How ‘Brave’ Am I For Solo Travelling

Illustration by  Miranda Sofroniou

Illustration by Miranda Sofroniou

Unlike most of tinder’s population, I don’t think there anything especially unique or interesting about wanting to travel. The desire to break away from the familiar is basic. Personally, I prefer big trips alone. I’m an introvert; naturally independent; and while I love my friends dearly, there’s nothing quite like making your own schedule and taking the time to self-reflect in an unfamiliar culture. You could say it’s my most expensive self-care routine.

To take a trip across the world requires time, money and knowledge. Being European, summer holidays overseas (over-channel) has been a part of my life since I can remember. Navigating airports, foreign currency and public transport systems is familiar territory for a middle-class English girl. 

I am beyond grateful that I can see the world. It is a very specific set of privileges that make it easy for me to do so. But am I, as many people around me have suggested, really ‘brave’ for solo travelling?

Clearly, going it alone as a young woman is risky. If somebody wanted to physically overpower me – they could. Much more likely is falling victim to petty crime - bag snatching or pickpocketing. If I became stranded without my phone, money or important documents, it would be a more manageable with a companion.

A far more difficult situation, however, is to be born poor and female in some of the places I have visited. Gender disparities are especially pronounced in underdeveloped economies – nearly 30% of working-age women in India receive no formal education at all

There is also a level of institutional violence unimaginable for British women. The transnational commercial surrogacy industry has left a trail of misery in south east Asia. Women living in abject poverty were given the ‘opportunity’ to sell their reproductive capacity to foreign infertile couples – often kept in prison-like conditions for the duration of their pregnancy. After commercial surrogacy was banned in Cambodia, pregnant women were arrested, charged with human trafficking and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment – unless they agreed to raise the child until its 18th birthday.

Illustration by  Miranda Sofroniou

Illustration by Miranda Sofroniou

I am from a country that has enabled the luxury of seeing the world. Part of the reason I can afford to spend time in these beautiful places is the global asymmetry of power that keeps the Vietnamese dong, Indonesian dollar and Indian rupee low against the British pound.

Equally troubling is the mischaracterisation of non-white countries as somehow more dangerous for women than the UK. According to the UN, I am over three times more likely to be assaulted by a stranger in the UK than in Vietnam. The suggestion that counties in the global south are more dangerous for women perpetuates two false narratives: (1) that non-western (read: non-white) men are violent and (2) western men are less prone to violence against women. All cultures have patriarchy running through them, but this implication preserves the racist narrative of the barbaric brown man versus the civilised white man.

Falling ill to a gnarly virus, being robbed or missing my flight would indeed be a difficult to manage alone. If I am at no increased risk of violence, what is it that makes me brave? Is it that, as a woman, I am innately less capable of handling complex or risky situations myself? I wonder if those that laud me as ‘brave’ would say the same to a man travelling alone. Admittedly, this might be a stretch. Those that worry about me do so out of love and care. Still, there is a misogynistic subtext to characterising female solo travellers as brave – denoting that it is a more difficult task for women to independently manage our time, money and safety than men.

Travelling the world is a wonderful and life-affirming experience. I am not ‘brave’ for going alone; I am privileged for having this opportunity at all. 

Article by Olivia Cohen