A common topic of discussion on the road is 'women's safety'. After wandering around in Asia for 1.5 years with my wife, I am glad to say that it is very safe if you are reasonably cautious, especially compared to Miami and the US. We went through Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, China, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Cambodia, and Myanmar with no trouble, not even having to yell at anyone! We never had problems since I was around; and Karin doesn't have blond hair, which attracts more attention in many places, plus she tends to be mistaken for one of the Asians. However, many times, inappropriate in their own culture, the men would talk to her when I walked away.
Women travelling alone or together seem to get way too much attention from the men. Italy, Morocco, India, and Pakistan have the worst reputations, but also be careful in some parts of Indonesia. I saw a few women carrying short sticks in cities like Varanasi, and I did see other locals and tourists being bumped into a lot, especially in Peshawar. The biggest problem we saw when the cultures mixed was that Westerners went in wearing inappropriate clothes, compounding the situation since foreign cultures already have a bad image of women due to Western movies.
Many women I met on the road travelled in pairs, or would find a male travel companion in places where they were being hassled by men. You have to know how to create interactions with the locals when things are safe, and avoid them the rest of the time, especially if they want to take you somewhere, unless you have good references, and possibly a friend to go with you. India isn't pleasant even for pairs of women. Indonesia and Italy are tolerable in pairs.
"I am always surprised at the large number of women who, respectful of foreign cultures in every other way, still believe that Western ideas about men and women should and do apply in other cultures. It just is not so, and pretending otherwise will only bring heartache. Women ought to dress conservatively in most places, and limit their relations with men to what is appropriate in the culture. In return, they will receive respect and a degree of access to the women of that culture that is denied to men." <Larry Lustig>
"Some parts of the world can be difficult for solo women travelers. There is this myth, gleamed from Western movies, that Western women LOVE sex, NEED sex, and WANT sex. If a woman is traveling alone, then she must obviously WANT, NEED, and LOVE sex from every man she meets." <Anonymous>
For more stories, scroll down past the links.
"Active Woman Vacation Guide" by Evelyn Kaye. Blue Panda Publications.
"East Toward Dawn: A Woman's Solo Journey Around the World" by Nan Watkins
"A Foxy Old Woman's Guide to Traveling Alone, Around Town and Around the World" by Ben Lesser. Crossing Press.
"Go Girl: The Black Woman's Book of Travel" edited by Elaine Lee. Eighth Mountain Press.
"Gutsy Mamas: Travel Tips and Wisdom for Mothers on the Road" by Marybeth Bond. Travelers Tales/O'Reilly.
Gutsy Women: Travel Tips and Wisdom for the Road" by Marybeth Bond. Travelers Tales/O'Reilly.
"Handbook for Women Travellers by Maggie and Gemma Moss. London Bridge.
"A Journey of One's Own: Uncommon Advice for the Independent Woman Traveler" by Thalia Zepatos (1992). Eighth Mountain Press.
"MsAdventures - Worldwide Travelguide for Independent Women" by Gail Rubin Sereny
"Maiden Voyages: Writings of Women Travellers" edited by Mary Morris. (1993) Vintage Departures Press 438 pg. It includes Lady Mary Wortley Mantagu in the 1700s, through Annie Dillard and Joan Didion.
"Miles from Nowhere: A Round-the-World Bicycle Adventure" by Barbara Savage
"More Women Travel: Adventures and Advice from More Than 60 Countries" edited by Natania Jansz and Miranda Davies. Rough Guides
"Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of A Woman Traveling Alone" by Mary Morris
"Real Guide for Women Travelling" by Natania Jansz (1990).
"Safety and Security for Women Who Travel" by Sheila Swan & Peter Laufer. Travelers Tales/O'Reilly
"Solo: On Her Own Adventure" edited by Susan Rogers. Seal Press.
"Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World" by Rita Golden Gelman
"Travel Alone & Love It: A Flight Attendant's Guide to Solo Travel" by Sharon B. Wingler
"Travelling Solo" by Eleanor Berman (1997). Globe Pequot Press.
"The Traveling Woman" by Dena Kaye
"Unsuitable for Ladies" by Jane Robinson. Oxford University Press (1994).
"Wandering Women; Two Centuries of Travel Out of Ireland" by A. A. Kelly
"Without a Guide: Contemporary Women's Travel Adventures" edited by Katherine Govier
"A Woman's Passion for Travel: More True Stories from A Woman's World" edited by Marybeth Bond & Pamela Michael. Travelers Tales/O'Reilly.
