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Travelling with Caution - The Perceived Safety Risks to Solo Female Travellers

Travelling with Caution - The Perceived Safety Risks to Solo Female Travellers
Author: Sharna Wright
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Abstract: This paper discusses the perceived safety risks to female solo travellers, drawing upon the results of primary research. With so much travel advice concerning safety and security readily available to us, this paper seeks to offer useful recommendations to female independent travellers based on common safety advice that shared on travel forums and blogs.

Key Words: Female, Solo, Traveller, Risk, Safety and Security

Female solo travel is very much on the rise, with more women gaining the confidence to travel alone. Studies have suggested that women’s motivations for independent travel comes from “the desire to challenge themselves, find a sense of autonomy and self-determination, meet new people and/or extend themselves ‘out of their comfort zone’” (Wilson and Little, 2008: 168). The rise of sexual assaults in India in the last year has drawn attention to the dangers facing female travellers in the country, and has resulted in a 35% decline in number of female travellers visiting the country. This has once again reignited the discussion of whether it is safety for women to travel alone. The stigma attached to the inappropriateness of solo female travellers is not new either; instead women have been travelling for centuries however not without challenges (Wilson and Little, 2008).

The conference paper looks at the risks associated with female solo travel using academic sources as well as travel blogs while noting that there may be factors such as age, gender, and previous travel experience which may have some influence on risk perception. The conference paper discusses the results from a questionnaire completed by 33 females in the UK, who have travelled or are interested in travelling in the future. The results found that 81.8% of respondents would be willing to travel independently. Those that said they were not willing to travel put forward reasons relating to safety and security and vulnerability.

The results also found that the most common perceived risks were theft, sexual harassment and sexual assault. Much of the literature and media coverage on female solo travel suggests that much of the risk for women concerns sexual harassment (Jordan and Aitchison 2013). Travel websites and blogs are filled with accounts of women who have experience some form of sexual harassment during their travels, and feel it necessary to warn others of the potential problems and dangers. India has come under attention in the media, after a number of serious sexual attacks involving Polish, German and Danish female travellers. The country is a popular destination usually included in the itinerary of travellers visiting Asia, however many countries are now giving warnings to avoid the country. Sexual harassment in India has become so common in the country that it even has its own name: “eye-teasing” referring the sexual harassment of women in public places such as streets, public transportation, parks and beaches. The latest incident involved a British female backpacker who had to jump from her hotel window in order to avoid the advances from the Hotel Manager which has led to many female travellers leaving India out of their travel itinerary.

Despite the recent problems in India, it was the Middle East which was found to be the region associated with the highest perceived risks for female solo travellers. Research by Sharifpour et al (2014) found five main risks associated with this region in relation to tourism. These are: terrorism, war, health concerns, crime and those associated with cultural and language difficulties. The associate risks may be down to the recent terrorist attacks on tourists in Egypt, or the strict Sharia law which or the dramatic differences in culture. It considered unusual for women to travel alone in some Middle Eastern countries and there are some parts of the Middle East that are off limits to solo female travel for example, in Saudi Arabia, women must accompanied by their husband or relative at all times.

It is suggested that one of the most important safety precautions you can do for travelling is to thoroughly prepare. Therefore the questionnaire asked respondents where they find their travel information which resulted in a variation in the answers. The majority of people consult with the travel advice website such as the Foreign Commonwealth Office, closely followed by family and friends, Tripadvisor and Travel Guides. Social Media was used by 15.6% of the respondents. This could be down to the increasing number of travel blogs that have been uploaded on to the worldwide web which are used by people seeking unbiased travel information. A number of travel forums and blogs to provide advice specifically to solo travellers such as the solotravellerblog.com and some have been specifically dedicated to female travellers such as Journeywomen.com and WomenOnTheirWay.com.

Finally, this conference paper offers a short list of recommended precautions that should be considered by female lone travellers including practical advice taken from travel forums and blogs. It was found that more needs done by tourism suppliers such as hotels and airports in order to adjust to this increasing trend, for example, allocating female single occupancy rooms near elevators.

References

Jordan, F. and Aitchison, C. (2008) Tourism and the sexualisation of the gaze: sole female tourists’ experiences gendered power, surveillance and embodiment, Leisure Studies, 27 (3) pp. 329-349
Sharifpour, M., Walters, G. and Ritchie, B. W. (2014) Risk perception, prior knowledge, and willingness to travel: Investigating the Australian tourist market’s risk perceptions towards the Middle East. Journal of Vacation Marketing, 20 (2) pp. 111-123
Wilson, E. and Little, D. E. (2008) The Solo Travel Experience: Exploring the ‘Geography of Women’s Fear’. Current Issues in Tourism, 11 (2) pp. 167-186