Last week, I was contacted by a journalist from Huffington Post UK to contribute to this article on solo female travel. There was a big report in the Daily Mail about the most dangerous places for women to travel to solo, with problems including violence, rape and even murder. Both articles questioned whether travelling solo something was something we should stop doing.
I can't imagine my life without solo travel. I know I would be a very different person if I hadn't had those experiences. While friends returned from holidays where they lay by a pool in Spain for a week, I came back with amazing stories of exploring favelas and hang gliding in Rio, seeing sloths and monkeys in the Costa Rican jungle, volcano boarding in Nicaragua, staying with a family in Guatemala, and meeting the 'happiest people in the world' in Panama.
I have travelled solo to three out of the top five countries listed by The International Women's Travel Centre as the least safe countries for women to visit in the world (Mexico, Brazil and Honduras). While I know that there are plenty of dangers within those countries, I think stories like this can be extremely damaging. They are places that have so much to offer in terms of culture, experience and tourism, and they have all spent a long time trying to shed negative reputations.
As I said in my comments it's not just women who can feel intimidated abroad. Anyone, male or female, can feel in danger when in a foreign country because you're in unknown territory. Not to mention, communication can be difficult if there's a language barrier. However, if I've learned one thing while travelling solo, it's that the majority of people are good, honest and helpful. I've actually felt less safe in areas of my home city of London than places people would often be nervous about visiting like Honduras or Brazil. I'm sad to read comments that women 'look for trouble' abroad. While some may behave foolishly, I don't want to be tarnished with this brush.
It's fair to say, I don't go looking for danger. I use common sense, and if something feels too risky, I don't do it. I tend to research my trips a lot, and book some organised tours and activities along the way. However, I believe it's really important for women to feel they can see the world, whether in a group or on their own.
During my trips I have travelled at times with Trek America, Contiki and Intrepid. They all offer organised tours with local guides who will see you get safely from A to B. For anyone nervous about border crossings, language difficulties or who simply want to travel with like-minded individuals, these can be a good option. I've always had a great time. However, I've also had times travelling solo, and more than that, I recently spent a month living in Mexico on my own.
I think, from reading about this topic, it's easy to scaremonger. Yes, there are dangers in the world, but they are often specific to an area, which you can avoid. Many tourist spots aimed at younger people have an issue with date rape drugs. The women most susceptible to run into difficulty? The ones who don't keep their drinks covered, get too drunk, or accept drinks from strangers. Just don't put yourself in that position.
While in Belize I came close to witnessing this first hand. After a night out at a nearby club, a few girls I had made friends with wandered back to the hotel. Outside, they met a group of local guys who were very friendly. They all sat on the steps of the hotel and enjoyed chatting for a while. When I returned half an hour later, they were still there. It was very late so we suggested the girls come inside and go to bed. It took some convincing but eventually they did. Ten minutes later I was talking to the hotel's night receptionist, who informed me the group of guys was renowned for preying on tourists, specifically using date rape drugs. It turns out they had offered my friends some beers and one was going to fetch them. Thankfully this never happened or this story could have had a different ending. It was all terribly unnerving and I was relieved we were leaving the next morning.
In 3.5 months, this was the scariest thing that I witnessed, and in actual fact, nothing bad actually happened to me or any of the friends I was with. There will always be some fear about travelling, particularly when going alone, but that heightens the experience and creates a sense of achievement.
I've definitely become a braver, more confident, open-minded person since travelling. There are so many benefits to seeing the world, I'd hate for anyone, male or female, to let the fear get in the way. So go on, book that flight! It'll be worth it, I promise!
Are you a woman who has travelled solo? What are your thoughts? Or have you been put off since the recent news reports? Leave your comments below.
Follow Chloe's adventures at Wanderlust Chloe.