I have done a lot of traveling over the past few years – mostly in Europe, and a lot in the Western Cape. These are distinctly different experiences, but they have a lot of similarities. One is that no matter what, you always feel safer with a little pepper spray in your bag (or hand). I travel to work in the dark on Sunday mornings, and get home, once again, in the dark. Those of you who have walked through taxi ranks and train stations alone at night know how this feels. But, I need the money. So I clutch my pepper spray, adjust my face to be as unapproachable as possible, slip my money into my sock, and go.
Still, I have done most of my movement either alone or with other women. I have slept on a train station bench alone at night in Germany, cycled around Zadar in the rain with my girlfriends, traveled and been assailed by unsubtle men in Italy, couchsurfed at strangers houses in Germany, Greece and Holland with my sisters, and moved comfortably and alone through the streets of Morocco. And so, with bits of experience under my belt, I can tell you that traveling as a woman does not have to be unsafe. It just has to be a little more careful than the bearded men who move about with the confidence of a golden lion.
You do have to bring that pepper spray, or buy it in-country (They definitely do not allow the little bottle onto carry-on luggage, by far the cheapest way to travel). You have to be aware that sun-down means you’re in your accommodation, or in a very large group. You should accept the help of strangers, while staying in well-populated areas – old men in particular love to help, and without them, you may never find that obscure hostel forty minutes walk from the train station, which turns out to be someone’s house, partially converted. And if you decide to go for something like couchsurfing (or anything else for that matter) you should always do your research. This is the age of reviews. Everything is reviewed; even the cheapest, vaguest hostel has a wealth of information on it on the world wide web, and a dodgy couchsurfing host will be red-flagged by negative reviews or a simple lack of them (or look for that ‘I have a bed, no couch but I’m open minded!’ element to his profile).
Every woman should get out and adventure. There is so much to be learnt from new situations and strange places. I spend most of my weekends (the ones where I’m not working) hiking, climbing and moving. Adventure sports are dominated by men, as is traveling, maybe because women are continuously told its unsafe.
This weekend I went camping with five girls – and one hapless guy, who spent the whole weekend on his phone – and watched a troop of baboons move about my campsite while the sunset performed all its best tricks. I really, really enjoy watching series in bed with tea and food with suspicious nutritional value. But there is immense value in the experiences of the outdoors. You just have to do a little googling, put on your functional shoes, and go.