The Case For Women Traveling Alone

Last summer, I traveled to Paris. After exploring it with my boyfriend and his sister for four days, I spent the next four traveling around unfamiliar streets completely on my own. It was the most defining and independent experience of my life.

But while I had excitedly anticipated this trip, my family had their doubts. When I announced to my family that I was going to travel to Europe solo for 12 days, they thought that I was a) out of my mind or b) certain to face a tragedy. My parents told me horror stories about 20-something women who had gotten kidnapped, raped, or forced into slavery while traveling alone throughout the world.

And, to be honest, I was scared to leave the United States even before I heard these stories. Many people talk about travel safety being a gendered issue: more women experience unwanted romantic and sexual advances when traveling solo than men do. Traveling alone can also be a challenge for women due to disproportionate experiences of sexual stereotypes, unwanted touching, and/or inappropriate comments. Sexual harassment among women is particularly common in Western Europe, so safety issues are a primary concern for solo female travelers.

But my desire to travel, eat, and write about it all eventually proved stronger than this fear, and so I went — and I wasn't the only one: Last year, about 32 million women in the United States traveled abroad solo. And I'm so glad I did.

While alone in Paris, I discovered a newfound sense of independence. I took the city hour by hour, venturing deeper into the city every day. Though I had taken four years of French in high school, I spent my days using hand signals and trying my best not to screw up directions and subway tickets. I explored Le Louvre and the Picasso Museum, read stories by Victor Hugo and Ernest Hemingway at Shakespeare & Company, drank way too much Chardonnay, and took in all of the European beauty. Back at my hostel in the trendy Montparnasse neighborhood, I would journal about my day and watch the Eastern sunset from my bedroom windowsill. It was utterly serene, and after touching pretty much every inch of the city, I hopped on the Eurostar to London and experienced a new wave of freedom and self-love for eight more days.

Being a solo female traveler in France and England ended up having many advantages. Women would stop to chat with me wherever I went and I felt like I had substitute mothers everywhere I visited. In London, it was easy for me to meet locals and I felt so welcomed: A woman offered me her umbrella on the street when it was raining and a college student invited me to spend the day in Chinatown with her and her friends. I met other solo female backpackers at my hostel who were accepting and also clearly shared my strong desire to travel alone.

I also found that being a solo female traveler, exploring the city by myself, and taking control over my trip, made me feel powerful. It was a feeling I had never fully encountered before. I felt like the epitome of badass and independence. Looking back at my summer journey, I think mostly of the happiness and wild freedom I attained from planning out my day and venturing further into unfamiliar areas. Even though my trip was just over two weeks, it was the best time of my life.

Of course, young women should still be aware of and take safety precautions while traveling abroad solo. Every solo traveler should be aware of pickpockets, especially on public transport, and try to arrive to a new destination during the daytime. It’s also important to always carry proper identification with you, like your passport or driver's license, in the event of carding or security checks, and to bring extra phone chargers wherever you go.

This experience gave me the confidence to continue traveling by myself to foreign places. Recently, I took a drive to Anza-Borrego State Park and spent the day hiking on desert trails by myself. Last month, I drove up the coast to Big Sur and spent the day photographing ocean waves, marine terraces, and red oak trees. This winter, I’m flying to NYC and will be living in an Airbnb by myself for a week. The world is a beautiful place to explore, especially by yourself. Gender should not be a reason to deny yourself this experience.

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