Traveling as a Solo Woman
Women often pull me aside after Steven and I give a book talk to ask me if I think it would be safe/enjoyable/crazy to travel to XYZ alone. I’m always afraid of giving anyone a gung-ho “Oh you’ll be fiiiine” because I don’t really want to be cursed to hell if anything goes wrong for them.
That said, I’m always REALLY happy to have these conversations because I think it’s often invaluable to hear about a place through the eyes of a fellow woman because the truth is, a lot of places can be completely different for experiences for men and women.
This is exactly the topic of this week’s Frugal Travel column by Seth Kugel in the NY Times. (You can check out the piece here.) He says readers often point out that his travel experiences are particular to those of a man.
They say that the advice I give and the experiences I recount are not always as applicable or accessible to women. How would a female traveler feel about staying in my $4 room at Hospedaje los Arcos in Coatepeque, Guatemala? Or being invited to a family lunch by an older man in Intepe, Turkey? Or hitting working-class immigrant nightclubs outside Madrid?
I too have thought these very same things reading his column–which for the record I still very much enjoy. Some things are simply and so unfortunately more dangerous to do as a lone woman. And often they’re the things that keep your budget down! Super cheap hotels, traveling by night, walking instead of taking a taxi…
That said– and this is something Kugel gets into in his article via female traveler friends and colleagues from whom he sought advice– sometimes there are things that you can only do as a woman. Like I wrote about in To Timbuktu, in societies where the public sphere is male-dominated and the private sphere female, as a woman traveler you are often granted much more access to family intimacies. For me that has meant everything from being welcomed into a Malian family’s kitchen to learn the secrets from Mom of tikka dege na (a delicious peanut sauce and rice) to partaking in a Moroccan bride’s pre-wedding all night party with dancing and henna and pigeon pie big enough to feed forty.
So there are pros and cons to traveling alone as a woman, and frankly I don’t do it that much– I myself have a really great traveling companion who’s a man. You might have heard of him– Steven? So when I’m trying to give advice to these women who approach me, I often tell them that equally important to being a woman is what kind of traveler you are. Experienced? Not easily annoyed? Able to ignore unwanted advances? Light packer? Confident? Competent in any languages? Because frankly, all of these qualities will shape your experiences as a woman abroad much more than your boobs will.