Is it safe for women to adventure alone?
- 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’mm 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!
‘œYOU’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.
‘œYOU SHOULDN’T STAY AT MEN’S HOUSES’
Just like ‘œDon’t dress like that‘ or ‘œDon’t drink too much at a party‘œ, 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 ‘œeasy’ for them. So, following this reasoning, staying with men while travelling alone ‘“ or dressing ‘œtoo 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’mm not going to avoid you based on the solely fact that you’re a man.
That’s your ‘œman-hatred’ over there ‘“ brought to you by feminism, thank you very much.
‘œDO 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’mve 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.
‘œYOU’RE NOT LIKE THE OTHER GIRLS’
As a girl who has sometimes tended to behave in a way that our society would classify as ‘œmasculine’ (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 ‘œdifferent 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 ‘œless 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’mm not ‘œdifferent 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.
‘œBUT 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’mve 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 ‘œsexist’, I’mve found they usually don’t know what they’re talking about. Not long ago, somebody told me not to go to Albania because ‘œit’s such a dangerous country for women‘œ. So I asked: ‘œWhy?’ and the response was something like: ‘œWell’¦ 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).
‘œAREN’™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 cliche, 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.
- This is so recurring in so many parts of the World: ‘œAre 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 ‘œthat’ (at)tension.
- Trust your instincts. Even if sometimes you get it wrong by thinking ‘œbad’ about that guy/person that was looking/talking at/to you in ‘œthat’ manner’¦ To my opinion, it is better to ‘œoverreact’ than to risk a negative outcome.
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 ‘œYou 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.
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.
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’mm 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
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’mm 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.”
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.
‘œYou’re so brave.’ Those are normally the words I hear whenever I tell people I’mm going away on my own. Or, ‘œAren’t you worried something will happen to you?’ Honestly, two thoughts then occur to me: ‘œLike what?’ and ‘œObviously not.’
I’mm aware things could happen to me; when I’mm 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’mll come to that) ‘“ so worrying about them has always seemed like a pointless exercise.
The main thing I find useful when I’mm alone is laughably simple: preparation and common sense.
Most people would say avoid risky situations too, but as risk can happen anywhere, I’mm 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’mm 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
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, ‘œOur 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 ‘œAlthough 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].
BECOME A WILD WOMAN
Roz Savage – Ocean Rower
I suppose my top tip is ‘œwhen 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.
Some Other Useful Microadventure Posts
- What is a microadventure?
- Some microadventure ideas to try
- Your year of Microadventure
- Microadventure kit list
- What is a Bivvy Bag, and why do I need one?
- How to find a location for an overnight microadventure
- Sleeping Wild: is it legal? Is it safe?!
- Microadventure advice for women (written by women)
- 7-step solution to a microadventure. It’s as simple as this.
- Microadventure videos
Thank you to the many people who have kindly “bought me a coffee” for just £2.50 as encouragement to keep this blog going.
“Yes, I too would like to donate a couple of pounds to this site..!”
To join 33,000 wise, beautiful, heroic people who receive my occasional newsletter, simply add your email address here:
You can opt out of receiving the newsletter at any time and I will not pass your details on to any other party.