I often hear that traveling alone is reckless. After all, I am young, defenseless, and I am also a woman! Surely someone will hurt me. I have to say — this is a slight exaggeration. Don’t think I’m an ignorant – I am quite aware of the dangers. But they have never stopped me from making my dreams come true. Should they stop you? Definitely not.
The mosty worriesome destinations are usually Third World countries — that is, countries where the culture and approach to women is way more different than here, in Poland (although I am not sure about that anymore). These doubts obviously don’t come from nowhere.
I don’t want to get into discussions about equality — because there is no such thing. My point is also not about juddging whether it should be so – because this is not a topic for one article or even ten.
I can only say that you cannot expect equality from two practically different species — women and men. One can only expect freedom of expression, similar opportunities and understanding of each other – but it is not so certain nowadays.
However, there is something more that matters when traveling. Men’s perception of women does. Because when we talk about traveling alone being dangerous for a woman, we mean a harm that a man can cause her. Someone wanting to harm other person starts with a perception or a reason of anger. Therefore the solution comes after answering the question – how are women perceived by man?
How does it look like in South America?
I can say without any doubts — women’s equality does not exist here. Female liberation is a taboo subject and women are expected t0 succumb to men. My experience with Latinos is limited — but sufficient for me to have my own opinion. The trend of authoritative control is changing among young and educated men, but this is still not enough. Women are being objectified. They should do as men please and preferably do it without their own opinion. This is popularly referred to as machismo, or the culture of male domination. In other words, the domination of men in society, their sense of pride and excessive masculinity.
Sounds tragic right? Indeed. This is why South America is not considered as a safe place for women. But to answer the question “can a woman travel alone?” I say: absolutely. As everywhere, it is only a matter of common sense and appropriate tactics. First of all, get rid of fear. It’s obvious. And men take advantage of it very willingly. If you decide to travel alone, take care of prevention.
Prevention in South America – what is that??
- Get yourself an adequate protection that will allow you to escape during an emergency. For example, pepper spray, which can easily fit in a bag and will smoothly pass through the baggage check at the airport.
- Identify safe and dangerous districts. The latter are very often additionally demonized in tourist guides — so don’t forget to ask the locals for their opinion.
- Avoid taxis and the so-called collectivo (i.e., unauthorized cars / buses used by residents as a daily means of transport).
- If you are going somewhere alone, always let someone know where you will be. If you travel long-distance, be sure to share your location with someone and check in from points along the route.
I am often asked about my safety in South America. I can’t tell I wasn’t lucky – I truly was. Although I studied in Peru for 4 months, there was only one scary situation there that temporarily shook my sense of security. It was a man who was publicly masturbating right in front of the night club. I will never forget his sly smirk and gaze with which he escorted me across the street. Even though he didn’t say a word to me, I came home shaky.
However, in the case of hitchhiking around Chile and Argentina, I was greeted with hospitality and a smile. No harm happened to me, even when I was breaking my cardinal rules and falling asleep tired in trucks.
You have to remember though that each South American country has its own rules. Always be reasonable and try to find out which behaviors are generally accepted and which are not. And one more thing — trust your intuition. Surprisingly often it knows what it’s doing 😊
What about other continents?
Things are a bit different in India. The second most populous and largest country in South Asia may surprise you with its low level of familiarity with the foreigners. Let’s be honest, tourists in India most often can be met: in New Delhi, at Taj Mahal, in Bombay or in Goa. If your destination is different, I can guarantee that your presence will be treated like a UFO invasion.
Regardless of whether you will be alone or with your fellow Indians — you are still white (or at least whiter than Indians). And therefore, different. In India, this difference arouses a lot of curiosity and sympathy. Mainly from the men.
How did it look like in my case?
