Should Women Travel Alone? Of Course!

News of the death of an American woman vacationing in Turkey made headlines across the country, but her tragic death also raises an important question because the mother of two – who was missing for nearly two weeks before police found her body over the weekend – was traveling by herself.

So it begs the question, should women travel alone?

Heading off on a solo voyage naturally comes with some safety risks regardless of gender, but it does seem like women have it worse. For one thing, muggers and criminals may see solo women as walking targets since they’re less likely to fight back than a male. And for another, there are the cultural differences. While we might view women as being equal to men, there are many parts of the world where old-fashioned attitudes persist. In some countries, women that are traveling by themselves may be viewed as having “loose morals,” for want of a better term, and as a result, they may attract negative attention from men.

Traveling by yourself as a woman also means you may hesitate to do things you would otherwise jump at the chance to do if you were in a group. Got invited to a local party? Or asked back to someone’s house for dinner? These kinds of things can be great opportunities to immerse oneself in local culture, but as a solo woman, the opportunities come laced with risks. Even simply going out to enjoy local nightlife means having to contend with unwanted – and potentially dangerous – attention from men.On the other hand, solo travel comes with its benefits. Ask anyone who’s done it (myself included) and they’ll tell you that hitting the road on your own is extremely rewarding. Traveling by yourself successfully can be a real confidence booster, helping you realize you’re capable of much more than you thought. Solo travel also has a way of forcing you out of your shell. Even if you’re shy or quiet, you’ll meet so many more people – travelers and locals alike – since it’s a lot less daunting to approach and befriend a solo traveler than a big group of tourists. And let’s not forget that sometimes traveling alone is your only choice – if you don’t have anyone who’ll accompany you, it’s either go by yourself or don’t go at all.

At the end of the day though, here’s the best reason I can offer for traveling alone: you can do what you want, when you want, how you want. So while you might be faced with some obstacles, don’t let the risks put you off from making that amazing solo journey. Remember that bad things can happen to you anywhere, including in your hometown – so fear shouldn’t stop you from living your travel dreams. As long as you use some common sense and take a few precautions, you should be perfectly fine.

5 Quick Tips for Staying Safe

1. Start small. If you haven’t traveled by yourself before, start by visiting countries that are used to seeing women out and about on their own. For example, Australia, England and Scandinavia are all destinations that are accepting of female independence. They’re also culturally similar and easy to get around, making them a good starting point for newbie solo travelers.

2. Dress modestly. You don’t have to walk around in a burqa, but avoid wearing any kind of clothing that might draw unwanted attention. You also want to make sure you’re respecting the local culture by covering your shoulders or knees if that’s what’s expected. This is a thoughtful thing to do whether you’re by yourself or not.

3. Don’t say you’re alone. If you’re feeling vulnerable, avoid telling strangers that you’re traveling by yourself. Pretend that you’re meeting friends or better still, your husband. Wearing a fake wedding band can do wonders to deter unwanted suitors.

4. Avoid wandering around by yourself at night. Women are certainly going to be more vulnerable walking down dark, isolated streets. If you do want to go out in the evenings, stick to well-populated areas, don’t get too drunk, and have a plan for how to get back to your hotel.

5. Take public transport. Taxis might be convenient, but being alone in a car with a stranger carries its risks – some travelers get mugged, or worse. Taking a crowded bus or subway might be more hassle, but there’s safety in numbers. Of course, this is a tough one to generalize since not all public transit stops are located in safe areas and not all taxi drivers are dodgy – at the end of the day you’ll have to listen to your gut about what’s safe and what’s not.

Do you think it’s a good idea for women to travel alone? Share your thoughts in the comments!

[Photo Credit: Flickr users Garry Knight; Daran Kandasamy]

Cell phones keep perverts away while traveling in Japan

As a woman traveling alone, it’s easy to get whistled at, remarked at, or groped by men — whether you are in a train, waiting for a flight, or even buying the newspaper.

Generally notorious for this behavior are Italian and Spanish men, and even men from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh I find absolutely shameless in trying their luck when a woman is around alone.

Being a foreigner in a country makes you stand out more and ass groping is most common in clubs all around the world. I normally ignore.

Japan seems to have come up with a different way to deal with this problem: Japanese women are flashing a text message that says: “Did you just grope me? Shall we head to the police?” to deal with being groped by perverts without attracting attention.

