Is travelling solo a liberating experience for a girl? Or is it just too dangerous?
Should a woman travel alone?
Travelling alone can be an incredibly liberating and fulfilling experience for a woman. It can enhance your confidence and allow you to trust in your own decisions which can have long term positive connotations for your personal and professional development. Plus, you don’t have to compromise. When travelling with a group of friends or a partner, you are hemmed in by what everybody else wants to do which can be restrictive. However, when travelling alone you can make sure to personalise your trip in ways that can make it extra meaningful. In her travelling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert described her year of solo adventures as being an exercise in “spiritual and personal exploration”. The subsequent film of Gilbert’s book depicted this time as a period of positive growth and change through the immersement in various cultures and traditions.
Im sure that I’m not the only girl to be enthralled by tales of fearless female travellers. I have personally always loved the travelling story of one of my favourite kick ass Journalists, and inspiration for Lois Lane, Nellie Bly. In 1888, Bly broke records by travelling around the world in 72 days in emulation of Phileas Fogg from Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days which she wrote about, grippingly, for the New York World. More recently, I have been inspired by the nail biting adventures of fearless teenager Laura Dekker who in 2012 became the youngest person, male or female, to sail around the world. Dekker later spoke about public reaction in a statement, explaining: “They thought it was dangerous. Well, everywhere is dangerous”. After all, she does have a point and I must say that I rather admire her defiant resistance to how a young teenage girl is supposed to behave.
I have always loathed the JM Barrie sentiment that it is the children and the men who go about doing the adventuring whilst the women stay at home fretting and looking longingly out of the window. We women have been chaperoned and cloistered for far too long and travelling alone is the ultimate expression of female freedom. However, there is no denying that some countries are riskier for women to travel to, for a number of reasons and information should be readily available for women before they travel to such places. Of course, a man travelling alone also faces dangers. However, women have to be aware of additional issues such as their enhanced risk of sexual abuse. I am personally a little uncomfortable with the notion that a woman can somehow actively seek to avoid rape. This implies that women who have already suffered from sexual attacks have somehow not done enough to avoid it. Being told to avoid alcohol or to dress modestly in order to keep unwanted attention at bay is patronizing, offensive and deeply misguided.
I don’t at all like the manner in which scaremongering publications such as The Daily Mail reports tragedies from riskier parts of the world. It’s always done with a sort of a sort of I-told-you-so smugness. As if we would be much better dutifully sat at home cutting out coupons for our package holidays in the South of France. The Daily Mail loves to publish such cheery lists as “Most dangerous Places to travel in the World for Women” and such. Of course these are usually female orientated lists with the implication that if a woman goes anywhere without a Chaperone then whatever terrible fate awaits her is only to be expected. Of course there are dangers in the world but I find The Daily Mail’s apocalyptic attitude morbid at best and culturally divisive at worst. There is that uncomfortably colonialist attitude towards it all: the idea that western men are a gentlemanly sort whereas those in less developed countries are savage and not to be trusted. This is obviously a flawed argument when you examine the high prevalence of campus rapes within British and American universities.
We need to begin to understand and appreciate the wider issues behind lists that detail dangerous places for women to travel to. Such places don’t just exist as a colourful, edgy detour on your gap year. They do not exist as an exterior place in which to find yourself, separate from “real life” and the career pressures of western society. It is a positive thing that British women can read up on places before they decide to go. It is a positive thing that many British women have the means to freely choose where they go in the world. It could even a positive thing, dependent on your views, that a woman such as Elizabeth Gilbert can go merrily around the world picking out all the good bits like at an all you can eat buffet. Bravery, a sense of adventure and a desire to experience new cultures should be celebrated. However, for so many women who are actually living in such countries, this is not just a well informed few weeks risk but an ongoing, unavoidable fact of everyday life.
For such women there is no flying away somewhere safer when things start to get scary. Factors such as a deeply ingrained misogynist culture, poor or corrupt policing and lack of education can all be implicit within the high rape statistics of a country. In some countries, rape and sexual assault is not taken seriously and sometimes isn’t even treated as a crime. Often, there isn’t the correct medical and counselling support that is vital to a woman’s recovery. Furthermore, stigma surrounding women who have been sexually assaulted means that these women do not always get the emotional support needed from friends and family. We shouldn’t just accept that there are some places in the world that are considered to be too dangerous for women. Rather than categorise places into “safe” or “dangerous” places to go for British women, we need to look at the dangers faced by women in such countries on a daily basis and see what we can do to support them in bringing about lasting, tangible change. Only then can women truly move freely about the world in the same way as men.