in Solo Female Traveler / by Toby Israel
Deconstructing Myths about Solo Female Travel—& Rebuilding Freedom
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
— Joseph Campbell
Is it safe for a woman to travel alone?
In over a decade of frequent (sometimes constant) solo travel, I have probably heard this question more than any other, followed closely by, “But aren’t you scared?”
As an empowerment self-defense instructor, I spend a lot of my time lately thinking, talking, and teaching about personal safety, violence prevention, and fear—specifically how to work through fear rather than become paralyzed by it.
The deeper I go into this field, the more I am inclined to think that we are asking all the wrong questions. The fears we have about solo female travel and adventure are entrenched in a web of myths and misconceptions about personal safety, a placid compliance with the status quo.
I am, to be honest, quite tired of explaining that I am no longer scared; I am angry. So many of us are fed up with patronizing and infantilizing safety advice for (or against) solo female travel—suggestions like, “don’t talk to strangers” and “don’t go out after dark” uncannily similar to the rules we followed as children. We are not children, and a shift is long overdue.
“Is it safe?” Let’s deconstruct all the assumptions embedded in that question and reclaim our right to freedom.
As a Roofnest user or follower, you undoubtedly have an adventurous spirit. Yet even the most fearless among us can fall prey to the lies that our society, popular culture, and even our dearest friends unwittingly spread about solo travel, personal safety, and danger.
Below, I will do my best to deconstruct a few of the myths I have heard most often as a solo female traveler. What would you add?
4 Solo Travel Myths & How to Reframe Them
- Myth: It’s not safe.
Let’s try a different question: Why are women conditioned to believe the danger is out there, when in reality it’s right here at home? Globally, the greatest threat to women comes from their own family, friends, and partners. More than half of femicides worldwide are committed by an intimate partner or family member. Ninety-two percent of violence against women is committed by someone known to the woman.
Reframe: Nowhere is safe. Which risks will you choose?
As women, we face risks traveling solo. This is absolutely true. However, we also face immense risks simply existing in a world that, to this day, does not protect our basic rights to life and safety. The “solo female travel is just too dangerous” narrative assumes we would be perfectly safe if we would just stay home and follow the rules. This is simply untrue. It also assumes that most people have ill intentions. This is also untrue. Most people are good, kind, and sincere.
Whether “safe” at home or out on the road, you will encounter all kinds of tricky situations and all sorts of people. Trusting your gut, rather than one-dimensional, ill-informed mythology, will keep you safest.
- Myth: You have to change your behavior to be safe.
Conventional safety advice tends to be a list of “Don’ts.” Don’t smile; it might provoke someone. But don’t ignore someone harassing you either, because that might provoke them too. Don’t drink. Don’t wear revealing clothing. And certainly don’t travel, hike, or otherwise live your life unchaperoned. Implicit in these injunctions: if something does happen to you, it’s your fault for not following the rules. This is victim blaming.
Reality: It is your right to be and live however you want.
No matter what you do, how you dress, where you go, or what time of day it is, you are never “asking for it.” Any attempt to invade your space or overstep your boundaries is 100% not your fault, ever. Any advice that insists you must limit your freedom in order to be safe (read: you must trade your freedom for your well-being), is a false dichotomy rooted in fear and mistruths. There is no well-being without freedom. And ultimately, this kind of advice is a jail sentence. Each adventurer must decide for herself which “rules” to follow, and which freedoms she is unwilling to sacrifice, knowing that everything is a risk (see myth #1).
Personal agency means choosing the risks you can’t afford not to take. Of course, it’s always a good idea to be prepared. Empowerment self-defense training, knowing your surroundings, learning the language, developing a solid support network, and trusting your intuition are all good places to start.
- Myth: You can’t trust anyone.
Popular culture and “common sense” teach us to fear every stranger in our path. It is common to justify any bias we might already carry with this kind of “trust no one” philosophy. Any number of life experiences may predispose you to be more cautious or less trusting, and that is totally fine. Nonetheless, most people are just living their lives, with no intention to do you harm. Unlike outlandish Hollywood plotlines or your mom’s nightmares, supervillains are generally not hovering in the shadows just waiting for you to drop your guard
Reality: You can trust your intuition.
True, you can’t trust everyone, but you can trust some people. Who? You have to make that decision for yourself on a case-by-case basis. You, and no one else, decide in each place, each moment, and each context whom to trust, and whom to keep at a safe distance. Especially when you’re on the road, intuition is queen.
Our intuition, gut feeling, or instinct is always switched on, warning us of potential threats The question is, are you listening to it?
- Myth: Self-defense doesn’t work.
A deeply-embedded vein of misogyny runs through the common narratives of women’s safety and, by extension, self-defense. As an empowerment self-defense instructor, I frequently hear challenges like, “But that wouldn’t actually work in a real-life situation, against someone bigger and stronger, would it?” That question again: But women can’t really be response-able (capable of responding) for their own safety, can they? Spoiler alert, yes, they can.
Reality: Self-defense absolutely does work.
In studies conducted on empowerment self-defense training, women who had taken a self-defense course were 1) Less likely to be victims of an attempted sexual assault, and 2) More likely to successfully defend themselves in the case of an attempted aggression. In 80% of attempted sexual assaults, utilizing any or several self-defense strategies (Yelling, Running, Fighting, Seeking Help) was successful. Oftentimes, using the voice—to set a boundary, say no, or express that you don’t feel comfortable with someone’s behavior—is enough to stop the situation in its tracks.
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