Our Activity Groups Manager Franziska talks about the challenges women face as solo travelers and how InterNations has helped her with such issues.
My Personal Travel History
When I was 19, I went abroad for the first time. Weeks and months of studying hard for my final exams had earned me the right to a little vacation. And more to the point, fun and adventure beckoned!
The fact that it was Scotland that I was traveling to or that I was backpacking did not weigh heavily on my family’s mind. More shocking to them was my announcement that I was going to go on my own. Two weeks filled with worrying on their part and regular text messages from me – that I as the ever-dutiful daughter sent – followed. I still remember the pages and pages of emergency numbers, insurance papers and maps I had to carry with me as a safety measure…
Since then, I have ventured to far more distant places on my own, and my family has relaxed a little. Sometimes it can be hard to let your little girl go. But every trip increased my experience and, more importantly, contributed to a feeling of normalcy. I became more confident, and when I pack my suitcases now, it all feels like a great adventure. The apprehension and anxiety are gone.
Solo Travel as a Woman: Pros and Cons
In this day and age, solo women travelers are a growing group, but still a bit rare sometimes. This is partially due to package trips and group discounts, which makes booking in bulk cheaper.
But more importantly, women face a string of challenges that men traveling alone do not have to deal with: heavy luggage (let’s face it – most women tend to pack more than necessary); a different set of expectations from women in some cultures; finally a worrying disrespect for single women in some places. On top of that, there are also destinations where women are simply not safe without an escort.
Experiencing some of those issues for myself, I made sure to follow the general rules at all times. As advised, in Dubai I covered my shoulders and knees when leaving the hotel, while in Istanbul I always had a headscarf with me so that I could spontaneously visit a mosque. In these situations I did not mind because covering up is part and parcel of the local culture and by doing this, I simply showed respect.
Other times, restrictions are not cultural, but simply necessitated by the circumstances: out on the lonely streets of London at night, I kept a key in my hand to protect myself in case of an attack. In Scotland, I booked packaged tours for daytrips, so that I would not have to go to remote sights on my own. Last but not least, there are patterns of behavior that feel threatening to women and are present almost everywhere – constantly being stared at, disrespectful treatment, and street harassment, to name a few.
I don’t want to sound too negative, though. On all of my trips – my female solo traveler friends have assured me of the same – I have met welcoming, charming, and respectful people who have helped me to get a glimpse into their world. And it is those encounters that make traveling on your own worthwhile and insightful.
How InterNations Has Changed My Way of Traveling
On my solo travels, I found that the experience goes deeper in every way: eating the local food, taking in the sounds and sights, and carefully (or clumsily?) trying out the local language. In these situations it is helpful to rely on local specialists who are there for you and can help you out. Ever since becoming a member of InterNations, the way I travel has changed.
Before I even plan my trip, I ask Local Scouts for their opinion. This has given me many useful insider tips from those who live in the target country. When the trip draws nearer, I look up Activities and Events in the community that I might attend. On my last two solo trips, I went to one of the Dubai Events, and on my recent journey to Istanbul, I attended an Activity for Spanish speakers. The result? Offers for a guided tour of the city, new perspectives and, most importantly, wonderful new friends from all over the world.
Do you think that traveling alone as a woman is different? Have you got any tips you’d like to share?
(Photo credits: 1) Edinburgh Castle by flickr user Becks / Wikimedia Commons user Russavia 2) Clothing Recommendations in Dubai Mall, by Franziska Hauck 3) Franziska, an InterNations Group Consul, and an expat member at an InterNations Dubai Event, by Abdulrahman Sawalha)