What I imagine: man pinching backside of woman, woman looking for “anger” button on phone that downloads a message, woman turning around and shoving a phone in face of groper.”

I don’t know if that’s better than shooting him a dirty look and ignoring — as it sounds like bit of a delayed reaction — but the cell phone application has recently been ranked in the top ten.

I suppose if you were a foreigner living in Japan, this would be perfect until you learned to speak the language — but I think dirty look followed by ignoring is universal language that says “bugger off you sick pervert,” no?

Talking Travel with Beth Whitman

Writer and world traveler Beth Whitman is the author of Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo. We’ve mentioned her book here on Gadling before — we dig the catchy title! I recently caught up with Beth via email to chat more about solo travel and how she got started in traveling. She’s taken some really cool trips and has a few more on tap for later this year and next. Keep reading to find out the latest from this expert wandering woman:

How did you get started traveling?

I grew up in New Jersey and, for as long as I can remember, I wanted to get away. It was too crowded for me and I just couldn’t see myself settling down there. I love going back to visit family and friends and to enjoy the excellent Italian food that I can’t find in Seattle, but I think growing up there somehow gave me the travel bug.

Hmmm…interesting. I was born in Jersey and seem to have been bitten by a similar bug! So when did you first break out on your own to do some solo travel?

I took a college course at Oxford for three weeks to study classical music but it was with a group (although I didn’t know anyone in advance). That was my first trip abroad and I still remember my legs shaking at Newark Airport as I got ready to leave. My first “real” solo trip was when I drove around the U.S. for three months after I took a semester off from college. It was fantastic. I stayed with friends who were at colleges all over the country and I stayed in youth hostels. I got so hooked after that adventure that from then onward I would work a few jobs, save all my money and then set out on the road again.

When did you begin to write about your travels and traveling in general?

Even though I had been published here and there in the 90’s, I really started writing after my solo motorcycle trip from Seattle to Panama in 1997. I was published in BMW Magazine as well as some other magazines and newspapers across the country. But that was really just part time work back then.

When did you start riding motorcycles and how did the idea to go by bike come about for you?

I had been riding since 1990. I purchased my first bike when I moved from New Jersey to Seattle. I wanted to do a big motorcycle trip and wanted to go beyond North America. Central America was a great option since I didn’t have to ship the bike to start the trip out (although I DID ship the bike back from Panama).

And when did you first start teaching workshops for women about solo travel? How did that come about?

I started teaching workshops in 1993 after I returned from a yearlong trip through the Pacific Rim countries. I was concentrating on Vietnam and Cambodia since they had both just opened up to travelers. I quickly realized that women really needed some encouragement to travel on their own and I felt I had enough experience and enthusiasm to provide that type of information. So, I developed my class, For Women Traveling Solo, and right now teach at the University of Washington’s Women Center, Bellevue Community College and Discover U.

When did you decide to write the book and how did you come up with the title?

Writing a book has been in the back of my mind for several years but I got serious about it in January 2006. It seemed a natural extension of my travel workshops to write this first book as a how-to for women travelers. With regards to the title… I played around with probably a hundred different titles over several months. I bounced ideas off of other travelers, my editor and other professionals in the book industry but I knew I had the perfect title when I finally arrived upon Wanderlust and Lipstick. I am working on other books under this same brand. For example, I expect to publish Wanderlust and Lipstick: The Essential Guide for Women Traveling to India sometime in 2008.

One of the chapters in your book is about “Getting Beyond the Excuses.” What are some of the most common (and most creative) excuses you have heard from women who are hesitant to travel on their own?

The excuses generally aren’t very creative. They’re very standard excuses like, “I don’t have any money,” “I don’t like to be alone,” “I don’t have enough vacation time from work”. I can come up with a plan to get around any excuse you give me.

What are some of your favorite destinations for solo travel?

I don’t think I have a “favorite” destination as a solo traveler. Every trip has been great and if I find that I’m not having a great time, I have to adjust what it is that I’d doing or where I’m staying to make it better.

