I have plenty of men in my life whom I love immensely. I have a father who is my role model and biggest supporter, a brother whom I love more than anything in this world and would do anything for, male friends who are always there for me, and not to mention all the amazing men I have had crushes on or even been in love with. But in spite of this, whenever I meet men while traveling alone my initial reaction is nearly always something along the lines of fear and discomfort. Because regardless of all the men who treat me well, there are also lots of men who don’t. And whenever I meet a new man, I never know if he is going to me one of the men who respects me, or one of the men who hurts me.
With two wonderful women in London. That night I went to sleep at the place of a man who tried to kiss me and touch me against my will
My absolute favorite travel blogger, Brenna from This Battered Suitcase, had a meetup for her readers in London last summer. Being a huge admirer of her work, I booked flight tickets from Gothenburg to London with the sole intention of meeting her. As I was just there to see her I was only going to spend one night in London, and had decided to use CouchSurfing, a site which had previosuly provided me with nothing but good experiences (with both male and female hosts). As always, and as I encourage anyone else who uses CouchSurfing to do, I had read through the profile of my host carefully and seen that he had only positive reviews. Because of that I felt fairly comfortable staying at his place, and after having spent a great day with some fellow fans of Brenna I went back to his place to meet him for the first time. He met me at the bus stop outside his place and seemed to be a nice enough guy who had also lived and studied in Sweden previously. However, I got a strange feeling as soon as I got back to his place. First of all, he wouldn’t stop hugging me. Don’t get me wrong, I like hugs as much as the next person, but when a man you just met will try to hug you repeatedly it does get pretty weird. He lived in a very small place, just one room and the bathroom was shared, so while he had to finish up some work I went to sit on his bed (as there was nowhere else to sit). He soon came to sit next to me on the bed, and when I told him I was tired, he put his arm around me and said I could sleep on his shoulder. As his profile had stated the sleeping arrangements would be him on the bed and me on an air mattress (not him on the bed and me on his shoulder) I said no and asked to get the air mattress. After some uncomfortable jokes about me having to share the bed with him, he proceeded to get out the air mattress which I then sat down on. For some reason he felt it was appropriate for him to leave his bed and sit down next to me on the mattress, put his arm around me, kiss me on the cheek and ask me to kiss him back. Yet again I said no, and luckily that was the end of it. I left his place as soon as I could the next morning. When I got back home I was very torn about what to write for my review, but decided it would be unfair to other women to say that he had been an ideal host. I therefore wrote a short review saying I appreciated him hosting me, but I felt uncomfortable by his actions. He then proceeded to writing a review on my page calling me a liar and sending me quite aggressive messages.
In Salzburg. On the train there I would not be left alone by the man sitting next to me
When I lived in Germany as an 18 year old I spent as much time as I could traveling around Germany and its surrounding countries. I was lucky enough to have the oppurtunity to see places such as Neuschwanstein, Schwarzwald, Frankfurt and Stuttgart, along with countries like Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria and Luxembourg. One of the trips I took was to Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart and a beautiful little town. I had left my home in Lindau to go to Munich, where I would take the train to Salzburg. The train departed from Munich which meant that by the time I got on the train, there was no one on it. As I got on the completely empty train, I noticed a man walking behind me. This was of course completely fine, and I went to take a seat. After having picked a seat however, I realized that the train had two stories and thought that it would be nicer to sit upstairs where I would have a better view. As I got up and walked towards the stairs, the man who had followed me did the same and continued to walk right behind me upstairs and when I sat down he proceeded to sit down right next to me, in an empty train filled with available seats. He started talking to me and introduced himself as “Loco”, which (if you speak Spanish) might have been an indication as to what kind of man this was. As I was not in the mood to talk to this man I put in my headphones to listen to some music. The train started moving and a few of the seats had been filled up as we left Munich. Suddenly I saw the man raise his hand towards me, take out one of my headphones and put it in his own ear. He said he wanted us to listen to the same music. 18 year old me found this strange, but while I most definitely would have not accepted that if it had happened to me today, at that point I just kept quiet. I tried to ignore him best I could, looking out the window and listening to my music, but this was a rather difficult task as the guy sat close enough to me to be able to share my headphones and also tried talking to me a lot of the time. I also had my winter jacket on the floor under my seat, and suddenly this man picked it up, and put in on our laps as a blanket. This I felt was very strange, and I told him so. He did not care. So there I was, too uncomfortable to tell this man to stop, and spent the whole trip from Munich to Salzburg with him really close to me and sharing my headphones. While this was not a dangerous situation, it was very strange, and I strongly doubt he would have done this if I were a guy.
