Recently in the news, there has been a tragic story about Sarai Sierra, 33, an American woman who was murdered while traveling alone in Turkey. After a friend canceled last-minute, she decided to take this once-in-a-lifetime trip alone in order to practice her photography, a skill at which she thrived. In fact, she had gained 3,000+ followers on Instagram because of her amazing photos.
Whenever anything like this happens, America goes crazy (and not in a good way). Sarai Sierra’s story, though absolutely tragic, has sparked many out-of-date comments and views about women. All-in-all, the media has concluded that women traveling alone are the problem, and as a result, solo female travelers are being scrutinized all over the globe. Sexist, outdated comments have surfaced the internet. (Here is a small sample of comments from the original nbc article, some of are which borrowed from Katie Going Global):
- “A woman has no business traveling alone,”
- “No way I would ever let my beautiful wife out the door to travel to any country alone.”
- “So sad for the family, but what on earth would possess someone to travel to a Middle Eastern Country by themselves? Americans do not understand the cultures of these places. There are a lot of people who have such hatred for Americans, and they have very little regard for women in these areas too. She should have taken her family on a vacation to a place that is not so dangerous.
- I would NEVER let my wife do something like this!”
- “Turkey is a wonderful country, but traveling there alone, especially Istanbul, is just plain stupid! But traveling in that part of the world, especially if you’re an American woman by yourself is, again, STUPID!”
- “Who in their right mind goes to a third world country by themselves? I, myself, would never go anywhere outside of the U.S. by myself. It’s too dangerous.”
- “This is a reminder to our naive citizens that foreign lands are dangerous; especially countries dominated by Muslims. You can not assume those places are as safe and secure as NY, Chicago , LA streets etc.”
Reader, do you see the victim blaming in every. single. comment!? (Keep in mind that these comments are written by both women and men.)
There are a lot of problems relating to this situation, but solo female travelers are not one of them. Pop culture is the problem. Movies such as Taken or Youth Hostel are the problems. (Have I mentioned that I have traveled to Paris alone as well as stayed in Youth Hostels by myself?) The media telling us about the scary world outside the USA is a problem– yet they forget to mention that a woman in the USA is sexually assaulted EVERY 2 MINUTES. They also forget the mention that gun violence is uniquely an American problem compared to other industrialized countries– or the fact that men are actually more likely to be the victims of homicide (though of course you don’t see Men’s Solo Travel under attack). As Stephanie from Twenties-Something Travel puts it, Violence Against Women is the problem. Sarai traveling alone to Istanbul did NOT kill her– an actual person did. Ironically, more than two-thirds of violent crimes committed against women are committed by people they know, not strangers. Yet here we are, blaming the victim (how dare Sarai follow her dreams and expand her skills as a photographer and travel to Turkey alone, without a man). Instead we should be asking, “When are we finally going to take a firm stance on ending Violence Against Women!?” (Chris Brown just made a mistake, right?)
Finally, the fact that only 30% of adults in the USA have a passport is the problem. Americans are taking advice and learning about the world from people who have never, ever left their own country. I will leave it at that.
Me, traveling solo, in Kyoto, Japan.
Most of you readers know that as a recent college graduate, I am saving up money to move abroad and teach overseas this year. Each time I tell people this, many are intrigued… but many are also turned off, or just confused. It’s just not something many Americans strive to do, and I get that. However, I am also always bombarded with questions such as, “Aren’t you afraid to go alone?” or, “Is it safe?” or, “Why?” I spent four months studying and traveling in Europe, and three months traveling and teaching in Japan by myself. As much as my family and friends do not understand my aspirations for long-term travel, I have never been told not to go. I have never questioned my intelligence, my confidence, or my abilities as an individual (or as a woman). I have never questioned people’s opinions about my travel decisions or aspirations. Because let’s face it, if I have, I would have never seen Daniel Radcliffe perform nude in New York City. I would have never had a life-changing experience studying abroad in France. I would have never had an amazing internship teaching English abroad. I would have never gone skydiving. I would have never joined a sorority.
As a woman who has traveled alone, and plans to continue traveling alone, I will answer you this: I feel 100% safe traveling alone. In fact, I felt safer in Japan and France than I did walking home from the library in my college town. I met people and made new friends along the way who have touched or changed my life forever, even if I never saw them again. I experienced things I would have never had the chance to staying in the United States. By traveling solo I also had the chance to play by my own rules and set my own expectations. Of course there are always safety precautions that both men and women should take when traveling solo– and I encourage you to do so.
Overall, I hope stories like this do not scare away young women and men who aspire to study abroad, teach English for year in a foreign country, or just take a gap year to check a few things off the bucket list. I hope stories like this help you see past the naivety and close-mindedness that many, many Americans carry with them on a daily basis. I hope the women who aspire to take a solo trip to not fall into the 1950’s mindset that they need a man (or companion) to make world travel become a reality (don’t get me wrong, men are great, but only YOU can achieve your travel dreams). Many, many women (and men) travel solo. To find more solo travelers, check out my reading list, or the list below, which was created by Legal Nomads.
- Christine from Almost Fearless – “The women traveling solo question“
- From Frederike of Journalist in Turkey – “With your head up high“
- Stephanie from Twenty-something Travel – “Female solo travel is not the problem.”
- Katie from Katie Going Global – “No, it’s not stupid to travel solo“
- Amanda from Dangerous Business – “A treatise on solo female travel“
- Christine from C’est Christine – “Solo travel and why it’s a label I support“
- Kate from Adventurous Kate – “The truth about solo female travel and safety“
- Runaway Jane – “Should women travel solo“
- A follow up from NBC, featuring Journeywoman and Beth from Wanderlust & Lipstick