More Women Are Traveling Alone. How Is The World Treating Them?

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A woman walks past high-speed trains at the Saint Charles station in Marseille, southern France, Tuesday April 3, 2018. (Claude Paris/AP)
A woman walks past high-speed trains at the Saint Charles station in Marseille, southern France, Tuesday April 3, 2018. (Claude Paris/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

More women are taking solo vacations. We’ll explore the best adventures and safety tips.

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Tariro Mzezewa, travel reporter for The New York Times. (@tariro)

Carolyn Finney, storyteller, author and cultural geographer. She has backpacked solo through Africa and Asia. Author of "Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors." (@cfinney4)

Molly Fergus, general manager of TripSavvy, a travel site that publishes travel guides written by locals. Former associate digital editor for Condé Nast Traveler. (@TripSavvy)

How Our Guests And Listeners Are Traveling

On what it's like traveling as a black woman

Carolyn Finney: "I've had it in Uganda and Madagascar, that they thought I was a sex worker. I was sitting in a regular, average restaurant in Kampala with a white man who worked for Doctors Without Borders. And we were both young, both in our just casual — I always say backpacker gear — and the waiters wouldn't wait on us. They were black waiters, black African, and finally we found out why. Because they thought I was a sex worker. I had to pull out my passport, show that I had my own money, because they couldn't imagine that, as a black woman, I was paying for myself, even though they'd seen many other Western backpackers. In Madagascar, I was on the beach and it was a Malagasy woman, and she didn't say it to me as an insult. She just kind of said, 'So, you know, what part of Africa are you from? You're here working — you know, 'working.' And I had to say, 'No, that's not what I'm doing. I'm traveling, I'm backpacking.' It's just interesting that there's something about the skin color that throws people off.

"I mean, I had an American man in Kathmandu who wanted to take a photo of me to show his wife because he couldn't believe it. He was this older man who looked like he had a lot of money, and he was talking to me. I became this exotic thing for him. I normally would be like, 'Oh, let's take a picture together.' He wanted a picture of me. I said, 'Five rupees.' And he thought I was joking. And I said, 'No, you pay me five rupees, you can take a picture.' And he just kind of looked stunned. He didn't pay me five rupees. He didn't get a photo."

"Ladies, get up off the couch and go travel. Do it today."

On Point caller Kathy

On being an American abroad

Grainne, On Point caller from Appleton, Maine: "I recently traveled to Mumbai by myself. It was my first time actually really leaving America by myself, and I went for two weeks, and it was quite an experience. Totally different culture and everything. I did a lot of research before I went. It was amazing for a lot of reasons. I learned a lot of things. I saw a lot of things. I was white in a place where I was the minority, which was an interesting experience for me, something different. And people were very aware of it. I was made very aware of my whiteness. Probably a good lesson to learn.

"I'm not even going to lie to you — there were certain public places where I said 'eh' a lot. And people just assumed I was Canadian, and they were nicer to me. India was not really nice to me as an American when I first got there. But I actually went there for dental work. And so I had like a connection there from that because I went there for a specific reason. They gave me a lot of information, and I let the hotel that I was staying know that I was alone. They were extraordinarily solicitous of me. They literally called and checked on me every day. They got cars for me, told me places I shouldn't go, told me places I could go, frequently tried to find other people that were traveling to hook me up with so I wasn't alone. I had a great experience.

"I did have a latte thrown in my face though walking down the street. And I assume it was because it was the one time I didn't cover my arms, and I'm guessing that's probably why. I don't really know, a very well-dressed man in classic Indian garb just walked up and tossed it and kept walking."

On ... getting out there, people!

Kathy, On Point from Clearwater, Florida: "I am a beautiful, wild, free spirit. I just came back from two months in Europe. I went all over. I went to Bulgaria, which is run by the Russian mafia, which is another story. But, yeah, common sense. Hey, listen to this ladies: Get out there. Don't be stressed. Don't be fearful. I flew from Dublin, Ireland, back to Providence, Rhode Island, for $75 dollars ladies. Come on. That's the biggest misconception, is that you have to be rich to travel. I stayed in Fiji. I'm a white woman and I stayed in Fiji in an all black village. I was never so safe. And the stars I could reach out and touch them. Ladies, get up off the couch and go travel. Do it today."

