Woman embarking on solo adventures is a trend that's sure to continue. But how can we ensure we're safe? We talk to SheTravel founder Anna-Liisa about the dangers, the thrills and the importance of being part of a community.
What inspired you to start SheTravel?
The idea to set up SheTravel came to me last year and was inspired by observations made about our industry, travel risks and fantastic women around me. We ran a series of lone female traveller workshops with NGS in 2018 and I realised how much knowledge was shared between the women in the room, learning from each other's good and bad experiences and top tips. I also had quite a turbulent year in 2017 when I was unfortunately involved in couple of security incidents and sometimes wished I would have had more knowledge beforehand that may have helped me in murky situations. The idea of SheTravel was born out of the two combined. I felt there was a need for confidential space to share the knowledge and to learn from each other because sometimes simple knowledge or a piece of information may help to mitigate risks. I wanted to bring everything under one roof in a hope that we can make a change as a community and make travel safer.
Why do you think it's becoming so popular for women to travel solo?
Women travelling is not a new phenomenon, however the way we travel, and the frequency of travel is changing - new travel patterns are emerging. With increasing purchasing power for women in the West and changing roles in the society, women have more means, freedom and power to make their own decisions and influence industries. In simple terms, women have more freedom, money and time to travel. Solo travel can be incredibly powerful. You only have to look at social media portraying so many women adventuring, solo travelling to far-flung places - it helps the push also to empower women to follow suit. Travelling is some ways a part of women's empowerment. But it is also important to be aware of the risks and prepared for the travel.
What are the main threats to women travelling alone?
Unfortunately, there are still key risks that stand out for female travellers: sexual harassment, sexual assault, drink spiking, getting your items stolen. However, risks for female travellers vary and depend on the destination country, nature of the travel and risk awareness/appropriate training taken prior to travel. Broader security risks to female travellers are sexual discrimination, verbal and physical harassment, local crimes and scams, limited access to women's health facilities and medication, sexual violence and rape, human trafficking, kidnap (this list is not exhaustive).
What is the most liberating part for woman travelling solo?
This is a very individual question, travelling will mean and signify different things to each and every person. Same applies to liberty. For me, travelling means freedom, discovering new cultures, traditions, places, but also discovering and improving myself. It somehow always seems easier to see your life clearer from further away. When I need to take stock, I know I have to hit the road.
How do you believe that meditation can help women?
We all live busy lives, we are all 24/7, part of the connectivity. But connectivity does not always mean connection - not to others and not to yourself. We can be busy but get nothing done. Focussing your mind helps to take away the noise and see what is really important.
How do you think Silatha can be supportive for female travellers?
Travelling can be stressful, exhausting, mentally and physically draining. We can be physically fit to embark on another journey, may it be for work or for leisure, however this does not mean that we also mentally healthy and prepared to go. Having guidance with how to take a moment and time out, even if for 10 minutes, can make a big difference.
Are there any places you wouldn't recommend women travel alone?
We always recommend to research your destination and make sure that appropriate measures are in place to mitigate risks. For medium and high-risk destinations, robust mitigation plans should be in place.
Example of particular places below as per recent report published by NGS Risk team:
Colombia: Organised crime related to Colombian drug producers increases the risk of violent crime and kidnappings. Lone female travellers, particularly from foreign nations, can make easy targets, as they are likely to stand out and may be perceived as being wealthy.
India: There is a long history of violence and sexual harassment towards women in India, with rape not uncommon. Female travellers may receive stares and unwanted attention, particularly those with very different physical appearance from local women.
South Africa: Crime levels are very high in South Africa, and female travellers can attract unwanted attention. Drink-spiking occurs in bars and nightclubs when drinks are left unattended, and there is a high risk of rape and other violent crimes.
UAE: Lone female travellers can sometimes be mistaken for prostitutes. There have been a number of cases in recent years in which foreign nationals have tried to report sexual crimes, only to face further harassment from local authorities, even arrest and jail.
What are the perks of being a SheTravel member? Do you have many other users in the network?
SheTravel initiative is about creating a community to aid safe traveller for women all over the world, wherever the destination. Our members have access to Safety Guides written by our experts, female specific country risk advice and access to a community of fellow travellers in a safe and secure environment.
Access to a community of fellow travellers to ask questions and travel tips.
Access to country profiles to read about country risk and female specific safety advice.
Articles on safety and security.
Information on training and events.
Discount and promotional offers for SheTravel members for events and training.
Tell us where you see SheTravel going in the future.
I am hoping to see SheTravel community growing, welcoming members from all over the world, growing in expertise and useful information that we are providing. We also have further development on the road map and exciting new plans for the next 6 months. We are planning interesting talks with industry leading experts. The overall vision is to create a change and make travel safer via collective knowledge, information and experience.
Find out more about SheTravel here.