5 Reasons We Need to Stop Telling Women They Shouldn’t Travel Alone

September 24, 2015


A little while ago, an article popped up on my Facebook about Dahlia Yehia, a young woman originally from Michigan who had been tragically beaten to death by a stranger while volunteering and traveling alone in Nepal.

Of course, the comments were riddled with people ranting wildly about how women shouldn’t be traveling alone — especially in scary, unknown places like Nepal and, well, anywhere in the world really.

I glanced briefly at the comments, but didn’t think too much about them, because life is best lived when you don’t think too much about the comments.

But then another article about Dahlia Yehia popped up on my feed, this time from NPR, and this time featuring an interview with two experts (both male) giving advice about volunteering and traveling internationally.

I found their advice on volunteering overseas to be pretty sound. Basically: do your research and make sure you volunteer with a reputable organization. (Mind you, I once volunteered at a rice farm in Malaysia after about ten seconds of research, during which I discovered the farm had a website that played music and duck-quacking noises. I mean, how bad can a farm with a musical, duck-quacking website be?)


Volunteering on a rice farm in Malaysia. Minus the music & duck-quacking.

But then I got to the last paragraph of the article, which went like this:

“The first rule of security is never travel alone. When we go out in other countries, if you’re going to go to dinner, go with a friend. If you’re going to travel to another city, go with somebody.”

Cue: my crankypanties getting into a big, old, fat bunch.

And once my crankypanties are in a bunch the only way I can get them un-bunched is to write a blog post about it. So here we go:

5 Reasons We Need to Stop Telling Women They Shouldn’t Travel Alone

1. It’s sexist. (Duh.)

While the expert who gave the advice about not traveling alone did not specifically say his advice was aimed at women, I’m pretty sure it’s safe to assume that his advice was aimed at women.

After all, the article was about a young woman who had been killed while traveling alone.

And, I mean, seriously, would you ever hear one man telling another man not to go out to dinner alone? Umm, yeah, not so much.

I wondered if NPR hadn’t edited something out of the interview. Like another paragraph where the expert suggests women should also avoid bobbing their hair and wearing skirts that reveal their ankles.

Because we all know that’s where the real trouble begins — with a bobbed haircut and revealed ankles.



Showing off my feminine wiles (and cat fan) in China.

2. It’s single-ist. (Or people-who-don’t-have-anyone-to-travel-with-ist.)

The main reason I travel alone is because I am an antisocial hermit-person who hates to talk to other people before noon.

But another big reason I travel solo is because I simply don’t have anyone to travel with.

I’m single, which means I don’t have a boyfriend I can force to go to places with me in exchange for stuff like sex and sharing my French fries. (Which is probably why I don’t have a boyfriend. Because I would NEVER EVER share my French fries with anyone even if he promised to go to the Maldives with me and pay for our insanely expensive hotel room once we got there.)


Who needs a boyfriend when there are fake Roman statues in Vietnam to make out with?

I also don’t have a whole lot of friends who could travel with me. Most of my friends have partners and/or kids. And the funny thing about having a partner and/or kids is that they kind of expect you to go on vacation with them.

Just because I’m single and don’t have anyone to travel with doesn’t mean I should be spending all my days at home, watching Netflix with my cat, while binge-eating ice cream sandwiches.

Not that I know anyone who does that.


3. It’s inaccurate. Traveling alone is not that dangerous. Especially when you compare it to other things. Like boyfriends.

I’m not going to claim that traveling alone as a woman isn’t risky. You definitely need to be cautious — much more so than men do.

But, in case you haven’t noticed, almost anything you do as a woman in this world is risky.


Also risky: Signing up for a group tour of the Plain of Jars in Laos. And then later finding out the place is riddled with unexploded ordnance.

There are plenty of situations that are a lot more dangerous for women than traveling alone.

Like, say, being in a relationship. In fact, a woman is more likely to be killed by a male partner (or former partner) than any other person. 

But, yet, every time we hear of a woman being killed by her boyfriend or ex-boyfriend or husband or ex-husband (which, admittedly, doesn’t blow up the Internet quite as much as a story about a woman being killed by a random stranger in a foreign country), you never hear experts on the media warning women not to get into relationships.

