I’m fortunate enough to have men in my life who are feminists, slowly being the change in a world where a womxn are, and historically have always been second class citizens.
But not living in our shoes means, well – it’s hard to really know what it’s like, especially to be alone and far from home as well. And most importantly, knowing what is an act of support and what is not, even if it’s driven by the best of intentions.
This is by no means a comprehensive mantra of how to be the perfect supporter of womxn who travel alone. This list primarily stems from my own opinions and experiences (and I am conscious this is very much a straight female’s perspective). However I hope these points give you some food for thought about how you can be a better ally as we travel solo.
If you identify as a man and you are reading this, then lastly thank you – your support and desire to learn how you can be a better ally to a solo womxn traveller is appreciated. We need more people like you (so feel free to share this with your pals haha!)
Call it out or step up
Someone taking inappropriate or unwarranted photos? Someone harassing us? Notice someone acting strange or we’re giving off vibes that something isn’t quite right? Please, please call it out or step up.
Ok, we’re not asking you to be knight-in-shining armours here (in fact please don’t, that puts us in an awkward position as we don’t ‘owe’ you) but if you see something wrong, the best thing you can do is call it out politely and discretely. And discretion here is the key.
If you feel comfortable and it’s safe enough to do so, quietly and calmly confronting the perpetrator is ideal because we sadly live in a world where the perceived ‘threat’ of a man seems to have more power than our own opinions and wants as a womxn.
Personally, I’ve had countless experiences where multiple repetitions of “no thank you, please leave me alone” have had zero affect. But when a man has stepped in and said “she’s good mate, leave her alone”, they’ve scampered. I wish you could hear how hard my eyes are rolling right now.
And in the situation where it’s unsafe or you feel uncomfortable going directly to the perpetrator (seriously, please don’t put yourself in danger trying to be a hero!), then do what you can to communicate to us, or silently intervene.
Think body blocking if someone is being a creep, using body language, even passing us a note… I once had a guy on a bus pass me a scribble on a receipt asking if I wanted to swap seats with him as he noticed the guy next to me was stroking my leg when I slept.
Now that is a prime example of how a man can be a better ally to a solo womxn on the road, and be super chill about it at the same time.
Give us space whilst walking alone
Something that many men may not realise is just how daunting it can be walking somewhere unfamiliar, let alone at night, and having someone a little too close for comfort.
No one should feel unsafe doing something as simple as minding their own business but it’s a sad fact we do. Countless womxn disappear from the street all over the world. Just look at what happened recently to poor Sarah Everard, (may she rest in peace).
We’d appreciate it if you kept your distance, ideally by a few metres. And if it’s at night and it’s quiet (such as just you and I), please do not suddenly overtake us from behind or call out.
As extreme as this may sound, crossing the road on an empty street at night to walk on the opposite side to us is a gesture that really goes far.
So we’ve met and we’ve struck up conversation, that’s awesome. Some of the best friends you’ll ever meet will be when you travel solo.
Some people may feel totally comfortable telling you how long they’re in town for, what day they fly out or where they are staying, but some won’t, and please respect that.
It’s nothing personal. ‘Stranger danger’ is something we get taught as a kid. And as an adult it sometimes sticks (and quite frankly it’s the sensible thing to do when you’re unsure of someone’s character). So don’t push it or pry, we’ll disclose this information if we want to.
Get the hint with body language cues
If we’ve struck up a conversation, please look out for cues that mean we don’t want to continue talking. Sorry, as harsh as this sounds, it needs to be said. Just because I’m trapped next to you at 30,000ft, it doesn’t mean I should tell you my life story.
If we’ve turned away, put headphones in, picked up a book or magazine or look or sound disinterested then please respect that we’re simply not interested. Again, it could be nothing personal or us just being overcautious, but those subtle cues should be realised and respected.
If we say we’re good, we’re good
If we say no thank you, we’re fine or we things are under control, then we mean it. This is likely not our first rodeo.
If there’s been an incident of if you’re simply checking in if something isn’t right then it’s a supportive gesture we appreciate. You’re signalling you’re there as an ally if we need it, so thank you. But any more than once can be patronising.
Likewise, if you’ve asked us if we want to join you somewhere, be it to grab some food or head out on a day trip and we say we’re OK thanks, it can come across threatening or pressuring if you keep asking. Thanks for understanding!
Sympathise with what we have to deal with
Underlying all these points is having a sympathy for the sh*t we have to put up with, which if you are reading this, you are probably somewhat aware of.
Unwanted touches, stares, catcalling, photo taking and more can be daily occurrences whilst travelling, especially in underdeveloped countries where the education is lacking as much as the respect for women.
We even have to think twice about what we wear for goodness sake.
Don’t question our desire to be alone
Solo travel is the love of my life. I love the feeling of having a new experience and enjoying it with my own company. And a lot of the time, I find my experience more special solo, even if I have a friend or partner who wants to come with me.
If I’m sat alone at a restaurant, camping or hiking solo then I don’t need pitying. I don’t need anyone, let alone a man to second guess my intentions or come up to me offering me his company because I look lonely, sorry.
I understand that there’s this grey area though by wanting to be friendly (or make a friend) without being too over friendly or making someone uncomfortable. It’s hard to say what the right thing to do is as every situation is different. But here are a few scenarios that have happened to me that I thought were a nice gesture of friendliness by a male when I’ve been solo:
- Lighting a communal fire at a camp site and mentioning I am welcome to join if I wish.
- Leaving a note on my bed in a hostel that a group is heading out at X time for dinner if I would like to join.
- Generally not making an issue or drawing attention to the fact I’m alone.. simple but true. It’s not a big deal and questions like “what are you doing out here all alone” well, it comes across a little creepy!
Lastly… amplify our stories and voices!
There are some parts of travel that are particularly gendered. For example, adventure travel, wild camping, aviation etc are typically male-centric. Sharing voices of solo womxn in such industries or travel situations is an awesome show of support.
Relaying our stories of the sh*t we have to put up with as a solo traveller to other males is also one way we can casually level the playing field by means of education.
The more normal it is for people to support and respect solo female travel, the better.
I sincerely hope this post hasn’t come across as patronising or ‘man hating’ but I strongly believe that sharing first-hand experiences and challenges is the first step to creating awareness and consequently a fairer and safer world for all. Thank you for reading!
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Don’t forget to check the government visa entry requirements for the passport you are travelling with.
For some travel inspiration for your next trip, how about Lonely Planet’s top 500 places to see… ranked?
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