Why I’m Not A Solo Female Traveller

brunette girl with headband sitting in front of green door in london

“You’re so brave for a girl!” Considering I can’t even sit through Scary Movie without having nightmares, I hear this a lot more often than I feel I should.  

People usually proclaim this after hearing about my travels or when they realise blogging is my full-time job. But instead of being flattered, it annoys the hell out of me.

I understand what they’re getting at. Choosing an unconventional career despite spending lots of time and money on an unrelated university degree may seem like a bold choice. Similarly, travelling to places like Lebanon or Ethiopia can sound dangerous to some people.

girl in beige knitted dress sitting on doorstep in notting hill london
If you enjoyed this post, please PIN me.

The truth is that there is nothing inherently courageous about blogging and travelling. Unless you think staring at a screen without blinking for hours on end is a heroic feat. Or that posing for a safari selfie basically makes you Jane Goodall.

But it’s not the bravery part I take issue with. Who wouldn’t want to be considered brave, even if it was for the wrong reasons? The thing that gets me is the female qualifier. People don’t think I’m brave, period – they think I’m brave for a girl.

And that’s exactly what I want to talk about today. Is there a difference between male and female travellers? Should we encourage women to travel differently? Before I get started let me just say that this post may offend you. I might, but it shouldn’t. I’m just trying to start a conversation and hope you’ll share your opinion in a comment below once you’re done reading.

Oh, Solo Female Travellers

Many bloggers call themselves “solo female travellers”, highlighting not only how they travel but also what’s between their legs while they do it. They encourage other women to cast aside their fears and travel the world so I should applaud them, right?

Right… but every time I hear the term I get a sudden urge to scream. This might come as a surprise from someone whose blog is literally called Girl vs Globe. Someone who runs a female-only Facebook group and pretty much exclusively writes for women. Don’t worry, the irony is not lost on me.

Being a woman has shaped how I view the world ever since the day I was born, moulding me into who I am today from the first time I was complimented on my pretty pigtails. We get treated differently and have to put up with even more shit than our male counterparts. It sucks, both on a personal and professional level.

I completely understand why our experiences make us feel like we’re a different breed of traveller altogether. But the truth is we are not.

girl in beige knitted dress sitting on doorstep in notting hill london

You’re Not Great For A Girl

Although we experience the world slightly differently – as do other minorities be they LGBTQIA, disabled or people of colour – we don’t require a new vocabulary for our experiences.

You know what’s even better than being a successful female CEO or an accomplished female cardiovascular surgeon? Being recognised as somebody who is good at their job, without making it a gender issue.

We don’t need a special qualifier placed behind our achievements. We don’t want to be great for a girl, we want the same respect men get. After all what’s the last time you heard a man call himself a male executive or – to go back to my original point – a solo male traveller? Even writing it feels ridiculous.

Here’s the problem with putting too much emphasis on gender. Whenever someone tells you that you’re successful for a girl, strong for a girl or smart for a girl, they’re also saying two other things.

First, they’re asserting that women typically aren’t good at that thing. But even worse they’re saying that you only get to play in the female league. “You may be good,” they say, “but you will never be as good as a man. This is our domain.”

But that’s total BS. Women are incredible and so are men. There is no weaker sex, no gentler sex, no prettier sex and no better sex. Every single human being is great in their own right.

brunette with headband sitting on column in london

Best Countries For Female Travellers

With that said, do we really need endless lists telling us which countries are and are not ok for female travellers to visit? Are posts about “top destinations for solo female travellers” and similar topics beneficial or do they help perpetuate a harmful stereotype?

Look, I get it. Certain places don’t have a good track record of women’s rights. Travelling alone can be daunting and it’s important to feel safe while you do it, so choosing a less challenging destination can be a good idea.

But as long as you’re cautious being female shouldn’t stop you from seeing any country in the world. Tonnes of women have backpacked through India, hitchhiked around Iraq and explored other places where women are not treated like equals and often sexually harassed. It can definitely be done.

I realise the bloggers who write these lists are probably just trying to be helpful (and get more traffic #cynic). But I think they’re accidentally reinforcing an unhealthy stereotype. Let’s not tell women which countries they’re allowed to visit. No, no, no. Let’s leave that decision up to each individual and instead help them be safe while they visit whatever place they feel drawn to.

Our half of the population has a long history of being told how to act and it’s done nothing but harm us. So if anyone tries to tell you where to go, you can tell them where to go. To hell.

brunette sitting on doorstep in notting hill london

But Wait A Second…

Can emphasising the fact we’re female travellers ever be useful? Kind of. In highlighting your otherness – not that women are a minority, which makes our situation even more incomprehensible – you are reminding the world of all the obstacles that stand in your path.