If approached correctly, any place could be great for solo travel. You can go to Puerto Vallarta solo and stay at a nice hotel that is filled with couples and families. You could easily have a bad time because it will be difficult to meet people and you’ll be constantly reminded that you’re on your own. Alternately, you could fly into Puerto Vallarta but stay at a traveler’s hotel like a youth hostel or head north to Sayulita which is where the young(er) travelers hang out. You’re more likely to meet up with lots of other people and have a better time. To meet locals, take a class in Spanish and live with a family. There’s nothing like immersion to add to your experience!

You’ve recently redesigned the “For Women Traveling Solo” website. Can you tell us a little bit about the new Wanderlust and Lipstick site and the resources it offers to women travelers?

Yes, I did just re-launch the site at I wanted to broaden the site to include all women travelers, not just those traveling solo. The new site was really created to foster a sense of community for women travelers. There’s a Forum where women can share information and I have travel bloggers concentrating on specific areas of interest. Some really talented writers have submitted articles for the Wander Tales area and I have lots of tips and links to other websites. I’ve also just launched a Wanderlusters Tips area so that people can submit their own travel tips to share.

What else do you have planned for the site?

I plan to include a photo gallery and eventually both a photo contest and travel tip contest.

Switching gears, can you tell us about the trip you are hosting to Bhutan that is scheduled for 2008?

I am leading this trip to Bhutan in April 2008 with Wild Card Adventures. They have been arranging personalized tours to Asia for ten years and have excellent guides available in many different countries. Bhutan is really the hidden gem of the Himalayas and only had 18,000 visitors in 2006. It’s a very special place and this trip is quite exclusive. Over 11 days, we’ll be trekking through the mountains, visiting villages and temples, and attending a Tsechu Mask Dance festival. It’s going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity for the attendees. The trip is open to 12 people and at this time there is still space available.

Have you led other tour groups like this before? And can you share a few thoughts on the different experiences of traveling solo vs. traveling with a group?

I haven’t led a tour before but I have been on tours. Obviously there are pluses and minuses to both solo and group travel. The camaraderie that develops between members of an organized group can be magical and life-long friends can be easily made because you are sharing a common interest. However, in a group, everyone has to be flexible and respectful of each other because you’re going to be spending a lot of time together. And, you may not have any option to break away on your own. As a solo traveler, you’ll have more flexibility but it can take more time and energy to meet people along the way. Having a guide, whether you are solo or in a group is key because he or she can really help you get under the surface of a culture.

Besides the trip to Bhutan, do you have other pending travel plans and/or projects you’d like to share with Gadling readers?

I’m planning a West Coast book tour this fall. I normally wouldn’t think this would be notable except that I’m going on my motorcycle (to be more eco-friendly) and will be staying with people I meet through and

I’m also planning to return to India (I was there early this year for a month) in January to research my next book. Other than that there are lots of places on my list, but nothing concrete.

Cool book tour idea. Can you share any details with us about your route or departure date?

I’m still working on details but the general route will start in Bellingham, Washington. I’ll be speaking at REI and Village Books on October 16th and 17th respectively. From there, I’ll head south through Oregon, again hitting a number of REI stores as well as independent bookstores such as Paulina Springs Books in Sisters and then on to the Bay Area and, hopefully, LA. As soon as I have firm dates, they will be posted on my website.

I plan to be on the East Coast for a tour there in the Spring (not on my motorcycle but I’m hoping to get a hybrid car donated from a rental car company).

Sounds like a fun trip — good luck with the tour and research for your next book!

Hey Gadling readers – get your hands on a copy of the latest Transitions Abroad to read Beth’s recently published article, For Women Traveling to India.

One for the Road: More Sand in My Bra

Travelers Tales has released another title in their hilarious travel story series. First, there was the Leo Trio:Bra, Panty and Thong — three books bursting with funny tales from female travelers. Then the anthology series turned to the gents for their rip-roaring stories in What Color is Your Jockstrap. And now the series comes full circle, returning to the original sandy bra for yet another scoop of silliness and humor from wanderlust ladies.

More Sand in My Bra: Funny Women Write from the Road, Again! is a collection of on-the-road mishaps that is sure to entertain. Leo teamed up with fellow traveler Julia Weiler to co-edit this latest batch of travel blunders–take a booze cruise in Vietnam, get lost at a sex camp and tag along on tour with Ellen Degeneres. Throw this one in your beach bag ladies–I’m fairly certain that these 29 tales will keep you laughing all summer long.