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Is solo travel what we really desire but we just don't dare to do it?

Is solo travel what we really desire but we just don't dare to do it?
Author: Outi Makinen
2 Commentries

Solo travel is a great opportunity to gain independence, find freedom and escape the routines, but it also includes many challenges, fear being one of them. This paper explains why people want to travel alone and how these challenges influence their travel behaviour.

Keywords: solo tourist, women, behaviour, fear

According to the Travel Industry Association of America nearly one-quarter of US adult travellers have been in a vacation by themselves in the past three years and 47 per cent of them were female. Association of British Travel Agents discovered that two in three people in the relationships would prefer a holiday alone. (Chiang & Jogaratnam, 2006)

Solo travellers' purposes and motivations are different depending on their demographic backgrounds. (Wilson & Little, 2008) There are many differences between women and men solo travellers and women are the segment where literature is mostly focused on because of the challenges that women face. Men in general look for adventure and action where as women travel solo for the reason to get to know new cultures, enlarge the worldview and gain more independence. Married women are usually travelling alone to escape the routines (Chiang & Jogaratnam, 2006) and older females who are single are hoping to find other females with similar life situations or romance (Stone and Nichol, 1999). Single solo travellers' reasons to travel are often to visit friends and relatives and they are seeking the freedom and closer interactions. Their travel behaviour can be described as curious hedonism and social matters (Laesser et al, 2009).

The most important social concerns that women face are safety and health issues. Solo travelling is a good way to improve the confidence in the skills and self-care (Chiang & Jogaratnam, 2006). In the UK as well as in the other parts of the western world single adults are increasing and that means more demand on solo tourism. (Laesser et al, 2009) The problem is with supply. The tourism industry is not following the needs of older solo travellers and the activities are quite stereotypical and limited. (Laesser et al.2009) Addition to the weak service supply, women are too much worried about what other people think. Stereotypical and judgemental views of society of singles are those that make single women deciding not to travel alone. (Stone and Nichol, 1999)

Solo tourists face many challenges on their vacation and one is fear that surrounds especially women. Fear is involved in risk taking and it is part of social and individual expectations and messages that women receive every day. (Wilson and Little, 2008) Valentine in Wilson and Little's article (2008) indicates that women behave particular way in public places and many are avoiding them. Their schedule of the travelling is usually restricted to certain areas and times of the day. The main reasons why women are afraid of going public places alone is men and their inconvenient whistles and whispers. These lead women to be scared of sexual harassment and attacks. The fear is not meaningless as women still are the main victims of rape and sexual attacks around the world (Wilson and Little, 2008).

However, previous researches in United Kingdom and Australia indicate that women's safety in public is better all the time and most of the sexual attacks are carried out by men they know. But regardless of the statistical facts, fear of violence is too strong to take away from women's minds (Wilson and Little, 2008). Fear is already learned at young age by education. Media and family affects child's perceptions and travellers are taught already at very young age not to talk to strangers, not to go places alone and stay near the safe home. These ideologies have influenced the opinions and perceptions very early in life and when person is considering travel alone it is obvious that it is not an easy process. (Valentine in Wilson & Little, 2008) Addition to that other people's narrow-minded and old fashion attitudes also affect the planning and decision making. Many people do not like the idea of woman travelling on her own (Wilson and Little, 2008).

In conclusion, the decision to travel solo is not easy, but people who want to escape from routines, gain more independence or meet new people want to travel alone. In order to do that they need to be enough brave and confident and also not to care about other people's opinions. The desire to travel alone comes from a person itself. However, the challenges the travellers' face, are not only their own thoughts and expectations, but also the travelling industry and services can cause the difficulties to travel.

Chiang, C & Jogaratnam, G (2006), Why do women travel solo for purposes of leisure? , Journal of Vacation Marketing, vol. 12(1), pp 59-70

Laesser, C. Beritelli, P. and Bieger, T (2009) Solo travel: Explorative insights from mature market, Journal of Vacation Marketing, vol. 15, pp 217-227

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

We may travel solo for escaping what is going on in our heads
Author: Maija Keturi
This is a well summarised discussion paper that addresses the topic. My own conference paper focuses on a similar topic, Western women travelling in conservative countries. The topic of this conference paper is of increasing importance as many women and men these days are longing to travel solo despite the fears associated with it.

As mentioned in the conference paper, two in three of the British would prefer travelling without their partner (Chiang & Jogaratnam, 2006). This could bring problems of jealousy and doubt in relationships, esp. when for example girls go alone to Turkey or mature men travel alone to places like Thailand. Then again jealousy can be regarded as a desire to control another human being. The desire to control arises from fears and greediness, and fear in relationships that in the West tend to end well before 'happily ever after' is a major causer of problems. Parents also control their children because they are afraid. Maybe their control, fears and concerns are a reason why we want to travel without them.