But, hey, maybe they should? I mean, not only would that keep a lot of women safe. It would also mean a whole lot less unwanted French-fry-sharing. Which, I think we can all agree, is a good thing.

Hoarding my coconut ice cream in Thailand.

Hoarding my coconut ice cream in Thailand.

4. It doesn’t recognize the real problem.

The problem is not women traveling alone.

After all, Dahlia Yehia was not beaten to death because she was traveling alone. Dahlia Yehia was beaten to death because some psychopath beat her to death.

And, yet, media and experts are telling women to stop traveling alone? Maybe they should tell men to stop beating women to death?

Yeah, how about that?

5. It’s a blanket statement. And the world is not a blanket.

By saying women shouldn’t travel alone ANYWHERE EVER, that’s not recognizing the fact that the world is made up of these things called countries. And not all countries are the same in regards to their general safety and their attitudes toward women.

In Japan. Which the locals will happily remind you 5 million times a day is a VERY SAFE COUNTRY.

In Japan. Which the locals will happily remind you 5 million times a day is A VERY SAFE COUNTRY.

There are definitely plenty of countries in this world where I would not want to travel alone to as a woman.

Morocco comes to mind. (Don’t yell at me, Internet! Let me explain!)

You see, I went to Morocco in my early twenties with a female friend. While I didn’t feel unsafe necessarily, I did find the constant catcalls and street harassment to be exhausting. I mean, these guys took catcalling to a whole other level. They could say, “Hey, you, prostitute-lady” in at least twelve different languages. I vowed that if I ever went back to Morocco, I’d travel with a man. Preferably a big burly man the size of Texas.

Just because I had one bad experience in one country, doesn’t mean I should write off ALL THE COUNTRIES.

It doesn’t even mean I should write off the country I had a bad experience in.

It just means I had a bad experience.

After all, if we wrote off every single thing we ever had a bad experience with, we’d be writing off a whole lot of perfectly wonderful things. Like beaches and roller coasters and boyfriends who want to steal your French fries.

(Okay, I am totally writing off French-fry-stealing boyfriends. But they deserve it. I mean, FRENCH FRIES, you guys!)


Now that my crankypanties are significantly unbunched, it’s your turn. What do you think? Have you ever been told you shouldn’t travel alone? How did you respond?


I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On September 24, 2015 at 8:11 am zoe said:

    So I have theories about this…

    I reckon people get all “Ladies! Do not venture out alone!” because that way the bad things that happen to women are all caused by those scary other people out there far away and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. (But probably those ladies shouldn’t have gone to those crazy danger places.)

    Whereas if we think about women being at risk of violence from current & former partners at home, that raises awkward questions about what we’re doing to support women who are in unsafe relationships, and whether we turn a blind eye when we see men behaving poorly, etc etc. I mean, I’m a feminist woman, and even I feel uncomfortable thinking about this and kinda wish I could just say “don’t do these particular things and you’ll be safe”.

    So basically, everyone should read your point #3, I guess.
    zoe recently posted..Book review: Stir, by Jessica Fechtor

    • On September 24, 2015 at 6:21 pm Sally said:

      It would be so lovely if there was a nice neat list of all the things women shouldn’t do that would guarantee our safety. But, alas, that list does not exist.

  2. On September 24, 2015 at 9:22 am Rebecca said:

    I’ve recently returned from 6 months traveling, mostly in Europe and the UK. The first two months were with my sister, then alone for a couple of weeks. Then my family joined me for several weeks, and I traveled a few more weeks after they left. I enjoyed all of the different variations, but there is no question that there is way more freedom traveling alone.

    Being able to do exactly whatever you feel like, whenever the hell you want is probably the best thing about both being single and traveling alone. Although the peace and quiet of being alone in a room – even if it’s a 12 bed dorm while everyone else is gone for a while – is SO soothing to an introvert soul. I love being with my family. But I *need* some alone time.

    And the only time I felt even slightly unsafe was when my sister and I were walking back from the casino in Venice sometime around midnight. Not real late, but the streets were completely deserted for long stretches and though it was a beautiful walk, I was a bit creeped out. So, traveling in pairs doesn’t necessarily guarantee a feeling of invulnerability, exactly.

