Posted by: delaneymenoher | April 2, 2020

Women around the world

Last year I was able to study abroad in Scotland. We got a month off for spring break so I decided to backpack through Europe with three other female classmates. We visited 10 countries and over 20 cities. I was never alone. Similar to many other families, my friends’ parents, as well as my own, would not let us travel by ourselves because it was unsafe. According to the New York Times, female solo travelers have increased by 45% from 2015 to 2017. From my traveling while study abroad and hearing countless other stories from women, there is an evident inequity between men traveling alone and women traveling alone.

According to the U.S. State Department, “the truth is women face greater obstacles, especially when traveling alone”. The cite includes many helpful tips for women to travel, from dressing modestly to creating boundaries when talking to strangers. These greater obstacles are invisible barriers women experience that men often do not think about. Our Airbnb in London did not have a lock when we arrived, a very concerning thing to discover for four female tourists. In order to fix this problem, we rearranged the room to put a table in front of the door so that no one would break in while we were sleeping. That is when we learned to make sure Airbnb are super hosts and have more than enough security features.

However, although small, the American government is acknowledging this inequity. The lack of obstacles and worries for men has led many of them to assume women have their travel experiences. Their lack of thought on the subject demonstrates how little they understand women’s travel experiences. The first thing that pops up when you type women traveling is a group called, Women Travel Together, this organization creates trips for women to go on if they do not have anyone to travel with. Entire organizations are created so that women can meander around this inequity. This forces me to wonder, why are we trying to get around the inequity instead of getting rid of it. Why is the government giving women tips on how to travel rather than tips on how not to harm women?

What does traveling have to do with leadership? The ability to travel the world gives you exciting opportunities and experiences including incredible cultures, history, and languages. These things help people become better leaders and if women are unable to access these opportunities and experiences then they run the risk of a much shallower perspective. I have been able to apply so much of what I learned studying abroad to leadership and the idea that a woman could not experience what I had the privilege of doing is frustrating.

What do you think our country can do to make traveling safer for women? Have you experienced this inequity when traveling yourself? Are there other opportunities you have been excluded from because of your gender?


  1. I have also always been told not to travel alone. I went on a cruise with two friends that went to Cuba and Mexico and I made sure there was always someone with me, even on the boat. This trip was also my first time outside of the country. My parents kept telling me all the usual things be careful, don’t go off with strangers, be aware of your surroundings, etc. These are things I have been hearing all of my life, even when my friends and I would just go into Richmond for the day (I live 20 min from the city). I never really thought about the fact that I was being warned because I was a woman until I was older. Honestly it was kind of a subconscious thought, “I need to be more careful because I’m a girl.” I wonder now why that thought never bothered me as much as it does now, reading these articles. Why did I just accept that it was normal to possibly be attacked because I’m a girl?

    Traveling is something I love to do and want to continue to do throughout my life. It is frustrating to know that I must do more to prepare for a trip than men do. I was also very surprised by the page on the Department of State website solely for women travelers. At first I was kind of appalled that the page was even necessary. Why are we giving women tips to stay safe instead of trying to address the problem? I think that this could be done in more developed countries, if their governments made it known that violence against women would not be tolerated and the culture was raised to respect both men and women. However, I think this is harder to achieve in a country that does not culturally view women as equals. You cannot force people to change their culture, but you could make them aware of other cultures and how women are viewed in them. Granted, a different culture is no excuse for beating, raping, or murdering women, but there are some people around the world that have very strong beliefs about what a woman should be and do. I think education for other countries and for men would be a start to fixing this problem. There are a lot of complex things that come into play with women traveling around the world. Unfortunately I think it will be a while before such change can be made.

  2. I guess my answer to your question of making our government fix this inequality is how? How do you regulate something like this? You don’t want to get rid of the stigma that it’s dangerous for women to travel alone. That might only make women less cautious and potentially find themselves in worse situations that if they had a healthy fear of traveling alone. I think it is tricky, trying to pinpoint what exactly could be done to make women be and feel safer traveling alone.

