I know you've probably heard the news. You've probably read this story and this story and maybe even this story about the 33-year-old American woman who went on a solo holiday and never came home. You've probably heard on the news about how her body was found in Turkey nearly 2 weeks after she was supposed to return to New York; probably read about the husband and children she left behind.
And I know, Dad, that you're probably picturing ME as that woman. Picturing MY name in those headlines and imagining that trip to Istanbul to — God forbid — identify MY body.
You are my daddy, and you are supposed to react this way to stories like this.
But please, Dad. Don't worry.
I know that's easier said than done, especially with comments flying around the Internet about how solo female travel is “downright foolish” and how “a woman has no business traveling alone.” Secretly, I'm sure you agree with them to some extent. And I understand.
Because, again, you are my daddy, and you are supposed to care like this.
Like the time this summer when I had to give you the full names of the people I'd be staying with in London so that (as Mom put it) you could “start the search” if I went missing, “Taken”-style. Just last week you were trying to remember a recent story about a girl who went missing in Peru as I told you about my upcoming adventures.
I want you to know that I know that you worry.
But I also want you to realize that the world isn't nearly as big and bad and scary for us women as the media would lead you to believe.
Yes, it's terrible what happened to Sarai Sierra in Turkey. I'm not trying to make light of that fact, or the sad situation her loved ones now find themselves in. But I also beg you, Dad, along with other parents, siblings, spouses, and friends to take a second to look at the situation before using the case of Sierra to condemn solo female travel.
This tragic event could have happened ANYWHERE. In fact, it happens every day all over the world. If this woman had turned up dead this way in her home state of New York, no doubt the story would have made the news. But it would not have had the same international appeal, because, sadly, violent crime in the United States is basically “old news.” A story of a tourist being killed abroad, though? That's media gold that is sure to send people into a panic.
But let me ask you, Dad: Did parents stop sending their children to school after the Sandy Hook shootings in December? Do we swear off driving cars after every bad accident we see highlighted on the news (because, statistically speaking, I am MUCH more likely to die in a car crash than at the hands of a man in Turkey)? The answers are, unequivocally, NO.
So why should women stop traveling solo because of what happened to one woman?
I think my friend Stephanie summed it up perfectly with this comment on Facebook: “you can get murdered anywhere, and I think it's messed up the way that more people question why a woman was traveling solo than why a man killed her.”
But, because I know you are still worrying, Dad, and because, deep down, I know you don't really understand why I would want to travel on my own in the first place, I should probably try to explain it to you.
Why Travel Solo?
- Empowerment. Traveling alone as a woman does wonders for one's self-confidence. Since I've started traveling solo, Dad, I've become a much stronger person — I'm sure you've noticed. This actually makes me feel LESS likely to be the victim of some horrible crime, because it's made me more confident in speaking up when I feel uncomfortable, as well as more able to take care of myself.
- Street smarts. Solo travel has made it essential for me to ALWAYS be aware of my surroundings. Not just for safety's sake, but also for practical reasons so I don't get lost or get ripped off. It's baffling to me how many people — both male and female — lack common sense, Dad. And I blame a lot of this on the fact that these people are never really given the opportunity to fend for themselves in the real world. When I travel alone, I research cultural taboos, common scams, and neighborhoods/attractions to avoid. I go into my solo travel experiences INFORMED, which automatically makes them safer. I also don't do stupid things like flaunt expensive electronics in public, meet up with complete strangers, walk around alone at night, or EVER get drunk on my own.
- Personal development. Lastly, I feel like traveling on my own has made me a better, more well-rounded person. When you only have yourself for company, you discover a lot about the person that you are. You grow and change and develop in ways that you never could while living in a little bubble at home. And how could that ever be a bad thing, Dad?
People argue that women have to be more diligent when they are alone. And I might be inclined to agree — but this applies ANYWHERE, and not just when traveling. Whether I go out to a bar in Kent, Ohio or a bar in Istanbul, Turkey, I have to be aware of my surroundings; it doesn't matter what country I'm in.
But as far as the chances of me being killed abroad, Dad? The probability is probably a lot lower than you think. In fact, did you know that, according to murder statistics, women are FAR more likely to be killed at home, by someone they know than in public by a stranger? And, did you also know that, according to a report on homicide in the United States by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, MEN represent 77% of murder victims? Meaning that “the victimization rates for males [are] 3 times higher than the rates for females.”
That's right — you are actually more likely to get killed if you have a penis.
Based on that statistic, I should be more worried about YOU currently traveling by yourself in Florida.
The truth is, bad things happen to good people all the time. People get robbed, raped, and murdered every day all over the world — and most of them AREN'T travelers. It just so happens that the victimized female tourists of the world, who are already going against the invisible grain of society by traveling alone, draw more attention than the man murdered over drugs or the woman raped and beaten by her husband.
And therein lies the REAL issue at hand.
I love you, Dad. Please don't worry.
* * *
And now for the practical part of this post…
Tips for Safe Solo Travel
None of these tips are earth-shattering. In fact, I would call most of them common sense. But these 5 little bits of advice go a long way towards keeping me safe when I'm traveling alone. And note that these are just tips for safe “solo travel” — meaning they apply to BOTH genders!
- Tell someone where you are going. It doesn't matter if you're a woman or not — if you're traveling alone, SOMEone back home should know of your plans. Check in often, and let them know about any changes you make, or if there might be a stretch of time when you might be off-grid and unable to be reached. With e-mail, Skype, and free texting apps like WhatsApp, staying in touch while traveling today is ridiculously easy.
- Do your research on neighborhoods/attractions/scams to avoid. All it takes is a simple Google search on the destination you're headed to to learn about the things to avoid. Whether it's a tea scam in China or a neighborhood to avoid in Chicago, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Not only will you develop those street smarts I mentioned earlier, but you'll also be exponentially more aware when you're out and about — and being aware means being safer.
- Don't carry around a lot of valuables. It makes sense, right? If you've got a ton of fancy camera equipment, 2 iPads, a gold watch, and a fat wallet sticking out of your back pocket, you will automatically be a bigger target for pickpockets and other nefarious characters who populate most large cities around the world.
- Use the buddy system. There's a reason you learned about it in elementary school — there IS usually safety in numbers. This is especially recommended at night and/or away from very public places.
- Don't be an idiot. If it's not something you would do at home, why would you do it while traveling? In the case of Sierra, there are some people questioning whether her time in Turkey was really as innocent as her family is making it out to be. Whatever the truth is doesn't really matter, though — murder is still murder and no one really “deserves” it. But if you're considering doing something illegal while traveling? You might want to consider the possible consequences first.
- Listen to your gut. Lastly, your own instincts are very often your best line of defense. If something doesn't feel right, then it probably isn't. If your gut is telling you to remove yourself from a situation, then LISTEN.
For more great opinions on the solo female travel debate, check out these posts:
- Women's solo travel under scrutiny after vacationer's killing in Turkey
- Female Solo Travel is NOT the Problem
- The Solo Female Travel Experience
- Should Women Travel Solo?
- Solo Travel Safety
- Solo female travel: why it's a label I support
- The Women Traveling Solo Question
What's YOUR take on women traveling solo?