    True, Europe and the UK are generally considered to be safer than many other places people are traveling. And yet, there I was, not alone and feeling a little unsafe in Venice. And, for that matter, I know of a woman in London who was attacked on her way from work just a few doors down from her own flat. The flat where she lived with her 6’5″ boyfriend.

    So, what are we supposed to do? Stay inside all the time? There are still home invasions to worry about. Never go anywhere without a big male protector?

    No. We just do the best we can, try to use common sense, maybe read up on some tips that might come handy. But basically, we just live our lives. Like everyone else.
    Rebecca recently posted..San Diego – swoon city

    • On September 24, 2015 at 6:19 pm Sally said:

      Agreed! When I lived in DC, so many of the women (and men) I met had been mugged and accosted while walking home for work or the subway station. But, yet, you can’t just stop going to work! (Or can you??? Hmmm….)

  3. On September 24, 2015 at 11:08 am Mow said:

    I agree that we should stop saying that to women, and one reason is that we now have 2 kinds of girls: those who get afraid of all that and therefore won’t travel, and those who think “I m not this kind of girl who need a man to protect her, I m strong and can go anywhere alone”.

    I have been to a few countries in africa in asia for travelling or in organizations, hitchhiking and couchsurfing in europe, all alone. I always thought I was a very strong woman, still even after I got sequestrated by a host who wanted to sleep with me; and I also got that kind of weird experiences when hitchhiking. But, well, nothing “very bad” happened to me, I forget fast and I had this feeling that I could manage this kind of situations, by taking it easy.

    then I went to India, alone again, for work. and then I got what all of this was about: I basically couldn’t go anywhere alone without something weird happening (even if I was dressed like a potatoes bag, with men clothes). I was so stressed all the time and the reasons were real. I really wished I was a boy then. All the stories before didn’t really have consequences, even if I remember them from time to time, but India made me change my trust in men, really.
    So now I have a different advice for women: chose your destination carefully before travelling alone. 99% of the places are ok, but some are not and it’s a fact.

    So I think we should stop telling women what to do and what not to do, and stop judging them when something happens as if it was their fault. We should just have a more normal behavior, check how safe is a place when going there (I mean, nobody would go to syria, let’s just accept that not all places are safe for us), and how we should be dressed (yes it is important: a french woman showing shoulders or legs in saudi arabia is as if an extraterrest woman was travelling naked in france)

    • On September 24, 2015 at 6:16 pm Sally said:

      I agree with so much of what you said here, but I have mixed feelings on the whole dressing appropriately thing. Yes, agreed, you shouldn’t be flouncing around Saudia Arabia in a crop top and shortie shorts. But, at the same time, I’ve gotten lots of unwanted male attention during my travels and it had absolutely nothing to do with the way I was dressed — just with the fact that I was obviously foreign and traveling on my own. Plus, the fact that I’m a bigger girl and have boobs and a butt didn’t exactly help either. The other thing is I don’t necessarily WANT to look like a potato bag every time I travel! There’s sometimes I just want to dress up and look cute even if I’m on my own, and I don’t want to feel like that’s wrong.

  4. On September 24, 2015 at 11:11 am Daina said:

    Amen, sister.
    Daina recently posted..An Evening in Grand Haven

  5. On September 24, 2015 at 11:39 am Priya said:

    As a woman and a minority, I know what it’s like to be considered second in a lot of cases. I partly hate summer in the states especially because I get comments and cat called more often. My new haircut has surprisingly gotten the attention of lots of men. Sometimes I just walk out the house with a baseball cap or a hood for that reason. Yeah, sometimes being a girl sucks. Traveling around in Australia was pretty safe as a female (I think it spoiled me). I can recall once when I was cat called. Other than that, everyone just minded their own business. I find there are so many benefits to traveling solo – independence, self discovery, not having to compromise as much and the list goes on.
    Priya recently posted..Grand Canyon First Impression

    • On September 24, 2015 at 6:08 pm Sally said:

      I will say that probably the 2nd worst place I was treated as a woman (after Morocco) was NYC. I lived there in my early twenties and would regularly walk the 20 blocks to work to save subway fare so I could buy ramen noodles. And I got catcalled on every single block. And I was usually wearing something really sexy like corduroy pants. I mean, come on.

