Article first published at Belle Jar.
Being a woman travelling solo sets off alarm bells which remain silent for our male travelling counterparts. I've heard "But you can't backpack alone as a woman, it's dangerous!" or "Wouldn't it be better to take a friend?" My brothers been all over the world alone and no one questioned his choice.
It's great that people care but I can't help wondering if the stigma around female solo travel is just another one of society's sneaky ways to perpetuate gender stereotypes of a fearless, heroic male adventurer and his vulnerable damsel in distress.
I am fully aware of the different dangers facing women than men but statistically I'm more likely to suffer violence against women from someone I know, than from a stranger in another country.
Whilst women can face bigger obstacles than men when travelling alone, the pressing issue is not whether females should travel solo. It is the case of violence against women as a worldwide issue, no matter where it is experienced or under what circumstances.
Women wanting to travel alone shouldn't be made to feel held back by fear. I've put together a list for the best of female solo travel because it enables us to:
• Become your own best friend. Travelling alone doesn't have to mean you get lonely. I have a collection of memories shared with just me, myself and I that I wouldn't exchange for anything. The company we keep on our own is the most important company to be able to enjoy, because without a good relationship with oneself how can we expect to have positive relationships with others or the confidence needed to make the world a better place?
• Make your own choices without having to consult anyone else or take into consideration the needs of others. Travelling alone allows for complete independence, we get to do what we want when we want. This completely breaks out of the stereotype feminists have been fighting for decades, of women existing solely to look after others, to take care of the home, the husband, the family.
• Have unexpected conversations. When travelling with a friend or partner it can be easy to stay settled in your own bubble or miss out on conversations that you might only be motivated to have whilst journeying solo. Being a solo traveller forces you to step out of your comfort zone and talk to strangers.
• Engage with feminism around the world. For those committed to working for social justice and the fight against patriarchy, it's useful to talk to people across the globe to see how different cultures, societies and living conditions impact on people's lives. Travelling to see how other people live and work for justice is the perfect way to inspire your own change making projects/movements back home. It also extends the conversation to different experiences of sexism around the world.
• Learn a new language. This is something we can all benefit from. I think it's particularly important for those whose first language is English. I don't want to be a lazy Brit that relies on the legacy of colonialism to get by in other countries by expecting everyone else to speak English. Being able to communicate using a different formula is eye opening.
• See how big the world is. It's huge and there is so much to see and do! Once getting a taste of travel, it's pretty hard to stay in one place because of the excitement of how much is out there waiting to be discovered.
The list goes on and each person will have their own unique experiences to add to it. However it's important to highlight that not everyone can travel, and that I write this as woman born and raised in the UK, above the poverty line and with the privilege of a British passport that allows me easy access around the world.
A lot of women, a lot of people, don't have this freedom of movement due to a number of different factors. Examples are border restrictions, socio economic position and/or political unrest in their country of birth.
Yes I can write an article celebrating the fruitful experience of being a female solo traveller, but in the fight for equality, the positives of one freedom must not exist in isolation to the other side of the coin, whereby one person's freedom highlights another's oppression. This shows the need for us all to continue the struggle for social justice and put feminism on the agenda worldwide. It's not fair that only some people have the means available to pursue their chosen path in life.
I am a woman who travels alone because I can, others aren't lucky enough to have the choice, never mind worry about whether they should or not. With this freedom comes a responsibility to travel ethically and be active in the communities I visit, as well as listening to the stories of others and being motivated to be an extra pair of hands if asked.
Female solo travel is more than a journey of self-discovery; it is a way to question our position in the world and what we can do in the fight for gender equality across the globe.