That is an important conversation to have. It’s the reason why I write a woman-centric blog and run a female-only community. Having a safe space where we can discuss our fears and hardships is crucial to overcoming them. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating our femininity, quite the contrary.

It’s important to acknowledge that travel works differently for women. We have to deal with sexual harassment and personal safety issues much more frequently than men do. We aren’t even granted what seems like basic human rights in some cultures.

Moreover, let’s not forget those women who are also members of other minority groups because they experience further difficulties on top of these gender-related obstacles.

But even though it makes it more challenging, your vagina doesn’t magically render you unable to travel wherever you damn well please. So the next time you refer to yourself as a solo female traveller, please just think about what the term really means and what implications it carries.

***

The bottom line is this… I don’t care whether you run your own business or have a PhD in astrophysics. I don’t care whether you’ve given up on your dreams to take care of an ailing relative or get up at 4am day after day to cook breakfast for the homeless. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the CEO of a large company or the author of a dozen bestsellers.

Mothers, scientists, athletes, teachers, politicians, I hate to be the one to break it to you but you’ll never be great for a girl. Why? Because you don’t need a special qualifier placed behind your achievements. You’re not great for a girl – you’re just great.

Do you like and use the term solo female traveller or do you share my sentiments? There’s obviously no right or wrong answer here, so I’d love to hear your opinions and have a little discussion in the comments below! 

  • Anna

    I actually totally agree with you. Putting a gender in front of so many statements makes me angry sometimes.

  • sigrid

    Hello Sabina!

    Interesting article. While I’ve never looked at it like that, I totally understand your point. You’re totally right women shouldn’t emphasize what’s between their legs, and I think most women don’t. I’ve never described myself that way, while I totally belong to that category. I think some bloggers use it just as a label, nothing more and nothing less. I’ve checked some articles, and I think they are rather empowering than restrictive. Alternative titles could have been “places where women can have peace of mind” or “places where women can wear whatever they want”. And doesn’t that sound great? Doesn’t it sound liberating?
    Having spent more than 2 years in India in places other than the beaches of Goa (which are paradise, but maybe not the “real” India) and being groped at multiple times, for me it does. The sad reality is that some men, although just a tiny fraction, do regard women as vaginas. While that definitely hasn’t deterred me from going back to India – I would never let a groper ruin my holiday! – I do realize some women don’t want to be bothered by it and just have a relaxing holiday. I think it’s good to know what the attitude towards women of a specific country is, just like you check what meds and immunisations you might need. It’s good to come prepared and increase your chances of having a good time. And of course bad press about a particular country shouldn’t prevent you from going, but I think it’s important information to consider..
    I think an article titled “places women should avoid” is very problematic because it sounds very moralizing. But articles like “best places for solo female travellers” just give me extra wanderlust. I wish I could book a ticket right now! 😉

  • Ashley and Alex

    We totally agree! Alex and I just had this discussion in regards to sports the other day – as in why the hell do women play softball and not baseball? But it affects so much of our lives especially in travel.

    No offense to my family, but Alex gets asked to keep me safe when we travel. How about we keep each other safe instead? Is where we are going inherently safer for him? No. Its not and I am the one who knows directions and how to get everywhere.

    We really need to stop celebrating an accomplishment with the word “female” in front of it and just celebrate the accomplishment for its own right!

    • Absolutely! I definitely think there are higher barriers to entry for women when it comes to most things, and that life in general is harder as a female. But our achievements are just as worthy of being recognised – not just as women, but as members of the human race in general 🙂

  • Love this post – mostly because I still can’t decide whether I agree with it or not! While I do definitely agree that accomplishments should just be accomplishments regardless of gender, the truth is that women inherently just DO experience the world (and therefore travel) differently. I would love for the world to get to a point where women can have the exact same experiences and opportunities as men, but we’re just not there yet. And until we get there, I don’t see a problem with educating woman about how they might experience certain destinations, especially if it’s going to help them have realistic expectations of a place and be able to travel safe(r).

    An example could be certain places in Latin America – men aren’t likely to get catcalled on the street, while women are. Does that make those places more or less “safe” for women to travel to? No, but it’s something I personally would want to know about before going!

    • Thanks for your comment Amanda! I totally agree – I *do* believe education is important and that travel is different for women! It’s just the terminology I take issue with.

      But I actually think it’s really great that people are disagreeing with some of the points I raised. It’s really nice to be having this honest discussion! <3

  • While I get the general idea of where you’re coming from (I’ve been a solo traveler for going on 6 years, 3 of them full-time and I happen to be a woman — not a girl — a woman) I would like to point out one flaw in your argument: Women are not a minority.

    Happen continued travels!

    • Thanks so much for your comment Carola!! I totally agree, women are not a minority.

