I’m alone is laughably simple: preparation and common sense.

Most people would say avoid risky situations too, but as risk can happen anywhere, I’m not sure that’s necessarily possible. Knowing the risks and preparing for them however, is always a good idea.

Thing is, that’s sensible advice for everyone. The issue we’re really getting at here is the risks to a female on her own as opposed to a male on his own – which I think really, is stranger danger. Apparently, women are at a higher risk. I decided to look into this to see what the facts are, and more victims of crime are actually male. In particular, violent crime is more likely to affect females in the home than out of it*. So, have an adventure out on a mountain side, playing devil’s advocate here, you could arguably be safer there!

One of the great things when you’re out in nature is being so far away from other people. I’m no hermit, but we are constantly surrounded by others and sometimes it’s good to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life; it’s one of the main reasons I love it so much. And most of the people you meet are likely to be out and about for the same reasons. Surely this big perceived danger that us women are more susceptible to, is actually less of a risk in the wild?

So why wouldn’t it be safe or possible as a lone female to have an adventure? The only thing that really holds any woman, or any person for that matter, back, is his or her own personal mental attitude and physical ability. Again, preparation and common sense are key here. Want to tackle a new endurance challenge on your own? Train, find out what’s required for it, let people know what you’re doing – you never know, they might be able to offer advice. You don’t necessarily have to be alone at every stage, unless that is part of the task, in which case, just keep people in the know in case the worst happens. Want to explore fresh fields and mountains? Train, find a route, prepare alternatives and exit strategies, make sure you have adequate supplies.

All the same rules apply for women as men. If the perception is that women are less capable, then that’s down to us women to prove the doubters wrong and go have those adventures we love.

* ONS, 2013

Anna Paxton and Hetty Key

Women in Adventure was established by Anna Paxton and Hetty Key to share inspiration, information, and ideas for women in outdoor adventure. They carried out a survey that aimed to find out what inspires women, and what makes it more difficult for them to get involved in outdoor adventure. Over 400 women from 22 countries responded, between them they participated in more than 35 adventurous activities including hiking, biking, running, and climbing.

When asked what prevented them from getting out, the main reasons were overwhelmingly time, money and work. Although fear (including safety concerns) and lack of confidence were raised, they ranked behind practical issues like injury, family commitments, or weather. The responses did not suggest that being a woman caused them to be less safe, or that they had encountered additional safety issues as women that prevented them adventuring.

While some women mentioned fear or lack of confidence, an equal number said that lack of partners was an issue. They commented that it can be hard to find others of a similar standard to train and adventure with who are free at the same time. This means that it is common for women to consider adventuring alone, and some were keen to know more about solo expeditions.

Anna explains, “Our results show that women are often trying to manage a life/adventure balance, and they’re interested to know how others achieve it. Solo adventures can be a perfect solution, they suit your own time, budget, and level of ability. Women told us that they’re inspired when they see what others are achieving, especially their friends, and they’re keen to see a wider variety of role models that they can relate to.”

Hetty says “Although it’s natural to feel anxious about adventuring alone, it can be exciting and liberating too. Based on our results my main advice would be to take a moment to read and discover stories from other women. Our survey highlighted that it’s definitely possible, and women are out there having incredible solo adventures with inspiring tales to tell.”

Overall, the results confirmed that women are interested in solo adventures, especially as a way to get out when no one else is free. The skills required to adventure alone safely are not different for women or men. Although some may be fearful or lack confidence to go alone, this can be overcome. Many women are already doing it, and if they can do it, so can we!

Read the full survey results and find out more at [www.womeninadventure.com]. 

Roz Savage – Ocean Rower

I suppose my top tip is “when you’re alone, a thousand miles from land, it really matters not at all whether you are male or female – the fish really don’t care!”

But, less disingenuously, when I was traveling in Peru, I never felt in danger. I chose to go on a pilgrimage with about 20,000 other pilgrims, predominantly male. I was told I would be robbed, raped, murdered. The people (mostly men) that I traveled with could not have been more gracious or generous. We shared food, tents, drinks, and a whole lot of time. We barely shared a language – their native language was Quechua, mine was English, so we all spoke some very bad Spanish. But we managed. I felt very humbled and forever enriched by the experience.

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Comments

  1. Some great points – thanks for actually getting women to talk about the issue, too often it can descend into mansplaining!

    Reply
  2. Really enjoyed reading this. I haven’t spread my wings across the world yet but I often run for hours in empty/wild/remote places here in Scotland and I am often questioned on whether I worry about the risks of being a lone female. I also hear a lot of other women saying they are too afraid to run alone.

    I really agree with the point made above – you get used to it. The biggest risk of running in remote places is getting injured, not getting attacked, so it’s more important to worry about and prepare for this one.

    In many, many miles, I have only ever encountered one person who was a little too keen to share my adventure, and I think he was just being friendly and chatting to someone who liked the same places he did. But I was annoyed as I’d gone up that hill for some peace and quiet, and I am fairly sure if I’d told him politely, or even firmly, to leave me alone, he would have done.

    The point about being somewhere unfamiliar and being more aware of risk is an important one too. I’m another who will walk home late at night but would never dream of doing so in a foreign city.

    I’m away now to read up on all the people in the article, I’m always interested to read more about women who are off adventuring as it is still quite rare to come across them.

    Reply

 
 

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