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Solo Female Travel: Exploring the ‘Then and Now’

Solo Female Travel: Exploring the ‘Then and Now’
Author: Melanie Towning
2 Commentries
Since the twentieth century, numerous social and political changes have allowed females to participate in solo travels (Harris and Wilson, 2006) and, in recent years, solo travel has been an increasing trend among women (McNamara and Prideaux, 2010). The main motivations for solo female travellers were found to include the desire to challenge themselves and to increase their self-awareness (Little and Wilson, 2008; McNamara and Prideaux, 2010). However, a lack of literature concerning how it ‘was’ like to be a solo female traveller in the 1980s compared to how it ‘is’ like to be a solo female traveller in the present day outlines the purpose of this research.

1 semi-structured interview was conducted for this research, which involved a 59-year-old female who has travelled solo since 1970. Lasting 30 minutes, the interview had a set skeleton plan which contained core questions to ask the interviewee, which was elaborated on as the conversation flowed. Thematic coding was used to analyse the interview, which identified two key trends to be the safety and vulnerability of solo female travellers and the perceptions other people have on solo female travellers.

Regarding the safety and vulnerability of solo female travellers, one of the key findings within the interview established that the interviewee had no worries when travelling solo in past years. However, as time has gone by the interviewee has had increasing fears of travelling alone. Little and Wilson (2008) originally highlighted that females who feel vulnerable when travelling solo often find that the individuals struggle in enjoying their travel experiences and often avoid places or destinations they feel could put them in danger. The interviewee emphasised this when she expressed how she never used to worry or think twice about walking down side roads, but now feels she must be more aware of potential dangers and situations.

The perceptions of solo female travellers were also found to have some differences from 1970 to the present day. The interviewee expressed that, although her mother was worried about her travelling solo, her dad encouraged this and wanted her to experience and achieve new destinations. Little and Wilson (2008) originally discussed that female travellers were perceived to be inferior the male travellers and that the perceptions of others often limit solo female travellers in achieving their desired travel goal. However, the interviewee seemed to go against the literature and instead be excited and enthusiastic about travelling alone. The interviewee further explained how her friends and family often worry about her daughters travelling alone, but the interviewee ensures her daughters are aware of dangers.

Overall, the key findings regarding the safety and vulnerability of solo female travellers found that in 1980 there were not as many threats or worries as opposed to the present day. Therefore, feeling vulnerable is a common theme among solo female travellers (Little and Wilson, 2008). The interview furthermore found that a key motivation for solo female travellers was to increase their self-awareness and experience new destinations (Harris and Wilson, 2006; McNamara and Prideaux, 2010). The interviewee elaborated on this research because concerns of safety were never an issue when she first started travelling, and instead wanted to experience as much as she could on her own. The perceptions from others regarding solo female travellers found that, in the past, there were no worries. This is emphasised when the interviewee explained how her father told her to “just go”. In the present day, however, many people are concerned for solo female travellers, possibly due to the perception that females are classed to be inferior to males and cannot defend themselves in dangerous situations (Little and Wilson, 2008). The interviewee expressed that she herself would have worries of travelling alone in the present day, but said it is important to be aware of surroundings to avoid such dangers.

List of References
Harris, C. and Wilson, E. (2006) Meaningful Travel: Women, Independent Travel and the Search for Self and Meaning. Tourism, 54(2) 161-172.

Little, D. E. and Wilson, E. (2008) The Solo Female Travel Experience: Exploring the ‘Geography of Women’s Fear’. Current Issues in Tourism, 11(2) 167-186.

McNamara, K. E. and Prideaux, B. (2010) A Typology of Solo Independent Women Travellers. International Journal of Tourism Research, 12 253-264.
Female solo travel: The strive for independence
Author: Josh Warren
I have selected this paper to comment on, as it demonstrates strong linkage with my own research on the experiences of solo travellers, and how wellbeing has been enhanced through participation in the former. Moreover, this paper extends discourse on the experience of solo travel in a manner which is both interesting and insightful.

The author highlights that female travellers are motivated to participate in solo travel, as this extends their horizons through exposure to different cultures and social interaction. This conforms to the work of Lawson and Hyde (2003) wherein, female travellers often derive a sense of empowerment and independence through their experiences when travelling solo. As the author implies, solo travel has emerged as a popular means for female travellers to confront their fears, as well as expose themselves to new situations, allowing them to enhance their self-confidence and independence.

The link between solo travel and the willingness to “just go” holds strong value to studies on self-identity. Noy (2004) asserts that solo travel allows female travellers to experience spiritual fulfilment in the form of reflection and self-development. Whilst this psychological aspect of solo travel was highlighted by the researcher, it would be useful to extend the discussion of this area, as psychological understanding of the merits of solo travel holds key implications to tourism practitioners, given that the global tourism landscape is beginning to recognise the significance of wellbeing and personal development.

