by David Savage
I was traveling between Cairns and Alice Springs on a three-day overland trip. On the trip were the driver, a company mechanic, a Texan and four girls. Everyone was traveling alone.
To cut a long story short, on the first night, after some heavy drinking the driver, who was in his 50’s, entered the tent of a young Irish girl. Her tent was next to mine and I could hear everything. She asked him what he was doing; he said he wanted to stay awhile. She asked him to leave and I could hear the fear in her voice. The other two guys were also out there somewhere, I could hear them sniggering. The driver repeatedly refused to leave and girl called my name. I went to the tent and I had to tell the driver to leave several times before he actually got out and staggered away.
The girl was very distressed, she moved in to my tent because she was so frightened and virtually cried herself to sleep. A complaint was made against the driver and to the company’s credit he was sacked immediately.
Traveling alone offers a very different experience. Every corner you turn, decision you make and action you take is entirely your own responsibility. More to the point, problems or situations a lone traveler comes across are his or hers to deal with.
Traveling is not about purposefully putting oneself at risk. It is about putting oneself in places that are new, with people that are different and absorbing the lessons the experience has to offer. However, a traveler cannot always control situations or avoid risk.
I have always traveled alone and because of it, I have often become closer to the local people and have been given a more personal insight into their way of life. A single traveler is less intimidating to locals, and from my own experience, that has made me more approachable. People genuinely want to share their lives, they are often keen to play host and as most good willed people do, they want to make a good impression and share their culture.
Traveling alone is a great experience, but there are certain issues and pressures that are particular to traveling in that way. It is also obvious that lone female travelers may encounter more problems because they are perceived as easier targets and more vulnerable. That’s certainly not always the case, but male perceptions don’t always take this into consideration.
I have written this article to point out specific risks to female lone travelers, not with the intention to scare but with the intention to create awareness. Even as a male I have been in situations I didn’t like. In India I was robbed on a train and in Delhi I found myself walking down the wrong street with two men who were getting too pushy. But these experiences are not everyday experiences and my time in India was incredibly challenging and rewarding.
A good friend of mine went to Turkey in 1999. As soon as he arrived he accepted a drink from a local. A few hours later he woke up with a headache and all of his belongings had been stolen. So, shit happens to both sexes.
There are certain places you may travel to and be overwhelmed by stories of female travelers being raped and sexually harassed. Common sense isn’t always enough to prevent a situation. Then there are places where you’ll hear no such stories. But even in places like Australia there are the occasional incidents, London too. The best advice to seek is from experienced female travelers, who have traveled alone before.
A single degree of paranoia can be useful. All men go on the ‘Pull’, but a few men do not know that ‘No’ means ‘NO’. Foreign women can be seen as easy targets, not just by locals, but by other male travelers.
If someone’s generously chucking drinks down your neck, ask yourself to be cautious. Consider where you are and who is around. Don’t leave yourself isolated with a stranger. Listen to your gut instinct. When you get to a place for the first time and you are a little nervous, seek out travelers who’ve been around for awhile. Ask them about safety in the area, take note of how they approach the people and what precautions they take.
Travel lightly too. Your gear can put you at risk too. As a photographer, I know. A degree of aggression may also be necessary in extreme cases. You know where not to kick a male, so kick ’em hard in that exact same place if needs be. Don’t be scared to shout or scream; if things get out of hand, use your lungs! You could even go as far as to carry a Personal Attack Alarm. I even know some male travelers who carry whistles, which also double up nicely at raves.
In one nineteen month trip I have heard of stories of rape, murder, a girl waking up on a train to find a man masturbating over her, I’ve seen a mugging and I’ve seen harassment.
However, I’ve heard far more stories of inspirational adventures and encounters. Again, I must reiterate that problems are rare, so go forth and travel – it is the greatest way to learn about our planet, just take care and never be afraid to ask advice.