When I talk about my travels, a few questions come up over and over again.
People want to know how I afford to travel the world. They ask if I ever get lonely. They’re interested in the ins and outs of traveling with a dog. And, since I’m a woman traveling alone, they want to know if I feel safe.
Honestly, I usually brush the question off because, for me, safety has always been the least of my fears. Not because I don’t care about my safety, but because I have always been more afraid of failure, loneliness, and living a life that doesn’t matter.
And so, while I always try to be savvy and take care of myself, my biggest fears weren’t for my physical well-being.
Of course, that’s not true for everyone. And since I get asked about safety an awful lot, I thought I’d talk about it today.
So, as a woman traveling the world alone—walking the shoreline of Mexico, renting studio apartments in Paris, hiking the Alps with just my little dog for company—do I feel safe?
I feel just as safe, if not safer, when I’m traveling than I did while I was staying put.
Because the media reports the most sensational or shocking stories, we tend to believe that there are a lot of bad things happening in the world.
It’s that same phenomena that makes us believe that teen pregnancy is up if we know a pregnant teenager or that preachers are scamming people because we saw it happen at a local church. We tend to think that if we heard about it, it must be pretty common.
Really, though, the opposite is true. If the news is reporting a story about that pastor who stole millions or that beautiful blonde American girl who disappeared mysteriously in the Bahamas, it’s precisely because that story is mind-blowing, unexpected, and unusual.
And so danger while traveling seems so much more common than it really is.
In fact, in my own very extensive travels (which have taken me to every continent except Antarctica at least once), I have never once been assaulted, scammed, or found myself in a very dangerous situation. And only once have I been pick-pocketed…and that was while I was traveling with a friend.
Have I been hit on by creepy guys? Yep. But that also happened to me in the states. Have I passed people on the street who made me uncomfortable? Yes. But that happened to me far more often during my time in San Diego than anywhere in Europe.
So, do I feel safe while traveling alone as a woman, even in places like Mexico or Eastern Europe? Absolutely.
But that’s not the end of the discussion. Because I think there’s something even more important to note:
Even if travel did feel a little more dangerous, even if I am taking a risk, I would still absolutely and unequivocally choose a life of travel.
Because the truth is that something could happen to any of us at any time. They say texting while driving kills 6,000 people in the U.S. every year. Vending machines crush about 10 people a year (so, seriously, stop shaking that thing when it breaks). And, according to the CDC, 450 people die each year just falling out of bed. [Sources.]
When I was about 17, a boy I had met while traveling in Asia and who I had been exchanging infatuated emails with for about a year died in a car crash. Too early. Too young. Doing nothing more dangerous than riding home with some friends.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it?
We’re all going to die someday.
We all risk injury in our day-to-day lives (think of those vending machines).
And, if that’s the case, I’d rather my risks be beautiful, breathtaking ones. I’d rather paraglide past waterfalls, hike narrow trails that lead to 7,000-foot views, and walk home at midnight through the quiet streets of a new city because I’ve been out dancing to a Cuban salsa band in a beachfront bar.
Really, we’re all living risky lives. We’ve just become used to the risks of driving, eating fast food, and drinking. And the risks of solo female travel seem more pronounced simply because they are more sensational.
And so I close my answer with a wish (or several).
I wish for you adventure. I wish for you the wonder of arriving somewhere utterly new and of making your own way. I wish you breathtaking, beautiful risks instead of everyday, ordinary ones.
And for myself, I wish—and choose—the same.
Are you a solo female traveler? Do you ever get scared?
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YES. Exactly this. Staying home is no safer than traveling. I saw an article the other day that said there have been 174 school shootings in the US just since Sandy Hook about a year and a half ago. I’m not sure why so many people still think they’re safer in the US than many other parts of the world. Also, for me, travel puts me out of my comfort zone, which makes me more aware of my surroundings and I think I’m more cautious at times (though not insanely cautious). Sort of the same reason so many people get into car accidents within 5 or 10 miles from home, because they’re so used to that route that they pay less attention and use less caution. Anyway, this was just me enthusiastically long-winded agreement with everything you said in this post. Love it.
Holy crap. I didn’t realize that about the shootings (though I do feel like I’ve seen lots of news about it the last couple years). I love that analogy about the accidents happening closer to home. It reminds me of a friend who is a BASE jumper. He came home from jumping off cliffs all weekend, slipped in the shower and almost hit his head on a sharp corner in the bathroom. His thought: Seriously, this is how I’m going to go?
Ok, I just looked at the article again, and it’s 74, not 174. But still. Yikes.
Great post, Gigi! Love how you put it in perspective.
Never forget that 50% of the population is of less than average intelligence.
I think people who ask the “aren’t you afraid to travel alone” are a little afraid of life in general. Traveling, and adding a bit of the unknown, just amplifies their native fear.
Also, your point about the news is dead-on. If something is in the news, it’s there exactly because it’s unusual. Tens of thousands of people a year are killed in car crashes, and many more seriously injured. But nobody thinks twice about getting in a car. But *one* woman is killed in Istanbul and all of a sudden it’s dangerous to travel solo to Istanbul?
Yeah, I notice that fear of travel does tend to go along with general fearfulness. And, sadly, I think American culture encourages that general fearfulness.
Great post! I get questions all the time about how dangerous backpacking and skiing are. I always tell people the most dangerous part of what I do is driving to the trails. The wilderness is remarkably safe compared to the freeway. :P
P.S. In answer to the question at the end of the article: I get scared all the time on my adventures, alone and with other people. It’s part of the thrill. :D
An excellent point: fear isn’t the enemy.
Hey, great post. I hold a similar view and wrote about it on my blog as well. #WeGoSolo
Cheers and thanks for the thoughtful words!
Thanks for sharing this post with me yesterday. I loved reading about your side of the story on travelling alone.
I quite agree with all that you’ve said about no place being safe nowadays. Things destined to happen will happen and we can’t change that. Also, we can’t live in fear. We have just one life.
However, it is slightly difficult travelling all alone in India. This I say from personal experience and there’s a good reason for that. The kind of freedom that women enjoy in India is very limited as the thought process of our people haven’t evolved as it should have. I’m not saying we are bad people as there are many good folks around this side of the world. But women still have to be very careful here when it comes to travelling or taking many major decisions, for that matter. The situation is definitely changing but we have a long way to go. Maybe, that’s why I slightly hesitate to just push off on a trip all by myself.
But I plan to change that and I am working on it. Maybe, I’ll have some interesting travel stories to share some day as well. :)
Look forward to reading more posts by you! Happy writing and travel safe, girl! :)
Glad you enjoyed it! And you’re correct, there are some parts of the world that I wouldn’t travel in alone. It’s wise to know where you can and cannot go.
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