I was especially impressed by the rich understanding of the vulnerability of female solo travellers demonstrated by the author. This was effectively underpinned by a semi-structured interview that provided rich insight into the challenges faced by female travellers. The manner in which these findings were discussed in relation to literature further strengthened the scope of the discussion. Of particular interest was the author’s discussion on the goals of female solo travellers, lending itself well to discourse surrounding the individual benefits of travel, including broadened horizons and increased self-esteem. It is plausible that this holds key implications to tourism practitioners, given the shift from commoditised “mass” tourism, towards individual and personal experiences that encompass personal growth and self-actualisation (Hartwell et al., 2018).

Overall, this paper demonstrates a high level of interest in the experiences of solo travellers that builds upon my own understanding. The author demonstrates sound understanding of the role of solo travel in enhancing female self-development whilst contextualising this with the dangers that they may face. This paper could benefit from an extended discussion of the reasons underpinning female solo travel participation, and the benefits gained from such experiences, and how these have begun to craft changes in tourism consumption.


Hartwell, H., Fyall, A., Willis, C., Page, S., Ladkin, A. and Hemingway, A. (2018) Progress in Tourism and Destination Wellbeing Research. Current Issues in Tourism, 21(16), 1-28.

Lawson, R. and Hyde, F.K. (2003) The Nature of Independent Travel. Journal of Travel Research, 42(1), 13-23.

Noy, C. (2004) This trip really changed me: Backpackers’ Narratives of Self-change. Annals of Tourism Research, 31(1), 78-102.
Solo Female Travel: Safety, Vulnerability and Others' Perception
Author: Swantje Duehren
Since this paper is part of the strand “Understanding gendered and racialised tourism experiences” and discusses solo female travel in particular, which is very similar to the topic that I have chosen for my own conference paper, I decided to comment on this discussion.

The author chose an interesting angle for the topic of solo female travel by comparing the experiences of a female traveller, who has travelled solo since 1970, and explained how solo travel has changed over the years. Whereas the main motivations for solo female travel, such as the desire to challenge themselves or to increase their self-awareness, and to explore new destinations and experience different cultures seem to have stayed the same over the years. As these are the motivations that have been identified by a number of academics in current literature (Yang et al., 2018, and Harris and Wilson, 2007), and are in line with my own findings.

The semi-structured interview that was conducted, seems to be an appropriate tool to gain a deeper insight in the experiences of a solo female traveller, and helped the author to identify safety and vulnerability as important key factors for women who travel solo. These findings corroborate prior studies that suggested that solo female travellers are “more sensitive and vulnerable to certain types of risks … such as sexual harassment and assault” (Yang et al., 2017, 90).

According to the author the interviewee stated that her awareness of dangers and risks had increased compared to when she was younger. A more detailed example of how and why the interviewee’s risk-perception has changed over time would have been interesting at this point. A possible explanation of this increasing risk-perception could be the fact that nowadays many travel guidebooks and social media networks provide safety tips specifically for solo female travellers to avoid the dangers (Yang et al., 2018). Thus, influencing women’s perception, and creating a sense of doubt whether it would be safe to travel solo.

Further, others’ perception has been identified as a key topic. Interestingly, the author stated that there were less worries in the 1980’s compared to the present day, where it seems that more people are concerned for solo female travellers. According to Harris and Wilson (2007, 237) “women travellers have historically battled societal restrictions and tarnished reputations as a result of their choice to travel”. Nowadays, the increasing participation of women in the workforce, thus, a growing financial independence is one of the key drivers for the rise of the solo female travel trend (Yang et al., 2017). Hence, it could be argued that the impression that there is more concern nowadays is because of the increasing numbers of women who travel solo, compared to the relatively smaller numbers of solo female travellers some decades ago.

All in all, by comparing the “then and now” the author has approached the topic of solo female travel in a distinctive and interesting way. The use of academic resources in combination with the primary research that was conducted has demonstrated a high level of interest and provided interesting insights.


Harris, C. and Wilson, E. (2007) Travelling beyond the boundaries of constraint: Women, Travel and Empowerment. In: Pritchard, A., Morgan, N., Ateljevic, I. and Harris, C., Tourism & Gender: embodiment, sensuality and experience, 235-251.

Yang, E., Khoo-Lattimore, C. and Arcodia, C. (2018) Constructing Space and Self through Risk Taking: A Case of Asian Solo Female Travelers. Journal of Travel Research, 57(2), 260-272.

Yang, E., Khoo-Lattimore, C. and Arcodia, C. (2017) A systematic literature review of risk and gender research in tourism. Tourism Management, 58, 89-100.