From The Reading List

New York Times: "Adventurous. Alone. Attacked." — "Recent headlines about the deadly violence inflicted on women traveling alone have raised questions about how the world is greeting the documented rise in female solo travelers and about the role of social media in promoting the idea that far-off lands are easily accessible and safe.

"They have also shined a light on the enduring nature of gender violence worldwide and laid bare how a lone foreign traveler’s cultural and social expectations do not always comport with local views about a woman’s place in the world — and whether she should travel at all.

"Thousands of women go abroad every year without incident. Many women experience catcalls and myriad other forms of harassment while traveling; women of color have written about being dismissed or ignored abroad because of their race. And while violence against male tourists is just as devastating, the harrowing experiences of female solo travelers can still shock the senses."

Newsweek: "Women Lead The Charge In Solo Travel" — "Mae West once said, 'Good girls go to heaven—bad girls go everywhere.' And, apparently, they want to go everywhere alone.

"A new survey by OnePoll and Travelex found that nearly one in four travelers prefer traveling alone—a trend being led by financially secure women over 30. The Solo Travel Society on Facebook has more than 225,000 followers, and 63% of them are female. And a recent survey found that 65% of Americn women are taking vacations without their partners—something many in the forefront of travel have been seeing on the ground for a while.

"'We are finding women are traveling solo more than men,' Andrea Ross, the managing director of tour operator Wild Frontiers, told Newsweek. 'About 65 percent of our solo travelers are female, ranging in age from their 30s up to their 80s. But there’s a particularly large group of women in their 40s and 50s traveling solo.' In the past few years, Ross has seen a 15 percent year-over-year uptick in women booking trips alone.

"Lee Thompson, co-founder of the millennial travel group Flash Pack says 80 percent of his company’s customers are first time solo travelers, and 60 percent of them are women. Stephanie Turner, president of Brentwood Travel in St. Louis (a member of Ensemble Travel Group), said women are taking off alone because 'either no one else who will travel at their level or they are tired of waiting for others.' Turner revealed that these independent ladies spend about $7,500 on average per trip, far above the national average of just $1,145."

Conde Nast Traveler: "Solo Travelers Aren't Being Punished Anymore" — "Ten years ago, when Janice Waugh started her blog, Solo Traveler, people found her site through Googling the question, 'Is it weird to travel alone?'

"'It was a tentative situation at that time, whereas now, if we were to raise that question, everyone would go, "No, this is normal,"' says Waugh. 'There’s been a cultural shift. And the industry has been anticipating this and is aware of this.'

"Consider the numbers. A July 2018 study from Hostelworld revealed a 42 percent increase in solo traveler bookings since 2015, with female solo travelers surging by 45 percent. It’s the same story from Google Trends, which shows a steady increase for the search term 'solo travel,' and from image/inspiration site Pinterest, which saw searches for 'solo travel' shoot up 600 percent in 2018, compared to the same period in 2017, reports The Telegraph. Another 2018 study—this one, from Resonance Consultancy’s new Future of U.S. Millennial Travel report—found that a quarter of the U.S. millennials polled planned to take a trip on their own in the next 12 or 24 months. But just how did we get from not only not being punished for traveling solo, but—gasp—catered to? And how has the industry responded?"

Runner's World: "How This Runner Became the Fastest Person in History to Visit Every Country in the World" — "Cassie De Pecol is always on the run. The 28-year-old marathoner recently made the Guinness Book of World Records for becoming the fastest person in history to visit all 196 sovereign countries—which she crossed off her list in just one year and 193 days. During her epic journey, De Pecol ran everywhere from Thailand to Honduras to North Korea.

"The Connecticut native, who is currently training for her fifth Ironman, rarely deviated from her intense training regimen, regardless of where in the world she laced up her running shoes each day. We recently caught up with De Pecol to talk about her favorite running gear, penning her first memoir and what it’s really like to run around the world."

Allison Pohle produced this show for broadcast.

This article was originally published on April 11, 2019.

This program aired on April 11, 2019.


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