Why solo female travel is more important than ever
“Helen, are u f***ing mentally retarded? Did u not even hear of the video?”
“Knowingly leading western women to even the chance of possible slaughter…Wow! Here is the REAL #WarOnWomen. Straight from the #left.”
“What’s the weather like in Morocco this time of year Helen? Warm enough for a bit of the old rape and behead two young women who are travelling alone?”
These are just some of more choice comments I received on social media after publishing what seemed like an innocuous round-up of women-only trips in celebration of International Women’s Day.
The crux of the issue was that I had recommended a Morocco group trip in the piece, despite the deaths of two Scandinavian tourists who were murdered by suspected terrorists while there on a camping trip before Christmas last year.
A less than reputable online publication had taken the word “solo” from the article’s headline – referring to women being able to book onto each of the inclusions without friends or partners, joining instead with a band of like-minded female travellers – and added it to the Morocco entry, to come up with the following fictitious but compelling bit of nonsense: “The Independent recommends single women go hiking alone in Morocco three months after two young Scandinavian women were savagely beheaded by Isis terrorists while hiking.”
Cue outraged right-wing men from across the internet telling me I was encouraging women to meet their untimely deaths in north Africa.
As a travel writer, I’m lucky in that I rarely get trolled online. I might get the odd fact about an aircraft queried by a self-proclaimed #AvGeek (and they’re usually right). But I’m mostly immune from the daily barrage of crap that female journalists writing about women’s issues seem to receive. Being on the other side of it was a little disturbing, but for the most part it was just plain eye–opening.
The vitriol surprised me. There was an anger that did not seem linked to the topic at hand in any real sense – more an anger that I, a woman, would encourage other women to travel without the protection (and permission) of men. An outrage masquerading as concern for women’s safety that, beneath the surface, seemed to harbour a desire to control us. Men could go to Morocco, of course, and perhaps women could go there too – but only in the company of said men, some of whom would preferably be “armed”.
Perhaps I should have mentioned the attacks in the piece, but it would be like referencing Grace Millane, the British backpacker whose body was found in Auckland in December, every time I wrote about holidays to New Zealand; or Aya Maasarwe, the 21-year-old Israeli student who was assaulted and killed while walking home in Melbourne in January, whenever promoting travel to Australia: incongruous and unnecessary.
At any rate, it didn’t matter that I pointed out the trip was a group one, complete with fully organised itinerary and led by experienced guides; it didn’t matter that the Foreign Office doesn’t advise against travel to any part of Morocco; it didn’t matter that, were we to avoid every country where women experience sexual and physical violence, we’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere in the world to visit. What mattered was their righteous indignation. Two women had been killed by “religious lunatics”, and therefore a whole country was now off limits for travel unless fully sanctioned by men.
There was a political aspect, too: it was not lost on me that a lot of those commenting had “MAGA” as part of their Twitter handles. The irony was that these men, so filled with rage at terrorists who use fear and violence to subjugate women, were equally keen to coerce, albeit in a different way. They too were using fear as a tool to keep us in check, the threat of potential violence to ensure we don’t exercise our autonomy.
It brought home to me that, as much progress as we’ve made, travelling as a woman can still be an inherently subversive act; especially flying solo, whether as part of a group of singles, or genuinely going it alone.
It signals a show of strident independence – one that, as it turns out, not all men are going to like. They’ll have to get used to it though: multiple studies show that solo female travel is on the rise. A Culture Trip survey – which I referenced in the piece – found that of 10,500 respondents, one in three women (34 per cent) said they’d be interested in taking a solo trip in future, compared to just one in seven (14 per cent) who’d taken a trip on their own in the previous five years.
And last year, a British Airways study of almost 9,000 18- to 64-year-olds across the UK, US, France, India, Germany, Italy, Brazil and China found that more than 50 per cent of women have taken a holiday by themselves, with 75 per cent of women planning some solo travel in the next few years.
Alongside the offers to send me to Morocco (the implication being that I’d get beheaded and then I’d see) were many women who shared their experiences of travelling alone – women who would do it again in a heartbeat.
“Morocco, as most countries, is totally safe as long as you employ common sense,” wrote Caroline O’Grady. “I’ve been alone and would do again. It’s one of the only places I keep revisiting as I love it so much.”
“I spent three months there and had no problem when I travelled alone,” added food and travel writer Yolanda Evans. “You just have to be cautious just like you would be in any other country and use common sense. I’m going back in the summer.”
Even those with negative experiences seemed keen to hang onto their independence. “I didn’t love being a woman alone in Morocco because I felt very ‘other’, but I wouldn’t have missed it and we can’t let fear stop us from travelling or really living,” said tour guide Lisa Friend.
Of course, we cannot be blind to the world we live in. There is danger wherever you go, risks whichever country you head to, and often these are higher for women. The UK has seen its own fair share of terror attacks in the last decade, as has much of Europe. The number of gun-related deaths in the US reached just under 40,000 in 2017, the highest it’s been in 50 years. But it’s all about assessing these risks – the official Foreign Office advice being a good place to start.
What happened to those two women in Morocco was a terrible tragedy. But the minute we let fear control us to the point where it prevents us from living our lives to the full, they’ve all won: terrorists, keyboard warriors and MAGA-hat wearing misogynists.
Don’t let them.
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