    I’ve been to about 8 different countries around the world. For two of these trips, I traveled alone to and from (meeting friends in the forgein country). I was on high alert the entire time I traveled. I had a 9-hour layover in Heathrow. I had to stay awake, fearing that someone might steal my bags if I fell asleep (I was ultimately up for 38 hours total). I could have left the airport and seen some of London, but I didn’t want to risk traveling alone in a country I was unfamiliar with. When I told people I was flying by myself to see a friend (I was 18 at the time), people could not believe my parents were okay with me doing this. When I was 20, I flew to Greece on my own to meet up with some family friends for a week. Upon my return (the family was continuing to the UK, but I had to fly back for work), I had to take a ferry from Mykonos and stay at a hotel by myself overnight to catch a 3am flight.

    During that evening, I had to get food and I was approached by a young woman (whose much older male partner sat at a table in the distance). She was very interested in my whereabouts and what I was doing in Greece. Thankfully, a waiter told her to leave me alone – I think he knew something about this couple, that I did not. I’m glad that I have had these opportunities and experiences because I am not afraid to travel alone and I know how to keep my wits about me.

    As an aside, it’s not even about traveling far. I’ve been trained to hold car keys in between my fingers, sticking out, while I walk in a parking lot alone. This way if I am attacked, I am ready to stab at whoever is attacking me. I’ve also been told that women should check that the child lock is not ‘on’ when getting into an Uber or Lyft.

  3. There is a certain fear around women being alone. This definitely includes big trips and traveling, but it also includes walking in parking decks at night, going on walks alone, walking alone on a poorly lit street, etc. I have always been told to avoid finding myself in these situations where I am alone. I know if my hair is in a ponytail someone could easily grab hold of my hair and kidnap me. I know if I am walking and looking down at my phone, a man could easily snatch me due to my lack of awareness. I know that I should tell my parents or a friend where I am going late at night and when I return safely. How do I know these things? Thankfully, it’s not from an experience of any of these terrible instances occurring. It’s from my mother who reminds me these things. It’s from my grandma who tells me to take a male friend with me to go to the store. It’s from the media showing these things happening to other, defenseless women. It’s just the way it is.

    But why? Like Delaney and other people who commented, I was frustrated to read the “Women Travelers” page U.S. Department of State Travel Page. There is no “Men Travelers” section – I looked. This shows you that the male experience of traveling is the norm. It is what is accepted as the base from traveling. It’s the women who have to face additional potentially dangerous situations and have to change their travel habits because of this. In one sense, not practicing common sense and self-awareness is just plain dangerous. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. And me walking out in the streets at night by myself to “protest” these stigmas or try to change the culture of female independence and travel would not be the smartest thing to do either. I think we must continue to practice taking precautionary measures. But then how do we fix the situation instead of just perpetuate it? We have to educate our men on the women experience. Because the “women experience” is not the norm, men don’t necessarily have to consider it or understand it. I think if they were more educated, both men and women can practice caution and work together to create a safer environment where the message is “Don’t harm women”, not “Beware of men”.

  4. I can certainly relate to this. I have been able to travel on 3 separate occasions through CNU throughout my time here: once in a group of about 30 students and 2 faculty for Cross-Cultural LDSP, once in a group of about 18 students and 2 faculty for a spring break choir trip, and once “alone” in a group of about 5-7 for a semester in the Dominican Republic. I say that I went to the D.R. alone because I went for an individual trip — I left the university and met 4 strangers who would soon form my group, but often did solo or small group travel throughout my time there. I would say throughout all of my newfound travel experience, one of the top concerns has always been safety. Regardless of whether I’m traveling abroad or even in Newport News, we’re always told to not go places alone, travel in groups, never be alone at night, etc. While I do take these warnings and precautions seriously, I’ve realized that I do a lot of solo traveling.

    I do not drive, so I often ride in Uber and Lyft vehicles by myself (both in the U.S. and abroad). I have found myself walking alone at times when perhaps I probably shouldn’t have, but I relied on my feelings of safety or pure faith in those situations (obviously I don’t condone it, but that’s what I did). I have even gotten lost on a few occasions while abroad (sometimes on accident, sometimes on purpose to learn my way around), and managed to navigate my way through safely. Of course, these are not the general recommendations and I would not advise anyone to do so, but frequently traveling alone and experiencing places alone tends to create a sense of independence and confidence, at least in my experiences. Therefore, I understand the precautions and the worries, especially within the context of different cultures. Even as I attempted to plan a return trip to the D.R. for myself and my friends, I considered bringing my twin brother as a safety net because it is safer to travel there with a man, even though out of our group I would need to be in charge and translating for everyone.