      I did mention that here, toward the end of the article: “In highlighting your otherness – not that women are a minority, which makes our situation even more incomprehensible – you are reminding the world of all the obstacles that stand in your path.” The problem is that we are often treated like a minority, ridiculous as it may be! 🙁 <3

      • Thanks for your reply.
        You might want to consider rephrasing your references to “other minorities” to something that is closer to reality: actual minorities, since women as such aren’t one.
        Just something worth considering noticing that you seem to me like you don’t actually belong to any minority…

        Kind regards,
        C

  • Tuliyani Escalante

    This is great and tells me exactly why I’ve been struggling with putting “solo FEMALE traveler” on my website. I don’t want to just be known as a solo FEMALE traveler. I want guys to read my posts as well and say, “Hey, I want to do that” and not cringe because they think my posts are too “feminine”. Which, so far, I have had men in awe of my travels. I’m not ashamed of being female, absolutely not, but I don’t want to shy away from certain experiences or keep secret other experiences because only guys can do that, like sleeping around and getting in motorcycle accidents. Travel is travel! Anyone can do it if you have the right mindset. (ps, because I try to steer away from “solo female traveler” I still can’t find my niche)

  • I LOVE this post dude, it’s so bang on. I also find the term solo female traveller super irritating and hate being put (wrongly) into categories for solo female travel bloggers too. I sometimes travel alone, sometimes with my husband, sometimes with friends…..because I am not only a female, I’m a pretty standard human being too.

    As you know, my blog is wholeheartedly and unashamedly fem-centric and I LOVE the GVG community because it’s an awesome, supportive place for women and not a space to pat each other on the back patronisingly for doing what we all intrinsically passionate about.

    Go Sabina!! xx

    • Thanks so much Lucy!! You rock and you know how much I adore your approach to travel, and life in general 🙂 I’m really glad you agree with the points I made… although I know if you didn’t we’d still be able to have a kick ass honest discussion <3

  • Lanterns Lullabies

    Hi Sabina, great article and it’s nice to see you approach these complex issues. I can totally see where you’re coming from. The whole ‘you’re brave for a girl’ thing can be annoying, I feel it myself sometimes, buuuuttt, I have to say – and perhaps this is becasue of the particular culture that I was raised in – ‘solo female traveler’ is not a label I run away from, in fact, I embrace it like it’s a part of my soul.

    You mentioned briefly on how we experience the world differently, including minorities and you had a point there. Coming from a very traditional African upbringing, the idea of a girl travelling alone – or doing anything other than focusing on marriage and motherhood – is often met with teeth kissing and long stares. So yeah, I wave my solo travel title like a big red flag, it’s my way of saying ‘stuff your standards’, I’m going to live life the way I want, not how my culture wants to dictates I live becasue I’m a woman. If you saw the way elder women in my community look at me when I say I wont be having kids because I’ll be too busy hiking around the Arctic lol.

    Solo travel, or anything that doesn’t involve traditional roles is not something women have always had access too in the way that men have, and in some parts of the world they still don’t, so perhaps that’s why people take to the label so much, and perhaps that’s why people still put the word ‘female’ in front of executive and CEO. No one has ever doubted that a man could do those things, it’s the expectation that they will. Let’s face it, we’ve come a long way, but sexism even in more developed societies is still a problem. When we truly reach equality, it wont matter so much anymore, but let’s be real we’ve got a long time to go before that. Really appreciate you taking the time to write this though. Happy travels.

    Aura x

    Lanterns And Lullabies.

  • Romy

    While I like your article I have to disagree. If someone were to tell me that I’m brave for a girl that would definitely piss me off, but I do feel like we need the term solo female traveler. I wish it wasn’t the case, but my experience traveling is completely different than the experiences of my male friends. I have to be more careful. That is no reason for me not to travel, I just traveled all of Southern Africa on my own. But being able to read about obstacles women faced on their travels makes my life and that of other girls easier.

  • Kellie Mogg

    Firstly, after reading your article, I immediately read every comment expecting to see someone handing you an “anti-feminist” name tag—however, I’m super impressed with the actual discussion that is happening on both sides. I think that means you’ve created a valuable and fair resource for your readers overall. Kudos!

    Secondly, I agree and love that you’ve put this into words. I’ve never used the term ‘solo female traveler’ to describe my solo travels just like I very very rarely title myself as a feminist. I lean towards statements more like, ‘a lot of my beliefs align with those of feminism’. Why don’t I just say the word feminist? Honestly, I feel like the word has taken some, not so pretty strides recently. It can be very in your face sometimes.

