While concern for women travellers is both widespread and legitimate, and travelling alone isn’t without its dangers, it’s also considerably exaggerated. The world isn’t your enemy because of your gender – in fact, it’s considerably accommodating. You just have to be aware of your surroundings, and of the cultural sensitivities associated with different parts of the world. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind.
1. Dress code is key. I learned my lesson the hard way. While visiting the ancient city of Fez in Morocco, I made the terrible mistake of wearing shorts on a hike. If the glares and constant whistling wasn’t uncomfortable enough, the participation of the local police proved more worrisome. Now of course, shorts don’t elicit such extreme reactions in all regions of Morocco. In the more liberal coastal city of Essaouria, for instance, the sight of excess skin and women clad in bikinis are common sights and you’ll rarely fall victim to heckling or sexually suggestive comments.
2. What is accepted in one culture may be frowned upon in another. In East Asia, for example, bare legs (clad in booty shorts) turn less faces than a bit of cleavage and exposed arms (think of tube tops, tank tops and halter tops). So do your research and respect the local cultural codes to avoid trouble.
3. Body language speaks volumes. This is true, especially with men. Don’t appear overly friendly or flirtatious. Non-verbal cues are perceived differently around the world. From my own experiences, men in Southern Europe, North Africa and East Asia are often under the false impression that western women are generally more sexually liberal than their counterparts in the rest of the world. Feel free to ask children and women for directions if you feel uneasy asking men.
4. Keep an open mind. In all fairness, not every man is lurking and waiting for a woman to prey on; that is a gross generalization. In fact, from my own travel experiences, many of the men I met took me under their wings and protected me advances of others, and treated me like a sister. And of course, if you plan on heading out at night, always experience the nightlife in a group. There’s more safety in numbers.
5. Let yourself learn. Travelling can be one of the most empowering experiences for anyone. Not only does it encourage self-growth, but it also helps you make connections across the globe. It also lets you be a student outside the classroom. For me travelling was a three-dimensional experience. It impacted me physically, intellectually and spiritually. I can confidently say that my travel experiences were some of the most incredible moments in my life, moments that truly took my breath away.
You can read about Alima Hotakie's entire travelling experience in Go Your Own Way.