Women face a number of challenges when it comes to navigating the globe. Whether it’s that male-only monastery you can’t enter, or your guidebook advising you to ‘dress modestly’ in a particular place, there is a long and frustrating list of rules for the female traveller. Men. conversely, seem to have free reign. Sometimes these barriers seem so vast that they put women off travelling altogether.
So what are the biggest challenges facing women who travel – and how can they be overcome? To answer this, we asked eight of the people who know best – an all-female panel of travel writers, bloggers and adventurers. As International Women’s Day approaches, here’s what they consider to be the biggest problems facing females on the road – and how they can be vanquished.
Anna McNuff, Endurance Athlete, Adventurer and Speaker
“In reality, the challenges we face as female travellers are no different to those faced by men. However, there is one giant hurdle that we, as women, must overcome and that is the belief in our own potential. In many cases women do not travel (alone or otherwise) for fear that we don’t have the skills or mental strength to succeed. Adventure travel especially can be seen as a male endeavour, but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. All too often, the only barrier to a woman achieving one of life’s great adventures is her own fear. The simple act of recognising this can go a long way towards pushing that fear aside – so that we may become role models for other females desperate to do the same. We owe it to ourselves to find the courage do this, and we owe it to our daughters.”
Anna McNuff is an endurance athlete, adventurer and speaker who uses long, human-powered journeys around the globe as a platform to encourage the next generation to get outside, and get exploring. Follow her on Twitter here.
Pip Stewart, Journalist and Adventurer
“Not everything is out to kill you – this my first rule of travelling! Our own fears, preconceptions and prejudices are often the biggest challenges to overcome – oh, and too much prep. Don’t start researching what can kill you in X/Y/Z destinations. You will only eye up innocent looking frogs with the utmost suspicion. Travel with your head up, rather than buried in a smartphone. Ask locals for advice. Follow your instincts. If your instinct tells you the guy on the tube is creepy, that camp spot is shady, or that bar means trouble, it’s OK to move away. Trust yourself. Never let your gender put you off travelling. I’ve found that being a woman has actually been beneficial as people have been so willing to open up. Slay those fears and take the leap.”
Pip Stewart is a journalist and adventurer whose most recent project was crossing the Amazon basin by bike and boat for a six-part documentary highlighting the impact that deforestation is having on indigenous tribes. She is currently London based working as Red Bull’s Adventure Editor. Follow her on Twitter here.
Caroline Eden, Travel Writer
“I think the challenges facing women – and men – on the road are much the same as the ones we face at home, and there’s only one that really matters to me: personal safety. I always carry my phone and keep it charged and connected to the local network, know the local emergency numbers, carry the hotel’s business card in case I get lost and stay aware of what’s happening around me, especially at night. If I don’t know a place at all, and am expecting logistical difficulties, then I sometimes make contact with local journalists before setting off (social media can be good for this).”
Caroline Eden is a travel writer specialising in emerging destinations usually in the former Soviet Union. She has a weekly column in Metro newspaper and has written a book, Samarkand. Follow her on Twitter here.
Abigail King, Travel Writer and Blogger (Inside the Travel Lab)
“I think the biggest challenge facing women in travel remains a simple but powerful one: fear. There’s the obvious fear for personal safety while travelling alone but also the quieter, deeper fears that whisper to women whether they realise it or not. Fear of missing out on careers or family life, fears of not fitting in, fears of not measuring up to that slim, long legged beauty on an Instagram feed… And, as ever, the best way to deal with fear is to face it head on. So, read up about safe travel tips (solo travel as a woman is far safer than many believe,) forget about appearances and go book yourself a ticket and have a good time.”
Abigail King is a travel writer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. She blogs about thoughtful luxury travel and unusual journeys at insidethetravellab.com. Follow her on Twitter here.
Justine Gosling, Expedition Member, Volunteer and Physiotherapist
“We want to have it all – money, adventures and a career. There is no reason why you can’t! I worked solidly for years developing my skills and experience and at the same time building a loyal relationship with my NHS employers. I was rewarded with a career break that turned into flexible working that enables me to maintain my career, earn money and go away on expeditions frequently. They also support my volunteer humanitarian aid deployments which use my skills gained from the NHS. This was possible because I worked hard so they wanted to keep me. There’s no reason that travelling means sacrificing your career. Many employers allow valuable employees time off to travel and volunteer because they return with skills and experiences that enrich, inspire and refresh them, making them happier and more productive in the workplace.”
Justine Gosling is an NHS physiotherapist from London who undertakes expeditions to engage people in history. She also deploys internationally as an emergency volunteer to assist in the response after natural disasters. Follow her on Twitter here.
Julie Falconer, Travel Blogger (A Lady in London)
“The biggest challenge facing female travellers is often our own fears. The first time I travelled alone I was terrified, and I kept thinking of everything that could go wrong. But once I started traveling on my own I realised that my fears were overblown and that solo travel can be incredibly fulfilling. Since then I’ve travelled all over the world by myself, and some of my best trips have been when I’ve travelled independently. Through my experiences I’ve learned that the best way to overcome my fears is to keep travelling and to not let the doubts prevent me from going places I want to visit.”
Julie Falconer is a London-based travel blogger and speaker. She writes an award-winning travel and lifestyle blog, A Lady in London, for which she has traveled to 102 countries. Follow her on Twitter here.
Vicky Philpott (Vicky Flip Flop Travels), Travel Blogger
“I absolutely believe in equality in everything, but when it comes to travel unfortunately I do think it’s different. Some of my male counterparts have stories of accepting dinner invitations from locals, hitchhiking, drunken nights out in remote parts of cities and taking the kind of risks that I just wouldn’t feel comfortable with. I know some women don’t see a difference, but I think in travel there are many more unique opportunities to interact with locals for guys because of the horror stories on those few occasions it’s gone wrong for women. Ways to overcome this are sparse – skills in self-defence would be a good start, a more trusting nature, to stop reading the news and to have the confidence that you could immediately leave a situation you were uncomfortable in. Local language skills would also help.”
Sian Lewis, Travel Writer and Blogger
“I think the biggest stumbling block for women planning to hit the road is fear of the unknown. It’s daunting to face up to new challenges alone – camping out in the wild, flying across the world, even just travelling through a busy city can feel scary. But the great thing about your confidence is that you can train it. If you take the first step to building up your travel experience you’ll feel more and more able to face (and enjoy) new experiences. You’ll realise you’re far more capable than you think, and that a world of amazing places is your oyster. And you might even get hooked on the freedom of travelling solo.”