How Men Can Create a Safer World for Women Travelers
As a solo female traveler, I know the joys and challenges that come with exploring the world on my own. As much as I love seeing the world, there is always a tiny voice in the back of my mind telling me that I am doing something risky. Why? For the simple act of traveling the world alone as a woman.
When brainstorming blog posts about safety, I wrote over 140 tips to share with female travelers searching for safety tips. As I read the list, I realized that men had to worry about maybe 10 of those safety tips. Just think how exhausting and anxiety-inducing it is to constantly think about your safety.
Let’s be realistic. I can provide safety tips for women to modify their behaviors while traveling to keep themselves safe until I am blue in the face. But, the truth is that we never seem to address or talk about who is the source and cause of the fear that women experience when they think of traveling solo for the first time. Society loves to burden women with the full responsibility for their safety and the blame when a woman is a victim of a crime. We often hear comments like: “She wasn’t wearing the right clothes, she was probably drinking, she shouldn’t have been at the party with her friends, she should not have been walking home late from work at night by herself, etc.”
Ask any woman, and she will tell you she has an ever present fear of being assaulted or attacked. This fear may be debilitating to some women, stopping them from taking certain “risks”. Traveling solo is one of the risks that many women avoid to lessen their chances of being attacked while visiting an unknown place.
The fear of rape and assault permeates our daily lives.
Examples of how this fear invades our daily lives
There are many behavior modifications that women do daily in order to avoid the risk of assault or rape.
Some examples of this are:
We hold our keys in a particular manner just in case someone attacks us. We avoid wearing both of our headphones while walking or running because we always need to be able to hear what is happening around us. We avoid being out alone after dark or walking by groups of men. We change our routes or take different transportation methods to vary our routines. We avoid eye contact or interactions with a potential aggressor.
Even though men have a higher risk of being the victim of a violent crime at the hands of another man, the fear of being raped or assaulted is typically not a fear that men live with on a daily basis.
It is crucial to remember that these behaviors are not solutions to the problem of assault and harassment. They are responses to a society that has not fully addressed the issue. The focus should be on managing and preventing the root causes of these behaviors rather than placing the burden on women to protect themselves.
I was sexually harassed during one of my solo trips
Let me tell you a personal story highlighting the real fear and challenges women face while traveling solo. I have been sexually harassed, but this incident shattered my sense of safety and trust. It happened during my solo trip to Antigua, Guatemala, in June 2022. I want to clarify that this experience does not represent everyone in any city or country. It serves as a stark reminder of the dangers women can face while exploring the world alone. Sexual harassment remains an all-too-common reality for women worldwide, infiltrating our daily experiences with fear and discomfort. It is infuriating that such harmful and unacceptable behavior is still prevalent, even though it should never be seen as normal or tolerated.
Back to the story
After a fun night of dinner and drinks with friends, they walked me back to my hotel in Antigua and dropped me off as soon as the main door to the hotel had been opened for me. It was pouring rain and a chilly night so I was relieved to be back. I had arrived in Antigua earlier that night, around 8:00 PM, after being stuck in horrible traffic from Guatemala City for 4 hours and in the middle of a downpour. During the check-in process, I was assigned a room at the back of the hotel and thought nothing of it. Antigua’s hotels are known for their old colonial charm, with open-air patios adorned with beautiful florals surrounding the water fountains.
As I walked to my room, I felt safe and secure. I was hoping that the weather would be better in the morning to be able to see the city from any of the vantage points. I also hoped for a good night’s rest before the next day’s adventures. Little did I know that this night would soon become one of my life’s longest and most dreadful nights.
I was deep in my thoughts, and the last thing on my mind was experiencing sexual harassment. Heavy rain masked any sound of footsteps behind me. As I reached my room and put the key in the door, I felt someone’s presence behind me; I never heard him rushing up behind me.
I quickly turned around to find the hotel lobby employee who moments before had opened the front door of the hotel for me as this hotel did not have keycards to open the front door after hours automatically.
