What NOT to say to a female solo traveller

Before I left the UK I read quite a few posts by and for female solo travellers, which  aside from telling me  how goddamn awesome it is to be a female solo traveler, discussed the sometimes scary reality of travelling solo.

Yes at times travelling alone as a woman is scary, and I can’t believe how naive I was at the beginning of my trip when things were going so well  in Sydney, that I didn’t think I’d need to write this kind of post. The kind of post that discusses the scary, frustrating, infuriating side of travelling alone, but things changed and after a few annoying and unpleasant experiences, I finally have something to contribute.

So first things first, it makes sense to discuss how I feel about travelling alone and my vulnerability as a female solo traveler. Now I get that as a single straight white female backpacker I am vulnerable, but not as vulnerable as other backpackers out there, which I acknowledge gives me a level of privilege. I strongly suggest that you go and read some work by other travelers who are much more vulnerable than I am. However because of my gender, I have a place in the vulnerability bucket, and on occasion people I meet on the road remind me of it, either through their actions or unhelpfully pointing it out to me.

I’ve been on the road for eight months now, and before I left the UK I had to become acquainted with my vulnerability pretty quickly or else I wouldn’t have gone travelling. Female solo travellers have a choice, either to see their vulnerability as the thing that makes them the delicate little petal that can’t leave the confines of home for fear of that BIG. BAD. WORLD. OUT. THERE or they look that vulnerability in the eye, with all the horrible threats of rape, assault, etc etc and embrace it in spite of this black cloud apparently hovering above us. I can remember laying awake at night before I flew to Sydney, when the reality of travelling to the other side of the world alone dawned on me, what if I didn’t make friends? What if my drink got spiked? The threat never felt so real, I wasn’t even there and I couldn’t stomach how vulnerable I’d be. Eventually I accepted it, I acknowledged the risks and the threat of dangerous situations and told myself that I was just as at risk as the next female backpacker. Being sensible was the best way to avoid getting hurt, and so I don’t go out alone after dark, I know my limits when it comes to alcohol and I am careful with who I hang out with. So far there have been a few incidents where I’ve been reminded that I need to step my boundaries up a little, but for the most part my travels have been trouble free.

I travel alone because I wanted to travel to Australia by myself. I wasn’t meant to travel with anyone, I didn’t get bored waiting around for an indecisive friend, I wanted to go backpacking and so I went. Also my being single doesn’t come into it much either, in fact being single makes backpacking easier, logistically, because I can go wherever I want and the only person I need to look after is me. Yippee. At times it is hard, however what’s harder is people misconstruing what my travelling alone means, and now feels like the right time to write a post dedicated to those people whose views of me as a female solo traveller have been entirely unhelpful and occasionally uncomfortable and unpleasant. Most of these experiences happened in conversation, and so here are a collection of things I’d rather not hear again..

“It must be so hard for you being on your own.”

This is getting about as old as someone commiserating me for having a birthday four days before Christmas, as I said before I chose to travel alone, and I’m happy with that. Occasionally it is hard being by myself, and the last time someone said this to me it was particularly hard. I had just started working at a cattle station where I worked with my bosses, a married couple, a new couple, and two guys who became friends whilst travelling together, and then there was me. For most of my time at the cattle station I worked alone, whilst everyone else was out mustering. I woke up alone, ate breakfast with the guys, worked alone, had smoko with everyone, went back to work alone, had lunch with the guys, worked alone again, had dinner with the guys and then went to bed by myself. At meal times I’d make an effort to strike up conversation but more often than not the conversation went like this:

Me: How was your day guys?
Guys: Long.

End of conversation.

Frankly it was maddening at times, and most evenings I got to chat to my boss as I cleaned the kitchen which was a relief, but most of the time I worked alone and spent most of that time in my head, talking to myself, which we all know isn’t always the best. However I learned that I really am capable of being by myself, on good days and bad days, and even on the really bad days, when the loneliness felt like a physical ache that I’d have done anything to get rid of because I thought it would drive me half mad, I went to bed by myself and got up the next morning and spent all day with myself again and I did it.

I can’t lie and say travelling solo isn’t lonely sometimes, because it can be lonely and though not all travellers will find themselves in the same situation I did, you might experience something similar. Travelling alone is great and fun, but sometimes you will be lonely or bored and you can’t avoid it. For me those times are an opportunity to learn how strong I am and just how capable I am of getting myself through periods of intense loneliness. 

However I will stress that being a female solo traveller doesn’t mean that I’m constantly lonely or alone, and what pisses me off more than anything are people, well mostly men, who have skewed the ‘it must be so hard being by yourself’ in some attempt to play the nice guy, thinking I’m some kind of damsel in distress.

Let’s get this straight shall we?

A woman travelling alone =/= lonely

single and alone =/= lonely

single =/= fair game

alone =/= lonely

I’ve had the “it must be hard being by yourself” conversation with guys a few times now, and each time it’s turned into a discussion of loneliness and vulnerability. I’m happy to chat about the not so good parts of travel, however this conversation has backfired so many times now that I’m weary of discussing it with men anymore. 

