There’s a lot of negativity flying around lately about solo female travel. The Huffington Post just released a list of the most dangerous places for women to travel alone, so I took a peek. I was surprised at some of the names, having been to 3/16 cities and never experienced anything worse than the usual. I know plenty of other solo female travellers who have been to more of these places and are equally confused.
It’s difficult to read a piece like that, when I, along with so many others, am trying to break the stereotype that travelling alone as a woman is dangerous. It makes it hard to write about how my time alone in Paris made me realize how in love I was with travel, or that New York City is the perfect place for a Girl’s weekend, when these cities are flagged as some of the most dangerous places for women to travel.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying travelling as a solo female is a walk in the park. I get harassed, I’ve been followed, and I’ve been scared. But, the same things have happened to me at home. Sadly, it’s a part of being a woman, and although some places are supposedly better than others, there will always be a couple of jerks who make things difficult. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel or visit certain cities any more than it means you shouldn’t walk out your front door. You just need to be smart and practice general safety; the same as you probably already do in your hometown.
So, in yet another effort to encourage solo female travel, I’ve compiled a small list of personal experiences I’ve had while travelling that have shown me the good in the world. With over 6 months on the road, there have been more than I can count, but I chose these ones because they had the potential to go wrong and, if I can be so dramatic, turn into the next ‘Taken’. But they didn’t. Because despite the media and the couple of jerks that are out there, the world is a good place. People are kind and willing to help. And sometimes it takes being a young girl alone in a strange place to realize that.
Here are five personal stories showing why I believe that solo female travel is not dangerous.
- Lost on the Canals in Venice
During my first visit to Venice in 2013, the docks for the vaporettos were under construction. In the confusion, I took the wrong one and instead of cruising down the Grand Canal to my B&B for the next few days, I ended up going out to the islands. I watched my fellow passengers get off as we continued. Time kept ticking and despite scanning every sign at every stop, none of them matched the words on the piece of paper in my hands. After over an hour on the water, we pulled back into the main dock and I realized that, in true Hannah style, I had taken the wrong vaporetto.
I wasn’t the only one that noticed I was lost, and the young Italian driver approached me and asked where I was going. I showed him my instructions and, upon a quick explanation that the dock for that vaporetto had moved, he grabbed my bag and told me to follow him.
Young girl, lost in Venice, following a strange Italian man through a construction zone away from the crowds… What would happen?
He told me his name, chatted about some great places I should visit, and led me to the exact vaporetto I needed. He even told the driver I wasn’t quite sure where I was going,and asked him to point out the stop to me. I ended up giving my new friend (Giacomo) a hug and thanking him for being so kind to me.
- Going the Wrong Direction in Switzerland
Also in 2013, I took the train in the wrong direction in Switzerland and instead of heading back to Geneva I went into the interior of Switzerland; about 2 hours in the wrong direction, at night, alone. I had no idea what to do other than knock on the conductor’s door and explain what happened. He told me to sit tight and he would tell me when to get off and where to go. And, when we arrived, he even walked with me to the office to show me the schedule, telling me what train to get on when.
The next train came along and, making extra sure, I asked if it was going to where I needed. Turns out it was…sort of. I had to go to another main station and get a bus. Like the conductor before, this one was equally helpful and got off the train with me to find a bus that would take me to Montreux, where I could catch a train to Geneva. It was late, I was the only person needing a ride, and yet one driver agreed to take me, and wouldn’t take any money for it. There I was; a solo female alone in a strange country, with no one else around, relying on strange men. And it all worked out. Not only did they help me, but they went above and beyond in making sure I got where I needed to go safely.
- Knocking on a Stranger’s Door in Rural Germany
Keeping with the theme of taking the wrong train, in 2011 I ended up in a small farming village in rural Germany instead of the fairy tale walled city I was headed for (the difference between Rothenburg, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber). After walking up and down the main road for about 40 minutes I realized that there was no way this was the right place. But I was in a little town, not a city. There were no obvious restaurants or hotels. So, I did the only thing I could think of and picked a door and knocked on it.
Luckily, the woman who answered spoke English and quickly brought me inside to find the proper train schedule for me. Turns out I was hours in the wrong direction, in a place so completely random that if someone wanted to, they could make me completely disappear. But no, the kind woman filled my water bottle for me, printed out the train schedule, and sent me on my way with a smile and warm wishes.
- Broken ATM in Punta Cana
In 2012 I spent an awesome week being a beach bum and dancing the nights away at a resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. While the resort was all inclusive I wanted to go out on some excursions, but was pretty surprised to find out that my credit card had been compromised ($1000 dollars in music purchased from Lichtenstein) and, as my luck would have it, the ATM at the hotel wasn’t working. I spoke to a man at reception and next thing I knew I was on a golf cart being taken off resort (heaven forbid) to a local area where all the staff lived. The only white girl in the area, I waited my turn, took out my cash, and chatted with some of the employees I recognized from the resort. When I was done, I waved goodbye and was safety returned back to the front desk where I could book my snorkelling adventure.
- Reliant on a Cab in Dublin
My first time abroad was me moving to Ireland. Unfamiliar with the area I took a cab to the train station in Dublin, rather than trying to figure out the bus system. I got a friendly driver who was quick to ask about my story; where I was from, and what I was doing in Ireland. I told him everything, I had a work visa, it was my first time abroad and I was headed to Galway. In return he gave me some great tips and told me how brave I was, which turned into a conversation about his little girl. As we arrived at the station he took out his business card and wrote his cell phone number on it, telling me that if I ever needed anything at all to please give him a call. Alone in a new country, that meant the world to me and, three years later, I still have his card.
I’m not saying trust everyone. I’m not saying don’t be careful. But I do encourage everyone to consider the stories that media doesn’t tell us; the stories about the good in the world, the stories like the ones I shared above. Most of all, I encourage you to get out there and make your own observations and decisions. I think you’ll find that the world isn’t quite as scary as some make it out to be.