What happened next left me speechless and enraged…
He didn’t sound drunk but was awkwardly stumbling through phrases attempting to initiate the most random conversation. He began asking irrelevant questions about laundry. AT 12:30 AM. It struck me as odd, and when I asked him what this was about or what he wanted, he quickly turned out to be inappropriate. He admitted to being interested in me when he checked me into the hotel and saw that I was a solo traveler. In a moment of fucking audacity, he asked if I wanted company for the night because he knew that I was alone.
I stood there for 2 seconds, my emotions ranging from anger to fear. I firmly but politely declined his advances, my hand balled into a fist and my hotel key ready to serve as a makeshift weapon if necessary. I sized him up, trying to assess his height and weight vs. my weight if he were to attack me. I was furious that I still had to be polite in a moment like this to avoid making matters more dangerous.
After my polite rejections and a few seconds, which seemed an eternity, he left, and I quickly barricaded myself in my room, feeling utterly unsafe and violated.
The more I thought about it, the more fear and anger grew within me. After all, this was a hotel employee with keys that could access my room. I spent hours searching every corner of my hotel room to see if there were cameras.
The sleepless night was filled with anger and uncertainty. The absence of phones in the rooms, lack of signal, or help nearby only heightened my sense of isolation. I was in the last fucking room at the back of the hotel, and I had not seen anyone in the neighboring rooms. All the lights were off, and the entrance to my room was dark. It had been the perfect combination for a terrifying and vulnerable situation that left me questioning my desire to travel the world.
After an endless sleepless night, I began getting ready for the day. It was approximately 6:30 AM. I was showering when I heard a knock on my door. I did not open the door and kept asking who it was, to no answer. I looked through the window, and there he was. The same man from last night. Standing at my door.
I very aggressively shouted, asking what he wanted without opening the door. He said he wanted to apologize. He said that he had been drinking (on the job) and the previous night’s events should never have occurred.
I made it clear that his behavior was unacceptable and that I had no interest in speaking or interacting with him. Feeling distressed and anxious, I left the hotel around 7:30 AM. I tried going to the front desk, hoping that his shift was over but ended up feeling vulnerable and angry that this man was still the only employee available at that time; I wanted to discuss his behavior with a manager. Throughout the day, my anger and frustration lingered and negatively affected what should have been a joyful exploration of a new city.
Hours later, I returned to the hotel lobby to report the incident to their staff. I was hoping that this man’s eternal shift was finally over. Luckily, this time there was a young woman at the front desk. She listened empathetically and promised to take action to ensure my safety. She asked me questions to help her investigate, and she reported it. In the process, I asked to be changed to a different hotel because she mentioned he would be working the night shift again.
After many phone calls, she said there was no availability that night in any of the property’s sister hotels. I became very nervous. I began looking for other hotels, and to my surprise, I couldn’t find anything suitable in my price range. She made some more phone calls and then told me that she would notify the harassing employee that his schedule would be changed. Then I became a bit more tense. I thought this would make it evident to him that I had said something and feared retaliation.
I was restless and uneasy during my second night as I dreaded encountering the harasser again. Finally, morning came, and I was able to leave the hotel without seeing this person again.
In the following weeks, I remained committed to seeking justice and safeguarding future travelers from similar experiences. I couldn’t stop thinking I was grateful he had not been carrying a knife. I thought about younger women. What if it had been a teenager? How would she have handled the situation? I wrote many emails to the hotel and called them repeatedly, demanding they take appropriate action. Finally, after several weeks, I was told that they had reviewed their security footage and that they had seen him walk down the hall behind me. The employee was fired.
Did I feel victorious?
While this incident led to his termination, no one is victorious here. The reality is that firing the individual responsible for the harassment may not necessarily correct his behavior or prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. The deeper issue lies in the pervasive societal norms and attitudes perpetuating women’s mistreatment.
Simply removing one person does not address the underlying problem at its core.