Basically don’t make the same mistake I did, the guys who say this to you want to get a hit from some kind of ‘knight in shining armour’ complex, and trust me these are not the kind of men you want attention from. It will be pretty obvious what place they’re asking these questions from, and just don’t engage them. As a female solo traveller you learn fast who’s worth your time and who isn’t. Nothing infuriates me more than thinking I’m having an intelligent conversation with someone only for them to come on to me. 

“It’s not safe for you to travel alone, you should travel with another girl.”

The person who said this to me was an old man in Winton who meant well, but it felt hugely patronising to have him say it to me. In fact he didn’t say it once, he said it a couple of times, each time was infuriating. 

I’ve been travelling around Australia for eight months now, five of which were spent in the outback. If that doesn’t scream this girl can handle herself, I don’t know what does. No I may not be the roughest, toughest backpacker to hit the roads of Australia, but I’m not pathetic either. Each time someone says something along the lines of “it’s not safe for a girl to travel alone” I just ignore it. I’ve had men confess to me that they couldn’t do what I was doing if they were a woman my age, fly across the world and explore a country alone, taking such a big risk. So what does that say about them? What does it say about me? 

Honestly any female solo traveller worth her salt is aware of the risks she’s taking, but instead  of letting them scare her she’s out doing it anyway. You really don’t need to tell me, or any other female solo traveller, that the world is dangerous, to be careful, that there are men out there who will take advantage, that there’s always one who won’t take no for an answer. 

We know, I know and sometimes those thoughts have kept me awake at night. 

At the end of the day travelling solo is about being responsible for yourself, I know that I am sensible when travelling around and meeting new people, and I am starting to trust gut instincts now more than ever. For now my travels have been challenging, fun and safe. If anything does happen me on the road, heaven forbid, I did my best to prevent it. 

Dont ask  ask me to sleep with you if you’re twice my age. 

This has happened a couple of times and each time has been excruticiatingly cringe worthy, and just plain weird. What really irks me about this is that I don’t feel my behaviour towards these guys could be interpreted as a come on, usually I will have sat and chatted to a guy for a bit and then they decide to ask if I want to sleep with them. 

I’m just putting it out there, in case it wasn’t already blatantly obvious, if you are twice my age I don’t want to sleep with you. 

Just because I’ve had a conversation with you. 

Just because I’ve smiled. 

Just because I’ve laughed at something you’ve said. 

Just because I’m a single backpacker.

It doesn’t mean I want to sleep with you.

It angers me that these men just don’t get it, and I feel as though I can’t get it through to them just how out of order it is. It feels horrible when it happens because then I start analysing what I’ve done or said and blame myself. I get scared and then feel anxious about approaching people incase I’m giving off a certain vibe. 

I really wish I didn’t have to worry about this. 

And another thing, using explicitly sexual phrases like “I want to fuck you” and “Everyone likes a good fuck” is obscene. It only succeeds in freaking me out and making me want to get as far away as possible. No one should be made to feel scared of their own safety, and especially not a woman travelling alone. 

I find I respect the men I meet more who don’t suddenly assume I’m interested in them, in fact when I told my friend Mark about one particular incident he said “it’s guys like that that make the rest of us look bad,” and it’s true. This post may seems like it’s exclusively attacking men I’ve met whilst travelling, but not ALL the men that I’ve met have assumed I’m fair game. In fact I’d have to say it’s only one in ten guys that turns out to be a complete dickhead, the rest and you know who you are have been incredibly decent human beings. 

Don’t tell me you love me if you’re thrice my age. 

It’s not sweet and it’s not cute. It’s just a bit weird and I really don’t have the time or patience for that kind of shit. I befriended an old man in the outback, he was very lonely bless his heart, but him saying this made me feel really uncomfortable. Even though he said he thought of me as a daughter, I really don’t need anyone Molly coddling me on the road, I can look after myself. 

I have a family, I have friends, I have a home, they might be oceans away, but thanks to the internet I can call them anytime. I love making friends on the road, and I’m thankful for every friendship I’ve made and the numerous people who have shown immense kindness to me. 

But please keep your thoughts to yourself, be savvy, I have the support network I need whilst I’m on the road, and I can take care of myself.. Don’t make things awkward. 

Don’t tell me to be careful because there are ‘black fellas’ and Muslims out there. 

Shut the fuck up.

And there you have it, if I could complete the rest of my trip without finding myself in one these horrible situations, that’d be grand, but unfortunately the reality is I probably will encounter something like this again. However though some of these incidents have freaked me out, it hasn’t made me want to stop travelling. I’m a female solo traveller and in spite of everything I’m owning it. 

Are you a female solo traveller? Let me know your experiences below!


4 thoughts on “What NOT to say to a female solo traveller

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