I was often harassed and questioned about all aspects of my life. Selfie requests were pending on the daily bases. Even for me, a person born to be in a spotlight, sometimes it was a bit too much. I only learned assertiveness over time, so up to this day I keep getting inquiries as to whether I am not looking for a boyfriend anymore. Needless to say, the requests come from Hindus with whom I talked for no more than for 5 minutes. This is perfectly illustrated by the meme below:
But putting jokes aside. While traveling in India, I was not alone. I was constantly surrounded by a group of friends and my Indian family. Because of that, plenty of limitations were being imposed on me. I knew that my friends and family were just being prudent – but I was hungry for adventure and danger. Even though it hurt my need of independence back then, today I am very grateful for this protection. Even if I consider myself very lucky, you could never know when will that lack run of.
What was my life like in India?
For 6 weeks of my volunteering, I did not even have permission to walk to work by myself – even though this route was less than two kilometers long. You may ask: “what was the problem?”. The answer is short – Indian slums that were on the way. While I was positively surprised with my Indian fellows and their knowledge, experience or even level of English, I didn’t know what to expect form the poorer part of India. I heard many stories about the dangers lurking there, and even though my journalistic nature called for even a conversation with these people – I never ventured there. I don’t think my Indian brother would ever forgive me for such insubordination!
What is waiting for female tourists in India?
Poverty aside, such slums can be a problem for female tourists for another reason. I am talking about the common problem of rape. Indian rapes are a hot topic, not only in India, but all over the world. Louder cases such as the 2012 gang rape and murder call out for justice and often receive it. Nevertheless, there are thousands of cases (30,000-35,000 per year). Not to mention those that the world will probably never hear of. However, when such a case comes to light and makes its way to the press, the headlines usually sound shocking. Example? “Delhi Horror: 9-Year-Old Allegedly Gang-raped, Murdered, Then Forcibly Cremated by Priest, 3 Others” — article from 7 days ago.
The root of a problem lies with many aspects — with the Indian culture, low social position of women (patriarchy), lack of education or complicated process of pursuit of justice by the victims. Nearly 90 cases of rape are reported daily. Conviction rate? 30%. It is worth mentioning that rapes account for only 10% of offenses against women. There are more, such as: murders, domestic violence, forced marriages (regardless of age), acid attacks (a form of torture and disfiguring a woman), women/girls trafficking and many others.
To people who have never grew up in such a society, it sounds unacceptable. It’s normal in India. That normality is being fought with — but it still occurs very often. Appealing for justice is probably easier when the victim is a white tourist, but… which of us would like to be the victim? The culprit behind bars will not compensate for the mental and physical damage that is often carried for life.
For this reason, security in India is even more important than ever.
So what is my advice when it comes to traveling India alone?
- Locally try to move around in a group. Women in India are unlikely to walk alone, otherwise they might be harassed. However, if you do happen to be accosted, remember — having a polite conversation with a Hindu is nothing wrong and dangerous. Just remember that the conversation should not be too long— otherwise it will be perceived as a flirt or a provocation.
- A modest outfit is essential. No matter how comfortable you feel in short and tight clothes or how hot it is outside. Poor sexual and cultural education causes women to perceive such dress as offensive, and to men — as an encouragement. Besides, local clothes will allow you to blend in with the crowd and feel a little safer 😊
- A handy weapon in the form of pepper spray or a small knife might never be used by you, but it’s essential element of your purse. Not only can it protect you, but it also auments your psychological comfort and self-confidence! 😊
- Make up a companion! An intrusive group of Hindus? Your friend is waiting at the hotel, or your boyfriend is just parking. Interest will drop drastically when there is a potential travel companion.
But most of all, be prepared to be the center of attention. No matter how much you try to blend in with the crowd, it will never be completely doable. But that’s okay. As long as you follow these few rules of India solo travel — nothing bad should happen.
What are the benefits of traveling alone?
No more of these horrific stories and precautionary measures. There is so much discussions about how dangerous traveling alone is. Why don’ t we talk about all the positives that come from female’s lonely journeys?