It is frustrating to think this man could find employment elsewhere and repeat his harmful actions with another unsuspecting woman. Untreated and without consequences, this may embolden the harasser to continue their dangerous behavior. They might target other vulnerable individuals, putting more women at risk of harassment or assault. This experience has made me realize that we need to go beyond isolated consequences and focus on fostering a broader cultural shift that encourages respect, equality, and accountability for everyone.
We can create a safer world for women travelers through collective efforts and a commitment to challenging toxic behaviors.
How can men create a safer world for women travelers?
This blog post is a direct conversation with you, men, about how you can take responsibility for promoting safe solo travel for women like me. So, grab a seat, and let’s have an open and honest discussion that can hopefully bring about positive change. We can create a safer world for women travelers through collective efforts and a commitment to challenging toxic behaviors.
- It’s time to educate yourselves on the specific safety concerns women face in different regions and cultures. Understanding these nuances will help you better advocate for change and contribute to a safer travel environment for all. Take a hard look at the realities women face while traveling alone. Acknowledge the prevalence of harassment and violence and understand that your behavior and actions can contribute to or prevent such situations. Knowledge is power, and it’s your responsibility to be aware and informed.
- Speak up against toxic behaviors and attitudes that perpetuate the mistreatment of women. Call out your friends or peers when they behave disrespectfully or make inappropriate comments.
- Don’t be a bystander. If you witness any harassment or feel that a woman is uncomfortable, step in safely by assessing the situation and offering your support. Show solidarity and let her know that she’s not alone. Your intervention can make a significant difference and prevent a dangerous situation from escalating. If it is unsafe to intervene, call the authorities so help can arrive.
- This may be hard to do but dive deeply into your behavior. Reflect on how you treat women and examine any biases or prejudices you may hold. Hold yourself accountable for your actions and commit to being respectful and supportive towards women at home and abroad.
- Use your voice and influence to promote gender equality in travel and all aspects of life. Support initiatives to create safer spaces for women, challenge discriminatory practices, and demand accountability for those who perpetrate harm. Challenge the concept that women need protection or constant supervision while traveling. Trust in our abilities and respect our autonomy. Instead of assuming a paternalistic role, be an ally and advocate for equal opportunities and freedom for women to explore the world on their own terms.
- Listen to our experiences, concerns, and needs. Seek to understand the challenges we face and actively work towards finding solutions.
- Have empathy for women expressing their feelings of unsafety. Just because the harassment a woman faces may not directly affect you, this does not mean that it doesn’t happen often.
- Consider the concept of privilege and how it intersects with travel. It’s crucial to acknowledge that, as men, you often have inherent advantages in terms of safety while traveling. Recognizing this privilege is vital to fostering a safer environment for women. Take a moment to reflect on the privileges you may experience while on your own travel adventures. Ask yourself: Have I ever felt unsafe or vulnerable during my solo trips? Have I ever been catcalled, harassed, or made to feel uncomfortable in a foreign place? Your experiences may differ from those of women. This awareness is not meant to make you feel guilty but to inspire positive change.
- Be the role models we need in the travel community and beyond. Show other men what it means to be respectful, supportive, and responsible. Lead by example. Remember, this is not about blaming men or pointing fingers. It’s about acknowledging the existing disparities and taking responsibility for fostering safer spaces. I encourage you to engage in conversations with women travelers and listen to their perspectives whenever possible. Empower us to share our stories, challenges, and triumphs. Amplify our voices and create platforms where our experiences can be heard and acknowledged.
- Lastly, remember that creating a safe environment for women extends beyond travel. It requires addressing the broader issues of gender inequality, discrimination, and violence in society. Advocate for gender equality in all aspects of life, challenge harmful norms and stereotypes, and promote a culture of respect, consent, and inclusivity.
The responsibility lies with you to create a safer and more inclusive travel environment for women. You can significantly impact by actively implementing the steps mentioned in this article. Let’s challenge toxic behaviors and attitudes. Women deserve the same right to explore the world without fear for their safety. My experience, and the experiences of countless women, have made me realize that we need to go beyond isolated consequences and focus on fostering a broader cultural shift that encourages respect, equality, and accountability for everyone.
Please share your thoughts, and let’s continue the conversation below.