Hi Yara, you probably receive many messages & with travel you need to find wifi, so I understand it may take you some time to be able to respond to this. My name is Sandra and I have a dream to travel and live away from my home in Australia – thank you for your blog and for being an inspiration to women who travel solo! I’ve read about your horrible experience with sexual harassment in Penang, Malaysia and of course, as a solo female I worry something like that might happen to me too. I’m dreaming of visiting Europe soon. Do you feel it is safe to do that across Europe for a woman? I feel like it might seem like a small question for all the things you have seen but it is one of my bigger questions because I have never travelled to Europe! Thank you and as always, really appreciate how you keep sharing your journey.
Yara: Hi Sandra, thank you for your question and don’t think it is a small one, it’s actually one of the most important fears we females, unfortunately have. All of us, no matter how experienced, have feared going through problems, similar to the sexual harassment I went through in Penang … But here are the good news: In more than 16 years traveling, that was the ONLY scary and unfortunate episode I ever had.
According to my experience, the world is not that dangerous or scary. Most people, when noticing I’m a solo female traveler, can become extremely helpful and protective. I’ve experienced a lot of kindness from strangers and even after that one experience, I never carried a trauma with me.
Of course, when I travel I make sure I adapt to the dress code and customs of the place I’m visiting. I’m always respectful and make sure I dress modestly in certain cultures. I like to read blogs of other females who visited the destination I’m going to and try to find out what the general experiences were.
Europe is a safe place for a female. There are obviously some dodgy areas in every city, but they exist everywhere. I have never had any negative experience in any European country so far. If you’re extremely insecure, you can start by traveling in Switzerland, or a Scandinavian country, where females are extremely emancipated.
Good luck and safe travels :)
Allison: Hi Sandra! Nice to meet you. I’m so excited to hear you are having such ambitions traveling solo as a woman. I have traveled to 14 countries in Europe as a solo woman, and can happily inform you that I have not experienced any kind of danger or the feeling of being in harm’s way. This is not to say that other female travelers have always had the same experience, or that I haven’t had my share of odd encounters, but I am confident that there are so many things you can do to maintain your safety as I had done.
The first thing that is important to remember is your confidence. Even if you aren’t really feeling 100% confident in any situation, making it appear as though you are will work wonders for you. For example, if you are perusing an outdoor market and vendors are calling you every which way, getting all up in your face, and maybe even grabbing hold of you, fueling some confidence and speaking up will really let them know you aren’t a vulnerable woman to take advantage of. A firm and loud “NO” in the local language will really go so far and that’s usually all it takes. This kind of aggressive behavior from vendors isn’t as common in Europe as say in some African or Southeast Asian countries, but there are aggressive people all over the world looking to take advantage, so always be on the ready to speak up and let them know you will not be taken advantage of! Don’t be overly polite if you’re being bothered by someone and create boundaries to protect yourself.
If you are traveling to Northern Europe, you won’t really draw any more attention from men than you do back in Australia. If you are traveling so Southern Europe (in particular Italy) you will get a lot more attention than you’re used to. Usually this attention will be with men doing some staring, but nothing you can’t handle, I’m sure!
By using common sense, making smart decisions, and above all else, having confidence in yourself and your ability to travel and be on your own, you’ll be sure to have a fantastic and very memorable experience. Do lots of research of the places you’d wish to visit and find learn all about the customs, religions, dress codes, language barriers, maps, etc. This familiarity with different regions will help you adjust so much quicker once you arrive. Research other travel blogs out there as well and read some real life stories of women who have traveled alone and their experiences.
I know it can seem really daunting at first, especially if you have several family members or friends warning you of all the dangers and of everything that could possibly go wrong. Well Sandra, to travel is to discover that people are wrong about other countries. To travel is to discover that the world isn’t as scary a place as the media would lead you to believe. You have the interest, the passion, and the dream to travel and that’s all you need to get started. Once you do travel, you will be hooked, and your confidence will only continue to grow.
Best of luck and happy travels! You can do it!
Trisha: Sandra, you come from a very big country and I believe you belong to a community of empowered women in Australia — that is why you are asking this.
My first experience of travel are from Europe. I went to University there and left home at a very young age. Coming from an Asian root, I remember how scary it was for me to move to Italy most especially at the time when the movie Taken was so popular. I read the movie was inspired by some women trafficking happening in France so as a teenager who’s leaving home for the first time, I was very paranoid.
Then I lived there and realised a lot of things about women’s safety. Why do we always have images of every negative word in the dictionary? Poverty has always been the image of South Africa; Violence always referred to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, and so on. Back home, I hosted a lot of Couchsurfers from different parts of the globe. They were visiting Manila (Philippines) for the first time and they always ask, “Is it safe to walk at night in Manila?” I never answered the question. I was quite offended when people avoid traveling the Philippines because they think it’s unsafe. Instead, I always reply with a question, “Do you know any safe place in the world? If yes, tell me where.” Then we would spend the night debating on safety. Still, they will end up walking the streets of Manila at night. I think we have to try first in order to know but of course, always be cautious. Remember: we will always say our countries are safe because we live there!
Have you ever met someone who said “my country isn’t a safe place to live in/travel to?” No. Because they found the safety of living there. They figured it out themselves. From the time I knew this (through meeting people on the road), I stopped being judgmental of people’s race. I ejected everything the media taught me. I made my own interpretation of people and places and it was always on the good side. I chose to see the positive things than the negative issues that the media continued to flash on the news every single day.
I can go on but we are all different people and have our own ways of traveling. Your experiences will never be the same as ours. My best advice is to enjoy the ride but be cautious and never keep your guard down. Always play it by ear. If you don’t feel good about being in a particular place (i.e. cafe, restaurant, street, alley), then leave immediately. Our gut feeling is always right that is why people always look up to solo female travelers in the world. Just follow your heart while listen to your head. It might be difficult at first but you’ll get used to it.
May the force be with you and we hope to hear about your travels in Europe in the future. Perhaps you can also write about it by putting up a travel blog? Just a thought.