There’s a stigma about being a solo female traveller…
…and although I understand I may be putting myself at risk by doing so, I firmly believe the risk is only marginally higher than that of me walking home from the bus stop at night after work, or daring to step foot in a public bathroom in a darkly lit pub without backup. Safety in numbers; something drilled into us from a young age. In my eyes, being a solo female traveller only marginally increases the day-to-day risk of being a female in the world.
Recently, while travelling alone in Belgium a young man in a waffle shop asked me where I was from and where I was going while I waited for my snack. After telling me he’d only been to Paris outside of Belgium (you Europeans don’t know how good you have it!), he confusedly asked me where my friends were. I told him I was travelling alone but was meeting a group of other backpackers at the pub later (a complete lie, but all in the name of safety). Shocked, he asked me if that was safe, for me to travel alone. I laughed and said “I live in London, nothing is safe.” He nodded sagely, but I don’t think he fully understood what I was saying.
An Inconvenient Truth of a Solo Female Traveller
It’s an unfortunate and inconvenient truth that women in general feel less safe than men when walking alone at night in their own neighbourhoods. Similarly, 75% of UK women have reported experiencing street harassment, while 87% of Australian women have been verbally or physically attacked while walking down the street. All of this is to simply demonstrate the inherent risk of being a woman anywhere at anytime; being a solo female traveller doesn’t change that. It doesn’t matter if I’m a woman walking home at night in London or in Brisbane, or a woman travelling through Europe alone with a backpack and a map. Indeed, it doesn’t even matter if I’m a woman travelling with other women; I’ve felt threatened and concerned for my safety in all of these situations, and more.
This is why the safety argument is illogical, kind of insulting, kind of naive and indeed laughable. But people love to tut-tut women for their choices and blame them for the things that happen to them. If something happened to me while I was travelling it would be because I was alone – if something happened to me while I was near or in my house (where most assaults occur), it’d be something I wore or something I said or the fact that I’ve simply been vocal about my enjoyment of sex.
Meanwhile, Back in Brussels
On the same trip, an older gentleman in a restaurant in Brussels struck up a conversation with me after listening to me attempt order my dinner (the waiter, who did speak English as well, had to get someone else to take my order because my accent was too strong for him to understand). He was of a rare non-threatening breed of men, one of the few I will willingly chat to when I’m alone for statistically obvious reasons. After asking me where I was from, he excitedly told me that Australian’s and Canadian’s are his favourite people in the world and regaled me with a few stories from his time travelling both countries. After a few minutes, he too asked me where my friends were. He stumbled over the phrasing, I guess afraid to offend me but he said “not to be rude, but where I come from, it is very bold for a woman to eat in a restaurant unaccompanied.” Once again, I laughed and said something along the lines of “Well, I have to eat” and yeah, I know he wasn’t trying to being rude. He was just a genuinely nice man who was concerned for my safety, just as the boy earlier was.
And to the Point…
But I want to be clear here; they weren’t concerned for my safety because I was a sexless traveller on my own. They were specifically concerned for my safety because of my sex and because I was on my own while being my sex. They were concerned that I, as a solo female traveller, didn’t have an escort, because a person of my sex on their own is still an uncommon and concerning sight.
Because even men know that men are terrifying.
But I won’t let that stop me from living my life the way I want to.
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Check out the solo female traveller I met in Brussels who made me feel shit about myself for not speaking the language.
I also posted some tips for visiting Bruges, one of my favourite cities in Europe.
What’s been your experiences as or with solo female travellers? Tell me about it below!