In the Egyptian desert
In 2015, me and my best friend went to Egypt for two weeks. It was the usual type of holiday – escaping the dark to lie on a beach with a drink in hand, not really being exposed to much culture. This is not really the way I normally like to travel, but having that time to spend with my best friend was great, and we did leave the beach to go on a few excursions (riding camels in the desert, swimming with dolphins and going on a six hour bus ride to Cairo to see the pyramids), which was really amazing. However, two young girls alone in Egypt leads to quite a lot of unwanted attention. While the majority of people in Egypt are extremely welcoming and wonderful in every single way, we were still constantly catcalled. Some men even stopped their cars in the middle of the street to try to talk to us. I personally find this to be different to men who own shops and try to get you to enter them – that is how they make a living and while it can be tiring I do understand it. Men who will randomly catcall you on the streets or stop to get you to talk to them however, is different in my world. At one point we were walking down a shopping street right by our hotel in the evening, and a man followed us the whole time. He walked just a few meters behind us, and when we stopped – he stopped. Eventually he started talking to us, asking us where we were going, and at that point we decided to simply turn back to our hotel. Another situation was when we went on six hour bus ride to Cairo. We left around 1 AM, and as we were going to spend just one day in Cairo the plan was for us to sleep the whole time and then wake up refreshed for our day in the capital. However, we were the only tourists on this local bus, and also the only women. The whole six hours the man sitting across the aisle from us was staring at us non stop, and neither one of us felt comfortable enough to sleep. Yet again; these were not dangerous situations, but I also don’t think these situations would have happened to men.
On the beach in Rimini
Last summer I went on a trip around Italy. I landed in Rome, then went to Naples, Pompeii, Rimini, San Marino, Florence, Pisa and Siena. All in all it was a great trip with a lot of new experiences, but there was one night when I felt seriously scared. Possibly the only time I have felt like that. It was quite late in the evening and I had just gotten of the train in Rimini. On my phone I had screenshots of the route to my hostel, and I planned on walking there as it was not very far. This is how I normally make my way to hostels as I don’t want to pay for buses or taxis, and nine times out of ten it is perfectly fine. I have made my way to several hostels in late evenings, backpack or suitcase in hand, and not had any issues. This time however, as I struggled to find the right direction to walk in, I was approached by several groups of men. I had to walk through a tunnel, where several men screamed at me, laughing and starting to walk after me. For the first time in my life I put my keys in between my knuckles in order to be able to protect myself if they were to attack me. When I got out of the tunnel, I was approached by another group of men. They went through the same procedure of staring, screaming, laughing and starting to follow me. I was suddenly very aware of how dark it was, how little I knew the language, how lost I was and how utterly powerless I would be if they would in some way try to hurt me. For the first time in my life I felt I was not safe enough to find my own way, and I felt that my only reasonable option was to go back to the train station and get into a taxi. The feelings I had then was a mixture of sadness, embarrassment and anger – anger over the fact that these men had taken away my freedom to walk alone. That I had felt forced to change my movements and way of transportation in order to not be physically hurt. That for the first time in my life I had not felt comfortable walking alone.
With our wonderful tour guide in Hurghada
I want to emphasize that I meet a lot of great men while I travel. I have had male hosts in Macedonia and Lithuania who were nothing but nice to me, I have had men help me find my way when I have gotten lost, men who have cooked for me, offered me support and just in general been really wonderful. However, when reading about female solo travel I feel that the majority of articles and comments either claim it to be completely safe as long as you have common sense, or show the other side of the coin which highlights situations where women have been kidnapped or mudered while traveling alone. While I do believe that these extreme cases are rare, and women are often completely safe traveling alone, I would like to describe the part of the spectrum which lies in between these two types of situations (extreme danger or no danger what so ever), which is the fact that female solo travel can actually be quite uncomfortable. Not with the purpose of discouraging women to travel alone, but to be aware of the fact that even though nothing serious may happen to you, being a woman in this world can still be unsettling. While I wish that all women could embark on solo traveling with nothing but positive expectations, I do feel that can be problematic, at least for me. If I believe that my solo trips will be nothing but great and I will be treated with nothing but respect, any kind of situation where I am not would put me down. And because of that I try to remind myself that uncomofortable sitations will occur, but it should not affect how I feel about my travels in general. I think that many women can recognize the types of situations which I have described here, and I want us all to know that even though we may not be in danger we are still allowed to feel frustrated and angry when we are not treated fairly. I have purposely chosen situations which were not dangerous in this post, but I would like to mention that I have stories which are much more severe. I have chosen not to share those here, both because they could be triggering both for me and for others, but also because I don’t believe this is the right place for them. What I want to state in this post is simply that even though you do have common sense, uncomfortable situations might still occur – and this is not your fault. That is simply the reality of being a woman, whether you travel or not. Because of that I decided that I do not want to paint a picture of my travels as being a constant state of being on cloud nine – I do feel scared, threatened, vulnerable and uncomfortable some of the time, but never will I let it stop me from traveling.
Have you ever done solo traveling? If you have; did you feel safe?