  6. On September 24, 2015 at 12:02 pm Rease said:

    UGH. Yes. Yes to all this ranting. I recently got into an unsolicited conversation in a bar with some douchenugget who also knew a travel blogger and was telling me if that woman was his wife he would NEVER ALLOW HER to travel alone. AHHHHH
    (More on the live tweet shaming of this guy here: http://indecisivetraveler.com/that-one-time-i-live-tweeted-about-a-guy-who-couldnt-handle-travel-blogger-as-a-career

    It is ridiculous that the focus is on the women being “irresponsible” for traveling alone. HEY COOL GUYS MAYBE STOP BEING VIOLENT PSYCHOPATHS.

    I travel alone most of the time. While I do have a boyfriend (who, by the way, I never share fries with. He usually gives me his, actually) he can rarely travel with me, and I’m not about to wait around until he can. In fact, that was literally one of my conditions for getting into a relationship with him. My ex held me back from traveling, then I was FREE and traveled solo often. So when I got into a new relationship, I made it clear that travel was my first love, then ice cream, then maybe he could slide in for third. nope, wait, I have a dog, so he can be 4th. That’s fair.
    Rease recently posted..The History and Sights of Gullfoss Waterfall

    • On September 24, 2015 at 6:06 pm Sally said:

      4th place? That’s pretty decent. I mean, I think if I ever had a boyfriend he’d end up in 7th or 8th place.. after my cat, ice cream sandwiches, Netflix, movie-cinema popcorn, new office supplies and not wearing pants.

  7. On September 24, 2015 at 1:02 pm Carrie said:

    … and this post is EXACTLY why we should be friends. Thank you for saying it. Our stupid world clearly can’t admit when it’s sexist crap is dictating how we should live our lives, which is inaccurate, propagates MORE sexism, and doesn’t result in anything positive overall. I travelled solo in 2011, and I was STILL getting, “Are you sure you should go there? Alone? I mean, it was in a *civil war*

    And that was for Nicaragua. Whose war ended in the 80’s. Yep.

    If I had had different junk, the interrogation would have been all but nonexistent, except for that part where people tell you to have fun.

    Being a woman is difficult when the assumption is that whatever we do is our fault because our actions somehow put us in the position where we created something completely out of our control.

    Before this turns into a rant, I will stop here. But thank you, Sally. It’s nice to see someone with crankypanties equivalent to mine. Also, I don’t share fries, either
    But I’m perfectly happy stealing them off plates. I’m shameless.

  8. On September 24, 2015 at 2:06 pm Jaimee said:

    I am traveling alone for the first time in a few months and so many people have told me not to! I’ve been riddled with “what could happen” and “take your boyfriend with you”‘s and it’s just ridiculous! Thanks for this article! Really inspiring.

  9. On September 24, 2015 at 2:54 pm Jen said:

    This is the first I am hearing about the fate of Dalia Yehia. I hold her precious soul close to my heart. That seems very unusual for Nepal where I have spent a fair amount of time – alone. Your article’s five main points are clearly argued. I would add the layer of patriarchy which sounds something like this: “Good girls who want to be safe and secure should not travel alone in the world and expose themselves to danger.” Safety is more important than fulfillment. One would think that the modern western world would not be steeped in patriarchal thinking but it’s subtle and deeply enmeshed in our culture. In countries where women are blatantly discriminated against and marginalized, the patriarchy puts chains around them. Thank goodness, as independent, free women, the only chains around us is our fear. And those who would ask women to stay home and be safe and secure or travel with others (safety in numbers), create more fear. All world travelers need to be smart and prepare and listen to the duck quaking websites as our cue it’s alright.

  10. On September 24, 2015 at 5:22 pm Jessica Hill said:

    Amen! I’m so sick of the media playing fear monger, especially when it comes to women traveling alone. Again, it’s back to us to solely prevent bad things from happening simply because we’re solo, as if we’re asking for it by doing so. Why is it up to us to dress “appropriately” and always have a bodyguard for protection? Yes, travel (solo or not) is about being smart, but is there such thing as a just world where we don’t have to check our backs for a psychopath who wants to murder or rape us?