As women, we are always being treated as weaker beings that require care, making decisions for us and being hold by hand. The female part of society has already woken up and realized what kind of rubbish they are trying to offer us in schools, churches or on the streets. However, this perception is deeply ingrained in our culture and community. Change is coming, but this kind of change takes a long time. We can be strong and independent, but at the same time benefit from being perceived as the ones needing care.
The men want to protect us. Therefore, they will not allow us to hitchhike on a rarely traveled road or in unbearable weather conditions. Nevermind that your destination is not on the way. A sense of satisfaction and assistance is a sufficient reward for the kilometers made up by the driver. And both sides are satisfied!
Looking at it from a biological point of view, the female body is weaker than the male body. This is what nature created us with, and there is no point in arguing here. Yes, we can be strong, dexterous, muscular – but that still puts us in a losing position. And that’s wonderful news once we realize how this fact influences the decision-making process by men. Both hitchhiking and services such as Couchsurfing are activities based on trust. And this is a great advantage of our sex – thanks to our vulnerability, we are perceived as more credible (not saying weaker). Traveling in pairs has many advantages, but its undoubted disadvantage is the difficulty in using free services offered mainly on the basis of our appearance or gender.
What are the other reasons why people are so eager to pick up / take in female travelers?
Some people just lack a female companion. It may be related to the lack of familiarity with women or masculinized professions.
Let’s take a closer look at our beloved truck drivers. Truck drivers are commonly seen as dangerous men who want to take advantage of lonely travelers (girls). Are truck drivers more dangerous than car drivers? No, both truck drivers and normal drivers can easily lock the car door and take adantage of us (if we are not prepared for self-defense). The only difference between truck drivers is their limited contact with women. They travel for hours, covering hundreds of kilometers a day – usually on the same routes. It is hard work, often monotonous and surprisingly well paid. Most of the drivers I met rushed to their wives and little kids, explaining their work with lucrative earnings.
You can’t judge everyone in the same way. Every driver has a different motivation. What is the motivation of truck drivers? In my opinion, it is nothing more than killing boredom and a simple need of conversation. However it depends quite heavily on the philosophy of each of us – whether we believe a person is by definition good or bad.
I can only advise you – next time you see a truck, don’t run away! These drivers travel long distances and are really curious about travelers like you. This is an opportunity that will not come up when traveling with a friend or boyfriend (it is legal to carry only one passenger in a truck).
Each journey should begin with getting rid of prejudices. Locals are hungry for helping us and taking care of our well-being. I have not yet come across a place where my pretty smile and misguided gaze didn’t give me a group of people willing to help.
I went in the wrong direction? No problemo senorita, we will drop you where you need to! I haven’t eaten anything since the morning? No worries, I’m gonna make you sandwiches!
We live in times of terror and fear – we forget too quickly our ingrained goodness. I don’t mean to conduct philosophical deliberations on the nature of humanity – I have always believed in the good intentions of other people. Even when those intentions were wrong, I understood their motivation. After all, each of us is looking for happiness, but not everyone finds it the same way.
My faith in people is often called naivety. Therefore, I am sharing my experiences – we already have too much of this negative characterization of another human being. We must be able to see the good.
We heard about wars, homophobia and violence. Nothing unusual. These topics are a guaranteed success for the media. They arouse intense emotions such as hatred, rejection, shock. In short – they are being read.
Do you think 100, 1000, 3500 kilometers from here is life so different? Do people have different needs, dreams, aspirations? I can assure you, no (you probably know it too).
As long as you respect the fellow traveler or a local – you have nothing to worry about. It is like every time you board a plane thinking “is it goint to crash this time?“. Yes, there is a chance for that. But it’s so small that it makes no sense to think about it.
Anyways – you do not have much influence on the plane crash.
But you do have a lot of influence when travelling solo.
You just need to set out on your journey with peace of mind and an open heart, trusting that it will be all right. Because thoughts attract events.
There is a lot of fun in lives of positive people. Empathetic people, receive a lot of understanding. Generous people find prosperity. And the trusting fellows, have a lot of faith. Remember about that!