    Navigating the cultural nuances of different countries as a woman, especially as a solo traveler is difficult, but I’ve found in my experience it’s just as dangerous to travel alone in the U.S. This is very disheartening, and I feel as though more work should be done to preemptively stop the harassment and fear women face, but here and abroad, rather than continuously build safety nets. One way can be to encourage men to hold each other more accountable. While women (and everyone) should always take precautions, putting the blame on the perpetrators of violence instead of victimizing or shaming women for traveling should be the next step. The same goes for stopping rape culture and violence against women in general. Instead of trying to protect women from the world, the world should be trying to protect women.

  5. I agree that traveling alone is something that holds much more of a stigma for women than men. I remember when I studied abroad in Scotland, I also travelled in Europe for spring break. I traveled with a group, but the way that things worked out, I ended up having a different flight from my friends to our first destination, Prague, and ended up being there for 12 hours by myself. I had to navigate getting to the hostel, checking us in, and then occupy myself for 12 hours while I waited for them to get there. When I told my parents about this plan, they were of course terrified and telling me all about the precautions I needed to take as a woman traveling alone. Because of my phone plan, I could not get messages unless on WiFi, and once I finally connected in the hostel, I had a bunch of panicked messages from my mom that something terrible had happened to me. However, my brother has also studied abroad before and gone to many places by himself. The concern was not nearly as intense for him. He was giving me tips on all this stuff to do in Prague while I was by myself, but I found myself having to cut down the list for what was possible for me because some things were just not safe or smart things for me to do as a solo traveler.
    As has been expressed in the comments, solo traveling is not only an issue women face when going abroad. Even just going into the city, I would never go alone, and especially not at night. I am aware of the group of three rule, and know that there are certain dangers that I face doing simple tasks. My mom does not let my sister stay in the car by herself if she is running errands or something out of fear that she will be abducted. The fact that women are taught to prepare for these kinds of dangers reflects that women face a lot of dangers in society that men are not conditioned to fear as much.
    I agree that, while it is important for women to take precautions in order to protect themselves, there should be more emphasis placed on getting rid of all these obstacles that women face. By warning women against them, it is being acknowledged that these obstacles exist. However I think that, while some progress may be being made, there is still plenty more to be done in actually eliminating these obstacles and dangerous behaviors that women have to protect themselves against.

  6. Though I have never travel abroad the past fall break I did make short a trip to our nation’s capital to visit museums and national monuments. I had never been to D.C. other than on cla

  7. Though I have never travel abroad the past fall break I did make short a trip to our nation’s capital to visit museums and national monuments. I had never been to D.C. other than on class trip so

    • third times the charm (sorry technology is not my friend today)… Though I have never traveled abroad this past fall break I did make short a trip to our nation’s capital to visit museums and national monuments. I had never been to D.C. other than on class trip so I was greatly excited! Every time I told someone about my short weekend trip their first question was “who are you going with?”. In the end I went with another female friend and everything was fine however I thought I was strange that people found it necessary to constantly ask. Now that I think of it I am sure that had I been a man no one would have asked me this. They would have been intrigued as to what I was doing rather than who with.

      I also found it very interesting that while visiting the museums each of us has to pass through a metal detector and were searched. For good reason no weapons or other hazardous items were allowed. However, i did have a keychain that I was given specifically for this trip to carry around that looked very normal but had a blunt point to use if I were attacked at any point. After our third or fourth museum my keychain was confiscated. I was not surprised as it was technically a weapon but I thought about what I would then do if I found myself in a compromising situation. My first line of defense was gone. As a woman there are simply more obstacles to traveling even in groups. There is a sense of powerlessness that comes with being vulnerable in a new terrain and many would like to prey on that. I Am sure that had I been that security guard that I would have let the young, tourist girl have her keychain, but I cannot fault him for taking it away. I’m not sure if there was a right or wrong in this scenario, but I think it has interesting implications for women trying to protect themselves in the world whilst traveling.

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