2024 Conference
All Conferences
TSVC | Tourism Students Virtual Conference

Risk-perception and experiences of a solo female traveller

Risk-perception and experiences of a solo female traveller
Author: Swantje Duehren
0 Commentries
The risk-perception and others’ opinion can have an influence on women’s travel motivation and their travel behaviour. Often, women who decide to travel alone are facing societal norms and constraints, but solo female travel should be seen as the possibility to push these boundaries and a way for self-development.

solo female travel, risk-perception, gendered risk and tourism spaces, coping strategies to minimize risk

Risk and tourism are inherently connected, as the decision to travel itself implies uncertainty. However, the decision to take this risk and go alone on a journey is more likely to be negatively evaluated by the society, if it is made by women, because in general, risk-taking is seen as a masculine characteristic, whereas risk-averse behaviour is a desirable value of femininity (Yang et al., 2018).

Labels such as ‘adventurers’ and ‘explorers’ were often used to describe male travellers in the 18th and 19th centuries, whereas “women travellers have historically battled societal restrictions and tarnished reputations as a result of their choice to travel” (Harris and Wilson, 2007).

Wilson and Little (2008) explored the ‘Geography of Women’s Fear’. They describe public spaces as structures that are shaped by the people themselves, their culture, gender, race, power relations and actions. Wilson and Little (2008) have come to the conclusion that women feel constrained in their liberty to use public spaces. Inasmuch as “women find their public space frequently ‘invaded by whistles, comments or actual physical assault from strange men’” (Wilson and Little, 2008, 168).

A semi-structured skype interview was conducted with Sarah (name changed), a female solo traveller of the age of 26, who had started to travel alone at the age of 20 and has since then been to several countries in South America, some cities in the States and in Canada, and around many different places in Australia. The data collected through this interview helped to gain a better insight of the motivations and experiences of a solo female traveller and to develop this paper on how the risk-perception and others’ opinion can have an influence on travel motivation and behaviour.

Self-development, the desire to challenge themselves, to meet new people and gaining new experiences have been identified as some of the main motivations for solo female travel (Harris and Wilson, 2007, and Yang et al., 2018), and have also been part of the reasons Sarah chose to travel alone: “getting to know the local culture and people and sharing experiences with them is the best that can happen”.

Nonetheless, the perception other people have of solo female travel can have an influence on women’s motivation to travel alone or their travel behaviour. Often, women who tell their family, colleagues or friends about their travel plans are confronted with reactions that include surprise, anger and fear, or disapproval, indicating that it is somehow inappropriate for a woman to travel alone (Wilson and Little, 2008). Even though Sarah’s parents might have been a bit worried at first, they have been very supportive. Nevertheless, she has also faced some of the other reactions and expressed that others’ trepidation, stories from other travellers and news reports have created a small sense of doubt whether it would be safe to travel alone through some African countries, which are apparently perceived as more dangerous than other destinations. However, it also became clear that risk-perception, even though it can be influenced, is rather subjective. According to Yang (et al., 2018, 262) it “is an individual’s subjective assessment of the real risk”. For instance, Sarah stated that she would always feel safer travelling alone around South America, where she is able to communicate with the locals in Spanish, rather than travelling somewhere in Asia, where she would always feel more uncomfortable because of the language barrier.

Sarah’s experiences have, to some degree, established what was found in previous studies by a number of academics (Yang et al., 2018, and Wilson and Little, 2008) that solo female traveller sometimes decide to avoid certain destinations or places at particular times, especially at night, in order to prevent risks. Further, a number of coping strategies that women have established to minimize risks and the feeling of vulnerability have been identified, such as: modifying the way they dressed to deflect attention and avoid the glaze, especially from men. Wearing a fake wedding ring to deceive other men or protecting themselves with a number of items (Yang et al., 2018, and Wilson and Little, 2008).

Nonetheless, despite some doubt and awareness of risks, throughout the interview it became clear that solo travel is an “amazing” experience, and a transforming journey that enabled the young woman to be more independent and self-confident. Thus, the awareness of certain risks and others’ perception should not be the reasons to avoid solo travel altogether, but solo travel should rather be seen as an empowerment for women to battle societal norms, “to push the boundaries of constraint, and to find sources of inspiration, …, and self-development” (Harris and Wilson, 2007, 244).

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.

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

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.