    Also, to add to your five excellent points….there are lots of examples of travelers, both women and men, who were harmed (robbed, raped and/or killed) who were not traveling alone. So. There. Is the answer to always travel in threes now?
    Jessica Hill recently posted..The Most Beautiful Place in Cuba

  11. On September 24, 2015 at 6:45 pm Sine Thieme said:


    I think there is also this effect: If everybody did it, it would be much safer. It’s kind of like living in a totalitarian country like the former East Germany. No one dared do anything against the government because they were afraid. But the thing is, had EVERYBODY done something against the government, the government would have had no chance. Which, as it were, is essentially what happened at the very end. Everyone lost their fear and just up and walked away, and there was nothing they could do against those masses. Soooo… with women traveling, it’s the same. If all of us decided to travel alone post-haste, all those bad guys out there would have no chance mugging and killing ALL of us, there would just be way too many of us. We’d totally outnumber all those bad guys. Maybe it’s a bad comparison, but it doesn’t matter anyway. I HATE when people tell me what I should or shouldn’t do, so will always do the opposite anyway, and I haven’t been killed yet. Would love to do some more traveling alone after having done all my traveling with a husband and four kids. That THAT hasn’t resulted in anyone being killed yet is a wonder of its own.
    Sine Thieme recently posted..Interview: “How we Retired in South Africa”

    • On September 25, 2015 at 7:23 am Sally said:

      Hahahaha. I think if I were traveling with a group of five other people that would be MUCH more dangerous than my traveling on my own. Somebody would definitely be dead by now.

  12. On September 24, 2015 at 9:06 pm Safia Miletus | Vagabondesss said:

    I love this article! You are so funny and on point!

    I constantly go on about what you say in #3

    I honestly think that traveling alone as a female is safer in some ways… most people I meet are SO concerned about me, and go to lengths to watch out for me, help me, or are just more protective in some way, because of my gender.

    I am not sure if I would get the same treatment if I was male..
    Safia Miletus | Vagabondesss recently posted..Free Like a Bird

  13. On September 24, 2015 at 9:12 pm Aurora said:

    Thank you thank you thank you! I couldn’t agree more – with all of this! I am so glad that I have not waited to have a boyfriend to travel (er… I’d still be waiting to travel…) and I really hope that someday we can say ‘Men, stop beating women’ instead of ‘Women – stop traveling alone!’.
    Aurora recently posted..Señor Perrito

  14. On September 24, 2015 at 10:01 pm Kirsten said:

    THANK YOU!! I’m a solo female traveler who will be in Nepal in exactly 3 days, and I have been getting a bit of flak for it. We may be women, but the vast majority of us have common sense that we exercise regularly, particularly while traveling. That’s all it really takes.
    Kirsten recently posted..Trekking Vietnam, Part 1: Mud, Sweat & Fears

  15. On September 25, 2015 at 4:56 am Sara said:

    I usually travel alone, not long travels and in European countries, but alone.
    Sometimes I feel safe, sometimes not, but that happens in my home town too.
    Sometimes I find people who tell me I’m crazy and irresponsible and I shouldn’t go, and you know which is the worst thing? Usually these people are women! I don’t know if it’s a form of envy or just plain stupidity, but I find it incredible that women themselves deny their own freedom.

    • On September 25, 2015 at 7:16 am Sally said:

      Hmm… interesting. I haven’t had a lot of women tell me I shouldn’t travel alone, but I do get a lot of them telling me I’m brave to do so (I’m not… just antisocial) and they’ll often say something like, “I could never do that.” And that just makes me sad. I truly think that if I can solo travel (and solo camp and do all the other things I do solo), than anyone can. Nobody should let a little lack of confidence stop them — it certainly hasn’t stopped me!

  16. On September 25, 2015 at 1:44 pm Claudia said:

    DARN, comment sent too soon.

    What can I say, other than I LOVE YOU? Your posts are refreshing to read.

    “The main reason I travel alone is because I am an antisocial hermit-person who hates to talk to other people before noon.” Amen to that.

