A girl’s guide to flying solo

Photo by Martin Abegglen

Photo by Martin Abegglen

Travelling alone is one of the most rewarding experiences, but it does come with certain risks and dangers, especially for young women.

We’ve seen an alarming number of stories about sex attacks on female travellers in recent months, from an American student who was raped in a van in Rio de Janeiro to a South Korean tourist drugged and raped in India.

We’ve also seen a rise in the number of women travelling on their own and an improvement of safety precautions.

So is it now safer to travel alone as a young woman or are the dangers even more rife?

In 2010, I took a gap year after high school. I travelled by myself to America, Britain and Europe.

People were shocked and concerned, but I had the best time and felt completely safe everywhere I went.

However, there is a darker side to travelling alone.

In Australia, women enjoy freedom and independence, but this same liberty is not experienced everywhere, so you need to be extremely careful when choosing the backdrop for your Eat, Pray, Love adventure.

Katherine Atkins, 22, made the brave decision to travel to Nepal last year by herself. She found travelling alone was an eye-opening and worthwhile experience.

“I went and stayed in a rural community and met amazing people and friends from all over the world that I know I will travel with again in the future. I definitely gained a sense of independence and loved the freedom of travelling alone without having to answer to anyone,” says Ms Atkins.

“I rarely felt unsafe. Maybe once when walking down dark streets on the way home at night, but this was no different from walking down an unknown street in Melbourne.”

Although some countries are safe for women flying solo, other destinations are not so accommodating.

View Danger areas for women travelling alone in a larger map

India’s tourism industry is a large source of income for the nation, but there’s been an increase of violence against women with the recent gang rapes of a Swiss tourist and a New Delhi student. These incidents have caused tourism to drop 35 per cent since December. Reports of sexual assaults on Indian women emerge on a daily basis – official statistics show 24,206 rape cases were registered in India in 2011.

Brazil and more specifically, Rio de Janeiro, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Southern Hemisphere, but the city has a machismo culture and a history of gender-based violence. In Brazil, more than 5,300 people, about 90 percent of whom are women, registered cases of rape in the first half of last year, an increase of more than 150 per cent since 2009.

Lyndsey Gordon, 31, travelled alone to North and South America at the start of this year for four months. Her main concern was safety in South America as she was bombarded with horror stories about girls being harassed.

“I had a horrible experience in Peru after going home with a guy that I met that night. I was very scared and I had to think on my feet to get out of it. Other than that, I felt that I kept my wits about me and had made great friends so I wasn’t scared,” says Ms Gordon.

“The biggest difference was the way men treat women. In Brazil especially, guys will come up to you and kiss you or make a move. During Carnival in Rio it was especially bad. They think it’s okay to just launch on women. I was quite shocked.”

Turkey is also a dangerous place for women tourists as the police and courts have a bad track record with helping women who have applied for protection orders against their attackers. According to recent research, 39 per cent of women in Turkey are victims of physical violence and 15 per cent are victims of sexual violence.

Tourism in Egypt makes up 20 per cent of the country’s foreign currency, but the number of tourists visiting the country has been significantly dropping. This is partly due to the rise in crime after the 2011 revolution, but also due to the sexual harassment and assault of unaccompanied women in the streets. A study conducted earlier this year by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights revealed 99.3 percent of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment.

Both Turkey and Egypt are predominantly Muslim countries, which means there are cultural rules women need to follow. These include conservative dress and in some places, being accompanied by a male in public.

Ms Gordon’s advice for young women travelling alone is to do thorough planning before leaving and be weary of people you meet along the way.

“Speak to other single girls who’ve travelled before and get the lowdown on where to go and where to avoid. Also, Internet research. Then, when out, don’t carry lots of cash. Keep what you have in your bra and stay clear of unsuitable men,” says Ms Gordon.

Where are the best places for girls travelling alone? 

About the author

Alysha Aitken