"A Woman's Path: Women's Best Spiritual Travel Writing" edited by Lucy McCauley, Amy Carlson & Jennifer Leo. Travelers Tales/O'Reilly.
"A Woman's World: True Stories of World Travel" edited by Marybeth Bond. Travelers Tales/O'Reilly.
"Women Going Places 1996/1997: A Women's Complete Guide to International Travel"
"Women in the Wild" edited by Lucy McCauley. Travelers Tales/O'Reilly.
"Women in the Wild: True Stories of Adventure and Connection"
"Women Travel: Adventures, Advice, and Experience" edited by N. Jansz
"Woman Travel: First Hand Accounts from More Than 60 Countries" by Rough Guides
"Women's Travel in Your Pocket: Accommodations, Nightlife, Tours & Outdoor Adventure - USA & Worldwide"
JourneyWoman Online Travel Magazine
Lonely Planet Forum: Women Travellers
Women Traveling Together
Women's Travel Club
Matador: Alternative Products for Female Travelers
Museum of Menstruation (MUM)
MUM's Link Page
From: Lee Campbell
I traveled as a solo woman for five years throughout India, Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore. Of all these places, I was only hassled in India, mostly in the north. And most of the time in South India was hassle free. Now, I say hassle free because it seemed to me that a lot of the attention was due more to curiosity than aggression -- I was never afraid, except in Varanasi (see below).
I think eye contact, behavior, and appearance were the reason I was not hassled too much. I did not go out after dark alone, even if it meant having food delivered to my room from outside. When I did encounter some difficulty, I found that a stern/indignant/insulted look worked wonders. Memories of the British Mem sa'ab and sahibs (translated as anyone who is white) is still alive and well in many places. Also placing the palms of the hands together and bowing the head in the local custom had a dramatic effect, like throwing cold water! I wore long dresses with a T-shirt underneath, even with backpack, which I found to be the coolest and most comfortable anyway. It also helped that I have dark hair. Even with that, I swear they could still see me coming a kilometer away, sitting in the shade of a rickshaw!
The only place I was afraid, cutting my stay short, was in Varanasi/Benaras, the Holy City no less, in Northern India. While standing beside the Ganges during, in broad daylight, with a married German couple and a local Prof., I received a full body grope from behind -- YUCK! Even just walking through the lovely tiny streets, I felt very uncomfortable -- this was a first so I thought it best to leave.
There was a little bit of "accidental bumping", from the younger men, which a return elbow in the ribs solved (as unladylike as it seems). There were also the inevitable curious who would ask because … well … (as they say in India) "everything is possible". I was constantly surprised by the number of hotel staff and rickshaw drivers who made passes, again nothing aggressive. It only served to make me wonder if they had reasonable success rates, or that they were incredibly persistent. Personally, I believe much of this is due to the fact that Indian men, and women for that matter, firmly believe each and every Western movie they have seen -- that we all sleep with every Raj, Kumar, & Yuseff we chance to come upon. Instead of getting insulted and upset, however, I took the opportunity to try and explain to them that our movies are no more real than theirs, which can be surprisingly raunchy considering the culture and the lack of a Ratings system, admitting any and all paying customers.
The importance of appropriate dress cannot be stressed enough. Shorts are an absolute NO-NO in any of the places I visited, except in Goa or other beach type places, since there are mostly tourists there anyway. I saw some "outfits" that would not be accepted in the West, or at least here in Canada, i.e. muscle shirts with the armhole to the waste with no bra or t-shirt underneath, and I noticed that even these girls were not wearing shorts. Aside from the hassle factor, it's very rude and insulting to the local culture(s), as ultra tolerant as Indians are.
There was one definite advantage of being a (appropriately dressed) woman travelling alone, and that was at airports. For some reason I was treated like a queen. Often the customs agents conducted a cursory look, if at all, and waved me through. And anyone who has ever had their luggage riffled through by these guys can appreciate that! Aside from the airport advantage, travelling solo vastly increases the chances of meeting locals, especially the ladies. They feel sorry for us travelling "all alone". The mere idea of an Indian girl travelling alone, unchaperoned, on a train or bus, sends them into apoplectic fits (at least the ones I met).