    I travel alone because after I spent 5 months with a cranky idiot whose only interest was smoking pot (I don’t smoke pot or anything at all) and drinking beer and being an idiot, I figured I want no more of that. Alone is the way!
    Claudia recently posted..Stunning and funny pictures that will make you want to visit Bolivia

  17. On September 25, 2015 at 4:40 pm Edward Kimble said:

    After reading your blog my wife said she would never again share her French Fries with me, which sort of made sense as I had recently begged desperately for a couple of fries. But then it suddenly struck me, those were my fries that I had been begging for!! She took the whole lot. Sadly, I then made the mistake of pointing this out, and there was at first a momentary, “Yes, but….” followed by some indistinguishable harumphing sounds… and then (Oh, no!!) an affirmation that she would never again share French Fries with me So, thank you Unbravegirl, I believe you may have sealed my French Fry doom, perhaps never again to taste that deep fried salty treat unless a few are artfully hidden in the bag somewhere beneath a tasty Big Mac, roast beef sandwich, or Whopper by a some kind, understanding, and caring male bag person. 🙂

  18. On September 26, 2015 at 5:44 pm Alouise said:

    Yes to all of this. When I travel it’s usually alone and I hear more of the “wow you’re so brave” kind of comments rather than the “don’t travel alone comments.” This just confuses me because I’m not brave, and I wish other women would stop putting themselves down thinking they can’t travel alone (or do whatever else they want to). If I hear a “don’t travel alone” comment I judge the context. If it’s from a stranger then I’ll ignore it. If it’s from my grandmother I realize she’s probably just watched too much news and has a misinformed opinion about travel or where I’m going, and is really just genuinely concerned about me, which I can appreciate. I’m certainly not going to stop traveling alone, but I can take those kinds of comments in stride.

    • On September 27, 2015 at 10:43 am Sally said:

      I definitely hear the “you’re so brave” comments a lot more than the “you shouldn’t travel alone” comments — at least in face-to-face conversations. But I think the “you’re so brave” comment is pretty much the same thing as “you shouldn’t travel alone” except disguised as a compliment. It’s basically implying that you SHOULD be scared. Which is ridiculous because a lot of times when I get this comment I’m not doing anything scary at all. It’s just because I happen to have left the house on my own.

      • On October 3, 2015 at 6:56 am Gail at Large said:

        I totally agree on the “You’re so brave” comment being the “You shouldn’t travel alone” comment in disguise. Whenever I hear people say that to me or women in general, it just adds to this pervasive view that we have no common sense.

        People need to be reminded that “brave” should be reserved for actual brave people, like first responders and rescue workers and cheering on the away team at a home game.
        Gail at Large recently posted..Portugal, Year 2: The Report Card

        • On October 4, 2015 at 8:48 am Sally said:

          Yep. yep. YEP. There is absolutely nothing brave about getting off my couch and doing stuff by myself — especially when you compare it to people who are actually doing real live brave stuff.

  19. On September 27, 2015 at 1:37 am Madison said:

    “I’m single, which means I don’t have a boyfriend I can force to go to places with me in exchange for stuff like sex and sharing my French fries. (Which is probably why I don’t have a boyfriend. Because I would NEVER EVER share my French fries with anyone even if he promised to go to the Maldives with me and pay for our insanely expensive hotel room once we got there.)”

    I just need you to understand that I understand this on something of a spiritual level. HAHAHAHAHA. You are my soul sister. EHEHEHE.

    (Also, as a fellow SINGLE female world traveler, I AGREE ON ALL POINTS. Especially the french fries point though. Because DUH.)

  20. On October 1, 2015 at 5:34 pm becky hutner said:

    WELL SAID SISTER! The other day, my lovely Korean uber driver was telling me about his female friend who’d traveled to England solely in hopes of meeting her favorite football player. When I said, “That’s crazy!”…he responded, “I know! It was so dangerous! Luckily, she survived.” Thankfully, when I explained that hanging around London pubs was probably just as safe for women as hanging around Korean pubs, he seemed to come over to my side. PS — she totally met her favorite football player, outside his favorite pub. Where the two of them posed for a photo.
    becky hutner recently posted..Fashion ‘Round the World: WINTER ’15

  21. On October 2, 2015 at 8:11 pm Ceri said:

    Shared this everywhere, girl, because there’s nothing I could say here in the comments that you haven’t already said.
    Ceri recently posted..18 months in Korea … The Highs & The Lows


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