I remember watching a Saudi man telling on TV that he wouldn't allow women to travel alone in an aeroplane because they can crash. Life and death follow all of us everywhere we go, so it is not always right to limit our actions for fear of something happening. Jessica Watson's (16) solo sailing around the world caused many people talking about the trip's appropriateness, but the thing that she tried it is a message to parents who are too cautious with their daughters.

As women who are able to travel alone tend to be the most liberated in the world they can behave and talk quite as they like. It is a challenging idea that a holiday would allow Western women an escape from the donts' of the place they habit. But when we travel alone we can escape the routine thoughts, the routine conversations and the routine dos.

Especially package holidays concentrate on selling their products to families and couples. The more independent reservation systems and the ability to self-package holidays support the needs of those travelling solo. There are still many issues on female's solo travel, and some countries (like Iran) reject a visa for the basis of a woman travelling solo.

Even though most sexual attacks are carried out by men women already know, it makes the holiday acquaintances appear less trustworthy and can further seclude women as they have to be cautious with whom they make friends with. A local man is more powerful than a visiting woman in a destination, as the local man has the local where and what knowledge the woman hasn't.

As well addressed in the paper, the problem is not only the actual violence, but the mental violence of fear that women have been subject to since girls. Other women's strong example is needed to tackle the issue. Women should support each other, so that their daughters further decide to become the managers instead of the secretarians (nothing odd in being a secretarian). No matter how people speak about women like Sarah Palin, these other women are needed to show girls they can do it. The women who already dare travelling alone are making way for the women of tomorrow.
Women travelling alone in the male dominated space
Author: Liisa Pietila
I chose to comment on this paper as it is very close to my topic. This conference paper is well research, interesting and brings up the different aspects of solo women travellers. You explain clearly the reasons for travelling alone and what the possible risks are and the reasons for not to go.

It is a positive thing that more literature of women travellers as traditionally the academic research has treated tourists as a one homogeneous group, where differences between women and men or other groups do not exist (Pritchard and Morgan, 2000). However, like you said, the solo travel literature is almost solely concentrated on women.

You say that increasing number of singe adults is a reason for solo travel and no doubt that is the case. But there are some other reasons as well. Wilson and Harris (2006) discuss about 'new tourism' which is characterised by individualism, flexibility, spontaneity and conscious of the environment: the 'new tourists' want to distinguish themselves from those 'old' boring mass tourists. Travelling alone enables travellers to choose themselves where they want to go and what to do. For women especially doing thing alone is central as they can see if they are able to do it (Wilson and Harris, 2006). Often women get the feeling of empowerment, strength and freedom, and thus continue to travel alone (Jordan and Gibson, 2005).

One thing that particularly caught my eye was your argument of the shortage of supply. I am not sure if I understood you correctly, but are you saying there are not many services and activities for solo women travellers? If you meant it so, I have to disagree. There are several guidebooks for women travellers alone, which give advice and tips to solo travel. In addition to these the Internet is full of sites for solo women travellers. Most of them are discussion forums and include writings from other women, and some offer advice for solo travelling, like where to stay and where to find other solo travellers, but there are sites that offer travel packages for solo travellers.

I agree that the fear is probably the main barrier to travel alone. We are taught to beware of certain things and it is difficult to get over possible fears. As long as the public space stays male dominated and solo women travellers are socially unaccepted, overcoming fears is difficult (Wilson et al, 2009). However, it would be interesting to know how often women face violence or harassment when travelling alone! It should be remembered that everyone can, to some extent, affect the outcome of a journey. It is probably wiser to travel in a Western country where single women are not considered as oddities (Kinnaird and Hall, 1997).

As a conclusion, I think your paper is very good, although I would have wished a bit more explanation about the issue of supply, and it does provoke further discussion on the matter.

Jordan, F. and Gibson, H. (2005), "We're Not Stupid…But We'll Not Stay Home Either": Experiences of Solo Women Travelers, Tourism Review International, vol. 9, pp. 195-211.

Kinnaird, V. and Hall, D. (1994), Conclusion: The Way Forward, in Kinnaird, V. and Hall, D., ed. Tourism A Gender Analysis, England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Pritchard, A. and Morgan, N.J. (2000), Privileging the Male Gaze, Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 27 (no. 4), pp. 884-905.

Wilson, E. and Harris, C. (2006), Meaningful Travel: Women, Independent Travel and the Search for Self and Meaning, Tourism, vol. 54 (no. 2), pp. 161-172.

Wilson, E., Holdsworth, L. and Witsel, M. (2009), Gutsy Women? Discourses in Women's Travel Guidebooks, Tourism Recreation Research, vol. 34 (no. 1), pp. 3-11.