    I feel like *sometimes* in some places, feminism even creates more of a wall than an even playing field. And for that reason in particular, I agree with your choice not to use solo female traveler, and just to be a badass traveler instead. ***While still creating posts full of advice and tips for ladies when traveling to places in the world where gender equality is more seriously related to our safety.***

    I truly appreciate Emma Watson’s speech regarding gender equality at the United Nations, making it clear that gender equality is everyone’s issue. Check it out if you haven’t seen, it’s very eloquently put. She introduces the discussion in away that keeps everyone feeling included and her point is clear no matter what’s between your legs.

    https://youtu.be/5YQPLepzCYU

    Thanks for sharing! Cheers!

  • Madeline Potter

    The main reason I love seeing “solo female traveller” is because it really is more rare (although I think less rare today) and I do come off as brave to so many people and while I don’t see it that way they still do! So to them, it really is an accomplishment. I hear from older women, “in my day, women were never doing these things. I love that you are so adventurous and following your dreams.” I don’t compare “solo female traveler” to “…for a girl” (because I HATEEEE hearing ‘for a girl’ so much) but I totally totally see your statement, am giving it thought, and definitely appreciate your point. I will be thinking about this now haha maybe I’ll gain a new perspective. Very good article, too. My main inspiration in life is to encourage other women and girls to go, “oh, wait, maybe I can travel solo too! Why haven’t I thought of that?” It’s way different than traveling with friends, family, or studying abroad and it does take more courage….not because we are girls….but because it’s much more independent in general. And also because the world thinks we are delicate while we also are targeted as victims of sexual crimes more, too. So there’s that unfortunate aspect of being a woman as it’s our job to “be safe” …ugh. Anyway, I can’t wait to read feedback over this and see if there’s follow up 🙂 Again, very good read!

  • Meissoun Gasser

    To be great “for a girl” is like looking good “for your age” 🙂 It’s never as good as just being great or looking good…
    This is an excellent article but fortunately it also made me realize that while I have entered the stage of my life where I “still look good for my age” I have hardly ever been told that I am brave to travel solo since I am female. I guess I am surrounded by smart people.
    My parents love to travel and have always encouraged me to do so, even if they weren’t always happy with my choice of exotic destinations.
    If they were concerned, it had more to do with unstable political situations but I think they never told me “you shouldn’t go there because you’re a woman”.

  • As a female, I travel solo more often than not, but never really thought of labeling myself/website as a solo female traveler because I meet people along the way, or visit friends…I feel like I’m never really solo!

    I enjoyed reading your article – it was very thought provoking for me. As someone who’s currently living in India, experiencing a patriarchal society and what that means as a woman, I’m not sure I agree with your thoughts on gender. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to worry about gender equality. But we’re very far from an ideal world, and females are treated differently than men whether it be in a first world country or a third world country. I think it’s fair that in finding solutions to the problem of gender we acknowledge that fact.

  • Love this post! I totally agree with you but i’m also guilty of using the term! I shouldn’t have to write “female” traveler, just look at my pictures in my posts, clearly I am a girl. No need to alert anyone! Love your writing too, in your face but not cruel. Just mind opening.

  • I like the solo female traveler label. Instead of seeing it as “great for a girl” I see it as “great on top of all the additional shit I have to put up with”.

    I had an interesting experience traveling around Brazil during the World Cup. I heard the “You’re so brave!” thing there a lot – *way* more often than on any other trip I’ve taken. It wasn’t qualified with, “for a girl”, though that may have been implied in a few conversations. Looking back, almost every comment was coming from a guy who was traveling with a group of friends. I think there was a bit of envy alongside the surprise, in that they might not have come if they hadn’t been with friends or if their package tour hadn’t been available, while I was there without either of those things.

    Anyway, those comments led to me realizing that my biggest issue with “You’re so brave,” is that people categorize travel as being completely separate from the rest of life. I live a solo female life – why should how I travel be any different? I honestly think the “travel” part of solo female traveler is still what scares/intrigues people the most, whether they realize it or not.

    • Wanderdolls

      Definitely agree Polly! Lots of places that are a bit rougher out there for women, so to me, great for a girl certainly is “great on top of all the additional shit I have put up with”

  • Tattooed Tourist

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog. I found it well written and informative, thanks so much for sharing your insight and experience. If you have a moment, check out my site tattooedtourist.com
    Hopefully you find it helpful! x

  • That’s very interesting post, thanks for that Sabina!

    I agree with your point of view, but then I also understand why girls want to see all those “best destinations for female travelers” etc. You mentioned it at the end – females are still treated differently in different parts of the world, and even if we are all for equality of rights in the western world – it’s (sadly) still not the case in other places. Not to mention, that many girls are more concerned about their safety when travelling.

    I’ve travelled alone and I loved it. I think everyone should try it, as it opens new experiences, can teach you a lot about yourself and typically brings you closer to people and nature (depending on YOUR choices).

    What if guys start using “male solo traveller”? 😀

    Cheers and happy travels,
    Aga